(This piece was co-authored by Alex Taylor and Leon Adato)
Before we take flight here, let me start with fair warning—this article contains several spoilers for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, so if you haven’t seen it and don’t want to know what happens yet, you can bookmark this article and come back to it later.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier took a deep dive into several important topics: trauma, self-confidence, and identity, to name a few. But the lessons the popular show imparts aren’t just for super soldiers and tech-assisted superheroes. Many of the things the show discusses apply equally to the IT heroes who keep their workplaces afloat. Here are some of the lessons I learned from the show that can help you achieve liftoff in your day-to-day life.
When Sam returns Captain America’s shield at the beginning of the show, many people feel disappointed. After all, he’s an Avenger—and not just any Avenger, but one hand-picked by Captain America to carry the shield. But one of the reasons why Sam doesn’t take up the mantle of Captain America is a familiar one to anyone who’s entered a new role in IT: Sam has a classic case of imposter syndrome.
When you enter a new role and someone says, “You have big shoes to fill,” it immediately puts a lot of pressure on you. This is especially true in IT, where you feel like the only outcomes of taking on a new job are to be hailed as a hero or regarded as an empty-headed poseur by your coworkers with no in-between. Falcon makes this doubly-clear with the introduction of John Walker, the so-called “new” Captain America, who’s quickly shown to suffer from his own case of imposter syndrome, and (to be quite honest) to be someone who doesn’t quite measure up to the moral standards of the job.
Meanwhile, back in our world of IT: not knowing how to fill those shoes right away can be intimidating, and it often prevents IT pros from stepping into a role they might really enjoy. Despite Steve Rogers’ confidence in Sam’s ability—or the confidence of anyone who pushes you in the direction of a new role—this doesn’t automatically translate into self-confidence.
But the truth is, almost no one steps into a new job and says, “Not only can I do this job easily, I can also do another job on top of it.” What’s important to know about imposter syndrome is something Sam eventually has to come to grips with: it’s OK to step into a new role knowing you may not have what it takes right away. It’s OK to say, “I don’t know enough about this right now, but I know that I can get there.” Whether it’s through completing trainings, getting new certifications, or bouncing a shield off of random objects until you get the hang of it, it’s okay to start filling in your knowledge gaps as you go. You don’t have to know everything before you agree to take a new position.
We’ll talk about Isaiah Bradley more later—likely in another installment of this series, as the character deserves plenty of room for discussion—but Isaiah Bradley is like a lot of IT pros in one key way: he’s an unsung hero.
If you’ve worked in IT for more than a few minutes, you probably know what it’s like to be an unsung hero. IT pros sometimes fly under the radar when they’re doing good work—after all, good work for an IT pro often looks like “just a normal day” for everyone else. One common problem in IT is we promote and give bonuses to the people who wake up at 2:00 in the morning because there’s a SEV 1 emergency, put out the fire, and work for 48 hours straight to get everything fixed. Managers notice this and want to reward it.
But the trouble is managers sometimes don’t notice—and therefore don’t promote and give bonuses to—the IT pros who get their work done at 4:30 in the afternoon, so there’s no late-night issue to deal with in the first place. Unlike with Isaiah Bradley, it’s not the intention of most managers to make sure these IT pros don’t get the recognition they deserve. Still, the hard work they’ve done goes largely unnoticed, and this isn’t okay.
Putting in the effort during normal business hours to avoid technical debt and make sure things don’t break should be rewarded just as much as putting out fires. We should encourage people who get their work done at 5:00 p.m. and are so confident about their work they have the confidence to push things to production on a Friday afternoon. I can already hear the IT pros reading this saying, “Not on a Friday afternoon! It’ll ruin my weekend!”
But the point here is if you aren’t confident in pushing something to production on Friday because you know it’ll cause issues over the weekend, then you shouldn’t push it to production on a Tuesday, either.
The good news in all this is there’s no statute of limitations for recognizing these unsung heroes. By the end of the series, Isaiah Bradley’s name, contributions, and sacrifices are made known to the world. And like Isaiah Bradley, when you recognize someone for their previously unnoticed hard work, it inspires others to work just as hard. Isaiah’s grandson, Elijah Bradley—in the comics, at least—only feels becoming a superhero is something worth doing after seeing his grandfather recognized.
But this only scratches the surface of the practical lessons IT pros can learn from The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Keep an eye out for Part 2 of this series, where we’ll cover other important takeaways from the show.