Dave Solomon's Gettin' Down to Business: Well-rounded education helps state IT worker solve tough problems
The systems specialist assigned to the Department of Transportation was recently honored for two initiatives that saved the state thousands of dollars and employee hours. He credits much of his success to the fact that he spent his last year as a computer science major studying psychology, art, philosophy, music and film.
In the past year, Gilligan has single-handedly kept the state's online permitting system for overweight and oversized loads from being taken off line; and he solved a bug in the state's new online payroll system that was driving human resource departments crazy.
"I saw it as an opportunity to round out my education and focus on the liberal arts as well as the technical side that I had been focused on up to that time," he said.
Why waste time on philosophy, art and music on your way to a career in technology?
"Something like art is very helpful in designing interfaces for applications," he said. "You need to understand the aesthetics of a website or an interface. You have to understand how the mind works as it expects certain elements of a page to be located in certain spots."
"You can apply a lot of different fields to your work if you are crafty enough to see the connections," he says.
"We were at the point where we were at risk of having to take the application off line, and that would have had a huge impact on the trucking industry and on the DOT," he said. A fairly quick and automated procedure could have turned into a labor-intensive, hard-copy process that would bog down the whole system.
"We were down to the wire," Gilligan says. "Independently, unbeknownst to most everyone, I had been looking into the code behind the application and doing my own research on techniques to try to secure it."
But he did, and modified the code to eliminate the vulnerability. The application process was uninterrupted, and thousands of heavy-load truckers never knew how close they came to a paperwork nightmare.
"I work for the Department of Information Technology, but am part of an embedded group at the DOT," he said. "We are working side by side with the customers we support in the same building. I see them in the halls. I see the difficulties and challenges they experience in their work."
"I caught wind of this whole ordeal just randomly," he said, "just passing through the office and seeing how stressed out they were at having to work this way. I hadn't been asked to pursue this project, but I was confident that I could come up with a solution."
His biggest contribution to state government may not be the particular efforts for which he was recognized, although they were certainly laudable and substantial. Gilligan's success speaks to the benefits of embedding IT experts in the Davedepartments they serve and the value of those so-called "soft skills" once they get there.
"Here's the dilemma I am in," he says. "The higher you go, the more your position shifts toward kind of a management role, and I've always liked working in the trenches, being the coder, being the person who is working directly with the customers. I'm not as interested in having a team under me telling them what to do. I like to be the one who solves the problems."
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