The company was in what the United States Small Business Administration calls a HUB (Historically Underutilized Business) zone. The government has to allocate x% of their budget to buying goods and services from HUB zone businesses. For a business to qualify as a HUB zone business, its headquarters has to be located in a HUB zone, and 35% or more of their employees have to live in a HUB zone. It’s easy for the government to find, for example, a landscaping business that qualifies as HUB zone, but they’re hard pressed to find an IT firm that fits that need. The office was geographically in a HUB zone, smack dab in the middle of the hood, and many of their employees lived in downtown Indianapolis, which fifteen years ago was very underdeveloped and therefore still qualified as HUB zone. Therefore, the company positioned themselves to be very attractive for government dollars.
This was no coincidence. On my second to last day as an intern at the company, the CEO (it was a 60 person company or so) took the other interns and I to a steak restaurant. One of the things he talked to us about was to be in the business of scarcity, i.e., to be the only person who can do what you do. He told us not only about the HUB zone stuff, but about top secret clearances, blacked out rooms for cleared people to share classified information, and broad skillsets that the company employed to provide full stack IT solutions from start to finish for clients. Essentially, he owed much of his success with the company to being the only company that can do what it does how it does it.
Your skills are so much more valuable when you have skills that nobody else does (that others need, of course). You can save the day at work, you can charge exorbitant fees as a consultant, you can stand out in a world of similarity, the possibilities are endless. The value of your labor goes down when there are more people who can do what you do. It’s simple supply and demand, explained in terms of professional development.
I was reminded of this lesson today. At work, our test environment was unable to connect to our database because of an added security layer we were not expecting to be implemented in the test environment until later. Once we figured out what happened, I was able to step forward and fix the code and the config files such that they’d authenticate with our database since I’d already been working on that for the development environment when nobody else was doing that. I updated the code and the config files for all of our projects that interacted with the database, and then our test environment was able to connect to the database! Everyone was really happy and I felt good about what I did. I felt so good about it that I called my mom to tell her about what I did at work.
So be you, be unique, and be THE ONE.