Episode 126 – Find Your IT Passion and Get Involved with That Community with Nina Zakharenko

 In Podcasts

My guest on today’s show is Nina Zakharenko. She is a Senior Cloud Developer Advocate for Microsoft. Nina is also a well-known conference speaker who covers many technical subjects. Although Python is her area of expertise.

Before joining Microsoft, Nina spent a decade writing software for a range of companies, including Reddit, Meetup, HBO and several PayPal subsidiaries. She has also run several JavaScript, JQuery and Git workshops for Girl Develop It.


(1.07) – So Nina, can I ask you to expand on that brief intro and tell us a little bit more about yourself? Nina describes herself as a “newly minted Developer Advocate”. For the 10 years preceding her joining Microsoft, Nina worked as a software engineer.

About 5 years ago, she started giving conference speeches, for fun. She really enjoyed it, so took things more seriously. Today, she is a regular conference speaker.

(1.40) – How many conferences talks have you given? Nina says that she has lost count, but it’s a lot. She has spoken in Russia, Prague, Scotland and given several keynote speeches.

(2.03) Phil asks Nina if she speaks on a range of different subjects or if she mostly repeats the same speech. Nina explains that she speaks about a range of IT subjects. For example, technical debt and how to develop excellent code review processes. However, the bulk of the speeches she delivers are related to Python, which is really her area of expertise.

(2.25) – Can you please share a unique career tip with the I.T. career audience? Nina’s ultimate career tip is to focus on doing one thing, at a time. New things in tech come and go, so keeping up with everything is very challenging.

The trick is to find one thing that you feel passionate about and stick with it. If you do not, you will end up being pulled in all directions. Nina’s passion is Python. As soon as she started focusing on it and getting involved in that community her career flourished and really took off.

(3.23) – Can you tell us about your worst career moment? And what you learned from that experience. Nina has found that her worst career moments occurred when she is following the money instead of her passion.

For example, one of the startups she was working for was taken over. Overnight, everything changed.

Nina did not feel 100% comfortable with the ethics of the new company and did not share their leadership values. So, she was no longer happy working there.

But, she tried to make it through to the four year cliff period, so that she could secure her share options. This decision ended up being a big mistake. Basically, she burned out. So, she had to leave before the four years were up, without her shares. Of course, it meant that she was a bit poorer. But, it was the right decision. Overnight, she felt happier and soon landed another job, one which she really enjoyed.

It is important to understand yourself. To know what you want to get out of your job. Nina’s advice is to find a job that offers you the right balance for you.

(5.08) – Phil asks Nina what her best career moment was. Nina says that was probably when she gave her first talk in front of a big audience of about 400, at PyCon.

She was shaking throughout her speech. Despite this, she was able to deliver a great talk. After giving that first speech, Nina realized that people were really interested in her experiences and what she had to say. One of Nina’s ambitions is to give the keynote speech at PyCon.

(7.42) – Can you tell us what excites you about the future of the IT industry and careers? Nina likes the fact that in the IT field there are lots of opportunities for those who want to act as mentors, far more than in other industries. This is a good thing for everyone. It means that those that want to mentor can, while those that want to learn can do so easily, which is great for the future of the industry.

(9.08) – Phil says that, over the past decade or so, he has noticed big changes in this area. The industry is far more open and inclusive than it used to be. People are now more commutative and ready to respond positively when they are asked for help or advice.

(9.32) – What drew you to a career in IT? Nina has always wanted to be a software engineer. At 11 years old, she said exactly that in one of her school essays.

Curiously, it was her dislike of the band Hanson that motivated her to build her first website. She learned HTML, just so she could put together her anti-Hanson site.

(10.44) – What is the best career advice you have ever received? Nina says she was once told not to think of her career as being something that is attached to a specific workplace. If you are not getting what you need from your current work all you need to do is to move onto something else. When you work in the IT industry, there is no need to let your career stagnate.

(11.21) – If you were to begin your IT career again, right now, what would you do? Nina says that if she were to start out again, she would make sure that she started her career working in a field that she felt passionate about. Her first job was in the finance sector writing enterprise applications, which she never really enjoyed doing.

If you have multiple offers take the time to choose wisely. Choose the place that is going to help you to stay passionate about what you are doing. Don’t just throw a dart and see where it sticks.

(12.27) – What objectives are you currently focusing on? Right now, it is becoming a better developer advocate that is driving Nina on. She comments that at first she thought she already had all of the skills she needed for her new role.

Now, she knows there is more for her to learn, something that she is very keen to do. Currently, she is focusing on her customers and making sure that they have the best possible experience.

(13.18) – What is the number one non-technical skill that has helped you the most in your IT career? Nina says that her ability to take hard or complex problems and break things down into easy steps so that anyone can understand it has proved invaluable.

She uses this skill when she writes and when she puts together her videos or speeches. Without this ability, it would have been possible for her to have helped so many people to experience that ‘aha moment’.

(13.50) Phil asks Nina if she structures her delivery in a particular way. For example, selling the big idea first then drilling down to the detail. Nina says yes in a way that is what she does. She likes to add a little bit of mystique into her conference talks. If she can, she takes her audience in one direction then switches things up part way through. She finds that doing so holds their attention and turns what are sometimes quite dry subjects into something that is a little more interesting.

(14.21) – Phil asks Nina to share a final piece of career advice with the audience. Nina’s parting piece of career advice is to “trust your gut.” If something catches your attention or excites you, listen to your gut rather than just your logical mind. We like to think of ourselves as being logical beings. But, in reality, we are mostly driven by our emotions.


(2.35) NINA – “Focus on doing one thing well, at a time.”

(3.34) NINA – “My worst IT career moments came when I was trying to follow the money instead of following my passion.”

(9.09) NINA – “I think the openness and the sort of inclusiveness within the IT industry have certainly grown over the last decade.”

(11.11) NINA – “If you feel like your career is stagnating, it’s okay to look around.”

(14.55) PHIL – “We think we’re logical. But when it boils down to it, we’re all emotionally driven”


Twitter: https://twitter.com/nnja @nnja

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ninaz

Website: https://www.nnja.io

Recommended Posts
Contact Us

We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.

Not readable? Change text.

Start typing and press Enter to search