Episode 65 – Learn Foundational Concepts & Principles First with Nicki Watt

 In Podcasts

Nicki Watt is an experienced software engineer and consultant, and is currently the Chief Technical Officer at OpenCredo. She can be seen speaking at various conferences and is also co-author of the book “Neo4j in Action”.

In this episode Nicki tells us why we must learn to value the right things and to play the long game in our careers. Nicki also discusses the impact that you have on others and why you don’t have to have all the answers.


Time Stamped Show Notes

(00:56) – Phil introduces Nicki Watt, C.I.O. at OpenCredo

(01:20) – Nicki describes how she is largely self-taught, having not attended university. She learnt through hard grafting, research and experience on-the-job as well as from some great colleagues

(01:49) – Nicki describes how she started out as a java developer & engineer working in the enterprise Java space. She has worked across a number of industries including banking, retail, and entertainment

(02:02) – She has helped companies to build backend web and e-commerce platforms in those industries

(02:14) – Prior to working at OpenCredo, Nicki worked at Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, the creators of PlayStation. Her role evolved into having broader and more senior engineering and architectural responsibilities.

(02:34) – As a result Nicki worked on all aspects of solution delivery, from architecture and design, development, security, databases, data modelling and so forth

(02:50) – This is when Nicki realised that the problems and solutions that needed to be tackled would have to happen from multiple different angles and not just form a pure software developer’s perspective

(03:18) – It also made Nicki more sympathetic toward operational concerns and an appreciation for how her code has impact on operational support teams

(03:40) – Nicki provides a brief overview of OpenCredo, a hands-on software engineering consultancy helping organisations to pragmatically adapt and adopt emerging technologies

(04:19) – Phil asks Nicki about OpenCredo’s approach to research and development


(05:07) – Unique Career Tip: Nicki says that she has two tips to offer, one technical and the other non-technical

(05:29) – Both can be summed up by, “Learn to value the right thing and play the long game”

(05:40) – If you are trying to maximise your learning, prioritise learning foundational concepts

(06:22) – When you understand foundational principles, it’s easier to learn, recognise and reason when new technology comes along

(06:58) – Nicki talks about the evolution of databases during her own career as an example


(08:14) – Worst Career Moment: Nicki says that she’s made a few “technical clangers” but talks about something that happened early on her career

(08:51) – Nicky was working at a bank, having taught herself Java and getting Java certification

(09:14) – While at lunch with a friend, she was told that she’d beyond a little cocky and arrogant, and annoying her colleagues by doing so

(09:40) – This feedback popped Nicki’s ego as she realised things had gone to her head a little bit

(09:49) – It was a lesson in humility and something she is conscious of not repeating


(10:02) – Career Highlight / Greatest Success: Nicki says that getting her job with OpenCredo opened up a lot of doors for her

(10:16) – Nicki was looking to develop her skills and exposure to new technologies when she took the job

(10:41) – The role afforded Nicki the opportunity to do exactly what she wanted to do, such as conference speaking and being co-author of a book


(11:18) – What Excites You About The Future of a Career in I.T.? Nicki says that the industry is now very open to anyone who wants to get started, unlike in the past

(11:38) – Nicki doesn’t believe that you need a formal degree to get started

(11:43) – The sheer volume of online courses, meetups, conferences and the ability to self-learn is contributing to make the IT industry more accessible than ever before

(11:57) – Nicki also says that there are some great communities out there willing to help anyone with a desire to learn

(12:05) – You will never get bored. There is so much innovation happening in I.T. and it’s happening at such a fast pace

(12:27) – Nicki says that she has a particular interest in streaming systems, processing real-time data in new and interesting ways

(13:48) – Nicki also mentions Blockchain which she believes will have a significant impact on how future systems are built


(14:43) – The Reveal

(14:48) – What attracted you to an I.T. career in the first place? – “My dad landed up buying a ZX Spectrum at the time and he brought that home and I started playing with that”

(15:17) – What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received? – “You’re not going to know all the answers, and it’s OK to admit that”

(16:17) – If you were to begin your I.T. career again, right now, what would you do? –”I would probably try to find a small company where I could really focus on learning”

(16:55) – What career objectives are you focusing on right now? – “I’ve only been the CTO at OpenCredo for less than a year now so to a certain extent there’s a bit of consolidation there”

(17:26) – What’s the number one non-technical skill that has helped you in your career so far? – “To be able to explain things to people”


(18:09) – A Parting Piece of Career Advice: Nicki says that she wouldn’t have got to where she is in her career without a lot of help

(18:28) – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (18:36) – If you want people to teach you and train you and mentor you, you should also look to take the opportunity to invest time back into others – pay it forward


3 Key Points:     

  1. Be aware of the impact your code will have on the lives of others
  2. Learn to value the right thing and play the long game
  3. You won’t know all the answers and you shouldn’t expect to


Resources Mentioned:


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