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Nick Jackson: from Computing and Cybernetics to Senior Developer

Social media handle(s): @jacksonj04 (Twitter)


A few words about me:

A portrait-style photograph of Nick Jackson from the shoulders up. Nick is smiling, and wearing a navy blue t-shirt.

Born in Leeds, I went to university in Lincoln where I picked up a degree in Computing and Cybernetics, which is nowhere near as cool as it sounds.


When I'm not working, my hobbies include amateur dramatics (both on and off stage) and singing in a male voice choir.


Are there any professional experiences you've had that are quite unexpected compared to what you do nowadays?


They've all been quite tech-focussed; the most unexpected one was probably when I found myself figuring out how to collect and share sensor data from gas turbine engines, having previously come straight from working with library catalogues.


Is your background more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) or non-STEM related?


Definitely STEM.


Where did your professional journey start?


My first summer job was actually working for an integrated circuits company, building a system to help them manage their documentation. I've always enjoyed organising information, but that was the first time I really thought I could make a career out of it.


How did you get into tech and what motivated you?


I've got to blame my dad for that – he was also quite into technology and basically just left me old computer systems to play with and see what I could make them do, starting with a ZX Spectrum +2. His response to "can I make it do this?" was usually along the lines of "I don't know, can you?".


For motivation it was mostly that sense of knowing that something could be done, and I just had to figure out how. I still love a challenge.


Have you experienced any 'career in tech' challenges / stereotypes?


I'm a straight, cis, white male so I tick basically all of the privilege boxes as far as personal challenges go!


The only real ones I've faced have been around things like institutional inertia – the idea that you can't try something new, even if it's objectively better, because that's just not how things are done. It was quite a big challenge when I worked in academia and the idea that we could just do something without a six month scoping exercise could sometimes seem quite revolutionary.


"Tech isn't one big hill you can reach the top of; it's hundreds of them, and everyone regardless of where they are in their career is still climbing them."

What you wish you knew before getting started in tech...


I wish I'd understood the Impostor Syndrome better – the idea that you're not good enough to be where you are. Tech is a field where the barrier for entry is incredibly low, and that can mean you feel you're not smart enough because you're working with people who know all kinds of stuff you don't. It can feel like an impossible hill to climb.


The thing is, though, that those people almost certainly have those "I had absolutely no idea you could do that" moments on a weekly basis as well. I regularly work with more 'junior' Developers and have to go "hold on a second, how did you do that?", or "how does that work?" or "that's a super useful tool, what is it?".


Tech isn't one big hill you can reach the top of; it's hundreds of them, and everyone regardless of where they are in their career is still climbing them.


What has been your biggest 'wow!' moment related to working in tech so far?


Working with data about electoral candidates, which meant that people were more informed about their choices in an election than they'd ever been before. It was a real "if this stuff was just open to begin with then we might not be in this mess" moment.


What do you like / not like about working in tech?


Weirdly enough, they're the same thing – the people!


The good ones are ones I've been fortunate enough to spend most of my career with. Good technologists genuinely want to use tech to make the world better. They work hard to understand the impact of what they do, and they have an almost inherent desire to share what they're doing for the good of everyone.


On the flip side, there are plenty of the stereotypical 'tech bros' who believe they're smarter than you, because if you were as smart as them then you'd be one of them. Every so often you come across someone who isn't there to help, they're there to gloat that you don't understand something. Ignore them, because they're usually incredibly brilliant at exactly one aspect of technology and not much else.


"Learn to use the tools. You can always do it the hard way, but once you've figured out the hard way there's a good chance someone has built a tool to do the same thing."

What's been your favourite / most memorable / funniest 'career in tech' moment so far?


Part of my degree involved programming robots to play football, and we used Roombas as the base platform because they already came with all the motors and a load of sensors. We never really figured out how to turn the vacuum bit off though, which meant the robotics lab was being constantly cleaned by a fleet of six vacuums. I would have eaten my dinner off that floor. It was spotless.


And to wrap up, is there any advice you'd like to give to others interested in a career in tech?


Learn to use the tools. You can always do it the hard way, but once you've figured out the hard way there's a good chance someone has built a tool to do the same thing. Editing code, analysing data, manipulating information, running tests ... you name it, and someone has probably been annoyed by it in the past and found a way to make it easier.

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