There are few people who can say they have over 20 years of computer programming experience, and Nick happens to be one of them. We wanted to get to know a little bit more about the man behind the code.
There are few people who can say they have over 20 years of computer programming experience, and Nick happens to be one of them. We started working with Graphic Intuitions in early 2020, which is how we were introduced to Nick. And since we have joined forces to create Roadmap Agency Inc., we’ve had the chance to get to work with him on the daily. With the opportunity to pick his brain, we wanted to ask Nick his advice for an aspiring developer and the number one challenge he believes developers must overcome. We also uncovered why he made the switch from freelancing to a career with the Roadmap team and myth bust all the nuances about a day in life as a Senior Lead Developer.
I guess you could say we wanted to learn a little bit more about the man behind the code.
Tell us about your background. What led you to the Roadmap team?
I’ve done computer programming for about 20 years now. I originally started programming robotics in high school then moved into web development shortly after. I then spent seven years working for a non-profit in Australia. Afterwards, my wife, daughter, and I moved back to Canada, where I began freelancing. I eventually joined Roadmap after Julie reached out to me. I liked the idea of working with a team as I found freelancing a bit too isolating.
What was your first job?
I worked as a Canada Post clerk at a local pharmacy. There was a surprising amount of stuff to know for a first job.
What does a day in the life of your role look like today?
Most of my days start off having a chat with Shayne, the Director of Technology & Development here at Roadmap, to review the status of various projects. Then, we’ll often strategize together on how to bring a client’s idea to reality through the multiple platforms and frameworks we use. From there, I get to coding and start working away at various features to make their ideas a reality.
What is your favourite thing about your job? About working at Roadmap? About the Roadmap team?
I’ve always enjoyed creating and building things. Having the opportunity to bring that to the table along with a team with expertise in other areas is very rewarding. I freelanced for a short time, and one of the things I really missed during that time is seeing how a whole team can create something much greater than one individual.
What kind of clients are your favourite to work with?
My favourite clients to work with are willing to think a bit differently about a problem and solve it. I genuinely believe that there isn’t necessarily a one-size-fits-all for building a website or application. So often, we automatically default to certain ideas or ways of doing something. But when a client is willing to dream outside of the box with us, I think we can deliver something valuable.
What’s one project you’re proud of?
I enjoy anything that makes something more efficient. I think that many developers feel this way. When Rempel Insurance came to us with a project to reduce a massive burden off their staff administrative tasks, it sounded like a great opportunity. We were able to help build them a system that cut down significantly repetitive email work their team had to carry out daily.
What are some challenges you faced throughout your career? How did you overcome them?
I think the feeling of imposter syndrome is common for software engineers. I’m sure other industries might feel this as well. Early on in my career, I’d often see an amazing website or some beautifully crafted code, and I’d think, “who am I kidding, I’m never going to be able to do this.” With time and experience, that feeling passes, and it becomes easier to focus more on solving problems for our clients.
Where do you go for inspiration on new projects? Who inspires you?
I often visit experiments.withgoogle.com to see some of the latest boundary-pushing technologies in action. It continues to amaze me that people figured out how to do some of this stuff. A personal favourite is Google Quick Draw.
Who do you admire most? (In your field or in general?)
I admire Elon Musk’s ability to think outside the box and deliver on promises. I think it’s one thing to dream big lofty ideas, but to make them a reality through hard work and determination is truly amazing when it unfolds. I’m also a bit of a sucker for anything space-related.
What is one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring developer?
It can be easy to get overwhelmed by the breadth of frameworks and libraries. The best thing to do is pick something that interests you, create a side project, or contribute to some open-source projects. For example, when I first started, I wanted to see how I could display house sale prices for a city on a Google map. The task presents many challenges I had to overcome, like how to aggregate 1000’s of map points and become familiar with mapping APIs. I’ve now used all these skills on client projects with Roadmap.
What is one thing you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting your career?
Don’t stress so much about becoming a superstar developer. Of course, you want to work hard and pursue excellence, but don’t become fixated on how much better everyone else seems to be. If you put the hard work in, eventually, you will find your groove and discover ways of delivering value. Also, if you feel like you’ve got to a place in your job that you’re just on autopilot, it might be a good sign that it’s time to move on. Instead, find a workplace that values your skills and can be pushed to the next level.
Where do you go for educational resources? Any favourites?
I owe most of my development knowledge to stackoverflow.com. It’s an invaluable Q&A website for developers. So much of your development career is debugging issues, and Stack Overflow saves the day regularly.
As for learning new frameworks or systems? I spend a lot of time on the documentation. Whether it’s React, Laravel, Hubspot, Shopify, or some obscure API, good documentation gives me the tools I need to create something new.
How do you stay motivated working from home?
Before working with Roadmap, I worked from home for about three years. Part of that time was freelancing. I think people often think that freelancing is a dream job; you can set your hours and be your own boss. However, you soon realize that if you’re not creating value, you’re not getting paid. So that was a fantastic motivator for me, this idea that you always need to be creating value.
What are your favourite hobbies? What do you like to do in your free time?
I love playing board games and not just Monopoly or Clue. I enjoy complex games that take 30 min just to set up, like Gloomhaven. I also love being outdoors in nature and exploring new places. And when I get the chance, I do love smoking meat.
What are your favourite podcasts?
Since working from home, I’ve been listening to a lot fewer podcasts (no commute). When I lived in Australia, I often listened to Hamish and Andy, who had a hilarious radio show. Now they have their own podcast, and it offers up some much-needed comic relief.
I also enjoy listening to Software Engineering Daily. He’ll often interview engineers from some of the bigger technology companies. It’s interesting to hear about their decision-making process or how they solve complex engineering problems.
What is the worst piece of advice you’ve ever gotten and why?
“Just do your work and don’t ask any questions.” It maybe wasn’t phrased exactly that way, but I’ve come across this sentiment before (and not at Roadmap btw). For myself, to produce the best work possible, I have to understand why we’re building something and how it contributes to the overall project. I think the more context people have, the better work they can produce.