Developer Spotlight: Nikhila Pankaj

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In Developer Spotlight, senior application architect Nikhila Pankaj talks about the excitement of learning new skills, taking on new roles, and the importance of stepping out of one’s comfort zone.

AOT Technologies’ Nikhila Pankaj talks about her latest project and what it’s like stepping into a new field.

Can you tell me a bit about what you’ve been working on?

For more than a year now I have been working on the BC Ministry of Finance’s Tobacco and Fuel Tax Exemption Simplification Project—TAFT for short. I am the project’s API development lead, and every now and then I also investigate the DevOps related to APIs.

What does the day-to-day look like, and what do you love about your job?

My day begins with attending scrum meetings, looking into the team’s progress on API-related tasks, assigning tasks to the development team, catching up with the backlog, and taking up development tasks for myself. I also get pulled into ad-hoc requirements-gathering and solution-design meetings, which can in turn lead to designing a new API or redesigning an existing one. I also assist my team whenever they are stuck with technical challenges, as well as help them with debugging and reviewing code quality to ensure it meets the requirements at hand. I also keep track of API performance in test and production environments, which may prompt us to make code optimizations or rework OpenShift configurations.

The one thing I like most about the current project is the role I handle. Moving from an individual contributor to lead role gave me an opportunity to learn how to handle a team and organize tasks for timely completion. And I must say, the TAFT team is the best I have worked with so far. The rapport among our team members is just commendable, especially when it comes to collectively solving a problem or giving a helping hand to a team member. Having a great team is half the problem solved!

Throughout this project what are some of the obstacles that you faced? How did you handle these challenges, and what did you learn from them?

I haven’t had many obstacles in TAFT—well, I was new to open-source API development when assigned the lead role. I was apprehensive and nervous at first, because the team itself was new to API development. Luckily for us, there was enough ramp-up time to get ourselves updated. And in a job like this, learning never ends and you keep learning on the go. Being in a lead role did help me to plan, organize, and understand my team better.

Looking back on your time on the project, what are three key takeaways from the experience?

TAFT was a good learning experience, not just for me but for the entire team. It’s seldom that you get such a good project, let alone such a great team to work with. A few of my key takeaways would be:

Communication is the key: When in doubt, don’t assume! Get it cleared up! Jump into a call, have a team meeting, get opinions to have the best code delivered!

Understand your teammates: This is important especially when you lead a team. Understanding their strengths and weaknesses helps to assign tasks appropriately and get work done faster. Take a weakness of theirs and help them to improve, which in turn improves the overall quality of your team. Sometimes it’s just about pushing your team to explore beyond their comfort zone.

Planning and organizing: Having an idea about what’s our priority for the project helps to plan and organize tasks better. Sharing this with your team is even more important for making sure they are on the same page. At the same time, it’s important to accept that sometimes things go against the plan—change of requirement, technical block, change of resources, etc. Countering these obstacles again involves communicating with the team and replanning and reprioritizing tasks.

What do you enjoy about working at AOT, and what advice would you give to people starting out in their career as a software developer?

The best thing about working at AOT is maintaining my work-life balance. I have been with AOT for the last 4 years and have seen the company grow at its own pace. We have some of the best people and minds in the game and the experience they come with is more than an asset to the company. For me, working at AOT required me to come out of my comfort zone of 12+ years in a Microsoft environment. I have now worked with numerous technologies that were completely Greek and Latin to me. And for those people who are starting out at AOT:

Always keep yourselves updated—when it comes to technology as well as the company.

Focus on communication—be it when you need help or when in doubt. This helps you deliver your best when you’re on a project.

Explore outside your comfort zone—when you’re a developer it’s always good to understand and be knowledgeable about things outside of coding, for example, how to build and release your code to different environments and how to set up a server.

Can you share with us some of the things you like to do when you’re not at work?

When not at work, I prefer to spend time with family and also pursue some hobbies of my own. I love to explore local places of interest, take small hikes, and of course—how did I miss this?!—I love baking and I’m addicted to making French macarons. I also have a small business supporting my hobby. Check out @macaron.moments on Instagram!