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Q and A with Nicky Tang

Q & A guest blog with Nicki Tang.

Nicky Tang Bio

Nicki Tang

Head of Business Intelligence

Nicki Tang bio.
I have been working in IT for the past 17 years. I went straight from finishing my A-Levels into a role as a junior COBOL developer and steadily progressed up the ranks to my most recently secured position as Head of Business Intelligence. The route from there to here has been packed with a huge variety of technologies, a number of job titles, an Open University degree, a marriage, four house moves and the birth of my two sons now aged 8 and 10. I was fortunate to be chosen to head up the Bank of England's BI competency centre about 8 years ago which started my passion for data and all the interesting insights we can derive from transforming it into information. As a naturally rather inquisitive (some may say nosey) person, I found business intelligence a perfect fit for me! When I'm not knee-deep in data I enjoy mountain biking with my family, baking and weightlifting - possibly not the hobbies that immediately spring to mind when you think of an IT “geek”!

1. Hi Nicki, thanks for taking the time to talk with us today. Your career in IT looks very impressive; can you tell us what first prompted you to a career in the tech space?
My career in tech actually started by complete accident! I originally wanted to study law but was undecided as to which university to attend so I took a year out (which incidentally resulted in me meeting my husband to be)! Following this gap year, I spotted a job opening with the Bank of England which I thought looked interesting and subsequently interviewed for it, only to eventually see it offered to my best friend. However, after going through the interview process for the original job I wasn’t offered they approached me about a role in IT which they suggested I may be suitable as I’d worked at PC World previously! I recall one of the questions at the interview being ‘which football team do you support?’ to which I answered ‘Spurs’ and even though the interviewer was an Arsenal supporter, that didn’t stop me from being offered the IT role! 13 years later and it turned out to be a brilliant opportunity for my foray into IT and a solid foundation to enable me to adapt to new techs quicker and give me the solid understanding of the key basics in applications including Java and Microsoft. At the Bank of England they were already trailblazing with their approach to taking on school leavers into tech areas back then where we were mentored and channelled into developers. Another key area of our development was they ensured we embraced the traditional aspects of software development and made us spent time in testing environments to guarantee we firmly grasped how properly tested code should perform and why testing is so critical to this. In fact, they even sponsored my Open University course!  It has proven to be the robust foundation to my 17 year long career in tech and taught me some highly invaluable lessons and essentially made me the developer I am today.

2. What are the day to day challenges in your role?
I believe the expectations of IT have changed dramatically over the past few years. These days, people have so much easy access to powerful tech in their professional and personal lives. This speed and ease of use has now, I believe, created a general expectation that applications and tools in business should be just as powerful and as easily retrieved! So best managing the reality and expectations of this amongst various stake-holders is one of my key day to day challenges. This is coupled with the fact that many IT focused budgets are increasingly restrained whilst the expectations of departmental delivery aren’t – which puts a lot of pressure on the IT department to consistently produce.  So another of my key day to day challenges is devising creative strategies and tactics to best manage my resources to essentially deliver more with less.

3. Which part(s) of your role do you enjoy the most?
Surprisingly for a tech orientated person – the people part! I am adverse to the notion that most techs are viewed as solitary “geeks” sitting in a darkened room alone and coding! It’s all about people to me; talking, sharing ideas, truly understanding expectations and consistently blowing their minds when expectations are exceeded and the solutions are demo-ed back.  I also relish, as a manager, seeing people develop and building career paths for them. To me, IT is not solely a mathematical thing the real skill is about communicating effectively with people, understanding their challenges and translating that into the best solutions. In BI dashboards have to be things of beauty and these simply cannot be created nor properly understood unless those concerned and their challenges are properly communicated with and comprehended. In fact, this is translated into my hiring practices in that I don’t necessarily just focus on individual’s tech expertise but I also put emphasis on their communication skills, engagement, personality and drive.

4. If you were to offer advice to those starting out in software development, what would it be?
Get involved and get hands on as early as possible, the earlier you can gain real life practice with the software and tech you want to specialise in and focus on, the better. Don’t be afraid to leave school and not have a clear idea on which university or college you want to attend let alone which course, focus on who is offering apprenticeships in IT and remember degrees can’t possibly move as fast as tech is moving!  I also believe more organisations should focus on mentoring school leavers into tech much like the Bank of England did with myself and others many years ago and embrace this raw, eager to learn talent.

5. Which tech(s) have you seen recently that inspired you the most to learn more about them and why?
Amazon Web Services (AWS) really stands out for me right now. I attended the AWS summit in April this year and must say I really enjoyed learning more about their large-scale Cloud provision and out of this world security. I am a staunch supporter of everything Cloud, I use Cloud for banking and storing files in my personal life and I trust it with very personal aspects of my life, so why not trust its security the same in business? In fact, Spotify has masses of high value, high volume data and use AWS not only for secure storage but super-fast retrieval. Indeed some entities believe AWS to be so safe they use to store $billion worth of goods, to use an example the Motion Picture Association of America members use it to store un-cut films and footage that if accessed would cost them billions of $ spent in film production, testament to how secure AWS and the Cloud actually is. I also believe Cloud is also the best platform for testing, why make a hefty investment into hardware when you could set up and access a suitably secure test environment in the Cloud for a third of the cost in around 3 days, as opposed to 3 months!?

6. What are your thoughts around the future of BI, more specifically, what tools are coming out you believe are worth nothing and in which areas do you see BI evolving?
Self-service BI I think is an area in which I see BI evolving further and is also an area worthy of keeping an eye on. Self-service BI alludes to my earlier response to question 2 in which IT budgets decrease or stay stagnant however delivery expectations increase;  as Heads of Dept. we may find ourselves increasingly having to be more creative with resources and activities. I think self-service BI is interesting on many levels, essentially instead of IT departments being reactive to the business’s needs around information and reporting, which often can be quite a slow laborious task, with proper data governance and review (which all be it may be a sizeable task) and the right BI foundation, stake-holders from the business itself could run their own reports on demand and super-fast.

7. Which advancement in any tech area is exciting you the most currently?
Wearable tech really excites me! Imagine a world whereby your wearable tech is linked up to your GP’s system and pro-actively manages your health? So flipping reactive healthcare on its head, your GP surgery contacts you based on what has been detected from your personal wearable tech offering you an appointment or treatment! It could also be used to identify and flag more serious conditions, potentially saving the NHS substantial amounts of money in treating conditions earlier and perhaps even saving your life! However, I’m not sure how health detection via wearable tech may adversely impact on medical health insurance!

8. In the past, how have you found new jobs? How would you approach seeking a career change giving current technology and market conditions?
I was at the Bank of England for 13 years so was lucky enough to be promoted and rewarded in line with my achievements and therefore did not have to review my career options regularly however when I did decide to review my possibilities I initially decided to have a look around and used social media such as LinkedIn and Glassdoor mainly to see what the current roles were of the individuals I was connected with. What I have genuinely found invaluable time and time again is a strong relationship with a recruiter who actually understands what makes me tick professionally and what my career priorities are: it sounds clichéd but it is very true. What I do know is that a role has to be right for me in terms of responsibilities and culture as I need to quickly feel how I can add value and ultimately improve the company and its processes and make an actual difference. So finding a good recruiter, as I have done so with Dom at onezeero., has proven invaluable.