Niki Anderson

Niki Anderson

Major: Math

Year of Graduation: 2001

Graduate School: Masters of Software Engineering, University of Minnesota

Current Position/Location: DevOps Architect, IT Hosted Services, ICF Olson

 

Please give a brief description of your current position.

I am currently a DevOps Architect on the IT Hosted Services team at ICF Olson, a marketing and advertising agency based in Minneapolis. DevOps is a term used to describe software development principles, practices, and tools that aim to bridge what has traditionally been a divide between software development teams and IT infrastructure/operations teams, with focus on effective collaboration, automation, metrics and monitoring. I am primarily focused on building out new infrastructure for hosting ICF Olson’s loyalty and CRM platform, aiming to enable our software developers to deliver application changes more quickly, frequently, and with increased security and reliability.

What path did you follow to get to your current position?

I started out at St Ben’s as a pre-engineering major, but definitely favored the math classes so decided to focus on that. I eventually took a computer science course to fulfill a requirement, discovered I absolutely loved it, and continued taking computer science courses through the remainder of my college career. Because of my math major, I assumed a career as an actuary would be something to aim for, so I applied for actuarial internships the summer before my senior year. I was somewhat surprised when Securian Financial offered me a programmer internship instead, but happily jumped at the opportunity. I was hired on full time at Securian after graduation, and worked in application development roles for nine years. My interests eventually shifted to the technology that we as developers were using to build applications, so I joined a team at Securian that provided tools, common code, and architectural guidance for development teams. Around that time, I also completed a Masters of Software Engineering degree at the University of Minnesota. My most recent role at Securian was as an architect responsible for leading the organization’s DevOps transformation, a multi-year effort to modernize application development practices and capabilities. In the fall of 2017, I started my new adventure at ICF Olson.

What advice/suggestions would you have for students who might be interested in your career?

Don’t be intimidated if it feels like everyone else is way ahead of you, or way different from you in some way. It’s a common occurrence for me to be the only woman in a room full of men, or seemingly the only one who doesn’t have experience with a specific technology, or the only one who hasn’t been coding since age 3. If imposter syndrome kicks in, remind yourself how common those feelings are, and try to focus on learning and having fun!

There are so many opportunities in technology careers, and it’s never too late to get into it. Start small, stick with it, and find the people who will support you. There are many supportive people out there who love to share their knowledge, help new people get into this field, and provide encouragement through it all. Find those people! Or, if that’s not your style, there are endless resources online to use!

What skills are important in your field?

The obvious ones are problem solving and analytical skills. I have found that effective communication and collaboration are not emphasized enough in this field! Self-motivation and desire for continuous learning are also important.

What is the most satisfying/rewarding part of your position?

  • Helping and enabling others. Providing one small piece of advice or fix in a system can have a huge impact for someone else.
  • Driving change and inspiring people to think differently.
  • Being able to get something to work when it previously seemed impossible. Being able to stick with a difficult problem and eventually conquer it brings me a lot of satisfaction!

Most challenging?

There are always a lot of competing priorities demanding my attention. The opportunities for improvement & innovation are endless, and it can be difficult to decide where to focus energy. Keeping up with rapidly evolving technology, while still maintaining a family & personal life, is also a challenge.

What activities/experiences were helpful at CSB/SJU (and elsewhere) in preparation for this career?

I credit my liberal arts education with fostering my ability to maintain a holistic view of the work I am doing, and enabling me to connect the technical problems with business, interpersonal, & organizational considerations. My participation in sports, music, and other extracurricular activities as I was growing up taught me many important lessons that translate to the workplace: for example, time management, how to be an effective teammate, persistence and resilience.

 

(June 2018)