If you’ve attended an 8th Light University (8LU) in the last 5 years, you probably already know Nicole Carpenter. She spends her days helping one of 8th Light’s oldest clients modernize their massive system; and at night, she’s the do-it-all organizer, facilitator, and public face for 8LU and three other tech user groups around Chicago. So it might come as a surprise to hear such an experienced leader reflect on what she views as her biggest challenge. “I started here with very shaky confidence,” Nicole says. “That is the thing that has grown the most since I’ve been here.”
|Name: Nicole Carpenter|
|Time at 8th Light: 6 years|
|Time in the industry: 6 years|
You won’t find confidence listed on any syllabus or careers matrix though. Nicole has grown hers by deliberately going outside of her comfort zone. “Stepping into the role of mentoring and managing was really stressful,” she says. “I put myself outside of my comfort zone in order to stretch my business acumen skills.”
Her desire to push her boundaries may seem like a new focus, but throughout her career, Nicole has consistently taken opportunities to grow her skills, expand her network, and advance her career. She’s carved out a niche career path that balances her technical aptitude with a natural ability to connect with, support, and draw inspiration from those around her.
Growing Her Skills
Nicole applied to 8th Light because of its apprenticeship program and its reputation as a friendly place for early-career developers. Having just completed a coding bootcamp in Chicago, she started learning foundational concepts and making connections between various skills she already had.
Nicole’s knack for relating with others has even helped drive some of her technical growth. “Any time an issue on my project comes up that involves usability, UX, design, or any user-facing element, I’m the person who fields those questions,” says Nicole. “I feel like I have more insights about how users will interact with the system and what our solution should look like, as opposed to coworkers more focused on functionality and how it works on the backend than how it looks on the frontend.”
That’s not to discount the role Nicole’s coworkers have played in her growth into one of 8th Light’s most experienced consultants. She credits her improving confidence to the teammates who helped create a stable environment where she’s felt comfortable learning on the job. “What helped quell those feelings was a combination of a supportive group of coworkers who coached me through jams when I got stuck, and time and exposure to new concepts,” Nicole says. “I’ve learned that there is always more to learn and that you are not expected to know everything, especially when you are first starting out.”
This realization is key for lifelong learners. Part of the joy of software are the endless opportunities to be amazed by what you don’t know. But this realization requires a level of confidence that can be hard for junior developers who are still absorbing core concepts. Nicole knows this first-hand, and she’s devoted much of her career to helping others get there.
Growing a Community
No software crafter exists in a silo, and Nicole took advantage of 8th Light’s culture of continual learning early on. During her apprenticeship, she participated in an internal working group organized around improving consulting skills. She also took ownership of scheduling weekly presentations for crafters to help explain core concepts to apprentices, and eventually used these same skills to revive two different initiatives: 8th Light University and miniConf.
When Nicole finished her apprenticeship, 8LU was relatively inactive and in need of a new organizer. Building on her experience scheduling internal talks, Nicole took on scheduling responsibilities. She’s developed 8LU into 8th Light’s flagship thought leadership meetup event, which regularly attracts audiences from around the world to watch talks on improving the craft of software development.
Nicole brought these same skills back to 8th Light by stepping up to organize our internal miniConf event. MiniConf is a one-day internal conference where team members deliver short presentations on their passion projects, lessons learned from project experience, or other interests unrelated to work. One of the main goals of the event is to provide public speaking experience in a friendly environment, preparing our team to make the leap to speaking publicly. Nicole even demonstrated how miniConf can help serve as a pipeline to your career goals — it’s where she practiced her first conference talk, “How to be a great developer without being a great coder,” before delivering it at RailsConf 2021. She continues to deliver this talk to every new cohort that goes through Code Platoon.
Under Nicole’s guidance, miniConf quickly went international — allowing all of 8th Light’s global offices to participate. When COVID-19 disrupted in-person meetings, we were able to keep miniConf as a virtual event with minimal changes. “We received a ton of positive feedback about how connected [the team] felt with their friends and coworkers across the company afterward,” Nicole says. “It felt great to be able to help facilitate that.”
Nicole continues to foster this same sense of community outside of 8th Light by facilitating multiple user groups that are open to anyone with a willingness to learn. Shortly after taking over 8th Light University, Nicole was asked to lead the ChicagoRuby Hacknight, and less than a year later she took over leadership of all of ChicagoRuby. These opportunities have continued to open doors, and last year Nicole was chosen to represent 8th Light in a leadership accelerator for senior women in tech.
Nicole’s interests go beyond writing code, and she has worked throughout her career to prepare for a more business-oriented role. “I value relationships and connections, and I am looking to expand my role to include more opportunities aligned to that direction,” she says. “I also appreciate how accessible the company leadership is, and I regularly have conversations about my career trajectory and available opportunities with those individuals.”And for now, she’s content where she is. “I really enjoy the work that I do with my client, so that is my focus until they decide they have achieved their goals.”
Despite her long list of professional achievements, Nicole has still found time to pursue her many interests outside of the office. “In general, I tend to lean toward crafty pursuits, such as painting, pyrography, and more recently, photography,” she says. Her passions also include home refreshing, baseball, live music, and current events podcasts. “I try to stay active, I do HIIT classes and try to ride my bike as much as possible.”
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