In the latest in our ‘5 Minutes With…’ series, we sat down with Nicole Hardiman, Director of Engineering at Flagstone. Join us as we dive into Nicole’s career, exploring her experiences, and how she keeps her team engaged.

Can you share a bit about your background and your role at Flagstone?

I didn’t break into technology the conventional way – I just had a knack for it, and decided to try my hand at “computers”, which has turned out to be a great career for the last twenty years.

I’m what I’d call a ‘multipotentialist’ – I’ve done a lot of different things, development, operations, support at various levels, service management, DBA, CRM and worked on one of the early adopters of Azure. I love learning new things – then I discovered that I love it even more when I create space for other people to learn new things. A small taste of line management was all it took for me to know that’s what I wanted to do with my career whilst leveraging my technical career collateral, I have all these different experiences which allows me to talk to lots of different technologists.

I joined Flagstone as a Senior Engineering Manager, but have taken that next step, and currently I’m the Director of Engineering. As such, I am responsible for our engineering function, making sure we’re delivering value to the organisation and that our engineers are engaged and happy. My role has a multitude of responsibilities, from future proofing and training our technologists, through to ensure programmes or projects are meeting required objectives and deadlines. One of my key focuses is on our engineering community, ensuring everyone has a voice, that they have aligned autonomy and they’re happy to (respectfully) challenge where appropriate.

What inspired you to join and what do you enjoy most about your current role?

The culture inspired me to join Flagstone. The focus on allowing people to learn, to help shape their own career. The way we bring people together.

As for what I enjoy most, it has to be the people. Whether that’s the folks I look after or my peers or the rest of the business, there are some amazing people who really care. I really enjoy watching the people I look after explore new technical solutions to existing problems and love to celebrate when one of those outside the box ideas comes to fruition. We give them time and space to do that which I think is invaluable.

With the growing influence of ‘Holistic Engineering (HE)’, can you explain what is meant by the term and what importance you think it should have on an Engineering Function?

Holistic Engineering is something our Lead Principal Engineer is driving, which I’m very happy to get behind. This is wider than DevOps and expands on that mindset. It’s how you bring in Test Driven Development, security by design, thinking about how you’ll decommission what you’ve worked on, managing pipelines and within reason, the infrastructure. It’s understanding developing and engineering with the whole software delivery lifecycle in mind. We then take it even further and include the business. If you don’t know what impact the thing your developing is – how do you know you’re developing the right thing?

What are the most important principles to consider when trying to grow a positive ‘HE’ culture?

Allow people to explore it, see where the shadows are that you need to throw some light on. Offer engineers opportunities to conduct their testing and gain a deeper understanding. Instead of relying on others, foster a security mindset by educating everyone about it. Provide a chance to experience the broader business context and comprehend the implications of their work.

There is a lot of discussions around Developer Experience (DevEx) at the moment, what are the best ways to keep Engineering teams happy and engaged from your experience?

I’ve touched on it a lot, but in my experience, developers want to learn new things. Let them. Those new things could solve old problems.

I think having the right tools, the right equipment and reasonable challenges is important too. If you present folks with something they have no hope of achieving, you’ll impact morale. Similarly, if it’s too easy, people get bored. Pitch the challenges correctly, allow them space to explore new technologies and give them freedom to find solutions to the challenges they face.

It’s also really important to break out of that “tech bubble” make sure they have a relationship with product and other stakeholders, enabling a greater holistic view. Make sure they’re comfortable coming to your leadership team to talk about anything that’s bothering them.