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The Digital Engineers of Nitor: Karate Consultant Jarkko packs a pragmatic punch

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April 20, 2023 · 6 min read time

Having transitioned to Nitor from government employment, Jarkko Lakso has garnered expertise and self-reliance via a long career as a coder. Known as the Karate Consultant, Jarkko began his career at Nitor as a Senior Software Developer and has since shifted to working as a Software Architect.

Jarkko, you’ve had the chance to work in many roles in both the public and private sectors before joining Nitor. What kind of career path have you had up until now? 

At the end of my studies, I ended up in a product house focusing on process and quality consulting. I worked there for almost ten years. During that time, I did pretty much everything one can do in a software house. I ran the helpdesk, coded, designed and tested software, installed servers and applications, handled updates, worked as a team lead and product development chief, supported sales, and assisted in competitive bidding. Just about everything. 

At around the ten-year mark, I began to feel like I had accomplished everything there was to accomplish and started looking around for new things. I ended up working for the National Land Survey of Finland’s IT services known as MitPa, working on systems for the Finnish Food Safety Authority. 

You started at Nitor as a coder and have since moved into the realm of design and process consulting. Your title also changed from Senior Software Developer to Software Architect. How does your current work compare to what you did before?

I still operate on familiar ground, but the points of emphasis are different. If my work was previously divided into 90 percent coding and 10 percent design, the balance is now the exact opposite. As a programmer, you’re often operating on a very limited playing field, provided that the ticket governing the project is drawn up tightly.

As an architect, I’m often in charge of drafting said tickets. That means I need to look at the bigger picture through a wider lens and consider multiple different elements. 

When working on a new task, I generally begin the work by gathering as much information as possible from all sources. Eventually, I will try to squeeze out the most clearly outlined description of what my initial plan for the project is. It can be pretty tricky at times, as something may be very clear on an intuitive level, but it needs to be put into words so that others can follow my train of thought fluently. On the other hand, that’s a key component of working as a Software Architect.

Sounds like a challenging role, but I’m sure your colleagues provide you support when things get tough. What would you say is the best part of the work community at Nitor? 

Two things spring to mind. First, everyone here is highly skilled. If there’s uncertainty with anything, you have over two hundred other Nitoreans to turn to for additional insight.

The other thing is that the people here are genuinely nice and considerate. Things simply tend to sort themselves out. As far as the skill level goes, sometimes I find myself pondering if I belong here. Nitor has unbelievable skill on the roster.

Even seasoned veterans tend to understate their own skill level when surrounded by other supremely skilled experts.

I think that’s a really common phenomenon. One thing I’ve found helpful is the fact that I’ve built a fancy to-do list on my Trello board. The most important part of the board is the Done section, which lists every item I’ve gotten over the finish line. It affords me the opportunity to pat myself on the back and say, yes, I’ve done a lot and accomplished a lot.

What other aspects of your work give you a sense of fulfilment? 

My job is highly versatile, and I have a great deal of influence on how wide my work spectrum is at any given time. I get to focus on whatever is a key issue at the moment. And though it may require days of pondering, I do enjoy delving into cases that require lengthy contemplation.

To eventually produce an apt description of the task that fits the targeted tone of voice and matches the intended use – whether that be a formal documentation of a data model or a story about a movie theatre.

I like to extend my tentacles to many different directions and pull in as much information as possible, which is something my tasks often require me to do. 

The desire to expand one’s knowledge must be a key part of working at Nitor. What other assets would you say a Nitorean Digital Engineer should possess?

This may sound like a cliché, but I would say the most important factor is the desire to learn new things alongside a general streak of curiosity and willingness to try something new. During our Core Time, we are given ample opportunities to try out new ideas, whether they’re a part of what we are currently working on or not. If one does not have the courage to experiment, the possibilities to learn and develop diminish accordingly. 

Another key thing is honesty, as a dishonest consultant is a useless consultant. You can’t just make a house in the box provided by the customer but rather have the drive to start fixing things that you find to be amiss. You must be willing to encourage and support the client to develop their procedures. 

Both your peers at Nitor and customers know you as the Karate Consultant. How did this name come about?

I’ve been studying different martial arts for about 25 years at this point. These days my main focus is Koryu Uchinadi Karate, but through the years, I’ve tried out many disciplines. Alongside Karate, I’ve spent the most time practising Kali, which is a Filipino weapons technique.

The Karate Consultant name was given to me through the fact that I’ve run a few dozen low-effort karate lessons for people to have a safe environment to engage in some light sparring. I’ve also conducted a few lessons for fellow Nitoreans. 

The zen approach and discipline of martial arts must have proved useful in your work. Are there lessons learned on the mat that apply to your work as a Digital Engineer?

I had time to think about this beforehand and found a great intersection where the two worlds meet. Traditional, TV-style karate is extremely precise, detail-oriented, and strict. The strikes must be landed correctly down to the millimeter, or they’ve been executed incorrectly. Period. This could be compared to traditional engineering work, where everything must be calculated down to the finite, or you risk something like a collapsed bridge.

Such a super-detailed and strictly outlined approach feels somewhat alien to me, however, as I am the sort of person who wants to look at things from various perspectives and try out different models of operation. Over the years, I’ve tried my hand at many different martial arts. I could practically walk into any practice session – which I’ve been known to do occasionally, knowing I won’t fare horribly.

Approaching things with this mindset has given me the ability to adapt to any situation that may come my way. If we compare that to my work at Nitor, regardless of what kind of role a certain situation may require, with a bit of practice, I believe I will be able to adapt to its needs and further develop my own skills as a result. That is the essence of Nitorean dexterity.

In this campaign, we’ll introduce Nitoreans in different roles. Every Nitorean is a Digital Engineer: a pragmatic and solution-oriented helper who doesn’t settle for assumptions. Instead, they take one step further to seek the right questions and even better answers.

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