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Me in Merkle- Nika Houkes

Me in Merkle is a series of interviews that showcase the incredible individuals who make Merkle a unique and diverse place to work. This week we chatted to Nika Houkes, senior decisioning architect, at Merkle EMEA. 

1. Tell us about yourself. Where did you grow up and where do you live now?

Hi! My name is Nika, I’m a very early 90's child. I grew up in the Netherlands, a little city called Groningen, where I spent the first 27 years of my life. By that time, I had been in a long-distance relationship with my partner for 3.5 years, so a move was long overdue! Later this year I'll celebrate my 4-year UK-versary and have spent that time living in London. I'll also be celebrating my 3-year engagement this year, so the move was worth it!

2. What drew you to your current career?

I walked many of the paths that eventually led to Rome. I have a Bachelor's degree in Video Game Design & Development, but when I graduated, I chose not to pursue a career in that as it meant moving to another country (and look how that turned out). I went into software development, as I've always had a love for computers – software and hardware (I built my own gaming rig here at home and it has ALL the RGB lights). I did a few stints as a full stack developer, including one where I did everything from server management to backend to CSS – but ended up back working with Pega as I really enjoy the platform.

Another very correct answer to this question would have been 'a recruiter' but that would've been less fun to read.

3. Why Merkle?

At first, Merkle was just a way to get back to working with Pega. However, I have learned over the past years that Merkle is full of very kind and cool people, whom I've really enjoyed working with so far. I love their work with the pillars, and that they care about inclusivity. However, mainly I've made some friends here, for whom I'm very grateful.

4. What do you enjoy most about Decisioning and what do you think future developments will be?

Decisioning has many moving parts and is applicable to lots of use cases. Every project is distinctly different, and you always need to find a new angle to approach it from. It's both high level and can get very nitty gritty, and what's more, it works and delivers results. I always love it when you've been working on a problem for a few days, and then you hit that 'Run' button and it works – I know that's not specific to Decisioning but it's something I get to experience quite often.

I think there's a big opportunity for more overlap between the different aspects of the platform. Pega already has a Robotics side to it, and I think the two might be combined in a very interesting manner. Having that  combined with a strong platform, and you can do some amazing things. I can see myself moving towards a more holistic Pega expert in the future and am considering working towards my LSA certification. After that I'd love to start looking at the Robotics side of things and consider how it could support the Decisioning side.

I think I'll also have to do some courses on delegation at that point though...

5. What would your advice be to somebody considering a career in your team?

Learn how to use GIFs on Teams.

Oh, something more than that? I guess the main tips that I have are similar across industries – if you think you might be interested in working in this field, by all means give it a go! You'd be surprised how intuitive things are, and as long as you ask questions and are willing to take initiative you'll learn quickly. Everyone here, especially on my team, is very helpful and friendly.

6.What is your greatest accomplishment?

That's a tough one, as there are a few things I'm proud of both in my career and outside of it. To not make this too boring and just about work – I'd have to say it was my gold medal at the National Championships of Taekwon-Do a couple years ago.

7. Tell us a bit about your experience so far with Merkle.

I began as a Decisioning Consultant on a large telecoms client, where I met a lot of people – but then just over a month in, COVID hit. I've been working from home ever since, and for me it's mostly been a blessing – I hate commuting – but it's been a challenge as well, for sure. I pride myself on having been able to build a strong team spirit in my little crew, we have good fun everyday whilst working to deliver to top standards.

Over the past years I've found myself growing into more of a leadership role, something I am very excited about. I love working with people and am looking forward to what else I might be able to achieve in that field!

8. What inspires you about Merkle’s workplace culture?

A lot of it is the interpersonal connections. Whenever there's an event, or a talk, the chat is always lit up and people are friendly and open even if you may not (yet) know them. Where I work, and the people I've worked with, we've always valued openness and honesty. As we'd say in the Netherlands, approach everything with your visor up – maybe less of a great sentiment in these Covid days, but you get the point.

9. What was your dream job growing up?

I've had many! Doctor, lawyer, astronaut – and one that's still high on my list is storywriter for video games. I think that'll remain a hobby though.

10. Are you involved in any of our DEI Pillars? If so, which one and can you tell us a bit about it?

I'm not an active member of any at the moment, but I try to always join the events set up by the Mental Health and LGBTQ+ pillars. I have my own struggles with mental health, something I've always felt supported in here at Merkle. I identified as a lesbian from quite a young age, and realised I was non-binary very recently. I had only talked to my fiancée and one close colleague about it when Merkle sent out an e-mail on international non-binary day, which made me feel safe to change my gender and preferred name and pronouns at work – and I've had nothing but positive reactions. Mostly everyone just goes with it without making any sort of fuss, which I love.

11. How do you like your eggs?

Medium boiled. Yeah, I'm that weirdo who just loves to peel a boiled egg, put some salt on it, and chow it down in two bites. It's one of my favourite snacks, and as I train a lot for martial arts, that's a blessing.

Oops, I'm hungry now.

12. What are you currently watching on Netflix/Prime?

Honestly, I spend most of my free time either training, playing video games, writing, or watching YouTube videos... often about video games. I enjoy fantasy and sci-fi stuff though, and much to my partner's exasperation I love watching supernatural horror movies. We have a membership to the local Everyman cinema, and we go and watch almost everything that comes out, including for example Annabelle and the latest Conjuring movie. The only reason she tags along is because she is entertained by how scared I get, not by the movie itself.

I do want to shout out the animated series Invincible, it's worth a watch – not a kid's show!

13. What’s your guilty pleasure?

Can't they just be pleasures, why do we have to make them guilty? I don't feel the least amount of guilt when I am making my rib-eye steak burger, or unwrapping a Tony's Chocolonely bar...

14. What is your dream holiday destination?

Korea, to visit the birthplace of my martial art. It's also a dream to train for a couple of months at a martial arts Academy in East Asia someday, we'll see if that ever happens! The next holiday spot we're hoping to get to this year is Canada though, to meet up with one of my partner's friends and because I've never been to North America. However, before any of that, I really am hoping to travel back to the Netherlands as I haven't been able to see my family for about 1.5 years now due to Covid.

15. Best advice or mantra you live by?

This one I nicked from Nigel Owens when he did a talk for us a little while back, it's "Don't let perfect be the enemy of good". I have some issues when if I feel that I can't do something perfectly, I get overwhelmed and don't do it at all. Now, I tell myself that even if my workout is not perfect, it's still a hundred times better than doing nothing at all!

In Our Company