Jacob Nicotra

Software Developer

Jacob Nicotra is a full stack developer with a unique background in the medical field as well as years of scientific research. He is passionate about programming and is always looking for ways to optimize back end infrastructure and create seamless, user-friendly experiences. When he is not coding, you can find him hiking, PC & VR gaming, capturing drone footage, or trying out new restaurants and breweries.

Jacob Nicotra is originally from the Chicago Suburbs, including Naperville, Aurora, and Carol Stream. He attended Waubonsie Valley High School in Aurora, Illinois from 2011 to 2015, where he was active in extracurricular activities such as wrestling, model United Nations, and Science Olympiad. After graduating high school, Nicotra attended the University of Pittsburgh for two years, from 2015 to 2017. Jacob then transferred to Elmhurst University, in the Chicago area, from which he graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry. While attending Elmhurst, Nicotra was active in the tutoring program and helped hundreds of students to improve in college-level chemistry, biology, calculus, statistics, and physics.

With a strong background in STEM, biochemistry, and thousands of clinical hours, Jacob Nicotra decided to redirect his career in 2021 to pursue a path in the tech industry as a software engineer. After evaluating market trends and employment opportunities, Jacob underwent a 6 month software engineering course. To date, Nicotra has developed 4 full stack web applications, as well as launched an online web development business, focused on building websites for small businesses. He is currently developing an estimation tool for a painting and construction company that will support a streamlined estimate process and help generate new business and increased revenue.

Where did the idea for your career come from?

So much of today’s economy is driven through the internet. In order to attract and maintain a customer base, it will become increasingly vital for small companies to maintain a user-friendly website. I wanted to provide a helpful service for small business owners to create modern, chic, and powerful websites / web applications. This way they can spend more time delivering their valued products and services, and less time stressing about their website.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I usually start my day with a quick review of my goals for the day, then I get to work on the most important task. I try to avoid distractions as much as possible, but if something urgent does come up then I’ll put it at the top of my list so that I can address it as soon as possible. After completing the most important task, I move on to the next one and continue this process throughout the day. This approach helps me stay focused and prevents any tasks from building up. At the end of the day, I take some time to reflect on what went well and what could be improved for the next day.

How do you bring ideas to life?

To bring an idea to life, I like to start simple by creating a model which clients can see. This model or wireframe serves a goal for me to slowly work towards. Next I develop a working roadmap. Making something like an entire website can seem like a daunting amount of work, however sticking to a plan helps me accomplish one task at a time- utilizing due dates and progress check-ins along the way. When it comes to actual execution, I prefer to implement the ‘pie slice model’, in which I complete one feature from back to front, before moving onto the next. This gives the client an idea of what the final product will be like, while also providing me an idea of time constraints when tackling the rest of the scope of work.

What’s one trend that excites you?

The rise of the remote economy is something that excites me, because it allows people like me to connect with clients, peers, employers, and partners from around the globe despite geographical limitations.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

One small habit that makes me productive as an entrepreneur is filling up every hour of my working day. Whether that is delivering on current business, seeking new work, or improving my skills, remaining busy and productive by using a planner prevents any wasted time as well as over-fixation on a single task. Clearly laying out my day also helps me accomplish my tasks during the day, so that my work doesn’t overflow into the night and interfere with my personal life.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Some advice that I would give my younger self is to start saving for retirement as early as possible. The sooner you start, the more time your money will have to grow. I would also advise against taking on too much debt, because it can be very difficult to pay off later on in life. Finally, I would tell myself to focus on developing skills that are in demand by the market, because those are the skills that will be most valuable in the long run.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

It’s not always best to follow your passion. If you want financial success, then you must also take the market into consideration. If your passion happens to fall into a niche which is also desirable by consumers, then you lucked out. However, most people don’t experience this alignment, and need to reevaluate their goals because of financial needs. In my experience, 9/10 adults tell children to ‘follow their passion’. Occasionally that 10th person comes along and reminds everyone that you’re more likely to experience success if you seek to fulfill a need in the market. Of course money isn’t everything, and many people find fulfillment through other means, those looking to live comfortably are better off by acting on this advice sooner than later in life.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Something that I always do (and recommend to others) is to only set SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-based) for myself. Vagueness can be the enemy of progress. When you allow yourself to strive towards a goal that is not SMART, you may find yourself never making true progress, because the goal was meaningless in the first place.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

One strategy that has helped me grow my business is to diversify my services. This can be done in a few ways: by targeting different types of clients, offering different services that cater to those clients, or even working with complementary businesses. For example, if you’re a web developer then partnering with a graphic designer can be mutually beneficial. The web developer can design and build the website, while the graphic designer can create all of the branding and marketing materials. This type of collaboration not only helps the businesses involved reach new audiences, but also allows them to specialize in their respective areas of expertise.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

One failure that I had as an entrepreneur was not charging enough for my services. I eventually overcame this by raising my prices and communicating the value of my work to potential clients. It can be difficult to put a price on your time and expertise, but it’s important to remember that you are providing a service that has real value. And if the client doesn’t think your services are worth the price, then they can always choose to go elsewhere.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

One business idea that I’m willing to give away is a mobile app that helps busy people make better choices about how they spend their time. The app would allow users to track their daily activities and see how much time they’re spending on productive tasks vs. unproductive tasks. It would also provide suggestions for how to improve time management skills, and offer tips and tricks for getting the most out of each day.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

The best $100 that I recently spent was on a web development course. I decided to take the course to further my skills in web development, and it has already paid off by helping me land new clients. The course was definitely worth the investment, and I would recommend it to anyone looking to improve their skills in this area.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

One web service that helps me be productive is GitHub, which most modern programmers are probably familiar with. One vital solution that GitHub provides is a simple way to manage versions of a project, especially one in which multiple people are contributing. It is the very first service that I engage whenever I start a project, as well as the last that I use when finishing one. Aside from version control, it also serves as a community for programmers, where we can share work, collaborate, draw inspiration from, or simply connect- sort of like the LinkedIn for coders.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

One book that I would recommend entrepreneurs read is “The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses” by Eric Ries. The book is all about using a Lean Startup approach to create and grow your business. It covers topics such as launching a new product or service, customer development, validating your ideas, and more. I think it’s a great read for entrepreneurs of all levels.

What is your favorite quote?

“Don’t believe everything that you read on the internet” – Abraham Lincoln

Key Learnings:

  • Avoid taking on too much debt
  • Focus on developing skills that are in demand by the market
  • Charge enough for your services
  • Take a web development course to improve skillset