Alison’s Story: Switching Back to Tech (7-year break)
Four years after graduating with a Chemistry degree I was working for a well-known British retailer when I discovered software development quite by accident. I was moved onto their IT graduate scheme where I was trained in the basics for 3 months before joining a project. There I was building, fixing, and improving systems functionality for our stores and head office colleagues – and I loved it. It was fun as well as really rewarding. The next few years were a real highlight – I’d found my thing.
Unfortunately, business-wide decisions moved me out of software development and into business analysis. I stayed and gave it a go because we were planning to start a family and no one wants to start a new job with a newborn. But it wasn’t the same: writing documentation was nowhere near as much fun. I stayed far longer than I should’ve done but eventually, I decided to leave and concentrate on the family for a bit. A ‘bit’ turned into 7 years. The judgment of others weighed heavy right from the start (“What do you do all day?”) but as my break extended into the years I started to crave that feeling of contribution. I wanted to use my brain – all of it, not just the ‘making Viking longships out of cardboard bits! The kids were getting older and could do with some forced self-reliance. It does no one good to have a live-in maid… Decision made – back to work I would go.
I’m so grateful that such a long break was an option for our family but I was quite shocked at the negative impact on my self-esteem. My job search confidence was on the floor. I’d hung up my development shoes back in 2005 and I was painfully aware of just how quickly the tech world moves. So I spent a long time thinking about what job I wanted to go back to. I needed to enjoy my work and be really properly useful. I actually ruled out a return to software development really early on as I was put off by the prospect of expensive training – what if I couldn’t get a job afterwards? I was also worried about balancing home life with work as that had been a real issue in my previous role. Then when I did finally dip my toe into the water, the first recruiters I had contact with dropped me like a stone once they got wind of my lengthy break. To be honest, it all felt pretty hopeless.
I discovered the WomenReturners website through my husband, who had just interviewed one of their candidates for a software engineering role. Amazing. There I found the TechSwitch bootcamp which, frankly, seemed too good to be true: not only is it free but there’s a paid placement for 18 months afterward. I didn’t for one minute think I’d get onto the course but going through the application process really cemented for me that a career in Software Engineering was what I wanted. You can imagine my joy when I got a place.
The bootcamp was intense but incredibly supportive, both reactively as I needed it, and proactively with regular catch-up and feedback sessions. They helped us craft our CVs, gave us practice interviews as well as a near-constant bolstering of our confidence.
So now, as of April this year (2022) I’m working full-time in my dream job. It’s quite overwhelming at times – I still have a family life to juggle. It’s worth it though: I enjoy the work, I enjoy the self-worth and I enjoy contributing in a way that doesn’t involve laundry(!). It’s so great to have my own money again. And the family is slowly adapting to a more self-sufficient life. Occasionally the 14-year-old will even hoover.
1) Think carefully about what you want from this next phase of your career
2) Lean into whatever support is available – so many people out there want you to succeed
3) Strap yourself in for some pretty significant imposter syndrome. Talk to others about it – you’ll be amazed at the folk around you that also struggle with it – folk that to your eyes are smashing it
4) Remember all the less quantifiable but hugely important things you bring to the table – experience, perspective, and social confidence.
Go get on with the next bit of your life. For you.
This article was first published by womenreturners.