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 new born. 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 judgement 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 long ships 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 homelife 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 afterwards. 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 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 are 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, social confidence.
Go get on with the next bit of your life. For you.