My journey from Hairdresser to Software Engineer
When I talk to people in the engineering community or colleagues at work, and they ask me about my background or where I worked previously, I get the same shocked look when I tell them that I actually moved into tech after a 10 year career as a hairdresser! ✂
Here I am in 2014 cutting my friend Charlotte’s fringe. Fast forward to now, it’s 2023 and I have just started a new role at OVO Energy as a Development Experience Engineer, after 18 months as a Junior Platform Engineer learning as I worked at sports tech company DAZN. (Charlotte still makes me do her hair though!).
Wild right? I still can’t believe it myself sometimes. I love to tell my story though, I want others to feel inspired if they are considering making a similar move into tech and to know that this dream is achievable. I have a big passion for helping others and mentoring and it is a big part of why I love Developer Experience.
I did a short talk for Code First Girls about my personal journey right at the beginning, so if you want to check that out you can do so > here! < (Disclaimer — it was my first time talking over a webcam and of course I barely prepared so please excuse my stuttering. 🥴)
How it all Started
I have always had a keen interest in tech. After excelling at ICT during school, it seemed like the most logical subject to continue at college and then university. I had very little guidance at the time, no one else in my immediate family had been to higher education and although they were super supportive of me, I didn’t have anyone to help me make the right decisions. Long story short — I left university feeling slightly deflated that the course I had chosen wasn’t the right one for me nor was the university itself.
So with a bunch of student debt and a desire to start a new adventure I moved to London and decided to give a career as a hairdresser a go. It wasn’t as random as it sounds! Hairdressing is something I was always really good at, I achieved my qualifications very quickly and had some experience working in small salons back in my hometown of Northampton before uni — so it seemed like an easy route to take and I landed a job at Headmasters salon. Before I knew it, the years flew by, I worked my way up to a senior level and had worked in some of London’s most prestigious salons as well as running my own business as a private stylist.
It wasn’t an overnight change to move back into the tech world, it was actually a really slow transition over the course of a few years. My experience and expertise was in the hair and beauty industry so knowing where to start was daunting. I’m sure many career switchers face a similar obstacle, my advice (and what I did) was to really assess my soft skills, the things I was good at which were transferable across different industries, and start from there. 👩🏻💻
Landing my first job in a tech company
Fast forward a few years after hairdressing — May 2019 I started working as a tech assistant for DAZN. There were some other short-lived jobs in-between, such as receptionist and office manager for some small companies, but DAZN is where things really started to begin for my journey into a tech career.
Working in a non-technical role within a tech company is a great way to get a foot in the door. As a tech assistant I was doing things such as working closely with tech managers to organise team incentives, away days and hackathons, liaising with software providers to set up licences, onboarding new starters, managing internal events and representing DAZN at external tech conferences.
All these things gave me major exposure to the tech world and an insight into how tech teams work, as well as the chance to meet and work with some really influential people who would eventually help me make the transition into a more technical role.
During my 1.5 years at DAZN as an assistant, I would join any tech demos, sprints, meet-ups and talks that I could to immerse myself in the tech world and learn the terminologies as well as the relevant technology stack DAZN was using so that I could get a better idea of where to start. Sometimes I struggled to understand things and some of the big words just flew over my head, but the more I observed the more sense things started to make.
I didn’t follow a ‘traditional’ learning path, I simply just threw myself into anything that I could. I joined learning workshops within DAZN, I took some free short online courses and I read A LOT of blogs! (probably why I love writing them now 😆).
It was COVID that finally forced me to take the leap. The world changed and we all had to adjust, including DAZN. Most roles had to adapt to a more online environment, the organisation had to change as did the scope of my role. I needed to figure out where I would now fit in.
My manager at the time Cirpo (big love ❤️) ️ thought I would be a good fit in his Developer Experience team, bringing with me all the connections I had made, knowledge of the DAZN tech function and passion for internal and external engagement. One thing I didn’t have though was hands on coding experience, so to say I was nervous is an understatement!
When my job title changed to ‘Junior Platform Engineer’ it was very surreal! I felt like such a fraud — I have now come to understand imposter syndrome very well!
I had the most amazing engineering team, I still can’t believe how lucky I was not just for the opportunity but for the people I was working with every day. I spent my time pair programming, joining technical meetings to observe, shadowing senior engineers during support requests or incidents.
In less than a year I was writing actual code on my own! 😲
I think it is so important to have a good team and network of strong engineers around you. My managers and team were great and always kept me motivated, picked me up when I was feeling defeated and even my most basic achievements they always celebrated!
I have always been one to throw myself in the deep end, I love being challenged and thrive under pressure. But learning this way did come with some problems — for example I was working on complex API’s before learning simple HTML and JS so I found myself having to press the rewind button a few times and go back to learn some basics! My journey certainly hasn’t been the normal way to do things but I have never liked the idea of being the same as everyone else! 🌈
Landing my first job as a Software Engineer
The decision to leave DAZN was a difficult one! I had been on this incredible journey and I’m quite literally a different person to when I started! But sometimes you have to move on in order to grow. I needed to remove the word ‘Junior’ from my title and gain new experiences.
When I first spoke with OVO I knew this was a company I would be happy to work for, with an incredible mission which I truly believe in.
You can read more about Plan Zero here. 🌿
Interviewing at other tech companies was scary! I had never done a technical interview challenge before and I worried that I wasn’t good enough. If you know a senior engineer that could guide you through the process I’d recommend that, have them proof read your CV and practice some typical interview challenges with you. My biggest advice though would be to speak up! Make sure to ask loads of questions during the interview, voice your thought process out loud and don’t be scared to ask for extra guidance. I definitely told my interviewer that I was going to google one of the solutions and he laughed and appreciated my honesty, even the most experienced developers use google daily!
I have felt so welcomed since joining OVO, I am in my second week now and loving it! I am already learning new things and exploring new opportunities, I am super excited to get more stuck in and start making a difference to developer experience. 🚀
The journey I have been on (and am still on!) has shaped the kind of developer I am. My passion around diversity, equal opportunities, mentoring and engagement through technology is all a result of the way I learned and the people I met along the way.
I have worked with organisations such as Code First Girls, sponsored community conferences such as City JS, championed internal diversity initiatives and supported charities and open source projects — and I will continue to do these things and more throughout my career!
I believe that technology is for everyone and ultimately I hope to inspire people to follow their passion, share their experiences and open up their world to help drive and support others no matter what their background.
Want to chat? Follow me on twitter! 🐦