From retail to redux - my journey as a developHER

Transformation stories often start with “if you had asked me 12 months ago where I would be today…” and so on. I always thought this sounded unrealistic, too short a time frame to plan or implement any kind of serious change in your life. Annoyingly, as I discovered, this is actually true. As the coincidences and catalysts continue to build, your patience begins to shorten, thoughts of “what if” niggle in your mind and when you snap back at colleagues for interrupting your daydream you know its time to actually change something before you snap something else.

So 12 months ago when I never would have etc… I was working as a retail manager for a large brand. I had a great role working with great people, and I had enjoyed it for over 6 years. I started to get restless, which I thought was just part of getting older and less patient. When I was asked to apply for a higher management position. I should have been happy, but I wasn’t, which made me think why aren’t I? Following this a random customer said to me “what you do from when you are 30 to when you are 40 will shape the rest of your life”. At the time I was defensive, in hindsight it was actually a very polite way of saying I should challenge myself to achieve more. These two events started making me question what I actually wanted to do, but it was my sister who inspired me to consider a tech career path.

Unfortunately like many older sisters I ignored her for the first 25ish years of my life. She studied computer science at Swinburne, and has been a happy developer ever since. At the time I thought she was crazy, being one woman in a class of 200 working toward a male-dominated workplace that I did not connect with at all. Had I have paid a little more attention I may have ended up where I am now much earlier. Two years ago when I first became disinterested with working in retail, I decided to start my own small business on the side.

Being the gracious sister that I am, and knowing my sister was an “IT” person I demanded she build me a free website. She said I’ll build your website, but YOU have to help. I was skeptical but surprisingly I really enjoyed the process. This lead us to discuss her career a bit more and it challenged the stereotypes I had formed over the years about the industry.

By this point I had decided I was going to leave retail and seriously commit to a career change in technology. I had started to research my options and a few courses like General Assembly were sounding promising as I didn't want to study for 3+ years again. Money was a concern as I had a mortgage and skeptical boyfriend, so I was looking at a part-time or online option. My sister suggested I attend some coding events and meet ups to talk to some more people in the industry and get suggestions, so I attended Railsgirls, a Ruby coding meet-up. At Railsgirls I met Rob, who had worked at MYOB and told the meet-up group about the developHER program…

The DevelopHER program was created by MYOB to address a general lack of gender diversity within IT, but specifically within software development teams. The program ran for 12 weeks, and combined technical classroom and practical learning. I applied by submitting a 4 minute video, survey, mini coding challenge and completing a 1-day interview. Over 150 women applied for the 3 positions available in the program, and since receiving the congratulatory call from MYOB my life has never been the same.

So 11 months later, I am now working as a permanent full-time graduate developer. Every day is a learning curve, and I feel that I am only just now starting to get really comfortable with the technology, language and processes my team work with. I am now working on building my own app for our customer service team, which makes me feel like I am contributing to the success of the business and achieving my personal development goals. I work within a team who can provide me with support and guidance when needed, but having my own project also gives me the freedom to experiment and learn on my own, and create new relationships with other areas of the business. The hardest part of my journey has been being a “grad” again – not in the sense of a title, but in the sense that it had been a LONG time since I didn’t feel knowledgeable and in control in my work, and I need to accept that it will probably be some time before this feeling starts to recede.

But what I personally feel I lack in skill has been more than compensated by the awesome people and environment I get to work in. From hack days to documentary screenings, sponsoring coding days and a range of programs and initiatives, no day has been the same, and there is always a friendly MYOBian around to help me when I feel challenged or overwhelmed.

I can only say that I wish I had had the courage and insight and influence to join this industry many years ago. But more importantly I am proud to now be collaborating every day with amazing people to make sure this changes in the future.

Whatever positive change you are thinking about for yourself or feel you can implement in your own workplace, my advice is to believe in yourself and commit to your decision. When sharing with family or friends TELL them what you are going to do, don't ask them what they think and create an opportunity to de-motivate yourself or even change your mind.

Accept in the beginning that it will be hard, challenging and push some or all of your boundaries, and don't be afraid to talk about it. Sharing my own and hearing stories from every one of my team members revealed that if at some point they all went through a similar experience and survived, so can I. It also made me realise how none of them have done it alone, and that every person around me will have something new I can learn from them.

so GO BOLDLY.

Your life will never be the same again, and this can only be a good thing :-)