It’s never too late: changing careers later in life

When I graduated from a Russian university, I thought I’d never have anything to do with technology: I had just completed a 5-year-degree in teaching Computer Science and English, and I was certainly better at and more interested in the latter.  It was not until 10 years later, in my early thirties, that I rediscovered the world of tech. What attracted me to it was the variety of paths one could take; also increased use of technology in all areas of life made me really want to understand the innards of applications and processes that are used by us on a daily basis. I decided to try out programming again (a small part of my course included web development, and that was something I quite enjoyed studying). I started learning in the evenings, while still working full-time as an English Teacher, using mostly free resources available on the Internet and in the library. After a few months, I definitely knew I wanted to work as a Developer. I spoke to a few people in the industry and asked for their advice on how to go about it. Having come from Russia, still a rather patriarchal society, I was slightly cautious about entering a predomininantly male industry after having been part of teams that mostly consisted of females.

As I was learning Web Development, I created a simple portfolio of the work as I was going through online courses. I also signed up for various online events and local tech group meetups (which I’ve missed a lot during the pandemic)

It took me a year of intense evening and weekend learning to get my foot in the door. It was not easy and sometimes I felt that that leaving a stable and comfortable job for something I’d only just started to scratch the surface of was a bit of a risk –  there are young people out there with a degree in CS who already know a lot more than me (impostor syndrome from the start!). But I was determined to persevere, I sent dozens of CVs (not heard back from most of them) and eventually landed my first Junior Developer job just before I turned 32.

I have been in tech for five years, and not for a single second have I regretted changing careers. I still face challenges: sometimes I’m a bit scared to speak about things in front of people who know more than me on the topic; sometimes I don’t fully understand how certain technologies work; sometimes I still feel like a junior because there is so much more to learn. But the beauty of it is that it’s those challenges that make me motivated; not only am I constantly developing my understanding of the domain, but I’m also finding out more about me, my strengths and weaknesses. Having started out in tech in my thirties, I had a sense of urgency to learn as much as possible and as quickly as possible to catch up with the rest of the people in tech. Since then, I’ve been learning to compare myself to myself one month or one year ago, and not to other people. I try to be kind and give myself more credit for my work. I try to praise myself for little achievements. I try to learn to disconnect properly in the evening while working fully remotely in these strange times. 

A few years ago I’d probably say I was lucky to get into tech. Now I can certainly say it was due to the effort that I put in. I am proud of the fact that despite the challenges women face in tech, I did not give up. It’s never too late to retrain, especially now that we might see high redundancies in some sectors because of the pandemic. If you’re interested, motivated and have set your heart on entering the industry, you should give it a go, and don’t let your age or gender put you off.