Monday 22 July 2019

'I didn’t believe my career could be resurrected after 17 years' - Five women on returning to tech industry after long career breaks

Mary Gorman
Mary Gorman
Mary Gorman
Deirdre Noonan
Gillian McCarthy
Irene Spencer
Amanda Evans
Louise Kelly

Louise Kelly

Five women from technical backgrounds made the decision to leave the workforce for various reasons, but have recently taken the plunge to make a return.

Taking part in the pilot of a new programme geared towards helping women reconnect with the tech industry after long career breaks has been life-changing for all them.

Mary Gorman - 'I thought I was too old to get back and my skills were not where they needed to be'

Mary Gorman had been in the developer space for almost ten years until she decided to take personal leave to be with her four young children full time in 2003, but never stopped doing technical work. She became the go-to point of contact for any IT-related issues that occurred during her children's extracurricular activities. She also set up an online craft business called Johanna Crafts which became an international success, selling knitted pieces world-wide.

"I would knit while the boys were doing their homework. It was great that I was able to be there for them and still had my own interests. I thought I was too old to get back and my skills were not where they needed to be," she said.

"I also considered what my CV would look like to an employer given the large gap since my last role, and I worried because I didn’t have any recent references to list."

Mary was first introduced to the ReBOOT programme through a friend. When she started working through the online courses, in between school runs, she was surprised to see how little things had changed. There was more functionality than she had ever seen – some of the terms and syntax were different – but the programming courses were just as she remembered. This gave her the reassurance that programming was programming regardless of time away.

Mary was one of three women brought on to complete their two week work placement at the MongoDB office on the Technical Services Engineering team.  On her first day, Mary said she was terrified.

"My eldest son is 21 and a lot of his friends are in the software space – I was afraid I was going to step into a room full of his friends. I was worried about not knowing all the buzzwords, but I learned them quickly," she said.

Mary later applied for a full time position at MongoDB, was successful, and started in July as one of MongoDB’s newest Cloud Triage Support Associates.

"I thought the ship had sailed for me. I was jealous of teacher friends of mine who had kids and had managed to keep their career. I had so little confidence when I got started but meeting other women who had been through a similar experience really transformed my expectations of what was possible. My advice to any woman considering courses like this is do it - sign up, do the courses, talk to other people. You’ll be amazed at what you can achieve."

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Mary Gorman


Deirdre Noonan - 'I realised the gap in my CV wasn’t necessarily an issue. My previous experience was still relevant'

After 14 years away from the tech sector, Deirdre was keen to get back to work. "I had stopped working in 2003 after my now 14-year-old was born, so I was not clear what the route back into the workforce would look like," she said.

While working through a Master’s degree in Technical Communications and e-Learning, she started to search for jobs but found it difficult to make progress.

Going to a ReBOOT information evening, Deirdre realised that the programme had the potential to be a very significant support and learning network for her. Before enrolling, Deirdre had been overwhelmed by what she saw as obstacles to getting back into work, "mainly around the transition from being at home to being in the workplace, finding childcare, and being credible in interviews."

After gaining insights from recruiters and people working in the sector, "I realised the gap in my CV wasn’t necessarily an issue. My previous experience was still relevant."

Finishing off her college assignments while continuing her job search, as well as dealing with family life, was a lot to juggle but the support Deirdre received from her coach helped her to manage everything.

"It’s helped me to structure my job search and focus on what I want to achieve in my professional life role. It has also clarified the trade-offs between working full-time and part-time," she said.

Now Deirdre is working as a learning development specialist at Novitas, an e-learning and training provider.

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Deirdre Noonan

Read more: 'It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s good business sense' - Companies helping women get back into the tech industry


Gillian McCarthy -'I could remember more than I thought I could, and I still had the ability to learn new things'

I graduated from UCD with a degree in Mathematics and Computer Science and started working as a software developer after leaving college. I worked for a number of companies, mostly consultancy companies, and eventually moved out of software development into Project Management, managing software development projects for various clients.

I had three children while working full-time and made the decision to leave work when my eldest daughter was starting primary school.

I had always intended to return to work when my youngest started school three years later, and did so. But I underestimated how difficult it would be to rejoin the workforce and I only lasted in that role for six months.

Fast forward four years later, my kids are now a little older and more independent.

When I saw the ad for the ReBOOT programme, everything about the programme resonated with me so I decided to apply. It was reassuring to know that there were other women in circumstances similar to mine, with the same concerns and issues.

One thing that happens as a stay-at-home mum is that your world can quickly shrink into running around after the kids. Routine takes over.

Talking to other women in the same situation and being able talking to a life coach was the first opportunity in a long time where I could focus on what I wanted to do.

The on-line training helped me see that I could remember more than I thought I could, and that I still had the ability to learn new things! The work placement also helped me realise that I could be part of a team and contribute again in a work environment.

From being nervous to even apply to being in the programme and now working with the company where I completed my work placement, my life has completely changed in the past six months.

Gillian McCarthy


Irene Spencer - 'I really didn’t believe that my former career could be resurrected'

Having spent 17 years as a carer and stay at home mam, I really didn’t believe that my former career could be resurrected. I had completed a level 8 course in Project Management in 2016, but I was acutely aware of my outdated skills and I worried about how much the IT sector had moved on since I had stopped working in 2000.

I'm a single parent now to my three children. Conor is 17 and has severe autism and intellectual disability. He goes to a special school called Saplings in Kill, co. Kildare. My daughter Alana is 15 and has just started in transition year. My youngest is Oscar (10) and in 4th class. When Conor was a toddler it was clear that he needed the one to one support from me, so it was an easy and essential choice to stay home and be his primary caregiver.

The ReBOOT course was a series of seminars, each one left me feeling encouraged and hopeful and full of motivation. There were numerous speakers, all of whom drove home the message that our skills and experiences were valid and relevant. We had so many speakers from IT companies, many of whom were women returners who understood the obstacles we faced in our return to IT.

We heard from recruitment agents, who helped us refine our CV’s. Rather than try to explain the proverbial gap in our CV’s we were encouraged to put a positive spin on it, to show how our life experiences augment our IT skills, and we were encouraged to select the skills we had developed over the years and speak about them confidently at interviews.

We were given nine months access to PluralSight, an on-line eLearning platform. We also had access to a careers’ coach, who helped us define our short and long term goals and to take steps towards achieving them.

I found the most beneficial part of the course was the two weeks work placement, working with S3Group, learning about their business in the Connected Health field. I enjoyed the work I did and loved being back at work. I was surprised at how much I had missed working, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

Two weeks work placement was also enough to help me iron out some of the childcare concerns I had, and experience what working outside the home would look like for my children and I. 

I have found confidence again, and I am excited to be returning to the IT sector. I’m currently interviewing for a business analyst role, and I’m excited that I’ve got a call back. I am tentatively hopeful that I will be back in paid employment again very soon.

Parenting alone is tough, and more so when special needs and the multitude of hospital appointments and therapies are added in. I need to be here for my children, I need to provide for them, and I want something that I love too. Having done the ReBOOT course I feel more certain that the right job which will allow me to tick all those boxes is out there for me.

Irene Spencer

Amanda Evans  - 'It felt good to know I was not the only one struggling to get back into the workplace'

In 2012, I was made redundant from my role as a Global Project Manager. At the time I took it as an opportunity to stay at home with my two children (aged 6 months and two years) and be a full time mum.

My plan was always to return to the work place so, during this time, I took two Springboard courses - a certificate in Database Development & Cloud Technologies, followed by an Advanced Project Management course for the ICT professional, both at DBS.

When I finally decided to go back to work in 2015, when my son started school, I applied for many positions but to no avail. Then I came across the Women ReBOOT programme from Software Skillnet. At the information evening I was astounded to see so many women like myself in a similar situation, the room was packed. It also felt good that I was not the only one struggling to get back into the workplace following a career break.

For me the holistic approach of the ReBOOT programme from the training seminars, amazing career coaches and upskilling my technical abilities using Plural Sight the online learning platform was excellent. Also, I received what I never had from other courses, a ton of support from the other women through our WhatsApp and Slack group.

After my initial work-placement at Datalex, I was offered an extended internship as a Project Manager. I am loving it.

I am such an avid supporter of this programme because of what it has done for me that I am keen to pay it forward and have asked to mentor some of the next women coming on-board and will help out at their information evening on October 5.

Even though the programme for our group has finished, I am delighted to say we all still keep in regular contact with each other offering support when required, even meeting for coffee on Saturday mornings.

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Amanda Evans

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