Back to work in the tech industry

Shahana Khundmir talks about how Tech Returners, winners of WM People’s Best for Returners Award, helped her to get back into a good job in the tech industry.

Return to work


Shahana Khundmir was in her early teens when she first started to code and she coded pretty much for the next 10 years until her graduation and loved it. She says: “I was a high achiever, goal-orientated and a logical thinker and loved the problem-solving nature of software development.”

She began her career as a Java developer and then took an extended break to have her first two children. A few years later when she was ready to return, the industry had moved on considerably and she was no longer sure of her skills and fit. She spent the next 13 years raising her children, working part time and most recently running her own business. As the gap in her IT career grew bigger, he came to accept that the door to that part of her life was closed. But it always irked her that she had given up something that she loved.

It was in 2019 that her now 19-year-old daughter was deciding which path to pursue at university and she spoke to her about her own experience in IT. In November that year, she encouraged Shahana to attend a Women in Tech event at IBM. That evening the two women heard talks from many inspirational women who were doing amazing things in the industry and loving it. Shahana was shocked by what she heard that night; it wasn’t the same industry she had left years earlier.

Lack of quantifiable experience

Over the next few weeks as the conversations about tech careers continued in her home, Shahana quietly decided to try her hand at coding again. She was sure that she would struggle. She started with a Python course on YouTube and was hooked from the first day. After a few months of learning Python she decided to retrain and return to the industry. She closed her business and took a lengthy Python course. She started looking at job roles and speaking to whoever she could for advice. “I was totally out of my comfort zone, but knew that I needed to persevere and be patient,” she says.

A year later she began applying for entry-level roles as a Python developer. She must have applied to more than 50 positions, but I didn’t get a single response. She realised that her lack of quantifiable experience was holding her back. So she took the initiative and began working on real-life data analysis projects and volunteering for a data analysis group. In 2020 she secured a short-term analysis contract in the charity sector.

Tech Returners

She was lucky to find a few organisations that worked specifically with returners. They understood the barriers that she was facing and were working to help people like her back into careers. In early 2021 Shahana was selected for a place on the Tech Returners programme. After a year of training, working and continuing to apply for jobs she was beginning to become disheartened and the opportunity came at just the right time.

She says: “I loved my time on the programme. It was a supportive environment that gave me the insight I needed to feel more comfortable moving forward. Recruitment coaching paired with technical upskilling provided the right balance for me to excel. And I simply loved coding again, talking tech with colleagues and learning.”

Three months later she secured a position as a Software Developer with The Telegraph who were one of the sponsors of the programme. After a nearly 20-year break, she was a developer again. She states: “It’s hard to describe just how much this meant to me. I had set a goal, which in all honesty I thought was unachievable, and I achieved it. I humbly took in the moment.”

During her time with the Tech Returner programme she had attended lightning talks by The Telegraph which helped her to understand their work culture. She was attracted to The Telegraph’s strong engineering team. “I could see that they were a process-oriented and skilled department and I had been craving direction for my next steps,” she says.

The last months have been a steep learning curve, but also exciting. “There is a great joy in being able to do what you love. But you also want to do what you love well and that requires time and patience,” she says. “It is important to remind yourself of where you were six months, a year or two years ago. I try to be guided not by how far I have to go, but by how far I have come in the hope that this will keep me humble but also increase my confidence.”

*This case study is edited from an article written by Shahana for the Telegraph’s Medium page. This is one of the case studies in this year’s free WM People Best Practice Report, out in mid May.

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