From designing menswear clothing to becoming a highly-technical engineer, Cindy Liu shares her experiences of being a career changer and how she quickly adapted to a role in tech.
One evening, Cindy came home from work and told her partner that she wasn’t interested in her job anymore. “My role was predictable, it wasn’t challenging me, and I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” she says.
Cindy knew that a career in fashion design wasn’t for her long-term, but at the same time, she didn’t know what she would do next. Her journey from this point to becoming a full-stack software developer is no ordinary story.
“I grew up in China and had always wanted to get into fashion design,” she explains. “I thought it was a cool industry and would allow me to be creative, so I graduated from Zhongyuan University of Technology with a degree in fashion design and engineering.”
Cindy would go on to spend two years working for a couple of menswear fashion brands in Shanghai before deciding to move halfway around the world to undertake a masters degree in fashion and textile marketing at the University of Southampton.
She says: “After finishing my masters, I worked as a designer at a fashion trading house, supplying well-known high-street brands like River Island, Debenhams, and ASOS. But in my role I wasn’t just looking after design, I was also managing the supply chain and ensuring customers and suppliers were happy. I found the day-to-day work a little predictable.”
Despite having an obvious thirst to learn, Cindy was at a loss to what would satisfy her desire for a career that would be both interesting and challenging at the same time. The idea of entering the tech sector wasn’t something she’d previously considered.
“I’d never even thought about a career in tech,” she says. “In all honesty, I didn’t know much about the roles available, but I’d always considered coding and programming to be quite nerdy and boring. I had always thought of tech as a male-dominated industry.”
But after speaking with a previous colleague Cindy suddenly began to take an interest in the possibility of entering the sector. Her friend described how she’d successfully made the switch from being a fashion designer to a user experience (UX) designer, and encouraged Cindy to attend a few meetups in London on UX, web design, and tech. The idea was to meet new people, hear more about what it’s really like working in the industry, and learn about potential career opportunities.
It was during a free meetup organised by Rails Girls, aimed at people with no experience of tech programming, when Cindy fell in love with coding.
Attending meetups was a great way to learn about the experiences of different people, and help break down any previous perceptions I had of the industry."
Falling in love with coding
“During a Rails Girls workshop I saw how a website worked and the coding that sat behind it. With the help of some coaching on the day, I built a simple website and I found it really interesting. I had no idea how programming worked in the ‘real world’ at that point, but it all felt like magic – I was hooked.”
Coming home that evening, Cindy admitted she couldn’t contain her excitement when telling her partner all about the day she’d had. Despite being new to coding, she’d quickly found a career she could see herself doing for the rest of her life. Changing careers is often seen as a daunting idea, but Cindy decided she’d throw herself into it to get a job in tech.
She says: “I started out by trying some free courses like Codecademy and Codewars for some simple exercises before I was offered a place at Makers Academy. It was a full-time coding boot camp and without hesitating I accepted the place.”
The 16-week intensive course started with a month of self study on the basics of coding and the relevant terminology for attending in-depth classes with the coaches. At the end of the programme, she was then given the chance to meet with a number of different companies which were hiring graduates – one of which was Infinity Works.
“I liked the idea of working at a consultancy and having the opportunity to work on different projects with different types of customers,” she comments. “But I still wasn’t sure what type of company to choose: product-based or consultancy. The overall experience with Infinity Works was good, but before I accepted the offer, I was given the chance to speak to six people from the company, including senior directors, to learn more about day-to-day life and what to expect. It was great to have that opportunity and made me feel valued.”
Support, guidance, and a willingness to learn
Cindy admits she was initially unsure if Infinity Works’ commitment to customer delivery would come at the expense of looking after people. But after speaking with a colleague and settling into day-to-day life, her thoughts were soon dispelled.
She says: “Within my first few weeks, I spoke with someone who had previously graduated from the same boot camp and had moved up from an associate consultant to a consultant. They were very clear that everyone was always available to help and people were well looked after.”
The support made available would be crucial to Cindy who admitted to feeling overwhelmed in her first few weeks. In the space of a few months, she’d gone from having no coding experience to working on a large-scale customer project.
She says: “I began not really knowing what to expect as it was my first experience being part of a tech team. Despite learning a lot of skills during my time at the boot camp, I soon realised there were a lot of things I still didn’t know. What helped me settle in was being paired with someone who would support me figuring out tasks. Having that one-to-one support quickly helped me learn how a consultancy worked and understand what our customers expected from us.
“I was learning new skills every day, from new ways of working to new programming languages such as Java. I initially found Java was a complicated language to learn, but the people in my team were very supportive and they allowed me to spend a day a week at the beginning just focused on learning. The support helped me get up to speed quickly.”
Cindy’s next project would prove to be a defining moment. She explains: “I felt like my first project was very much a learning experience, but on the second I was more focused on how I could play a key role in what was a collaborative team. Within the team, there was a passion for sharing knowledge and this really helped me develop quickly and grow into my role.”
All of Cindy’s hard work and would soon be recognised when, nine months after joining the business with limited coding experience, she was promoted to consultant level. It was a fantastic achievement and a testament to Cindy’s desire to learn.
Reassured that she knew more than she thought, Cindy carried on going from strength to strength. But after a year in her role, Cindy received the amazing news that she was expecting her first child. Naturally, she wondered what it would mean for her career. Her son Aidan was born in October 2019 and Cindy returned to work in the following November.
“I was worried about coming back from maternity leave as I was still relatively junior in my career,” she says. “I was confident that I’d be able to pick things back up quickly, but there’s always some self doubt. In my first few weeks, I wanted to get back up to speed with everything, so Infinity Works supported me by paying for me to attend a great tech conference while also undertaking some online courses.
“Infinity Works is very flexible and efficient, and is really helping me balance my work life and looking after a young child. Aidan is now one year and five months old so he takes up most of my time nowadays; he’s very active and curious about everything. I’m currently working four days a week and it works well for both me and my team. I’ve enjoyed coming back to work and I’m grateful to Infinity Works for providing me with flexible working. People shouldn’t worry about career breaks provided they’ve got an employer that supports them.”
Making tech more accessible
The support Cindy has received is just one example from many of how Infinity Works is committed to supporting everyone with flexible working arrangements. Since joining, she’s seen a number of new diversity and inclusion initiatives begin and feels it has empowered more people from non-traditional backgrounds to enter the tech sector.
She says: “When I first joined, I was the only permanent female developer in London. But today there are quite a few of us, and a lot have joined through boot camps. It’s great to see other people from non-tech backgrounds also join the business. I think it’s much easier for people to join the industry now thanks to the various routes available.”
From fashion design to engineering, Cindy’s story could be considered unique, but she’s hopeful more people from non-traditional backgrounds will follow in her footsteps and switch to a career in tech.
She says: “I wasn’t the first person hired by Infinity Works from a non-technical background, and I certainly wasn’t the last. After all the uncertainty I had when I left my job in fashion, I now look back and can confidently say I made the right decision to switch careers. There are so many opportunities available now for people to learn how to code, speak with people at meetups, and undertake some free courses. The Infinity Works Academy is a great example of helping people get the start they need to pursue a fantastic career in tech.”