A woman with dyed red hair smiles at the camera in front of a wood-panelled wall and a plant. She is Andrea Freeburn, an engineering manager at Liberty IT.
Andrea Freeburn. Image: Liberty IT

How this engineering manager found her calling in IT

18 Jun 2024

Liberty IT’s Andrea Freeburn discusses her career journey to date and why prospective software engineers should throw themselves into each challenge.

“Ever since I can remember, I have always been interested in computers,” says Andrea Freeburn, an engineering manager at Liberty IT. She shares that her early years were spent watching her brother play computer games and update his PC, amazed by what was inside that “huge (at the time) metal tin”.

“Eventually he reluctantly let me get hands-on and help insert the latest graphics card and I loved seeing what one change could equate to in terms of performance and visuals!”

Freeburn’s interest in computers and gaming steadily grew during her teenage years. At school, she excelled in ICT (information and communication technology) as it came naturally to her, even winning an award for outstanding achievement for her A-Level in ICT.

Today, Freeburn greatly enjoys her engineering role due to its varied nature. Here, she talks about how she ended up in the role and the skills required to succeed.

What brought you to your current job?

In hindsight, a career path in IT was clearly on the cards, but at the time I didn’t know this sector existed, let alone the abundance of opportunity. I initially looked at a career in law, spending work experience days in law firms to get a feel for what it would be like.

With a leap of faith, I submitted my application to study computer information technology at Queen’s University Belfast and never looked back! I gained valuable industry experience in my early career in an IT support role in a veterinary pharmaceutical company, building a diverse skillset in hardware, systems, customer service and business continuity.

Wanting to expand my skillset in software engineering, I moved to Liberty IT. I started my career with Liberty IT as a systems administrator and took advantage of all the training offered to learn software concepts and engineering practices, enabling me to progress to a software engineering role. I have since had the opportunity to work across the organisation in cybersecurity, product and data enablement.

Throughout my six years with Liberty IT, I increasingly gained exposure to stakeholder management, strategic planning and decision-making, an aspect of the role which I really enjoyed, leading to my recent move into an engineering manager role.

What were the biggest surprises or challenges you encountered on your career path in engineering and how did you deal with them?

Having completed my placement year in a role which did not include software engineering skills, when it came to scoping out graduate roles I found the majority of roles required one year of software engineering experience, leaving me slightly worried about my career prospects.

Had I received more exposure to IT careers and career pathways at school I believe I would have had more awareness of the breadth of career options on offer and, needless to say, I did not need to worry, as I have gained more exposure to the industry, I have seen an abundance of roles across many IT disciplines – something to suit everyone!

My experience has led me to be an active member of Liberty IT’s STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) community, sharing my knowledge and experiences with students to promote IT careers, and help them navigate from education to life in the IT industry.

A personal challenge I have faced throughout my career has been fighting a sense of imposter syndrome – prefacing my opinions and solutions with a disclaimer that I didn’t have the same level of experience, questioning if I was ready for each progression step and coming up with reasons why not. While these thoughts still creep in, I now take time to self-reflect, to look at my achievements and impact and push myself forward – after all, everything is a learning experience even if it doesn’t go to plan.

Was there any one person who was particularly influential as your career developed?

‘It takes an army’ is an expression that comes to mind. I have been lucky that throughout my career I have had access to some of the best coaches and mentors in the industry.

In my early career, I had a fantastic mentor who instilled in me a sense of business awareness, process and continuous improvement, helping me build a strong foundation I rely on to this day. Over recent years, I have built a network of peers successful in their respective roles, taking their experiences as learnings to help my development. I also have a few ‘trusted advisors’, individuals who offer constructive feedback, validation and hold me accountable in exploring my potential.

Transitioning to the role of engineering manager, I look to my people leaders, past and present, and leaders across my organisation, noting behaviours that I want to emulate to allow me to be the best leader for my team.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I enjoy the varied nature of my role. As an engineering manager, I have the privilege of supporting others in their development and continuous improvement, guiding them to meet their true potential and celebrating their successes. I also have the opportunity to remain technical. I am surrounded by highly skilled engineers which allows me to continue growing my technical knowledge.

What aspects of your personality do you feel make you suited to engineering?

Problem-solving is a big aspect of engineering, I definitely have a drive and determination to get to the crux of issues or to understand complex systems so this suited my personality well – I have been described as being like a dog with a bone!

From a people leader perspective, I am a people person and I love that I get to engage with many different people day to day, assessing situations and adapting my style of engagement as needed.

What can people expect from career progression in the engineering industry? 

The IT industry is excellent for career progression opportunities, with so many different disciplines you can expand your knowledge and skillsets, moving into different fields, whether it be to gain new learnings and experiences, or to find your true passion. I feel incredibly lucky to have found myself in a company which believes in helping individuals meet their true potential, and providing learning and development opportunities, not only in technology, but also in interpersonal and professional skills as well.

What advice would you give to those considering a career in engineering, or just starting out in one?

Working in engineering, there is a preconception that engineers spend all their time working independently with limited social interactions, which can deter individuals from stepping in to this space. From experience, I find engineering to be a very social and supportive environment, with pair-programming and team-mobbing sessions the norm so you are never stuck!

To those starting out in this space, I would advise you throw yourself into each challenge and opportunity, each will be a learning opportunity which will help you develop your skillset further as well as lead to career growth, and you will be supported along the way.

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