A woman with long dark hair smiles at the camera. She’s wearing a black top and stands against a grey background.
Eimear Galligan, software engineer. Image: Zalando

What is it like coming to tech from a conversion course?

12 Aug 2020

Eimear Galligan is a software engineer at Zalando Ireland. Here, she talks about how she went from teaching to tech.

It can be easy to think about those who work in technology as computer science graduates who have always been passionate about tech. But with internships, online training and conversion courses, plenty of tech professionals are coming from a wide range of backgrounds.

One such example is Eimear Galligan, a software engineer in the Irish base of online fashion retailer Zalando, who completed a conversion course after deciding to make a career change from primary school teaching.

What drew you to a career in tech?

Tech wasn’t always on the radar for me. I initially pursued a career in education, where I worked as a primary school teacher for four years before deciding to make a change. I really enjoyed my time teaching and I learned so many skills that I am continuing to develop in my current role, but I wasn’t feeling wholly satisfied with my job at the time.

I’ve always been really interested in technology and solving problems. I came across the option of a conversion course through a friend who was working as a software developer and the more I heard, the more I liked the sound of it. So three years later, here I am.

What’s the best thing about working in tech?

I love the variety it offers. My day can vary from periods of getting into the flow at my computer, to collaborating with a lot of really talented and experienced engineers to analyse problems and design solutions, or having breakout sessions to learn something new from your colleagues.

My team manages back-end software systems that support everything from onboarding new products, right through to displaying products on the website and even supporting the distribution arm. To know that the work you do on a daily basis supports all these aspects is very exciting and gives great purpose and satisfaction to the work you do.

What’s the most exciting development you’ve witnessed in your sector since you started working in it?

I’m not sure if I could class it really as an ‘exciting’ development seeing as it was as a result of a global pandemic, but I’ve been so impressed with how many companies adapted to working remotely. Zalando has always offered the flexibility of working from home and this probably made it slightly easier to make the transition as there was already infrastructures in place like VPNs.

But to go from having a few people working from home the odd day to having your entire company operating remotely and not having it impact the delivery of projects has been so impressive. Deadlines were never compromised when the working situation changed – if anything, people were working harder to support colleagues and I think this just reflects the culture that there is within Zalando. People here are flexible, adaptable and committed to their team and the goals they set out to achieve.

What aspect of your job did you struggle to get to grips with?

When I first started, I think one of the hardest aspects of the day-to-day work was getting my head around the jargon and getting up to speed with all the different technologies that were used within the company. I’ve been so lucky to be placed on a team with really capable engineers who are always supporting my development and are always happy to answer any questions that I have.

What’s been the hardest thing you’ve had to face in your career, and how did you overcome it?

Starting a career in tech after coming through a conversion course, you feel perhaps you might not know as much as someone who has gone through a three- or four-year degree and possibly a master’s as well. I’ve just been trying to learn as much as I can since I started.

As I mentioned before, I’m so lucky to be surrounded by a great team who are so patient and supportive in helping me learn and that goes for the whole Dublin office. Everyone is very positive and encouraging, there’s a great atmosphere of celebrating each other’s achievements and I think this has definitely helped.

If you had the power to change anything within the STEM sector, what would that be? 

When I left school, I didn’t even know what computer programming was. I think for young people, they tend to aspire to fulfil roles they see people working at within the community such as a doctor, nurse, teacher etc. Unless a family member works in STEM, chances are they might not know the opportunities exist and if they can’t see it, they can’t be it.

So, one thing I would definitely change is raising awareness for the next generation that there are these types of jobs out there and they are within reach.

Which of your personality traits makes you best suited to your job and this sector?

My curiosity to learn new things and my adaptability. When you work in a sector like STEM where there are always new technologies or innovations, you’re continuously learning and will be throughout your career.

Is there something in your personal life that has helped you in your job?

I have always been involved in team sports and I still am, even now. This has helped me develop communication skills and my ability to work as part of a team. I’m used to working hard for my team on the playing field and I think this transfers across to work life. Teamwork challenges me to always do my best for my colleagues and be accountable to complete tasks assigned to me on time and up to the standard that is expected.

How do you make connections with others in the STEM community?

I’ve kept in touch with quite a few people from my course in college. They’ve all branched out into different industries so it’s great to hear about how technology is advancing in other areas. I am always on the lookout to develop my network further in the STEM community through attending events and meetups.

Has mentorship or coaching been important in your career?

Yes, 100pc. That’s definitely a great aspect about Zalando. From day one I was assigned a mentor within my team and this was great as it helped me ramp up quickly. I was shown how the business works and what impact my team’s work was having on the overall company.

I’ve been guided through how to use the knowledge I am gaining and how to think like an engineer. These softer skills are so important, like knowing the right questions to ask, and it’s only something you can learn from having good role models or mentors.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about a career in tech?

Just go for it. Chances are you will be delighted with your decision. The opportunity within tech is far reaching, skills are transferable not only across different industries, but across the world.

The languages that are used are recognised globally and there are no constraints. It’s a really exciting sector to be a part of because there are always new innovative ways that people are using tech to have real impact on the world.

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