Returner to Work

Starting Over: Returning to Work After a 13-Year Break

John Smith

Karishma Charlwood joined the FDM Tech Returners Programme after a 13-year professional hiatus to bring up her children. A mother of three, she had over 10 years’ experience working in tech before her career break. With her children now grown up and demanding less of her time, Karishma felt the time was right to start over and get back into the game. After joining FDM’s first all-female cohort of tech returners, she is currently working as a software developer with a global financial services company.

Here’s her story –

Motherhood and changing priorities

Karishma decided to take a career break after the birth of her first child in 2009. Once her three children reached school age, she started looking for employment opportunities around the school holidays so she could be available for her family at home. In the meantime, she did a teaching assistant training, and volunteered in local schools for a short time.

However, she soon realised that this was not the best use of her existing skillset, and the pay wasn’t commensurate to what she used to earn as a Software Developer, before her career break. Instead, she decided to focus on her home-life and occasionally volunteered at her local community for the marginalised. 

New opportunities

Karishma admits that she found herself out of touch with the latest developments in software and technology after her career break. To stay tuned and in the know, she kept a tab on the IT training opportunities offered by different companies. In early 2022, when the Department of Education announced funding for professionals to retrain in IT, she enrolled in a Data Analysis/Technician bootcamp, which she completed successfully.

It was while still undergoing this training that the FDM Returners Team approached her with an offer to join their first-ever Tech Returners Java programme, which she accepted and started in May 2022.

FDM Training

Karishma says that she thoroughly enjoyed the FDM training from Day 1. She particularly highlighted the quality of the training material as very well-structured and well presented. Having studied Java at university, she said the FDM training material was better than the material they were given at uni!

Karishma also commended the expertise of the FDM trainers. ‘They were also very patient in explaining challenging concepts and considerate of personal circumstances at times affecting our delivery of assessments. It was clear that most of them had years of experience in their respective subject areas and presented the materials in a very well organised way… to make the online classes engaging and stimulating.’

She further acknowledged that the FDM trainers made sure they were pitching the content at the right pace and level that suited everyone in the class and spaced the sessions well with regular breaks. ‘The exercises especially were very well designed to practise and master the new concepts taught’, she said.

Working with like-minded colleagues

Karishma was in a group of nine women who all signed up for up to 14 weeks of instructor-led training in current and emerging technologies before being placed with leading financial services and tech companies.

She mentioned how lucky she felt being part of a cohort of like-minded people who got on so well together and supported one another to deliver a project, assignment or presentation.

‘As a team, we discovered ways of using the GitLab more effectively to deliver coding projects collaboratively. In the process, we learnt how to deal with conflict issues and shortcomings. It certainly generated some good team building opportunities and enabled us to develop better ways of communicating with each other.’ By being mindful of their individual strengths and weaknesses they learnt to be more efficient in delivering projects on time. Karishma hopes that this will enable them to deliver to budget in a real working environment. 

New learnings

Karishma values the tech skills she’s gained from the FDM training. In particular, she mentions developing a solid foundation in Core Java as giving her the confidence to pick up other programming languages as well. Similarly, a good working knowledge of the UNIX system as well as an overview of Web development in Angular have been equally useful. ‘I feel equipped with all the right tools I need to have a great start to a future career in any software development platform I may come across in my role.’

Balancing home and work

For a parent or anyone with caring duties, returning to the workplace after an extended time away brings up several logistical questions around balancing family and work. FDM’s training schedule is structured in such a way that it starts a little later at 9:30am and finishes earlier at 4:30pm to allow that extra time for school drop-offs and pick-ups. Also, all the sessions are recorded so if there’s any need to attend to family or caring duties during daytime, there’s always an opportunity to catch up later.  

Tutoring sessions are usually in the mornings with afternoons allotted to work through exercises. Karishma’s cohort had catch ups at the beginning and end of the day to get updates from everyone to ensure we were all staying on track and given opportunities to voice concerns.

‘The 14 weeks of intense training has also been a good test to see how I can find ways to juggle my personal and family life with work and try to establish the right balance and boundaries.’

Support at FDM

Karishma certainly felt far more confident in her abilities after completing the FDM training. Even the assessments that she didn’t pass on the first attempt were a learning experience as they helped her identify her weak areas and find ways of overcoming them.

‘The FDM training program seems to have emerged just at the right time, to help me confidently step back into a competitive workplace, equipped with the right tools, and support knowing that my new and existing skills are being matched to a suitable role.’

Tips for other returners

Karishma’s tips for anyone looking to return to work is to just go for it. ‘You have nothing to lose. They pay for your training, provide excellent resources and you can do it from home.’

Don’t let a career break hold you back! Apply to FDM’s Returners Programme and get back on track with an exciting new career in business or tech.