“Best team, worst year” – switching careers in a Pandemic

Nick Butler 2nd February 2021

At the age of eight I fell in love with an Amstrad cpc464.

I remember feeling like a computer programmer when I launched Afterburner from a cassette using the command line! This was the beginning of a long-lasting fascination with computers and how they worked. I’m from the generation of dial-up, being kicked offline by mum hogging the phone and spending hours on AOL instant messenger. But I am only now rediscovering my latent love of tech having taken a few different turns in my journey to this new career.

I spent the last 10 years forging a career in theatre, surrounded by glitter, bright lights and rapturous applause.

Sounds great, so why did I leave?

Having reached the level of Technical Manager – basically telling other people what to do with all the fun toys – I realised I wanted to be the one playing with the toys again. I was lucky to work at world renowned venues such as The London Palladium with amazing people but having moved quickly up through the ranks I felt the challenges I faced day to day were repetitive and I needed a new challenge; a new direction.

So, I handed in my notice and signed up for a coding bootcamp, designed to turn a novice into a full-stack developer in three months – big ask right!

I had left a successful career in an industry where I had forged a reputation and a great many friends and launched myself back down the ladder to rung one. These challenges I had planned for and understood, but as I finished the bootcamp I realised I was being returned to a changed world.

This was all against the backdrop of the rising tide of Covid-19. I left theatre in February 2020, took a month out to travel, landing back in the UK on March 22nd 2020 – the start of the first lock-down, then, like a lot of people, I believed this was a temporary measure against a temporary threat. It turned out 2020 had other ideas!

The bootcamp was a welcome distraction and kept me busy learning. I found myself swept along, in such a way that I didn’t really focus on the gravity of what I’d done and the context I’d done it in.

People spoke of my good fortune as theatres began to struggle to operate in any meaningful way in difficult, often impossible, conditions. And whilst I could see that leaving theatre at that time was monumentally good timing, I felt deeply for my friends. Some were furloughed, others found work as delivery drivers, or cleaners, or in supermarkets. Some are still waiting to see what might become of the industry they’ve spent years giving themselves to.

I felt guilty when I complained that I was on the job-hunt as at least the field I was searching in seemed to be surviving and in many ways thriving. The truth was, there had to be an impact even in tech, and the numbers of alumni around me being hired was at an all-time low.

I was worried, I was job hunting in the hardest job market in my memory and for the first time in a long time I wasn’t a seasoned pro with lots to offer, but someone with three months experience and a desire to keep learning.

Then an amazing thing happened.

ECS reached out.

Why me, why this good fortune?

It was the very experience I had gained in my previous career that had made me stand out. They were able to see that regardless of industry I had skills that would make me a useful, dare I say it, good consultant. This ability to look beyond the obvious and see potential is sadly so often missed in recruitment so it was refreshing and exciting.

I couldn’t believe my luck.

I was green, I still didn’t know if I should be putting my energy into X or Y, but in the end, the opportunity to continue to learn through the ECS Training Academy, with the outcome of a career with ECS at the end was one I couldn’t have been more ready for.

The Academy is a three-month training course designed to give budding engineers the tools to become a Delivery Consultant, able to help companies with their Digital transformations so they can deliver their solutions faster and secure their futures in an ever more competitive digital landscape.

The Academy itself was an incredible experience.

We gathered on day one, eight strangers, with very different backgrounds and very different skill levels. Yet, by the end, we had self-titled ourselves “Best team, worst year”. An epithet which perfectly summarised how we came together, supported each other, celebrated each other’s successes and talked through each other’s concerns.

All this was due to our willingness to engage and get the most out of the process, but would have been impossible if it hadn’t been for the process itself. The Academy was described as a safe space to make mistakes, ask questions and grab as much knowledge as possible. The idea of a safe space is often thrown around, but at ECS, it was true. Everyone was ready and willing to back up the statement “there are no stupid questions” because I had plenty and they were all answered patiently and supportively.

Imposter syndrome is real at all levels in all fields but can be particularly acute when you’re new to a company, and even more so when you’re new to an industry. I can honestly say I felt comfortable and supported throughout. And I haven’t even touched on what I learnt…that can be part two!

What I think made this an amazing opportunity was a feeling that I have rarely felt when being trained – that people cared, about us, about the outcome and about everyone’s success.

More about the author:

Nick Butler is a graduate of the 2020/2021 ECS Training Academy and is now a delivery consultant for ECS. His main focus is on DevOps and getting to grips with as many different tools as possible. When Nick’s not glued to a laptop, he loves making music, primarily on the bass guitar. I can be found at: Nick Butler – LinkedIn

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