My struggle to become a software engineer

Rajinder Kaur stopped studying at 18 upon after marriage, something pretty common when she was growing up in Punjab and West Bengal. When her family moved to Britain, she decided to continue her studies and worked hard at landing a job. Here's the story of her struggles.

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By Rajinder Kaur Bhinder | Britain | Experience |

I believe the love of learning does not just open doors to unknown knowledge but also to unknown possibilities and undiscovered capabilities.

I’m Rajinder Kaur and I work as a software engineer. I was never set to become a software engineer. In fact, if you had asked my younger self, she wouldn’t even know what it meant. My journey to becoming a software engineer has indeed led me to the above belief.

I was born in Punjab and grew up partly in West Bengal and Punjab. I was a high achiever in school and loved learning. I stopped studying at the age of eighteen after I got married. Marriage at an early age was quite normal at that time. The mindset of investing in girls’ education mainly to increase the chances of achieving a good marriage was also quite common for when and where I grew up. I’m glad to see this change over the years and it fills me with joy when I see young girls from back home who are full of dreams and have big career aspirations. I lacked such exposure and role models to be career oriented, nevertheless, my love of learning motivated me to seek ways to continue my education after marriage.

With some plans scrapped at ideation, my first concrete attempt was to work towards a correspondence degree while I was still in India. I decided to study Psychology as I found it most interesting out of the limited options that were available. However, I wasn’t able to sit the in-person examinations due to some personal circumstances so I had to discontinue the course after only a year.

A few years later, when I was living in the UK, I came to know of the Open University, a distance learning university. It had been six years since I’d left school but I still had the desire to study further. My husband and I were running a small retail business at that time and had a toddler daughter therefore, remote learning seemed like an ideal option. By this time, I also felt I had a responsibility to be a good role model to my daughter. I wanted her to watch me take action to achieve my goals and learn not to give up on one’s dreams.

A nice problem to have this time was that there were so many options to choose from. Having recently heard of some big IT companies and some interest in computing, I decided to register for a BSc in Computing and IT to increase my prospects of getting a good job in the tech industry, although I didn’t have much of a sector insight.

The next few years were a difficult journey of juggling my time between family, business and studying, especially because it was during a phase when we were trying to settle in a new country and grow both our business and our family.  It meant that I had to take some gaps in studying, however, I would always return to it as soon the circumstances were favourable. I would often register for two (once even braved three!) modules to make up for the lost time.

So, attaining the degree required a lot of hard work, resilience, and tenacity. I attracted both positive and negative opinions from the people around me. Whilst some were inspired by my perseverance, others believed there is no reason for me to study and some even questioned my commitment to our business and family.

Millions of opinions, hundreds of late-nights, eight years, two additional businesses and one more child later, I finally completed my degree with first class honours. My family was extremely proud of me and I was filled with confidence and gratification, however, I didn’t know the work was not yet done.

I had enjoyed the few coding modules I did during the degree, and I had got interested in becoming a software developer. Since I met all the requirements listed on the entry level job descriptions, I felt certain and confident that I’ll be able to secure a job soon. Unfortunately, that confidence was shattered piece by piece with every job rejection, or by what happened most of the time – no response at all.

Unlike some people I can’t give you the exact number of applications I made before I got my first job, but it was far too many to count back. Nevertheless, it took me over a year of rejections to understand that as an immigrant brown female looking to break into the tech industry, I was not going to be hired on potential – I needed more specific skills.

For that reason, I joined a 12-week software developer coding bootcamp. This journey was difficult for me in the literal sense as the commute to the place was 4-5 hours on a good day, which was a struggle on top of the intense nature of the course. However, it was worth it as I got my first software developer role within weeks of completing the bootcamp!

I have since worked in different roles as a software developer and being in a profession where continuous learning is essential keeps me motivated. I’ve picked up so many qualities and skills on my journey so far as a positive side effect of managing business, education and family simultaneously. I’m looking forward to all the more learnings I’ll gain from my career and I’m excited to see the new possibilities and capabilities I’m yet to discover.

(Leeds-based Rajinder Kaur was a TechWomen 100 Award 2021 winner and a panelist at the Reframe Women In Tech Conference 2023)

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