Welcome back to How I Made It, Metro.co.uk’s weekly career journey series.
This week we’re chatting with Shahzadi Saira Awan, who escaped domestic abuse in Pakistan to become a tech developer for Booking.com.
When she arrived in the UK, she struggled to find work despite being qualified.
While looking for employment, the 31-year-old was also seeking asylum, caring for her young son alone, moving between different temporary housing situations, and financially struggling on NASS (Asylum Support) payments – all while recovering from the trauma of abuse.
Shahzadi, who is now based in Sheffield, says: ‘Everyone has their own way of coping and I actually found working on my coding skills was a good way to take my mind off things.
‘I still find my work as a good form of distraction from any negative thoughts.
‘Whenever you learn something new it gives you encouragement and helps you build back your confidence.’
She’s overcome plenty of challenges – and here’s how she did it.
Hey Shahzadi, how did you begin your career in Pakistan?
I have a Masters Degree in Information Technology from NUST School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Islamabad, and spent one year teaching Computer Science in Pakistan before moving to the UK.
How did you find it trying to get work here as a refugee? Did companies dismiss your qualifications?
It wasn’t easy finding work because the terms of my visa meant I could only be employed for a maximum of six months.
I also had to balance looking after my young son, who was two years old when I came to England to escape domestic abuse.
I was constantly moving about while living in temporary accommodation, which made things even trickier.
It was frustrating that I faced so many barriers, especially as I knew there were lots of jobs in tech that businesses were struggling to fill. I knew I had the qualifications and skills for many of the roles that were available, but opportunities were hard to come by.
I still tried to put my skills to good use where I could. I worked in a number of unpaid roles while I looked for jobs. I helped a few charities develop their website and volunteered at a local church, as well as taking on some other voluntary roles outside of tech.
When did this start to change?
I joined Booking.com via a scheme called Tech Returners.
I heard about the scheme through a friend, and it sounded absolutely perfect for my situation – it’s designed to get people who have had a career break back into the industry.
Getting a job with such a well-known brand felt like a really big achievement after everything I’d been through.
I got the offer on the same day that my asylum application to live in the UK as a permanent resident was approved, which made it even more special.
The team has been incredibly understanding about my situation. Recently I was able to bring my son along with me to a conference in Amsterdam and they helped me to find childcare while I was out there.
It’s the small things that make a big difference.
Did you need to take on extra training between moving?
While I was out of work, I was using online tutorials to keep myself up to speed – the world of tech is constantly evolving so I knew I had to keep up.
In particular I was learning about web development, which isn’t something I’d been that familiar with before.
The Tech Returners initiative gave me a three-month refresher course in Java software which meant I was ready to hit the ground running in my new role.
I was also given coaching to help me rebuild my confidence and prepare me for interviews, which was just as important.
An average day in the working life of Shahzadi Saira Awan
8am: Starting with the day by dropping her son off to school, she then begins working from home.
10am: Team meeting with three developers and one test engineer. Goals for the day are established.
4pm: Retrospective meetings to reflect what good or bad things happened during the day, and what actions needed to be taken tomorrow.
What’s the thing you love the most about your job?
I really enjoy coding and learning new languages and frameworks.
Other than that, the positive environment and highly professional attitude of my colleagues is another reason I love working here.
There are so many learning opportunities to grow further and immense support from colleagues to guide you in the right direction.
What do you dislike the most?
It’s hard to say – there really isn’t anything that sticks out!
How I Made It
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