Jennifer Calland

Oh gawd, where do I start?

When I was a kid, back in Houston Texas in 1980s, I was lucky enough to have an uncle who worked for Microsoft and so he bought our family our first computer. I can’t remember what the computer was itself, but I remember that it ran WordStar and Ultima V and I already knew I had such of an advantage over other high schoolers that I actually took ‘Typing’ as an elective in high school. I remember being up way late at night, printing out English assignments on our dot matrix printer, double spaced to make grading easier.

In high school, I wanted to be an Aerospace Engineer. Space Centre Houston was right on our doorstep and it made sense because I was good in maths and I was good in science. However, at that time, I had a passion for biology and an interest in following in my grandfather’s footsteps. My grandfather was a doctor, an oncologist.

After that, I went to uni for pre-med, but things didn’t work out for me. Not because of my aptitude, but more because of life situations not fully under my control.

I just rolled with what I had, taking up temp work in ‘technical spaces’ where folks weren’t comfortable with using computers, I bridged that gap for them. It started as the admin who could figure out the fax machine. Over many years, it grew into becoming a Business Analyst who was like, “Okay… we have no budget, but this faxes-of-faxes-of-faxes for Capital Requests isn’t working.” (back in the day, it was $3k investment in computer hardware or better, long before we had the cloud solutions available now).

It was with a bit of luck that I landed that job, that started forming my career… as a former single mom who had to give up her child for adoption in order to keep her child safe and keep herself safe, back in the US in the 1990s. The jobs I had to hold back then were not reputable nor sustaining.

I had a great roommate who helped me into the temp-biz where I had some computer skills, so I was able to scrape out a living there after.

I came to England because I met a ‘Wigan lad’ on an online game. We were friends for years prior but leaned on each other for our (then) current support needs while getting out of relationships that were toxic to us each. Then we got on.

And in England, back in 2007, I experienced 3 months out of work. That was the longest period (at that point) that I had been out of work. Back then, it was a point of ‘shame’ for me, without knowing what the future held.

So, after my successes at Siemens PLM Software, a local visionary business owner decided to take me on to his team, to transform his business into what it ‘should be’. So in the first year, I transformed his business, following a financial model that I built that was able to leap off of 2008 recession fears and needs while growing the company in that space following the Amazon model.

It took a lot of leaps of faith, a lot of ‘failing forwards’ and a lot of massaging all of the relationships all around, from colleagues to vendors, but we achieved some great success in the first year after to the tune of £2mill in increased sales during a major recession.

I was homesick during that. So, I ended my time with Chorley Health Food Stores on a ‘high’ and returned to Houston with my husband to start our family. And so, my husband and I started our family back in Texas. However, we quickly came to realise that because it was so hard for the disabled grandparents to come visit, we decided that instead, we would move towards raising our family in England.

Finding work after was hard. I was trying to work from a space where I supported community first, in taking on a volunteer role at our local youth zone. Thereafter, my son was having difficulties at pre-school and I felt the need to pull him from there and home educate him… if for no other reason than that he wouldn’t be incorrectly labelled as ‘that problem child’.

While I was home-educating my son, my youngest daughter started having some weird symptoms. Fast forward 6 weeks of travelling between Wigan and Leeds and our family separated during that time, my daughter was diagnosed with cancer. All the while, I also supported my son through both home education, his Autism diagnosis, and with getting him into mainstream school for the first time in Year 3, when he said he was ready.

My story is not only about having a background in technology. My story is about fighting back and getting back one’s own in that space, while supporting her kids in the spaces they wanted to be in.

So about 3 years after my daughter’s treatment, I decided that it was time to get me out of this space of so much fraught and fear that many parent-carers of childhood cancer kids never get to. I succeeded in completing Teaching Assistant training and thank goodness for the volunteer hours that they require there, because while I am good at being a Teaching Assistant, its not what fills my desire to succeed.

Thereafter, I enrolled in St. Helen’s Chamber Re-Ignite Bootcamp to make me work ready. However, theirs was not a technology-focused place to rebuild from. What technology-based offers they had been geared towards 19-24s and clearly, I missed that boat. However, while I was on Re-Ignite, their project manager came down to tell the women about TechUpWomen.

I applied to TechUpWomen and I got in. I think I cried for 3 days straight—finally, someone took my ‘tech chops’ for real. And maybe where I was getting nowhere with figuring out, how to get back into tech, I had no pathways there.

Also, Tech-Community in Greater Manchester do need to take MAJOR NOTE … it was only through ‘luck’ that I happened to get invited back into the tech industry here, after years and years where I have some serious credentials and evidence. Make note of your echo chambers and challenge yourself in reaching past those. Some are reaching towards London—that’s not the answer… challenge yourself to carry on reaching out in the North West in making us the Power House in resilience, determination and adaptability that we have always been.

TechUpWomen was transformative. Finally, I was on the pathway towards achieving my space back into tech. And I met so many great women and got to bring them with me. Our circle there is tight.

I looked at TechReturners to focus employability within Manchester, as TechUpWomen’s focus covered North and Midlands, and this was pre-COVID days, so I felt the need to get enrolled straight after into a programme that would point me towards Manchester-based programs. (tbf, TechUpWomen had so many great roles for GCHQ in Manchester, where even my mentor from TechUpWomen worked for GCHQ, but I was not as an American, qualified for that.)

Meanwhile also, TechUpWomen offered those who went on the Data Scientist technical role a fully funded Master’s in Big Data Analytics spot at Edge Hill University. I did not want to ‘bump’ any of my cohort on chasing this. I mean, I followed the Software Engineer/Tester path, which spoke to my heart as much as data collation and then analysing that data for veracity. I asked, and there were no takers, so I asked if I could be a taker and Edge Hill University granted me that.

Meanwhile on the TechReturner’s front, ours was the first cohort to be fully virtual. We learned online through out. This was not hard for me, given TechUpWomen’s 6-month curriculum which was largely online learning with our residentials.

So, when it came to interviewing with CTS and the question came up, “how will you do with online learning?” And I was like, “You heard of TechUpWomen? Yup. Then I did TechReturners and put all learning straight into practice.” And they had no follow up questions for that.

While I am not currently in the role for ‘proving’ myself as a TechWomen100 Award… until I start on Monday (and trust me, I’ve been allocated a mentor within CTS and I’m giving him a run for his money!!!) I have a proven record for facing down adversity and bringing everyone that I can with me. And thank you for this opportunity to apply and speak my truth in this space.