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Article by Thara Leighton, Lead Software Engineer, AppLearn

Before starting my current role, I had more than 10 years’ experience working within software development in financial services, primary focusing on .NET and backend services. The sector was what I knew and was used to.

But after so many years working in the same industry, I decided to take the leap and move into a world that was completely different. I moved away from finance to become a software engineer in an emerging sector at a fast-growing company, Digital Adoption Platform (DAP) vendor, AppLearn.

DAPs essentially help business get more value out of their software, through personalized guidance and applications within any application. Think Google Maps for software – it shows users where they need to go and what they need to know to best use the application in question.

It’s a rapidly growing business and market, so I joined AppLearn at an exciting time, but it was a big decision with lots to think about. Now I wanted to share my experiences, and pass on the lessons I’ve learnt along the way…

Deciding to take a leap

I’m not the type of person that likes going out of my comfort zone. So why did I move into a sector that was completely new to me? I had a need for change and was eager to learn and broaden my horizons. I wasn’t inspired by my current environment and wanted to be in a company where I could really have an impact. I wanted to get involved in all the stack, not just backend and really get some exciting experience, so I decided to jump into new waters.

I also knew I didn’t have much knowledge of other sectors, or the skills or ‘tech stack’ I would need to be a software developer in other companies. The finance sector is focused with compliance and regulation, as well as not introducing risk. The SaaS sector, while still concerned with avoiding risk, would have a different set of focuses.

So how did I get around my sector and tech knowledge gap? Luckily for me, I quickly realised that to innovative and learn in fast-growing companies, it often doesn’t matter how much previous knowledge you have. Having the right attitude and the transferrable skills is key.

I called on times that I’d had to learn something new very quickly in the past, and this gave me the confidence to know that I could put in the work and take on the challenge. So, if you’re thinking of branching out into something new, here are my top tips to help get you started…

Embracing transferable skills

Attitude will see you through

Many companies already understand that new hires will often need a degree of upskilling, and also appreciate that soft skills and attitude can be more important than possessing technical skills for sector specific software. I would advise people to be honest about their skillset and experience, but open and enthusiastic about their willingness to learn.

Call on your existing skills and knowledge

Focusing on software in particular, I found that a lot of the approaches and software principles that I already had experience with could be adapted to AppLearn’s sector. Software skills such as paradigm experience, testing, architectures and bug fixing can be transferred, no matter the sector you’re working in. If you’re like me and are taking on a new software development role, call on your previous delivery experience. Have you used agile before in a team? What deployment frameworks have you used? What testing environments have you used to ensure quality? Your experience and ability to create clean, well designed, tested, maintainable, resilient code goes a long way. And all those things can be learnt across all languages.

Work as a team

Building brilliant software is best done as a team, so I could also learn from my colleagues as part of the process. There is a strong team culture at AppLearn, and it’s been so rewarding to directly see the impact of what we are producing together.

Making the change

When I decided to embrace this new opportunity, my background in other sectors gave me an advantage of having a fresh approach to the work and bringing new ideas to the table. If you can be confident to make the change, it can be incredibly rewarding. You can – and will – make it work.

If the job specification is more open, rather than long and prescriptive, it shows that the company is flexible and has a culture that values positive attitude and a passion to grow and learn. The world of tech is so fast paced, so that enthusiasm to learn about new things will always be needed to stay ahead.

Did I make the right decision? Absolutely. Has it been easy? No. It has been a lot of hard work to upskill in new languages and services, but it was absolutely worth it. I have been at AppLearn for almost a year now, and I’m constantly learning new things, while being given the freedom and space to explore new ideas. I love that I’m given the space to go ahead and crack on with it.

So, in short, embracing your transferable skills and taking on challenges is something I’d encourage all women in all sectors to do, not just tech. By broadening your horizons, you can find and enjoy all sorts of exciting opportunities.