From flying to coding – making a massive career change look easy


Careers are as diverse as we are, and stories of zig-zagging career paths aren’t uncommon.

Globally, non-linear career journeys are more common than ever, with analysts at Gartner finding 56% of employees are now applying for jobs outside of their current area of expertise, and this number only expected to grow.

Back in Christchurch, this trend rings true for a recent addition to the Voyage team, Sally Wright, commercial pilot turned full-stack developer. With our economy and digital industries in flux, at the end of last year Sally made a brave and surprisingly sensical career change that continues to serve her as a professional and a Mum.

Swapping a pilot’s chair for lines of code

Sally’s time as an airline pilot lasted a good 14 years before naturally coming to a halt when two young children and overnight flights simply didn’t mix anymore. When her youngest was born, Sally hung up her pilot’s hat and took a break from the working world to be with her kids.

About seven years later, time came to re-enter the workforce, and the tech industry presented itself as an open door. A tech-related paper during her aviation studies lead Sally to explore software development. She started a diploma in the subject and soon came across Canterbury Tech, and by extension, Voyage. It was this introduction that spelled the beginning of an all-new chapter of her working life.

Uncovering unexpected commonalities and transferable skills

When asked what drew her to the world of tech, Sally says, “I like problem solving, and I like a challenge. I like the fact that you can create something at the end as well.”

She says, “The problem solving part, that’s very much a transferable skill from being a pilot. Every three months we were put in a simulator and it was all about problem solving in emergency situations. Tech may not have the same pressure, but there are very strong correlations.”

Sally says her natural enjoyment of software development, and the chance to leverage her ability to remain cool under pressure and find solutions to tricky problems is what kept her interested, and inspired to finish her studies and launch into a new role.

Hitting the ground running with ‘the best fit’

Sally decided to make the most of the PowerUp programme – a series of events and support offered by ChristchurchNZ and proudly supported by Canterbury Tech.

The programme focused on helping people get a job in the local tech sector, and included workshops that helped people to get ready for interviews, prep their CVs and consider the options available.

Sally comments, “Women, particularly, tend to undervalue and downplay our skill sets, yet this program was immensely empowering. It not only provided a platform for recognising and celebrating our strengths but also helped in acknowledging the multitude of transferable skills from my past career and my time as a stay-at-home mom, proving invaluable in both discovering and expanding upon these capabilities.”

It was the combination of practical help and far-reaching comradery that Sally really appreciated.

She says, “Having a group of people together you suddenly realise you’re all on the same boat and you’re not the only person starting out fresh. Having those conversations in and out of the workshops, sharing fears and issues, you realise everyone has the same concerns and you’re not alone.”

As part of the programme, Sally and the other participants were invited to do a speed introduction round with potential employers, spending about five minutes with each.

Sally comments, “I learnt a lot from people and their businesses, and how cool the tech sector is in New Zealand. I learnt just how big it is and the innovation that’s going on. You don’t realise this just by looking at job adverts – it’s very different to talk to people face-to-face.”

This is how Sally came to know about Voyage. She says, “Out of all the companies I spoke to, Voyage was the best fit.”

Finding and thriving in an agile environment

With Voyage, Sally found an environment that was agile in terms of how work was done, and the work itself. This meant she could more easily juggle a return to work and her family life, without having to give up her responsibilities in either area.

On the flexibility of work Sally says, “Being able to work from home makes a huge difference to me. I’m sure anyone with kids would tell you, having that flexibility is huge. If it’s school holidays, or you’ve got an early pick-up, you can be there.”

When it comes to the work itself, Sally champions the projects, team support and lack of egos.

She says, “I really enjoy the projects and the variety of work. I like the support and the challenges as well. Voyage is a very supportive environment so you can try something, and if it doesn’t work you can talk to a multitude of people about it and it’s no big deal.”

Just do it – advice from Sally for Mums and pros

Making a career change can be a daunting decision, and there’s no denying that starting from scratch can test anyone. Even so, it can pay dividends, and there may be surprising overlaps with your existing skills or background.

Sally says, “Just do it. I think the biggest hurdle is actually making the decision to make a change. For me, flying was a massive career, it was part of my identity, and to not be that person any more was difficult. But once the decision was made it was easy, and I realised just how good it was on the other side.”

She continues, “I almost didn’t make the change because I didn’t think I could go back into learning mode. But once I found somewhere that suited me, my lifestyle and my kids, it worked brilliantly. And just remember, University’s not the only path. At Voyage people are coming from all walks of life and different backgrounds. Just so long as you have the mentality to learn, you can start anywhere.”

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