From healthcare to software, with Simona Winnekes

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Deciding what you want to do in life is no mean feat, especially when those decisions begin when you’re still at school. It can often seem like you’ve got to plan the next 50 years of your life from the classroom – you pick your path, you stick to it, you retire – and that creates a lot of pressure. 

This seems a ridiculous process on its own, but when you factor in the number of jobs around today that didn’t exist ten or 20 years ago, it’s even more mind-boggling. The AI Engineers and VR designers of today didn’t even know their roles would exist when they were at school! If only there was another way…

Well, there is. We recently sat down with Simona Winnekes, a Software Engineer living in Amsterdam. That’s a title she’s still getting used to, having spent almost the first decade of her working life in healthcare. Following a nursing apprenticeship she progressed quickly in her early career, and soon found herself managing a team of 30 nurses before her 30th birthday.

Simona explains, “I became the youngest Head of Ward, and then I thought, ‘What comes after that?’”

What comes after being a Head Nurse? The next step would have involved a move off the ward and into administration, leading the nursing department of a hospital. And then that’s it.

“I wasn’t ready to stop growing before I turned 30,” Simona continues, “and coding had always been a bit of a hobby. I joined a computing class at school – mostly because we were allowed to play computer games afterwards, and I didn’t have a computer at home – where we made our own HTML webpages, and I was hooked.”

Instead of pursuing software engineering, however, Simona went into nursing because her family saw it as a more acceptable career path. Her parents were ill at the time, so she says it just came naturally. With Simona’s focus firmly on helping other people, coding was put on the back burner.

When she relocated to Amsterdam from her native Germany, Simona saw the opportunity for change. With the encouragement of her partner, who is also a Software Engineer, she signed up for a 12-week coding bootcamp to transform her career. After refamiliarising herself with HTML and CSS, Simona’s attention turned to JavaScript and two months later she landed her first role in the industry.

“It was a platform for freelance nurses,” she laughs – having left healthcare and completely transformed her career, Simona was back in the same sector. “My background definitely helped me get the role, but so did the bootcamp. We learned far more than just coding – we were shown how to collaborate, how to speak about technologies, and how to write code in a way that anyone could come in and work on it.”

Starting a new career in a somewhat familiar environment certainly made for a simpler transition, but since then Simona has moved into a new role at WeFarm. It’s a digital platform that brings together a community of small-scale farmers from across the globe – whether they’re in Kent, Kenya, or Kathmandu. It’s clear what Simona’s purpose in life is: “I want to make a positive difference,” she says.

Although she has yet to build up decades of experience within software engineering, Simona’s journey so far shows how a career in coding can be as diverse as it is rewarding. That, she says, is largely down to the transferable skills she has picked up along the way – skills that everyone picks up in their respective careers.

“It’s a candidate’s market right now, but that doesn’t always mean it will be easy to find a good role,” she outlines. “If you’ve completely changed industries, remember that there are lots of skills you can carry over – if you’ve had any sort of a career then you are able to work in an office, you’re able to collaborate and to plan effectively.

“These are all skills that your new or future employer won’t have to teach you again. Of course, there will be things you have to learn, but regardless of the sector you’ve left or the sector you’re joining, you undoubtedly already have a really valuable set of skills.”

Just like the AI Engineers and VR Developers that ten years ago wouldn’t have known their jobs existed, the same can be said for Software Engineers. Although it’s a profession that dates back to the 1960s, the evolution of technology means that the field is completely unrecognisable from one decade to the next.

Simona changed sectors to continue her learning and development, and software engineering is a field that enables its employees to do just that on a daily basis. Nobody knows where the industry is going next, or what it will look like in ten or 20 years’ time, and that’s what makes it such an exciting field. The only way it evolves is with the ideas and skills of people like Simona, and people like you.

If you are interested in becoming a Software Engineer, whether you’re looking to turn your career on its head or you’re just starting out, then get in touch. We love talking about careers in software engineering and will happily share a collection of useful resources to get you started.

develop is a specialist software engineering recruitment agency operating in the UK, Germany, and Miami. To learn more about careers in software engineering, get in touch.

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