Changing jobs mid-career: Digital is not just for the tech elite

Computer Weekly attended a Free:Formers workshop to see how digital-skills barriers are being broken to open the sector to anyone

If you have ever considered changing careers, but believed it wasn't an option without going back to the drawing board, you could not be more wrong.

In the digital world, the term "job for life" is no longer accurate. You don't have to go back to university to fund a long and expensive computer science degree to enter the tech sector, or move fields within it.

Computer Weekly was invited to attend a workshop at digital training company Free:Formers, creating a perfect opportunity to investigate how the barriers to enter the digital sector are being broken, making it more accessible to anyone willing to learn.

The Free:Formers Digital Accelerator Workshop takes place at Somerset House and covers building a website, making an app, launching an ad, using social media tools effectively and how to use web services safely. 

The workshop is a taster of what the digital world can offer and how learning digital skills can open doors to careers you may have thought were not accessible.

The training firm teaches practical digital skills to everyone ranging from frontline staff to senior leadership teams.

The word "coding" can make many people nervous, or lose interest entirely. However, coding taught the right way is not about the process, it is about the creative outcome.

Emma Cerrone, co-founder and managing director of Free:Formers, told Computer Weekly the digital sector is a creative sector for everyone, and is not about learning how to do a coding job.

“Coding has a lot of baggage. When you start talking about coding, people have a tendency to switch off immediately. It’s more about what can you do with this coding knowledge and how creative you can be with it,” she said.

Cerrone herself is from a non-technical background previously she was the chief operating officer at a public affairs and communications agency. Before that, she worked on corporate communications at Sainsbury’s. She founded Free:Formers with her business partner Gi Fernando.

Free:Former trainers

Lewie Allen came from a background in music and blogging. In 2012, he was a blogger at his local youth centre and after taking a Free:Formers training workshop he became hooked on digital. Since starting with Free:Formers in 2012, he has helped teach hundreds of people, from chancellor George Osborne to young unemployed people with The Prince’s Trust.

Kalinda Muloba fell in love with tech when she was introduced to TechJams by a colleague in her startup design agency, Lemon. She comes from a background in creative advertising and, at Free:Formers, teaches corporate clients and young people about the importance of using great design and smart social media.

Edward Moss comes from a technical background, having built his first website at the age of 13. From here, he became a self-taught coder before spending four years at university. He later realised his passion lies with sharing these digital skills and changing the way young people think about programming and technology.

“The way I learnt was just by getting stuck in. Once you’re over the first barrier, you realise it's fun and you continue to go on learning it for yourself," said Cerrone.

“The Free:Former trainers give an insight into the real talent out there and how they learnt what they know, so you don’t feel challenged,” she added.

Computer Weekly was taught by three Free:Former trainers (see box) during the day’s workshop. Encouragingly, two of the three didn't come from technical backgrounds. Each trainer spoke in a clear and simple manner to reveal code for what it really is – simple to learn and open to everyone.

Cerrone said more people are realising they can change careers and learning the necessary digital skills is not as difficult as it seems.

“Tech skills are moving so fast nowadays, there’s a real sense of entrepreneurial spirit out there. There are not as many jobs available so people are finding new, creative ways to earn money for themselves. You don’t have to have one job for life," she said.

“It’s the same thing in corporations that are seeing talent in several departments, improving staff skills and moving individuals to different departments,” she added.

Free:Formers focuses on teaching corporate staff, but also teaches young people through its ONE:FOR1 model. For every business person it trains, a 16-25 year old gets a free workshop.

Digital is a massive part of our lives, but people tend to ignore it, or avoid it, as they don’t understand it and think they will look stupid. We target corporate staff who know how important digital is and are scared of it, but understand why they need to learn it,” said Cerrone. 

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