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Insights AtkinsRéalis Returners Programme: a professional’s guide

Imagine getting back into software development after an extended break, navigating through a rapidly evolving landscape, and rekindling your passion for coding. Meet Lyn, a seasoned software developer who did just that via the AtkinsRéalis Returners Programme. Her experiences and insights offer a helpful guide for anyone seeking to reignite their career.

"Many years ago, I took a career break when my aging parents needed more help. I have three children and live a two-hour journey from my parents. It was impractical to continue working with young children and weekly trips to check on my parents." —Lyn Roast, Senior Software Engineer

My background and career break

Before my break, I worked for both Software-as-a-Service and Software-as-a-Product companies. With a degree in Computer Science, I'm proficient in programming across modern Windows and Linux Operating Systems. My experience spans User Interfaces, Websites, software drivers, and bespoke hardware software. I've designed real-time multithreaded systems, connected text messaging for major UK telecom companies, and worked as a Systems Architect, Project Manager, Line Manager, and workshop facilitator for user interface and use case design.

During my time off, I mostly went to toddler groups, did the school run and some volunteering. I get bored if I'm not learning, so I tried refreshing my programming skills with courses. I found that even advanced ones are often geared toward beginners. What I needed was to overcome my rustiness.

"My journey shows that our skills are valuable and sought after, even if you've taken an extended break. Believe in yourself and your capabilities!" —Lyn

Top tip: Maintain your portfolio of skills and certifications. Consider updating your LinkedIn profile, writing a blog and participating in relevant online forums.

Photo of Rebecca smiling towards the camera

Discovering the right returners programme

A friend told me about the AtkinsRéalis – so I looked at the website and liked the diversity of projects. It was eye-opening that they had a returners programme geared toward people like me. I also had some concerns about getting back to work.

• I was worried about how my children would adjust to my working schedule.
• I doubted my job prospects due to my CV's year-long gap, fearing it would be overlooked before my genuine reasons for the break could be considered.
• I also wondered if I was too old to fit back in and would struggle to learn updated technologies.

The temporary six-month contract and the 30-hour week meant I could see how it worked for me and my family. It was also clear how much learning and support there would be to help me get back up to speed.

"The returners programme immediately removed the worry about my CV being ignored. It's designed for people just like you. Don't let a career gap discourage you from exploring what AtkinsRéalis offers." —Lyn

Tip: Networking can be a powerful way to discover opportunities. Attend industry events, join online forums, and connect with friends in your field.

Support with my application and onboarding

A reassuring telephone interview, where there was genuine interest and insights about AtkinsRéalis, put me at ease. Soon after, I was informed it was a success and a Teams interview was scheduled. They made allowances for my limited knowledge of modern technology and discussed potential challenges and opportunities at AtkinsRéalis.

The offer came swiftly with flexible hours, and I opted for 30 hours over four days, granting an extra transition day. AtkinsRéalis provided practical orientation and thorough onboarding, including office introductions, essential paperwork, and tailored training aligned with my upcoming project led by my first line manager, Adrian. His support, including Microsoft Azure training, was invaluable in refreshing my coding skills.

"I was always given a flexibility of interview dates and times. This made me feel that AtkinsRéalis understood the pressures of candidates with family responsibilities." —Lyn

Tip: Prepare for interviews by practicing common interview questions and be ready to discuss how your skills are still relevant.

My role and responsibilities

As a Senior Software Developer at AtkinsRéalis, I intentionally chose a position that allowed me to rebuild my confidence in modern software development before pursuing higher-level design and project management roles. My current responsibilities include daily team meetings, client interactions, application demonstrations, collaboration with the consultant on system design, software coding, and assisting with code reviews within the team.

"My gradual progression in my role has helped me regain my confidence. I work with a consultant who leads architecture and a buddy on a similar project with the same role. I can rely on both for assistance and guidance at any time." —Lyn

Tip: Start in a comfortable role that aligns with your skills and lets you ease back into professional life.

Opportunities and career growth

During my year at AtkinsRéalis, I've primarily worked on one project but have had the chance to explore others. The project I'm currently involved in combines familiar and new elements, serving as both a refresher and a learning experience. Receiving positive feedback in my initial code review was a turning point, reaffirming my capabilities and motivating me to keep progressing. It wasn't just getting the job offer – but proving to myself that I could succeed in this journey.

"I stopped thinking, "Am I good enough?" and started to look at my future as a software engineer as a realistic goal again. You can evolve and excel in your career, regardless of past challenges." —Lyn

Tip: Embrace continuous learning opportunities to refresh your skills with online courses to stay current.

Support and culture at AtkinsRéalis

At first, I was extremely nervous. Being a woman in a traditionally male-dominated industry had been challenging. Times have changed, but it is not perfect for women yet. AtkinsRéalis supports women and understands that as much as we might like to think all genders are equal, different people do have different needs. The support groups for parents, women and the equality and inclusion initiatives are marvellous.

My well-being has been important, and my approachable line managers, Adrian and later Nathan, helped me integrate into the organization. My buddy, David, boosted my confidence with his guidance, especially in adapting to newer technologies. While I rely on him less now, he remains available for Teams calls. Colin, the consultant, and the project team were aware of my participation in the Returners Programme. They provided valuable assistance with code reviews and transitioning to newer approaches.

"My expectations of myself were higher than anyone else's. It was hard to not feel ashamed when I didn't know something or took longer to do things than in the past. Remember that you're not alone – there's a supportive community ready to help you succeed." —Lyn

Tip: AtkinsRéalis has many employee resource groups. Look for similar support groups within your company or industry.

Flexible Working

AtkinsRéalis' flexible working culture means I can start work earlier, do the school run at 3:30 and still finish at a sensible time to enjoy a leisurely evening. Working flexibly saves me two hours of travel daily, so I'm more refreshed when I start work. Obviously, this is all done around the client's needs. If a client requires a meeting on-site rather than on a Team's call, we go to them.

"Work-life balance is achievable, even when returning to a demanding career. I moved up to full-time when I became a permanent employee because the family had settled well into me working – the flexible hours meant I could still be there when they needed me." —Lyn

Tip: Always ask about flexible working options that can help accommodate your personal life.

Planning my future career

Initially, I was happy to get back up to speed and modernize my skill set. Now, I'm excited to explore deeper into topics that interest me and pursue relevant projects. My line managers have been supportive, guiding me toward potential career paths and encouraging my advancement.

"I hope to evolve my technical capabilities, focusing on higher-level architecture and design work. What's fantastic is that AtkinsRéalis offers abundant growth opportunities, and I see a bright future here." —Lyn

Tip: Set Clear Goals: Lyn is actively planning her career progression. Define your career goals and discuss them with mentors or managers.

Not all Returners Programmes are designed equally

Since discovering AtkinsRéalis' Returners Programme, I've learned about similar programs in other companies, some of which are pretty large. Not all returner programs are the same. AtkinsRéalis strikes the right balance in evaluating relevant skills during the interview process. If you're considering such a program, reach out to current employees to gauge the company's flexibility in accommodating your situation.

"Don't be overly concerned about your skills being rusty. You likely know more than you give yourself credit for. Take the opportunity and go for it – you might exceed your expectations!" —Lyn

Find out more about the AtkinsRéalis Returners Programme.