How I did it: “After applying for asylum I started fresh, now I’m in tech”

Shahzadi Saira Awan

The road was tough (Image: Shahzadi Saira Awan/Metro.co.uk)

Welcome back to How I Made It, Metro.co.uk’s weekly career travel series.

This week we chat with Shahzadi Saira Awan, who fled domestic violence in Pakistan to become a tech developer for Booking.com.

When she arrived in the UK, despite her qualifications, she was struggling to find work.

While the 31-year-old looked for work, she also sought asylum, single-handedly cared for her young son, transitioned between various temporary housing situations and struggled financially with NASS (Asylum Support) payments — while recovering from the trauma of the abuse.

Shahzadi, who now lives in Sheffield, says: “Everyone has their own way of dealing with it and I found working on my programming skills was a good way to distract myself.

“I still find my work a good distraction from negative thoughts.

“Whenever you learn something new, it gives you encouragement and helps you regain your confidence.”

She has overcome many challenges – and this is how she made it.

Hey Shahzadi, how did your career in Pakistan start?

I have a Masters degree in Information Technology from NUST School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Islamabad and taught Computer Science in Pakistan for a year before moving to the UK.

How did you experience finding work here as a refugee? Have companies rejected your qualifications?

It was not easy to find work as the conditions of my visa only allowed me to be employed for a maximum of six months.

I also had to look after my young son who was two years old when I came to England to avoid domestic violence.

I was constantly on the move while living in temporary housing, which made things even more difficult.

It was frustrating to face so many obstacles, especially knowing that there were many tech positions that companies were struggling to fill. I knew I had the qualifications and skills for many of the roles available, but opportunities were hard to come by.

I still tried to use my skills well where I could. I worked in a number of unpaid roles while looking for jobs. I helped some charities develop their website and did volunteer work at a local church and did some other non-technical volunteer work.

When did that start to change?

I joined Booking.com through a program called Tech Returners.

I heard about the program through a friend and it sounded absolutely perfect for my situation – it’s designed to bring breakout people back into the industry.

Getting a job at such a well-known brand felt like a really big achievement after everything I had been through.

I got the offer to live in the UK as a permanent resident the same day my asylum claim was approved, which made it even more special.

The team is incredibly understanding of my situation. Recently I was able to take my son to a conference in Amsterdam and they helped me find childcare while I was out there.

It’s the little things that make a big difference.

Did you have to complete additional training between the move?

While I was unemployed I used online tutorials to keep myself up to date – the world of tech is always evolving so I knew I had to keep up.

In particular, I learned something about web development that I wasn’t that familiar with before.

The Tech Returners initiative offered me a three-month refresher course in Java software, which meant I was ready to hit the ground running in my new role.

I was also coached to rebuild my confidence and prepare for job interviews, which was just as important.


An average day in the working life of Shahzadi Saira Awan

8am: Starting the day by taking her son to school, she then begins working from home.

10 am: Team meeting with three developers and one test engineer. Goals for the day are set.

4:00 pm: Retrospective meetings to reflect on what happened well or badly during the day and what actions need to be taken tomorrow.

What do you love most about your job?

I really enjoy programming and learning new languages ​​and frameworks.

Apart from that, the positive environment and the highly professional attitude of my colleagues is another reason why I enjoy working here.

There are so many learning opportunities to keep growing and immense support from colleagues to guide you in the right direction.

What do you like least?

Hard to say – nothing really stands out!


How I did it

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