Hairdressing to High Tech: Avril Maleham’s Empowering Journey into Software Engineering

Hairdressing to high tech- Avril Maleham’s empowering journey into software engineering

After 16 years in the hairdressing industry, Avril Maleham realised that her true calling lay in tech.

Her journey into this field shows that it’s never too late to pursue your passions and find fulfilment in life.

With a flair for creativity and the need for change, Avril embarked on a life-changing pivot, ultimately deciding on the Institute of Data’s Software Engineering programme.

Avril’s story is not only one of curiosity & resilience but also one of redefining personal and professional identity.

It highlights the endless possibilities within the tech industry, encouraging others to embrace change and explore their true potential.

We were excited to catch up with Avril, learn about her experiences with the Institute of Data’s Software Engineering programme, and hear any advice she can offer to potential students.

1. Avril, please tell me about yourself.

I’m originally from England. After travelling for a little bit, I ended up settling in New Zealand.

I’ve been living in Auckland for the last seven years.

I love travelling and living near the beach.

I love getting outdoors, which is why I enjoy living in New Zealand so much.

New Zealand is so good for camping and kayaking — all that kind of stuff.

I left school in England at 16. At that point, I’d already had my Saturday job in a hair salon for two years.

I was quite academic at school, especially with maths and science, but I didn’t have much encouragement to pursue it.

It wasn’t unusual in England to leave school at 16. I didn’t even consider university, so I became a hairdresser.

There wasn’t any deep thought into it. It was the path I was already on. I did that for 16 years of hairdressing – that’s over half a lifetime!

It’s a long time to be in a career.

I still love a lot about the industry, but I was ready for a change.

2. How did you first become interested in tech?

I’ve always been quite curious about technology.

I came to a point where I realised I wanted to do something technical, but I didn’t know what options there were.

After some online research, I came across the Institute of Data’s Software Engineering programme.

I was attracted to software development because Software Engineering is still a bit creative.

3. Why did you decide to study software engineering with the Institute of Data?

I chose to study with the Institute of Data because the part-time programme meant that I had the option of completing the programme while working.

I stepped back my hours at work a little to complete it.

4. How did you find the programme overall?

What stood out for me was the structure the programme gave me.

Instead of spending excessive time learning JavaScript, having a structure allowed us to move through the material more efficiently.

The support from our peers and the tutors and trainers was invaluable.

I quickly realised that everyone in my programme was in the same situation.

Having the other students to talk to and bounce ideas off of was encouraging, and having different approaches to teaching was helpful.

Once I finished the Software Engineering programme, I signed up for the Institute of Data’s Job Outcomes programme.

Kate, my job mentor, was so nice!

I had a few meetings with her, and she made herself available to discuss any issues or doubts.

Talking things over with her was so helpful, and it was so good to have that support.

The CV writing, LinkedIn workshops and cover letter writing were really helpful.

In my job hunting, it helped to have a good starting point on which to build.

5. You finished the programme and got a job in the industry. Can you share your approach to job searching?

I applied for about 80 jobs, which is time-consuming but normal.

It gave me a lot of practice and the opportunity to refine my CV and interview techniques.

The first interviews were challenging, but looking back, they were really helpful in terms of practice.

Networking was a huge thing, too.

In Auckland, there’s a group called ‘Girls in Tech’.

Through Girls in Tech, I met many supportive women who gave me heaps of advice.

And then eventually, I spoke to the right person at the right time at Spark and landed a role.

6. What do you love the most about working as a budding Software Engineer?

From a personal perspective, it’s probably the fact that it’s a career that I get into that ‘flow state’.

Getting into that flow state is key in any career, so it doesn’t feel like work.

Also, the amount I’m learning and opportunities have been awesome – especially with the team I work in.

I have been encouraged to try things and give them a go, and that’s such a great learning culture — to be not held back from anything.

It’s an industry where I’m really supported to progress.

It’s a good work-life balance too, and there are opportunities to work from home as well as for pay progression.

It’s innovative. It’s exciting. It’s future-focused. I think that’s probably the best thing about it.

7. What do you think makes for a good software engineer?

The ability to learn is key.

You need to be curious and want to learn because technology constantly changes.

Even if you’re experienced, there’s always something new to learn.

That’s probably the number one soft skill I would recommend.

Teamwork and collaboration skills are important, too.

There’s a stereotype about software developers and tech people that they’re not great with people, but I haven’t found that to be true.

Everyone I’ve met in tech has been fun. It’s important to want to try and fit into a team.

If you’re looking to get into software engineering, a tip for anyone applying for a job in software engineering is to make sure you’ve got a really strong CV.

The same goes for interviews as well – make sure you’ve practised how to interview and that you are prepared for all of the kinds of questions that might come up.

If you don’t get that job, apply for another.

8. What would you say to other women considering moving to the tech industry?

There’s an amazing community of women who supported me; so I’d say you don’t need to be intimidated by the industry. There’s a lot of help available if you want it.

We all want to see an increase in the ratio of women to men in the industry.

Tech is still a male-dominated industry. I’ve had lots of support, but it can still be intimidating.

With the Software Engineering cohort that I was a part of, there was pretty much a 50/50 split between men and women, which was encouraging.

It’s so important to encourage women into tech. I’m always super happy to help and advise on career changes because I’ve been through it!

9. What are your aspirations and hopes for your career?

The next thing for me is to build and grow as a developer.

I want to expand my skills and experience as a developer and branch out into learning more about data.

Beyond that, I want to keep learning!


If you’d like to learn more about our programme, Avril studied with the Institute of Data, then download the Software Engineering course outline.

Alternatively, you can book a career consultation with one of our experts at the Institute of Data to discuss the programme and start your journey with an actionable plan.

You can connect with Avril and follow her professional journey on LinkedIn.

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