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From modest beginnings in Santiago, where she got to witness the impeccable landscape and wildlife her homeland has to offer, to giving it all up and moving to the UK. Software Engineer Evelyn opens up about growing up in Chile, making tough decisions, and moving to London for love. This is her story.
Evelyn, could you tell us a bit about where you grew up?
“I was born in the capital of a long and narrow country in South America called Chile. I have one brother, Christian, who is 10 years older than me, so in a way it felt like I was an only child growing up.”
“My mum worked as a secretary and my dad worked in mining, which meant that he didn’t spend much time with us. Mines are typically far away from towns and cities, so workers stay there for a set number of days, typically 10 days, and then return home for another 10 days.
Having my dad away so often, I grew close to my mum. She was my role model. She was always working and giving 100% in everything she did. She was very sweet and caring to us, so I felt very privileged to have such a loving and supportive family.”
What was it like growing up in Chile?
“Like so many other places, in Chile there is economic inequality, which is particularly evident in the capital, Santiago. The city is divided in two main areas: the East is the affluent part and the West is a predominantly working-class area.”
“My family and I lived towards the West. However, a life without luxuries didn’t mean a deprived life to me. I was a very happy child, who loved dancing and making everyone laugh and I thrived in school. I enjoyed learning new things, particularly in science and maths. I was always challenging myself to do better.”
Did you have any hobbies?
“When I was 15 years old, we moved to a small city on the coast about five hours north of Santiago. It turned out to be a profoundly life-changing decision. Living by the sea and getting closer to nature confirmed my passion for science and convinced me to study biology at university.”
“When I finished school, I moved to Valparaiso to study a bachelor’s degree in biology at the renowned university, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso. I had a great time there and I was named as the best student of my year. After my studies, I ended up working in the biology department at the university doing research into evolution for several years.”
“Our team was relatively small, which meant that I was able to participate in all the various stages of the research process, which was so interesting! Besides extracting DNA and doing bioinformatic analysis, another highlight of this job was fieldwork. I went on several trips around Chile looking for animal samples and spent a lot of time immersed in the beautiful landscapes of my geographically diverse country.”
So why did you give it up?
“Whilst this might sound like the dream job and in a lot of ways it was, the life of a scientist is tough. Even if you work for a university, there is not much job security and most of the time the pay isn’t particularly generous. You need to be constantly applying for projects to gain funds to do your research - but research grants are limited, and competition is high.”
“I realised I needed more job stability.”
So when did you move to the UK? Were there any culture shocks?
“While I was working at the university in Chile, I met my partner who was a British man travelling in South America. He was very exotic as you can imagine! We started a relationship and after some time I realised that he was my soulmate, so I decided to move to the UK with him. Yes, it’s true, I moved to the UK for love!”
“I arrived in January 2020, just before the covid pandemic, and I cannot say that my time here has been free of challenges. I would not say that there was a culture shock, but it’s hard to build meaningful relationships from scratch. When you move away from where you grow up, suddenly your support network is no longer there. As social animals we depend on such connections, and it’s not until you lose them that you realise how much you had taken them for granted.”
How did you get into Software Engineering?
“During my biology studies I was introduced to Python. When I was also a Research Assistant, I worked with several pieces of software to analyse our data. Problem solving is part of my nature so working with software is something that I very much enjoy. After a couple of years in London, I decided to go for it.”
“After finishing a bootcamp in software development, I joined Xander. Xander saw the potential in me and offered me a place to take my new career to the next level. Since joining Xander, my journey has been largely focused on upskilling to become a confident developer and professional.”
Xander have been extremely helpful to get my foot in the door of software and technology and I am currently working with Quantexa as an academy team leader which has been one of the most exciting experiences that anyone who is starting a career in tech could have.”
What have you enjoyed most about your Xander experience so far?
“I think Xander has played an important role in helping me feel more integrated in the UK. I have really enjoyed getting to know and work with like-minded people who have been through a similar journey. Xander is a culturally diverse company with consultants coming from a range of different backgrounds, who all bring different perspectives, which makes things very interesting.”
What advice would you give to someone thinking of a career change like yourself?
“If you want to change career, you need to be determined to do it. What I mean by that is that you need to dedicate time to study and make the effort to learn the skills employers are looking for.
Passion for learning is key, so it’s very important to think about what you enjoy doing so that the whole process of changing career and learning new things is fun and enjoyable. Reflect upon the reasons why you want to change career and whether the new path you are choosing is likely to offer what you are looking for.”