How I made the move from talent to tech

Liam O'Connor

Junior Consultant – Software Delivery

Opencast’s Liam O’Connor has made a big recent career shift with a move from talent into software development. Here he shares the story of his well-planned ‘squiggle’ from one discipline to another – and how the business has helped him move.

Like so many others during the pandemic, I suffered the misfortune of being made redundant. I’d been working in recruitment since 2014, so it was without doubt a challenging time. Despite managing to secure a new role fairly quickly, the experience made me start to think about my career differently.

After taking the government’s online personal skills assessment, work as a software developer appeared as a suitable option.

Although there were plenty of other suggestions, this wasn’t the first time I had seen software developer as a potential career move. When I was at school, to my mind tech wasn’t a ‘cool’ thing to do so I never pursued it, despite having always had a keen interest in technology. Once I starting my working life, I never really saw a switch into tech as achievable, given that so many roles required a university degree and/or experience in the industry. I didn’t have either.

This time, however, it felt different. With the encouragement of my partner Steph, I started off learning Python in my spare time through a course on Udemy and began reaching out to tech companies to find out about entry-level opportunities.

One of those companies was Opencast, but at the time there were no opportunities at the business. Despite this, Sarah Purvis, a former colleague from my recruitment days, set up a call with David Sarginson, Opencast’s head of software development.

‘Sarg’ spent almost an hour chatting with me, giving me advice on what could help me break into the industry. What amazed me at the time was that Sarg volunteered so much of his time to help someone that he didn’t know.

With no immediate opportunities on the horizon but a real desire for a change, I went down a different path and tried my hand on the production line at Nissan. It turned out that it was not for me. I have huge respect for people who can do that type of work - but for me, it just wasn’t engaging enough. It didn’t get my brain working or learning the way I wanted to.

With a baby on the way and still no joy on the tech route, I decided to look to something familiar and started applying for recruitment roles – with a key consideration being the ability to work from home so I could maximise the time with my family.

Around a year after my phone call with Sarg, I noticed an internal recruiter job advertised with Opencast. I knew I wanted to work there, because Sarg had made such an impression on me that I just knew this would be an amazing company to work for, whatever the job role.

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Liam O'Connor: talent into tech

Full support from Opencast

I reached out to Sarah again and began the interview process for the recruitment role. I spoke with then head of talent engagement Lorna Madden and highlighted to her my interest in tech and my ambition to become a software developer. I could not have been more thrilled with her reaction. She made it clear to me that Opencast would support me in making the move from talent into tech from the get go.

Some hiring managers might dismiss the prospects for a candidate based on the idea of losing them from their team within 18 months. But Lorna was excited at the prospect of supporting me to make the ‘squiggle’ into the world of software delivery. When I received the news that I was being offered the role, I was over the moon. Naturally, though, I did have doubts as to whether I would have the support Lorna had mentioned and be able to make the move. I needn’t have worried.

I could tell straight away that this move was the best career decision I’d ever made.

Following the arrival of my son just a week after joining Opencast in late 2021, my learning inevitably slowed down. But I soon became comfortable in my new role and slowly but surely got back in the swing of things. Lorna played a massive part in this.

From day one, she was enthusiastic about me making the switch and regularly checked in with me to ask about my progress. She encouraged me to put a plan and goals in place. She set me up with one of Opencast’s new people experience partners, Louise Barker, and helped me with a Pluralsight licence to help with my learning too. Lorna also gave me ownership over Opencast’s applicant tracking system, and I soon I became a subject matter expert and supported the business with the integration between that and a new ERP system that was being introduced.

Though I absolutely loved my time with the talent engagement team, as I grew to understand the role of Opencast consultants, I came to realise that many of the softer skills gained from working in recruitment were easily transferrable to the role that I was working towards.

Alongside Lorna and Louise’s support, I have received massive support and encouragement from people right across Opencast’s software delivery community, many of whom have given up their time to help me with the support I’ve needed and continue to do so when I need it.

In June 2023, 18 months after joining Opencast, I began a secondment in the company’s software delivery team. Software delivery practice lead Juan Rodriguez set me up with a range of learning material so I could learn the Scala programming language, which would enable me to start shadowing some of our teams working with our client at HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). As part of this I completed Opencast’s bespoke training pathway for Scala, which was tailored to the requirements of HMRC.

My first project was a nice one. The team was preparing a handover to HMRC on its live services, which meant that the bulk of the work I was able to shadow on was content changes. Nonetheless, I felt that my learning was accelerating and I was starting to understand things better. It set me up perfectly for a move on to my next project a few months later.

That project, which I am working on now, is certainly more challenging - but I feel that my learning is in overdrive. I’m learning more about advanced features of Scala and participating in more sprint ceremonies. There is something incredibly satisfying about writing and making changes to code, then seeing it working on screen in front of you, especially when it’s something that has taken considerable time to figure out.

In December 2023, I received the news from Juan that my secondment would be made permanent. Which was great news just before the Christmas break. I can now finally call myself a junior consultant in software delivery – which feels amazing.

I know that my journey is just beginning and I have so much to learn. But being at Opencast and knowing that learning is encouraged - and also that one day I could support someone else’s journey – I’m so excited about what lies ahead.

Interested in working at Opencast? Check out our vacancies.


Published: 29 January 2024

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Sarah Purvis: Opencast support


Liam O'Connor

Junior Consultant – Software Delivery

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