Dubai To London And All The Tech I Learnt In Between πŸ‘©πŸΌβ€πŸ’»

britnorcodes profile image Em πŸ’« ・8 min read

A quick intro before I get onto the main event; My name is Emma, on Twitter you can find me at @britnorcodes . I'm a Software Engineer and I've been coding for around 5 years - 3 years studying at University and 2 years in the industry. After years of wanting to start a blog, it's finally happened, Emma's kicked imposter syndrome to the curb...for now 😬

This is my personal journey from no knowledge of the tech industry to finding my passion and getting a job πŸ’ͺ

Early days πŸ‘§

I am originally from Manchester, however, I was born in Dubai and lived there until the age of 18. I'm not going to lie to you, I haven't always had a passion for computers and software engineering, I kind of stumbled into this world, with no prior knowledge that it existed. There is a common misconception that all Software Engineers have lived, breathed and typed code since they were very young, I can confidently debunk. You really can start at any age.

I went to a school where we were educated and encouraged down one of a few routes, namely Medicine, Law, Economics etc. None of which appealed to me in the slightest. What bothers me the most, is that no one actively encouraged me to pursue a career in tech at school. I did this off my own back and managed to keep ploughing on till somebody noticed me. It wasn't a joyous ride, at points discouraging, especially following a route which was so foreign to my parents and friends, even now explaining what I do, their faces are puzzled.

At school I took ICT (Information, Communication and Technology), Maths, Economics and Art for my A Levels. I really had no idea what I wanted to do, I thought I was going to go on and do Art, but I was such a perfectionist that doing one drawing took me DAYS, I thought to myself - this ain't sustainable or good for me. I then began exploring my creative flair with ICT and designing websites in Serif WebPlus, I remember vividly thinking this is cool, my Justin Bieber website pinned up on the wall in the classroom, Mum I've made it! I spiced up my database module in ICT by making a One Direction ticketing spreadsheet. It got me thinking of what could be possible for me by combining art and computers. I loved to push myself out of my comfort zone and surprise people, especially those who thought I wasn't capable.

University πŸŽ“

My pre-uni brain was a little lost, I had the course I wanted to do in my head but I wasn't sure what it was or if it even existed. I remember going onto UCAS and typing in the subjects I studied and it returned a list of courses that fitted with them, that's when I spotted the Digital Media course at the University of Leeds, it's a match! It allowed me to live my creative dreams, alongside exploring my curiosity with computers and technology.

My very first module in web development was 'Interface Design' where we covered only HTML and CSS, I got really stuck and a nice person from StackOverflow screen shared with me for about 4 hours to explain everything to me. Humans are nice! πŸ’“ Don’t be afraid to reach out to people for help, I promise you people are willing and the absolute worst outcome is they say no. Or they tell you how angry they are for your overuse of the <br> tag, not that I'm talking from experience or anything...

In second year I studied 'Dynamic web programming', where I learnt the fundamentals of PHP. I built a One Direction fan forum with a login system and comments section (anyone else sensing a running theme?). This was where I fell in LOVE with PHP, yes, you heard that right! I often get funny and confused looks when I talk about my love for PHP now but honestly I think it's because it was the first scripting language I learnt that it holds a very special place in my heart (and brain). Even now I find myself solving problems how I would have using PHP, to then google how to do the same in Javascript.

I took an optional study abroad year, and was lucky enough to get a place at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, I studied there for one year. And what a year it was! I saw this as a great opportunity to study classes that weren't on offer to me back in the UK. It was the first time I had been exposed to Javascript and I was amazed, our first project was to create a single page with as many animations and scroll effects as possible - a hoot. I also took a class called 'Programming for Visual Designers' where I learnt Processing! I built loads of cool visual artworks and an interactive game during that module and that's where I kind of solidified my interest in front-end web development.

During my final year of University, I had to pick between a dissertation or web project, it was a no brainer for me, opting for the web project I built a Progressive Web App called myPlan. It was built for those diagnosed with young onset dementia to break down daily tasks into sub-tasks and help organise their day, with a catalogue of tasks to pick from but also the ability to add custom ones. I did a lot of reading into the condition and a lot of the choices I made were supported by my research.

That year was tough but I learnt a lot and it was incredibly rewarding to build a product which benefited people, it had a niche use. There were times where I felt so overwhelmed, late nights in the library banging my head against the wall trying to solve the many bugs. Those on my course were either doing a dissertation or web projects which included film and animation, or building an app with Swift so I struggled on with no one at arms reach to help with JS. But that independent learning route which I was forced down has really shaped the skills I have today.

Even now I'm still studying, I have a specific note on my computer called 'Learning' I add to it pretty much daily of terms I hear someone mention or cool things I see online that I want to know more about. I add to it more often than I tick things off, but it's my way of keeping track of my current interests. I would highly recommend doing something similar, if you hear a term which is alien to you, google it then or write it down to read up on later. You will learn so much this way.

Work In The Web πŸ•ΈοΈ

In January of my final year I came across a 3 day development workshop called Work In The Web, ran by a digital agency in Leeds called Mixd. I applied without thinking I'd actually get a place, lo and behold - an email came through and I'd been picked.

The workshop was one of the best things I have ever done, I would not be where I am today without it, both personally and professionally. I recommend it to anyone in the UK at the beginning of their web dev career, to gain a better insight into the industry - and to network!

Mixd exuded enthusiasm and passion, and for the first time I felt like there was other people who saw and valued my skills and actively encouraged me to pursue web development. I left the 3 day workshop feeling inspired and motivated, I was so ready to show those people that me, yes me! could become a web developer. I got home and saw they had an opening for a Graduate developer. I applied and 2 face-to-face interviews and 1 tech interview later - I was offered the job! πŸŽ‰

My first web developer role ⭐

I spent 1 year working as part of a small team with the most incredible colleagues, building custom WordPress sites - putting my PHP skills to good use. I was lucky enough to have an incredible mentor during my time at Mixd, I learnt invaluable skills from him and put a lot of my confidence now down to the time he invested in me. If you ever find yourself in a situation of being offered a mentor - take it, it might not always work out, and that's fine, you tried. But a good mentor is priceless.

Our clients were heavily public sector which meant they were being used by the public and accessibility had to be tip top - after that accessibility is kind of ingrained in me now. A lot of engineers see accessibility as an afterthought, but if you pledge to writing accessible code from the get go, you'll thank yourself later, and so will your users! Semantic markup is more important than you think.

Moving on πŸš€

Leeds and Mixd were great, but the big city was calling! Along with multiple other reasons, I was up for a new challenge. I packed my bags and moved to London, landing a software engineering role at a Fintech in their website team. My PHP days were over and I was thrown into the deep end with Javascript and React - and I love it! I had done numerous online courses but I was ready to put into practice what I'd spent so much time learning. I've been in my current role for 1 year and 1 month. My team is small and talented, we all bring something different to the table and that's what I love. Never underestimate the power of thinking differently to your team, it can ignite great discussions and guide projects in cool ways. I get involved with all kinds of things, from UI and UX design to identifying insights in improving our website.

In the now πŸ‘€

Since starting my current role, I found myself spending less time on side projects as my day-to-day got busier, but recently, I've taken a pledge to myself to invest more time in my personal interests - outside of work. Hence - @britnorcodes was born!

So, where do I see myself in 5 years? I hate this question, like with a passion. I find it so hard narrow down all the grand plans I dream of for myself into practical plans for the future. But at the moment I'm interested in connecting with other people like me! The best unexpected perk of being in tech is the incredible community online, everyone is so eager to help and that really helped me when I was starting out. I don't like the thought of anyone not doing something because they're too intimidated to ask questions, or fear they're not good enough. Those leading the tech industry were once beginners too, they weren't born with all the knowledge - although, that would be pretty great wouldn't it?

I'm aware the tech community is great but it can also be scary because it can often feel like everyone knows a lot more than you, or you don't know where to start. But I can guarantee that no one knows everything, nor are you expected to. My goal is to encourage as many people as I can to pursue a career in tech, especially women. Self directed learning can be hard because you have to trudge through all the online resources to find the ones that work for you, but I promise you they are out there. Create your own path. ✨

People learn at different speeds, this took me SO long to actually process and accept, don't feel defeated because people around you are moving quicker, your time will come, keep at it. I've had my fair few blockers and days where I was ready to give up, but looking back I'm so glad I didn't because now I get to do what I love and I get paid for it. I'm really keen to get involved in Open Source Software so if you have any experience with this or where to start - get in touch.

If you made it this far, come say hey! @britnorcodes πŸ‘‹

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britnorcodes profile

Em πŸ’«


Software Engineer πŸ‘©πŸΌβ€πŸ’» β€’ Digital Media graduate πŸ‘©πŸΌβ€πŸŽ“β€’ JavaScript β€’ React β€’ Gatsby


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Great Article Emma!! If I may ask you this, since you grew up in the middle east, how easy/difficult was it for you to culturally adjust back in London. I'm guessing 'dubai' would still be 'home' to you. Correct?


Hey Skay! Thank you so much ☺ yes dubai is still where I call home! My parents are both still there too. It was relatively easy to adjust to but there are still things now i find strange in london because its so different to whats normal back home! ☺


I do have a close friend who's had a similar experience. Her parents are from a different part of India, so her language and culture are very different from the place she grew up. It was funny for a long time, because, people who assume so much based on how she looked but when she spoke a different language, their minds would just give up. πŸ€£πŸ˜‚
It's funny the way our minds interprets things in general 😎 But, thanks for sharing the article. Looking forward to more stuff from you. One tip I can give you is add some images (any random ones or gifs) between paragraphs, it improves readability and greatly increases engagement. Good luck!!

Thanks for the feedback Skay ☺ will definitely take that one board and add more imagery in my next blog!

Great! While this article talks about how to write great LinkedIn articles, I think this one can be applied everywhere in general. I'll share the link in Twitter as well. Good luck once again!



Hello from Abu Dhabi πŸ‘‹πŸ½ I enjoyed reading your story Emma.
I suspect I would’ve loved PHP as much as you did if it had been my first language. Mine was Java and my professor would literally make us repeat public static void main so it is very ingrained in me and I will always love it, not that I would use it in any project today πŸ˜…


Hello Doaa! Awh nice, I've only been to Abu Dhabi a couple of times. Haha I can imagine! Honestly I feel like PHPs older sister trying to defend it when people criticise it πŸ˜‚ and thanks for the feedback!


Hey! It was so helpful & refreshing to read your story after having the same kind of experiences with A-Levels myself. I really loved art & literature but I also had an interest in computers , but didn't know what to do with this passion and so I ended up studying Computer Science at uni. Subsequently I fell in love with my web dev module and hoping to put this to good use in my final year!
Thanks so much for this post, it's really inspired me :-)


Hello Lucy πŸ‘‹ It makes me so happy to know this post has inspired you ✨ Sounds like you're smashing it πŸ’ͺ


Hey Em! I follow you on Twitter so when you popped up on Dev I thought I'd give this article a lil read.

I loved reading this, especially as a gal who also went to Uni of Leeds (studied History though, nothing tech-y - just finished a coding bootcamp in Leeds!).

I wish I'd had your kind of initiative in carving out that tech path for yourself - my school and teachers knew I had a knack for tech, but also for History, and I was never told that I could be interested in and pursue two things. Really admire you for that! But especially that you did tech stuff AND made it "feminine" with all that 1D. Love it.

Also love the honesty in this about how different people learn at different speeds. More people need to be honest like this and recognise that that's normal, and that one is not necessarily better than the other. Slow and steady, amirite?


Hey Stephanie πŸ˜€ Firstly, thanks so much for taking the time to read my blog post! And secondly thanks for such lovely feedback ❀️ And yes, you're so right! When people panic and try to speedily learn things, that's when stuff gets missed and more often than not you have to go back and revisit the basics again


I'm not going to lie to you, I haven't always had a passion for computers and software engineering, I kind of stumbled into this world, with no prior knowledge that it existed. There is a common misconception that all Software Engineers have lived, breathed and typed code since they were very young, I can confidently debunk. You really can start at any age.

I didn't start coding until I was 22. Having the worst CS teacher ever in high school scared me away until then. Didn't even care about computers at all until I was 18, and only then to find free software to replace all the music gear (synths, drum machines, effects processors, sequencers etc., I've been a songwriter since I was 17) that I lost to pawn shops to pay bills after moving out on my own.

Fortunately, I didn't go straight to college, because I had no idea what I wanted to do back then, and it would have been an even bigger waste of time and money than I consider the two career relevant programs I did attend (I've never used more than 2% of what I learned in any job since, and actually feel that I learned more useful for the job from working at Starbucks).

While I did a ton of freelancing in IT, design, and development, I didn't make my formal entrance into the industry until a few years after that and, even then, it was on the IT side. Continuing to freelance, I didn't make the lateral move to dev until a few years later still; but I never looked back once I did.


Hi Emma! The way you described your journey was amazing. You just expressed everything in a simple manner where it can be helpful for people who want to learn for code. That's good to know you love JS frameworks along with PHP. Wish you very good luck. Happy coding Emma.

Its such valuable information was given in this article especially for those who just started their career. I was excited to read more articles from you.πŸ˜€.I am from computer science background. Initially, I have not shown much interest to do for code. After reading blogs like similar to you. I have just got interested and started coding a little bit. Especially, These words from your article are such a love where everyone will come across in their lives. at least once.

So may I know on what type of projects do u build and learn in your free time?

****People learn at different speeds, this took me SO long to actually process and accept, don't feel defeated because people around you are moving quicker, your time will come, keep at it.*❀


An inspirational experience writing!


Hi from Dubai! πŸ‘‹ Wow, your journey is amazing, keep being awesome!


Thank you ☺☺


Hi from Ethiopia,I enjoyed reading your story.thank you for sharing your experience .


Hello πŸ‘‹ and thank you 😊


Welcome to DEV and congrats on your first post! πŸ‘‹

Whale hello there!


Cool article I enjoyed reading it.


so cool i never been to dubai i hope someday i will go there also


do it! πŸ™ŒπŸΌ