Ewa Rutkowski speaks to workingwise.co.uk about moving from engineering to IT and how her career has come full circle as she approaches retirement.
Ewa Rutkowski’s career has been driven by her ability to adapt to change and take advantage of opportunities that have presented themselves to her. With a background in engineering, she has pivoted to IT software development then to web design and marketing and from there to testing IT software for a company which develops civil engineering software, bringing her long and varied career full circle.
Ewa grew up in Warsaw and has an MSc in Civil Engineering. Her first job involved supervising a water and sewage installation in a district of Warsaw. She then moved to a job designing air conditioning in industrial buildings.
In the early 1980s, three years later, Ewa went on extended holiday to London, taking six months off work to travel. While she was there, martial law was declared in Poland and she could not return. She stayed in London, married her Polish boyfriend, who got a job at the BBC, and had a son. Two years later Ewa’s mum came to London. “She told me I had to do something with my life and not just be a wife and mother,” she says.
With her mum doing the childminding, Ewa looked into job opportunities and did a course on the imperial system as she had been trained in the metric system. She then enrolled onto a drafting course at Camberwell College which required her to take an entry test. However, she went into the wrong exam room by mistake. The exam being taken there was for structural programming. Ewa knew it was the wrong course, but she stayed as the course was government-funded, unlike the drafting one, and the test mostly involved fairly basic statistics and maths. She ended up getting the highest score in the class. “That was how my career in IT started,” she states.
She did three months of the course, which included a section on preparing for working life, and started applying for jobs. She put in 350 applications before she got a six-month unpaid work experience position with a software company in Holborn. Over the next 20 years or so Ewa had several jobs working on programming and analysis. By 2001 she was a systems architect with software business Firepond where she was trained in areas such as Java programming. She was made redundant when the company found itself badly affected by the 9/11 attack – because many of its customers were based in the World Trade Centre – and closed its UK office with little notice. Ewa found it very difficult to find a new job in IT so she decided to branch into web design and marketing.
Ewa freelanced for the next 18 months, but says it wasn’t her forte so she opted to return to IT. However, after two years out of the tech sector she had lost some of her technical skills as the sector was evolving rapidly so she decided to move into a different role.
Ewa started working for Travelex where she was essentially counting money, but as soon as the company realised she had IT skills they asked her to develop some programmes and test them. “That is how my testing career began,” she says. It was 2004. Ewa did some basic courses in testing over the next year and these and her attention to detail secured her a tester job in K3 Retail, developing software for retail settings. She spent 13 years there, based in Abingdon. By this point she had divorced her husband and moved to Oxfordshire.
Ewa was made redundant in 2017 and found it very difficult to find a new job that offered a decent enough salary for her to support her new partner who is disabled, something she puts down to being in her sixties. She found the experience very depressing and demoralising, given her skills and experience. However, in 2018, she applied for a tester position at 4PS UK, an end-to-end construction software specifically designed for the industry.
After her interview, Ewa was asked if she would consider a different role as a support consultant. She said yes. “It’s very different from testing. It’s more ad hoc and I found it more stressful as you have to respond to customers and find solutions quickly. Quality assurance [QA] and testing is more planned,” she says. Last August she moved over to a post managing the testing of product releases and working on QA processes, something she felt much more suited to.
Two years ago, when she turned 67, Ewa moved to a four-day-week [three days at home and one in the office to avoid a long commute, given health issues] as she gradually began to reduce her hours in the run-up to retirement. She is not stopping yet, though. Ewa loves her work and the company. “I enjoy work,” she says. “The company is multinational and I have colleagues from all over the world so I don’t feel the odd one out. The managers are very understanding, approachable and friendly. It’s a good company to work for.”