If you’ve ever faced a career break, you know how it can shake your confidence. Julie Ayres, from Perth in Western Australia, has spent the last few years consulting as a business analyst and overseeing high-profile ERP projects.
But in 2017, she was ready to settle for a project coordinator role. All because she had a “gap” – she’d spent the last 6 years building her own business, an organic retail store.
If you feel like your work gap means you have to take a step back in your career or have any other sort of issue with confidence, you definitely want to listen to Julie – and allow yourself to be inspired on your journey.
Watch or read to learn:
- What led her to start her own organic cafe after many years in IT.
- Why she decided to return back to the corporate world, and the confidence challenges she faced after her career “break”.
- How she ultimately landed a business analyst role.
- How once she got on her way, she landed the most challenging work and delivered many successful projects.
- The critical investment she made that helped her get her confidence back and how that saved her from frustration at settling for a lesser role.
For those who prefer to read, here’s the full-text transcript of the interview:
Laura Brandenburg: Hello, and welcome. I’m Laura Brandenburg from Bridging the Gap and I’m here today with Julie Ayres from Hearth in Western Australia. Hi Julie.
Julie Ayres: Hi Laura. So good to meet you.
Laura Brandenburg: I’m so excited to do this as well. Julie had commented on one of our recent online trainings about her results with the BA Essentials Masters Class. It was quite a few years ago, actually that you participated in it. But I’m so grateful that you wanted to share a little bit of your story and your transition plan and your path in business analysis, so thank you.
Julie Ayres: Absolutely. Looking forward to it.
Laura Brandenburg: If you could just take us back to where you were before you chose to invest in the course. I know you were running a business and trying to return back to corporate work. Tell us the story of before.
Julie Ayres: I’ve been in IT for many years through lots of different roles. I got to a point in my career where looking back now, I can see that I was probably burnt out but I had lost the passion for what I was doing. It was one of those seriously wake up one day and I’m going to open an organic store and café. I had no idea where it came from, but it was obviously in my subconscious there for a while.
A number of things started lining up for me, so I was actually made redundant from my role. They were moving the office from Perth to Sydney and I wasn’t interested in moving interstate to the other side of Australia. So I opened up an organic store and café. I got a period of seven years. The store was open for six years. That was my passion, but it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my whole entire life.
Laura Brandenburg: I think retail is like; God, anything with brick and mortar just terrifies me from a business perspective.
Julie Ayres: Yeah, particularly there was a massive transition in the retail industry because online shopping hadn’t taken off. It was just starting and I couldn’t get everything in place to move quickly enough with the different shopping trends. So, unfortunately, I had to close the store down. I probably left it too long to make that decision and didn’t use all my analysis skills throughout running a business. Probably used more emotional which you pay a price, I learned a lot. I found myself without a job and I had a lot of debt from closing the shop. I wasn’t able to sell it. I started looking at what I could get back into in terms of IT.
There were probably three roles that I was looking for – project management, project management office administrator, and business analyst roles. The business analyst roles, in particular, appealed to me. I had never been called a business analyst in my role and I would like to come back to that later on because I learned a valuable lesson on one of your tips. I started applying for those three areas.
I’ve always had a passion for analysis and really enjoy that aspect of it. I’ve done project management work. I probably didn’t feel confident getting back into that arena after so long out of it. And then I probably started selling myself short by looking at being a PM administrator. Maybe that was my kind of comfort where I was starting off where I was well and truly qualified to do that work and I thought, possibly, that’s where I could start and then move on.
Laura Brandenburg: That’s what happens often when people take a career break. They assume they need to step back instead of bringing forward. You ran a business and you had this IT experience. So often you can re-position it as more of a laddering and an evolution as opposed to this retreat.
Julie Ayres: Confidence. I’m a very confident person, but I did not have my confidence. That’s probably what drove that.
When you look at business analyst roles, I think we mentioned this before, there’s so much breadth to the business analysts’ role so when you actually start looking at different positions available, that can also tend for you maybe not to focus there because you can get traditional BA roles. I’m much more systems focused, but that’s purely because of my experience and my background. I started off in computer programming many years ago and then moved through to systems analyst.
I think that can be daunting as well because it doesn’t have one ID; it’s got many descriptions and you might start looking at some and think that you are just not qualified or you don’t have the experience, but there’s so much breadth in that area that you need to keep looking and keep asking questions.
What I did do, and I am very grateful for, is I found your website. I closed my business in July 2016. I started work March 2017. I probably should have looked back on the dates. It was early 2017 that I picked up on your course. But before that, I had been reading through your website.
What resonated with me was it was so approachable. It was easy to read. I didn’t feel daunted in any way. The more I read, the more I knew I was doing the right thing by following what you were saying, your recommendations.
Doing the course back then was a really hard decision for me to make because I had very limited financial resources. I was getting the, we call it the dole. It’s a shocking name, but it’s payments from the government. I hated doing that. That was horrible, but I had to have some money coming in. It was a difficult decision, but I felt like it was the right decision. I took the option of doing the materials only and working on it through home. Once I had made the decision, I was comfortable that I had done the right thing.
Once I started work, a little bit of a story in there as well. I had applied for many roles. I also was applying for a lot more government roles which had never been; like I’d done government consulting work before, but I had never really aimed to work for the government. But, again, it was all about security after being very insecure for many years. I thought that this would be a nice, safe, secure environment for me to work in. I probably wasted some time on applications because now I’m not in that area. I’m so glad I didn’t take a government role.
I applied for a project management administrator with a small consulting firm. I didn’t actually know how small and I didn’t realize a startup as well. I glossed over that. In the conversation in the interview that I had, he actually read a lot more into what I was capable of doing and he offered me a business analyst role. I was like, “Yes. This is excellent.” And then went home and freaked out, like, how am I going to do this? But I had all my material from your course so that gave me confidence; that gave me something that was there and tangible. I knew I could do this work, but I just had to build my confidence up.
Laura Brandenburg: Just to have that reference tool of this is what I’m supposed to be doing. The class, specifically, that you took is the BA Essentials Masters Class which walks you through the 8-step process.
Julie Ayres: Yes.
Laura Brandenburg: I can see kind of that referring back to, “What do I do next?” Or I think I should be doing this, but just having that reference tool to confirm, too. Was that your experience? I don’t want to put words in your mouth.
Julie Ayres: That was definitely it. And it was also, for me too, terminology. I’d been talking about food and health and organics and all of that for so many years that I was really concerned that I’m going to a session or a meeting and I wouldn’t know what terminology to use. This is just my self-doubt, which is in hindsight a bit ridiculous. That was seriously what I was going through and it was quite a lot for me even though I am a confident person. That was quite hard to overcome and get back in. But once I got on my way, I landed the most challenging program work. It was crazy and I was a cross between five and seven different projects and working for a not-for-profit organization where I didn’t have a lot of funding and a lot of money, so I’m not a big corporate. So, yeah, I was stretched in every direction.
Laura Brandenburg: So you were in a small consulting company but consulting for a nonprofit?
Julie Ayres: Yes.
Laura Brandenburg: What were some of the projects like?
Julie Ayres: The not-for-profit was a cross aged care, disability, mental health, and youth services. A community services organization. They had, in some cases, quite old systems. In some cases, nice systems. The program covered going out to tender for human resources, the community services kind of system that would manage their funding and service provision of aged care and the other services that I mentioned.
Records management, finance. Payroll was the only system they weren’t touching, but we ended up re-implementing and re-configuring their payroll system. They needed an award interpreter. We need those in Australia to manage paying people correctly, the right kind of allowances for overtime and things like that. We need an award interpreter.
A new internet, revived internet, and website content management system. And then they also wanted a business intelligence tool and I wanted to do that all at once.
My responsibilities as the BA was we started off with the company that I was working with came from an oil and gas background, which was like completely 180 degrees to what we were working with. And they had methodologies that they were used to working with and terminology that they were used to working with. It was different from what I had been exposed to, and back then I was like, oh my goodness, is this the way people talk nowadays? The new terminology I now understand was industry-specific and I have since, my last project, that I’ve just finished was oil and gas and they speak the language. Once I identified that, I felt a lot more secure in going back to the material that you had provided that was like, yes; this is how people talk and just the project manager and the program director were just speaking oil and gas.
We needed to do solution scope and work requirements definition, attend the documentation, the vendor and systems evaluation, the testing, configuration, and the implementation. When you look at that across all of the systems that I mentioned, it was an amazing amount of work to do.
Laura Brandenburg: Yeah, and you were there for three or four years?
Julie Ayres: No. I was there for 18 months and then provided support once I finished. There was a lot of data migration and systems integration work that I also had to do as well.
Laura Brandenburg: What was a day in the life of that like?
Julie Ayres: Well, for starters, their offices were at the back of our town, which is kind of on the outskirts of Hearth and you almost feel like you’re in rural country. That was like a 45-minute drive for me and you felt like you were out in the sticks, like it was surrounded by bush. That, in itself, was very different. The people we were working with were amazing. I think if you haven’t worked in the community services sector before or the human services sector before, it is quite an eye-opener that these people are out there supporting us with disability, with aged care. So that was quite different for me. The people themselves were unsophisticated in terms of technology and, I guess, computer literacy, not in any other ways. I’m not demeaning them, but just not a lot of technology focus.
A typical day for me in that environment was often a number of sessions across a number of those projects. Looking back now, I’m very proud of what I achieved and I don’t know whether it was the seven years out of IT or the absolute need to make this work because it was my re-entry back into the workforce. But I make myself, I was able to walk out of one session and mentally prepare myself to walk into another session on a completely different project sometimes back to back or with half an hour in between. So, I’m quite proud of myself in being able to achieve that. I think that with my strength I could just mentally gather myself and prepare myself for the next project.
Laura Brandenburg: It sounds like you just kind of jumped in and started running. Is that how it felt, too?
Julie Ayres: Oh yeah.
Laura Brandenburg: Because you’re a consultant. It’s not like they’re like, “Oh, take next month to ramp up.” You need to go in and be effective day one.
Julie Ayres: I guess that same hope, what I keep referring to which is try to build my confidence was I had…that was always like snapping at my heels, like, you need to do these right. It wasn’t I was working for a new company. I was re-entering the workforce and working for this new client. It was by no means easy, but the people I was working with, they were really great. They were very supportive.
Yeah, I actually just lost myself in work for quite some time. And maybe I needed that because I found it quite difficult closing down my business. So, I think there was a lot of angst in what not with that. To have this complete mind shift and to have something, a project that was all-consuming was probably quite therapeutic for me.
Laura Brandenburg: We do, as I mentioned, kind of before we got started, we get a lot of questions from people who have some sort of break. You weren’t really on break. You were running a business. But, who feel like they have this gap between working in IT or doing business analysis, or doing something like that, and then coming back. What advice would you give to somebody who’s at that moment that you were between 2016 and 2017 trying to figure out what their next step is and how to get back into the workforce after a break like that?
Julie Ayres: I guess you need to work on the self-doubt and confidence because don’t let that hold you back. As I mentioned before, and I’m not trying to sell you, but I am actually extremely grateful that you were there with the tools and the words and the approachability because that really did help me. Even just recently, like I’m in a position now where the last project to finish, and I need to look for work, even reading through your tips for comparing your resume; even something as simple as this one article that talks about looking at your CV and the role and the positions that you held previously that you can actually, without, you’re not, you’re actually renaming them. That was a massive eye-opener for me and probably I must have missed that article; I don’t know if it’s recent. I missed that three years ago because when I looked at my CV I was using roles that I was given in the company that could be not meaningless to other people, but could be a myriad of different roles in other organizations.
So, I was, actually, National Manager of Web Application which sounds really fancy. But I was very hands-on in that role. But when I read your article just recently, I’ve changed that now to Web Applications Manager. I think I changed it to Business Analyst/Web Applications Manager or something like that. Because I did a lot of BA work, but I didn’t recognize it at the time.
I guess for people that haven’t done that role before, you just really need to look at what you have done and what you can bring to the table without, I guess, kind of getting caught up in the ad that you’re looking at. It might be very structured and use the right terminology, but when you really sit down and think hard, and I had to do that just recently last week, and I also had to do that quite often three years ago. And you start unpacking what you had done and what you can bring to the table, you are quite surprised that you inherently, probably, have the skills and some experience. I don’t know if that’s the answer to your question.
Laura Brandenburg: I think that’s great advice. Really owning your skills and your aptitudes and the experiences that you’ve had.
I’d like to add to that, and it sounds like this was your experience, the business analysis experience you had was still relevant. That six-year gap of maybe you weren’t doing as much IT-related business analysis because you were running your business, but you were still able to hit the ground running with a bit of a refresh in terms of the course.
It’s kind of like riding a bike. It comes back.
Julie Ayres: Yes. Or horse, because I love riding horses. I very often ride. You get back on that horse.
Laura Brandenburg: I don’t know that I’m that good at a horse, but I would like to get on it and feel comfortable after a few minutes. But yes, I can appreciate that.
Is there anything else that you would like to share?
Julie Ayres: For other people, just believe in yourself and have confidence in yourself. It’s not easy to, if you have been out of work for a while or you’ve been in a different environment, it is quite challenging, particularly, I think in IT where it’s quite a fast-paced industry. Terminology changes and methodology gets me quite often. Even back then, and particularly now, everyone’s looking for agile BAs and I don’t have it. My methodology is old-fashioned, waterfall and people have moved away from that.
Again, that’s probably another factor to consider is rather than putting it out there that these old-fashioned methodologies are kind of reworded the way, and I also talked about in my cover letter, that I can pick out things quite quickly in methodologies.
When you get down to it, a methodology is a methodology. It is a guideline for you to work within your tools. But, yeah, you can pick different methodologies. I’m still not sure how to get into the agile work, but maybe I don’t need to be.
Laura Brandenburg: Yeah, I think the enterprise experience you have with all those different tools and those major projects, that is going to be very appealing.
Julie Ayres: Yeah.
Laura Brandenburg: Final question. I did not appreciate or know the significance of the investment that you made when you made it until you shared it in this interview. But I mean it was a significant financial investment at the time and just wanted to say thank you for that. And for yourself, too, like the investment that you made in yourself.
Where do you think you would be if you had made a different decision and not made that investment?
Julie Ayres: I could have ended up being, and I don’t want to demean the role, but I could have ended up in project administration and being quite frustrated because I was capable of a lot more. And maybe that would have been seen, or maybe that would not have been appreciated because you have to be quite careful in a company when you do take on a roll and you stick within your role to some degree. But it definitely gave me the confidence to move forward.
And I seriously, I drove home all the way from that office in Midvale, got on my computer at home, pulled up like the course material and like I can do this, like, just read through it. I can do this. I was responsible for doing…I didn’t do all of those requirements because of all those projects that we had a lot of SMEs, or subject matter experts that it would be their responsibility. But some of them were poorly, like very poorly written.
And I did ask every time and looked up requirements definitions. So, yeah, it just gave me confidence and a level of comfort that I really needed at the time. I am also grateful because I realize that BA work is absolutely, I love doing business analysis work and working in this environment even though there are so many different aspects to it. My story is more about systems and probably working on systems and implementing new systems. Other people have this, like we were saying, it’s so much breadth to the roles. But yeah, I’m loving what I’m doing.
Laura Brandenburg: Awesome.
Julie Ayres: I’m going to try really hard to do The Blueprint course. I’m quite excited about that because I think that will also help me because that starts getting down to probably not the step by step through the process, but the tools and the skills and I might have some of them, but it’s going to definitely help me get some depth to them.
Laura Brandenburg: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for sharing that, Julie. I’m so excited to see where you go and where you land next.
Julie Ayres: I’ll be in touch.
Laura Brandenburg: Alright. Thank you.
Julie Ayres: Thank you so much, Laura.