How did you first get into tech?
After having my third child, I couldn’t see myself going back to work as a TA. Even though it was limited hours and term time only, being with kids at work and being with my kids at home was too much for me. So I just sat down and started to Google work I could do from home. Web design kept coming up in the results. My only experience with tech before was only as a user, and I didn’t have much interest in it other than being able to work from home.
My husband is a software engineer and encouraged me to give it a try. I took so many courses; YouTube, Udacity, Udemy, Coursera, freeCodeCamp, I studied it all. It was a slow process. I’m not someone who learns something and picks it up immediately. It still takes me a long time to learn something new. English isn’t my first language, and I need to use different ways to learn something. If I’m learning a concept, I’ll look for lots of different ways to explain it like videos, articles, and people.
My first plan was to go into data analysis. I studied psychology at university and was interested in statistics. I liked the idea of using programming to visualise the data. When my child was still a newborn, my husband asked me to make a website for him. I didn’t know much about building websites at that time, but it was a solid first step, and it inspired me to work on the web. It’s a lot easier than data analysis!
When you’re learning something, and it’s going slowly, how do you find the motivation to keep going?
I’m just stubborn! There are still things that I don’t understand, but I’ve learned by now that I need to walk away and do something else and it will make more sense when I come back to it later on. For example, I’m learning software engineering design patterns now, and when I was reading about it at first, I was very confused. But all it took was one YouTube video where the guy had a similar experience as me, and he had to apply these computer concepts to the web for it to make sense.
I’m just stubborn honestly. I keep going, I keep going, I keep trying, I get angry, I’ll walk away, I come back again.
How does it feel to finally understand something after you spend so long working on it?
It feels good, but it’s very short-lived. I build something, and it’s like “YES!” But 5 minutes later, I’ve already thought of something else I can do it make it better.
I’ve started writing down a list of things I’ve managed to do. Things that I didn’t think I could do, but did anyway. Big things. I usually forget most of these accomplishments, so looking back at my “brag box” helps me to remember them and see them with clear eyes.
How did you get into freelancing and find your first clients?
Word of mouth honestly. I go to a local WordPress meetup, and I gave a talk there about accessibility. After the talk, someone approached me and asked me to do some small freelancing jobs for him. Those small freelancing jobs grew into a job at his agency. It was all thanks to the talk that I gave; it was basically like an interview without me knowing that it was an interview. He liked the talk and thought I looked confident and knew what I was talking about.
The job was part-time and part remote, but I still found it hard to work around the kids. I could never switch off at home. I felt like I wasn’t giving him what he wanted because of my time limitations, and he couldn’t give me what I needed because of my time limitations. So, I decided to try and do it on my own. You know how they say before you go freelance, you should have your clients and processes ready? Well, I was not ready at all!
I already knew some people because of the WordPress group so people gave me very small jobs at first. I went to WordCamp in London last April, and I made some connections there. Once you get to know more people, if they have jobs coming through and they can’t do it, they’ll ask you if you’re interested. That’s how I got my next job and the job after that. So it truly is word of mouth. I never had to do any cold calling or contacting companies. No, it all came down to me, and the people around me.
Now that you feel confident in your skills, how do you decide on what to charge your freelancing projects?
Oh, that’s difficult. I agree with value-based pricing. Other freelancers told me that they don’t ask for anything less than a certain amount, the minimum amount they would spend time on. But if it’s a small business that’s only just starting, I won’t ask them to pay me thousands. If the company is more established, I will ask for more because I’m giving them more value. It’s hard to judge. I still don’t know. I still ask people, “How much should I ask for this?”
Now that I’ve done a few jobs, I’m trying to be more systematic with my pricing. I figured out how much would I like to be paid yearly, and I decided how much I want to earn monthly based on working about 35 weeks per year.
When people come to me with their budget and ask if I can do it, I will probably say yes if it’s not a ridiculously low amount. I’m still learning, and I’m still getting more experience. I accept that I won’t earn the money I want, but I’m improving my skills, learning, and getting faster.
Have you ever experienced clients taking advantage of that?
No, I’ve been lucky with the people I work with, and the people around me as well. I believe that if you help others, other people will help you. We help each other, and there are always plenty of jobs to go around. So many times, I’ll spend ages giving a potential client some advice and nothing ends up happening. But at least I feel like I’ve given them the explanation. I’ve given them what I know, and that’s fine. Even if they choose someone else, I can walk away knowing that I’ve helped.
Money is important, but it’s not all about money. Even if I had a high paying job, I wouldn’t stay if I wasn’t enjoying it. Maybe I’m naive, maybe I’ll regret it someday, but for now, I’m not going to worry about it. As a freelancer, I earn more money than I would have earned as an employee. Also, my husband is the primary earner so I also don’t have the extra pressure to provide for my family. I know that I’m very privileged in this way. I’m so relaxed about pricing because I can be. I know it might not always be the case, but when things change, I’ll review the situation and move on.
What’s your favourite project that you’ve worked on?
Well, I’m trying to move away from WordPress and learn more about Laravel. The people in the Laravel community are so nice and sincerely want you to succeed. I’m just doing projects at home, but it’s something I want to practice and get good at. It’s funny because Laravel is mostly backend and I never saw myself as a backend developer. Laravel makes it doable. You still need to know your stuff but it’s not as scary.
I don’t have a favourite project, but I enjoy learning Laravel and spend most of my free time learning. Now I have a direction, I know what I want to do in the future. Until now, I accepted anything that came my way because I wanted to improve in general. I will continue doing WordPress because this is where the freelancing jobs are, but in the future, I want to become a Laravel developer. Now that I’ve found something that I like, I have a direction for the future.
How do you feel as a Muslim woman in tech? You’re out in the community. Do you feel different or like it’s been a challenge for you?
Not at all. Even the first time I went to the WordPress meetup, I felt ok and there were no negative remarks at all. I think it’s important to go out and expect everything to be ok. Don’t go out and look for negativity. I don’t expect anybody to have any issues, and they don’t. And if they do, they never tell me.
Going to meetups was the first time I felt like a developer. Before that I just thought I’m doing this at home by myself, I don’t think I’m a real developer. I didn’t believe I was a developer until I started going out and having discussions with other people and realising that I know things.
The London University asked me to contribute to a talk on “Psychology out of the Box” because my degree is in psychology but I ended up working as a developer. I didn’t go into tech because I love tech. I chose tech because I needed to have a flexible job. And luckily I like it! There was a group of Muslim girls who came up to me after the talk and they had the same concerns about flexible work that I did. Whatever you want to do, you can make it happen. That was the first time I felt like I was giving a talk not just as a developer, but as a Muslim helping to inspire other Muslims.
What is something that you wish you did differently?
I don’t know. All the decisions I’ve made make sense eventually. I tried lots of different courses, and maybe if I just stuck with something it would have helped in the beginning. But if I didn’t try everything, I wouldn’t have known what I liked. So I don’t think there’s anything I would have changed. Even believing in myself, that comes with time. There are jobs I didn’t get and clients that I didn’t get, but I think it’s all for a reason. I don’t have any regrets.
Is there something or someone you’re very grateful for?
Probably my husband. If it wasn’t for him encouraging me to get into tech and take care of the kids when I need to work or go to meetups, who knows where I would be now.
I’m also grateful for the community around me, people who help even when they don’t have to, just because they love helping.
Thank you so much Zuzana! If you want to learn more about Zuzana and see her amazing work, you can follow her on twitter or check out her website.
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