Meet Jo Hamlyn
Making the transition from performing arts programme manager to web designer.
After many years of finding joy in being a programme manager and helping people by nurturing their creative talents, Jo found her new joy in being a web designer and helping people by using her own creative talents.
Jo did not have a clear idea at first of what she wanted to move into. She only knew that she wanted the opportunity to be challenged, to develop, to explore new ideas. By learning a brand-new digital skill, saving up money, juggling overlapping commitments, planning ahead and with the support from others, Jo jumped into a new chapter of her life with her career change. She tells us that the journey towards change is often a very difficult one but one that is 100% worth it.
Name: Jo Hamlyn
Current position: Web designer and founder of discomountain.com
Previous job: Young People’s Programme Manager at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts.
When did you make the change?
I trained to become a web developer in 2016 and left my job to become a freelance web designer in early 2017.
What prompted you to make the change?
I wanted a career where I could explore my creativity to its fullest. I wanted to work in an industry that would constantly challenge me to develop and explore new ideas.
My previous role focused on helping young people find and nurture their talent as performers. Whilst that was incredibly rewarding the performance industry can sometimes be quite restrictive in terms of exploring new ways of working, opting to focus on tried and tested methods of work; I found this frustrating at times.
Also, whilst it is wonderful to support others in their creative development, I did sometimes feel like I was ignoring my own.
Did you know what you wanted to move into?
Not a clue. When I first decided to make a change all I knew was that I wasn’t happy where I was and wanted a new challenge. I was starting at the beginning.
I spent almost a year reading, watching interviews, listening to podcasts etc… whatever was available, about people who had exciting and inspiring careers. From this, I learned that what I wanted was to work in a field where I could constantly learn and explore my artistic creativity.
Web design seemed like a place that could provide me with this so I went along to a three-hour ‘Introduction to Code’ class at General Assembly as a test to see how much I could understand and to get a real sense of how much learning I had ahead of me . I loved every second of that class and will always cherish those three hours. The rest is history.
Did you face any obstacles along the way?
Learning to code whilst working full-time was time-consuming, together with paying for it and then saving enough money to build myself a runway to leave my job to be able to start a freelance career — that would take me around six months to make any income from — was a challenge.
There was no magic shortcut. I had to make a lot of sacrifices and accept gaining some debt in the process.
Did you receive support and help from people around you while changing careers?
My partner, Nick, was an incredible support during the whole of my career transition. He approached it by just being calm and listening to all my worries, fears, complaints and then endless congratulations to myself when even the slightest thing went right.
Whilst this was brilliant for me and having that calm sounding board was one of the key reasons I was able to make the change, it was ‘a lot’ for him — he had stuff he wanted to talk about during that time too. As a response to this, last year I joined a mentoring programme and helped an incredible lady through a similar transition to the one I had been through, meaning her husband didn’t have to hear every last moment of her journey. Footnote: he was very grateful.
My message here is that if you are going to make a massive change in your work like this you will need support, a lot of it, and this should be something you plan for in the same way as you do your budget and training needs, and looking for it outside your initial circle can be the best way to find that support.
Do you feel like you made the right decision?
Yes. 100%. I won’t pretend it’s not hard, working for myself! I find I can get stressed at times when I don’t have a lot of work and then stressed again when I have too much. I have to be resilient at times when projects don’t work, or I don’t get chosen for a commission I was really excited about. I have to be incredibly disciplined to always meet my deadlines whilst doing my best work. I have to be confident when I am alone at networking events trying to connect with new people in a room full of strangers.
However, despite all of that I wouldn’t change it for the world. I have worked with some of the most inspiring and exciting people I would never have met if I hadn’t become a web designer. I learn so much from my clients and all the amazing peers in my industry. I adore learning and therefore thrive under the constant pressure to keep my skill set up to date in the ever-changing tech world. On top of all of that, most importantly, I feel free to be my true creative self.
Have you changed as a person since you changed career?
This is an interesting question. Yes, I am definitely different — but different in the sense that I am able to be much more myself.
The best way I can describe the change is if you imagine I have turned the volume up on my personality. I am much more confident and a lot happier. I am always excited to tell others about my work, to anyone who will listen, and I am much more sure of myself in terms of the decisions I make and my abilities to achieve.
Are you using any of the same abilities for both careers?
Skills-wise, no. I had to completely retrain to learn what I needed to work in my industry. On another hand, what has helped is that I did a lot of networking in my old role and that has certainly paid dividends in my new career.
I get the majority of my clients from face-to-face networking — there are a lot of people who do what I do, so I have to make sure I am physically visible so people can connect with me and choose me for their projects. The ability to be in a room full of strangers and approach people and make meaningful connections were certainly things I began learning in my previous job.
What are your future career goals?
I want to be known as the go-to person for websites that look unique and visually stunning. I try and bring an artistic vision to all of my work that is a true representation of the person, business or brand it represents.
Of course, there are a lot of conventions in user experience that I adhere to when building a website, but I always aim for my designs to have an artistic approach at their core, my goal is to be recognised for specifically this.
What advice would you give someone looking to make a career change?
Do it. Of course, there will be challenges but, whatever they are, they will be less difficult to navigate than staying in a role that doesn’t excite or light you up.
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