From Cancer to Web Developer

People might be surprised to learn that web development wasn’t my first career choice. I don’t really think I knew really what I wanted to do the first time I studied at the University of Auckland. My papers were a strange patchwork of different courses, as I tried everything and anything. There definitely was a strong focus on the environment, and biology, but I also took philosophy, anthropology, psychology, chemistry, and micro biology.

Nyssa Sutherland

And while I certainly loved philosophy, and everything about the natural world, I soon was struggling with motivation; it wasn’t a career choice for me but I felt that I had to slog on regardless. So I soldiered on, till in my final year, just a couple of months out from exams, I got sick. Really sick. Thanks to my Mum’s badgering, I eventually saw a specialist, and after several more months of testing, I was diagnosed with cancer. In particular, Hodgkins Lymphoma. I was told I was lucky, that of all the cancers to get this was the best one, that it had the highest cure rate.

This became my Aha! moment.

This is the point where I decided enough was enough. That life was too short, and if I was going to survive this, I needed to be true to myself. I needed to be real, I needed to be my authentic self. Hell, I needed to find out what that even was, because at that point? Even I wasn’t sure anymore.

But I was still sick, I couldn’t get out much, and it was at that time, I started to teach myself how to code. Why? When I suggested learning it, a male acquaintance laughed and said that I would never be able to. He thought the very idea of a woman coding was a joke.

Little did he know, that became my perfect motivator: I had to prove him wrong.

So I did. I taught myself how to program in C. I started building websites for myself, and back then, they really were horrible, but I was so proud of what I did.

Once the chemotherapy was done, and I was pronounced clean, I just wanted to get away from everything, and get away I did. I travelled the world and ended up in Wales, in the UK. I got a job underwriting insurance and I lived there for a few years. I continued to code and build websites as a hobby, never really thinking I was good enough to turn it into a career. Every time I even tried, I got told not enough experience; that they wanted a male.

The tech world was hard to break into as a female, and I started to believe them.

Eventually life would bring me back home to New Zealand, pregnant. I enrolled at the University of Waikato to finish my degree, shifting my major to Computer Science. I knew most of the stuff that they were teaching me, and that gave me an edge. And despite being one of only a couple of girls in my year, we both topped all our classes. I studied right up to when I gave birth, and continued on to graduate in 2011. I started to work towards Masters, but got a job offer in Sydney, Australia which I happily accepted.

I worked for an agency for a couple of years, before deciding to start freelancing in 2013, because it would give me more freedom to be able to attend my son’s school events, and be more involved in his life.

I truly love what I do.

I love how it is a mix of the logical side of things, mixed in with the creative. I love that it means I get to spend more time with my son and lead an independent life. And I love that it gives me the opportunity to work with some amazing women and help them become girlbosses too.