Published: 05 October 2021

Spotlight on Kaya Holder

Kaya Holder works within the Surrey IT Services department predominantly supporting implementation, training and guidance for Microsoft 365. More recently, Kaya and her team have been supporting the onboarding of teams into the new OneSurrey system. 

Kaya Holder
Kaya Holder

What steps did you take to be in your current post?

After teaching at secondary level for almost a decade, I used my spare time to upskill using the Microsoft Learn platform, as well as taking advantage of online coding courses.

My degree was in media studies, which at the time included web design and this gave me the perfect platform for entering a career in IT further down the line. After graduating with my PGCE I began to appreciate the need and importance of continuing professional development, so I've always pushed myself to keep developing my skill set. Working in education and using new media is both my passion and my area of expertise, so I've always focused on developing an intersection between the two – keeping my knowledge up to date definitely requires dedication!

What challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?

Many!! Initially, I worked in television, but after a year as a runner I just couldn’t afford to work 12-hour days for such meager pay. Additionally, the atmosphere felt very static and the content of daytime TV really didn’t spark joy. I realised that the media studio environment wasn’t for me!

The challenge with transitioning into teaching was because the backdrop of the 2008 market crash resulted in a tough job market. I had no choice to think outside the box at this point and ended up landing a teaching post in the summer via CampAmerica, which gave me invaluable experience and a unique advantage when returning home and standing out in the job market.

Fast forward several years and I then wanted to explore the digital route, stepping away from the classroom, particularly to regain a sensible work/life balance. It wasn’t easy, even with my range of transferable skills, so I spent four months developing my IT knowledge using online courses such as Future Learn and the Internet! I was also given some great advice to create an eportfolio; to date I regularly import images and keep it current with my projects, achievements and badges. This approach could work in any sector – it gives employers a chance to see your passion, interests and successes in a visually impressive way plus most importantly, evidences your proficiency.

Do you have any side projects or sit on any boards? How does that enhance your skills at the university?

Yes! Like many during lockdown, the pressure of only having one income stream meant I was keen to work on a 'side hustle’. My sister and I had an idea at the start of 2020 to write a children’s book and suddenly we had the time to commit to it in the first lockdown. We hired an illustration company and signed off our final proof in February 2021. We are immensely proud of the reception we’ve had since our Amazon page went live and particularly with the indie bookstores who’ve kindly supported us as new authors.

Writing a children’s book with characters that looked similar to black women like us was a dream of ours, as well as our way to contribute to the lack of diversity on bookshelves. Especially with the wider BLM conversation that was taking place within the same 2020 period, the book feels particularly pertinent. The design of our website has definitely helped me hone my coding skills, plus the project management required has given me real-world experience of working in collaboration with external stakeholders.

What top tips would you share for anyone wanting to work in your field?

To work in IT requires problem solving ability as much as it does IT knowledge! Therefore, develop your awareness and understanding of coding and web design via online providers. Lots of Microsoft resources are free and on-demand for convenience, but find ways to be innovative and suggest how gaps in your current role could be filled using digital technologies.

The best way to learn IT is really to do it - incorporate learning new apps and platforms in your daily practices where possible, develop troubleshooting skills by learning as you go, and be an advocate for your colleagues where and when new technology is integrated.

As you do, create and update an eportfolio so you have to hand a showcase of your achievements.

What’s the best and worst advice you’ve ever been given?

The best: “Every no is closer to a yes!”. When in between jobs, the market can seem like a never-ending uphill battle, especially when so few employers give you feedback! When I began to doubt myself, remembering that every job rejection means that opportunity wasn’t right for me and that a better one is around the corner gave me hope. In relation to changing careers, the 'no’s' will, unfortunately, come in thick and fast, but don’t let that deter you! Try to pinpoint your weaknesses in your skillset and interview technique to make the next one an improvement.

The worst: “Lower your expectations”. Unfortunately, on numerous occasions, I’ve been advised I was aiming too high. Whilst at school my tutor said applying to a specialist arts college in London was unrealistic, previous managers ringfenced my role, glass ceilings… the list goes on.  Ultimately my approach at aged 16 to now has remained: those who advise me I can’t, I use as fuel to ensure I can! I thoroughly enjoyed showing my tutor my BRIT school acceptance letter shortly after, and my A-level study there massively underpinned my high aspiration and motivation to succeed. Always expect to develop yourself outside of your current role, keep your skills updated, and seek resources like mentoring or online courses to follow your own path.

'Don’t expect your career path to be linear.'

My career path to date is more like a maze than a flow chart. It has allowed me to learn and develop far more than I could have imagined! 

We’re in a period where jobs, as we know them, are changing rapidly but see this as advantageous and seek ways to add to your professional skillset. Don’t let a role define you as your next one may not even exist yet but be ready for when it does.

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