Hilary Tan paused her STEM job in Malaysia to do a working holiday in Aotearoa but ended up never leaving. Thirteen years later curiosity led her into the world of tech and now she’s a Functional Developer at Kainga Ora. We caught up with Hilary to hear about her Mission Ready experience, studying as a mum, and what the future looks like.
What were you doing before getting into tech?
I was a Lab Assistant and Math Tutor in Malaysia. I came to New Zealand in 2006 on a working holiday visa but met my husband and had kids. By 2019 I thought I should study something if I want to go back to work because I’d left my career for too long to be able to go back. I like math so I thought coding could be good, or I.T. because you can work from home. I wasn’t sure which one I’d like more but decided to start with coding and enrolled in a part-time Bachelor of Information Science majoring in Software Engineering.
How did you hear about Mission Ready?
In 2022 I was chatting to one of my friends who was studying with Mission Ready, doing the Software Developer accelerator. She told me the work is in project-based ‘missions’ that are completed in a week which, I thought, seemed much more appealing than what I was doing at university which was theory-heavy. University helped me understand coding but I wasn’t sure what I was going to do when I finished – it felt abstract. I needed a real hands-on project to help me understand what I’d learned so I emailed the university and asked if I could finish as a diploma and then I enrolled in Mission Ready’s level 5 Software Developer accelerator in August last year. I was able to skip level 4 because I already knew how to code.
Did you ever think you’d end up in tech?
No, I never thought of myself as an I.T. person. I prefer being active and walking around a lab rather than staying in front of a computer but I chose coding because I love problem-solving and tech allows me to work remotely which is the most important thing as a mum. I find AI stuff really interesting and database work is similar to mathematics so that’s good too.
Tell us about your experience of Mission Ready. The highs, the lows and how you persevered.
I love self-led learning and I love challenge so the Mission Ready structure suited me well. University felt like an old school style of learning—endless study to just sit an exam—but Mission Ready introduced me to the latest tech tools which I think was really valuable. It was a pretty intensive process followed by the internship, but I was lucky to get a contract job and then a permanent job now at Kainga Ora as a Functional Developer.
On a side note, I used to lack confidence presenting in front of English speakers because I’m from Malaysia and in my first presentation I hardly spoke but by the last presentation I was a lot more confident—Mission Ready helped me a lot.
How did you find studying at the same time as looking after your children?
I’m good at time management but it was stressful all the same. I think you need the first couple of weeks to adapt to a new schedule—it wasn’t easy but I managed.
Tell us about what you’re doing now.
I just started this week with an induction. I’m a Junior Functional Developer in the team looking after Kainga Ora’s main housing system. I think I’m quite lucky to get this job; it’s a good environment.
How do you feel about entering an industry that’s historically been the domain of rich, white men?
Our team has quite a lot of women—out of a team of nine people half are women so it’s balanced. I think more women are starting to enter tech.
What advice would you give someone interested in studying with Mission Ready?
If you like problem-solving and you want real, hands-on project experience you just need to be brave, step outside your comfort zone and take the challenge. I’m sure you can do it. Everybody can do it.