Aside from her childhood dream of becoming an astronaut (one that could still very much come true), Amali de Alwis admits to having a fairly non-linear career plan. After ten years helping grow businesses, most recently as a consultant at PwC, Amali began to feel the itch. She was ready to tackle her next challenge! So when she was approached to become the first CEO of Code First: Girls, Amali leapt at the chance. At our December Changemaker Chat, Amali shared her insights on how to find happiness in the course of pursuing a meaningful career.

Embrace a Non-Linear Career Plan
Amali joked that if you looked at her LinkedIn profile, it might be hard to spot a common thread. Over the years she has held a variety of roles and has worked at a range of different companies that, to an outsider, might look entirely disconnected. After switching from a manufacturing engineering degree to study shoe design at the London College of Fashion, Amali tried her hand at being a shoe maker and designer for brands like Vivienne Westwood and Clarks, as then a quantitative researcher for TNS, and as a research and thought leadership consultant at PwC. Every time she approached a new role, Amali wondered what exactly she would be doing. She even remembers at one point Googling “what does a brand researcher do” before applying to a role at TNS. Despite not possessing textbook qualifications for a particular role, Amali looked to marry her rich professional experiences with her intrinsic interests, when it came to applying for and starting in new roles. Whenever she approached what seemed like unfamiliar territory, it soon became clear that there really weren’t many things that she hadn’t had done before. “Don’t underestimate how much experience you have collected. Often it’s about reapplying what you’ve done, rather than learning from scratch.”

Self-Reflection is Key 
Amali credits that first switch from manufacturing engineering to shoe design as a really important lesson. From it she learned that self-reflection would be paramount if she were to go on to have a fulfilling career. “Early in my journey I took the time to consider my strengths and weaknesses and I asked myself what I wanted to spend my life doing?” With this mindset, Amali felt empowered to pursue roles that satisfied her curiosity. She recommends focusing on what you want to be doing, rather than on other people’s expectations about what you should be doing. “No one else can tell you what will make you happy – whether that’s a family, friends, whatever. Only you can decide, and only you bring that into focus.”

Cut Yourself Some Slack
For Amali, what makes her happiest is working with companies that achieve real impact. Code First Girls has influenced so many individuals who, in turn, have gone on to influence others. The cascade effect is hugely rewarding, and makes all the hard work feel worthwhile. A self-proclaimed workaholic, Amali notes that it’s also important to cut yourself some slack. “There are times when I’m super productive, and days where I’m lazy. I refuse to feel guilty about either of those situations.” Productivity ebbs and flows, with quiet weeks interspersed with hectic ones, and Amali recognises that both kinds of days are necessary in order to achieve sustainable forward motion. Running a company can be exhausting and requires true grit.

A few final key takeaways from Amali as food for thought:

  1. Your experiences and talents are applicable to a variety of roles and companies
  2. Know you who are and how you want to spend your time
  3. Being successful means having both productive and non-productive day