Becoming a Web Developer: Sophie’s Atypical Career Path

November 14th, 2019 6 min |

Photograph of Sophie Choukah, GSoft employee on a pink background

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Sophie Choukah is a stellar SEO specialist and a valuable asset to the Officevibe Marketing team. But her work digging deep into website referencing sparked her curiosity about web development. Instead of quitting to pursue that dream, Sophie jumped head first into a challenging training regimen with no guarantees waiting for her at the finish line. Here’s how Sophie became a web developer with a little help from her friends at GSoft.

“Yes, I made an in-house career change, but it took a massive effort.”

What made you want to switch from being an SEO specialist to a web developer?

Sophie Choukah: “ After spending three years as a SEO specialist for Officevibe, I felt the need to diversify my skills. Boredom was starting to set in. I loved the team, the product and the company, but I no longer felt like I was maximizing my potential. Ultimately, my sister got me interested in coding. At home, I watched her do it and saw the results of her work pop up on the screen. It was really interesting. She has a degree in Communications but she learned to code because she dared to try. I figured that if she could do it, maybe I could too.

What was the first step you took to learn to code?

S.C. : " I like to learn things on my own—I guess it’s a family trait— so I looked for free online tutorials. Initially I just wanted to see if I liked it and if I was any good at figuring out the logic behind the code. Before I knew it, I was hooked. I spent all my free time, evenings and weekends taking courses. It took up a lot of my time and energy. And then at one point my skills started to stagnate and exhaustion started to set in. I knew I was at a turning point, so I decided to talk to my manager about it.

How did she react?

S.C. : "She was both encouraging and realistic. On the one hand, she wanted to support me in my career transition. But one the other hand she wanted to make sure the change wouldn’t impact the company negatively. In other words, I was free to switch my attention to coding as long as my referencing work didn’t suffer as a result.

Together, we turned to the Culture & Organization and Finance departments because my career ambitions raised a lot of questions: Who would take over some of my SEO duties? Who would be my coding coach? What level did I need to reach in order to become a web developer? How would my salary be calculated to keep it in line with the rest of the company? Other GSoft employees have moved from one position to another, but my case was more extreme and created quite a stir.

How did your coworkers help with the transition?

S.C. : " I met with the Culture & Organization department regularly, and a senior developer agreed to act as my coach. He helped me figure out what I should focus on in order to improve faster. I managed to free up a half day per week to step up my coding skills, with one of my teammates taking over some of my SEO responsibilities. I got a lot of support and encouragement from my team! Even Simon De Baene, the company president and CEO, send me a personal message to encourage me!

When did you officially change hats?

S.C. : " I spent several months learning and practising. The company wasn’t going to make concessions on requirements just because the team liked me. They weren’t going to hand me a job that I couldn’t do. I had to jump through a few recruitment hoops—which included attending a real work situation—just like an external applicant would have to do. I failed the first time! It was really disappointing. So I doubled down and honed the skills I needed to finally land a junior developer position.

What does it take to successfully pull off an internal career change?

S.C. : " You need to be self-reliant and have support from key individuals in the company. I’m fortunate that GSoft is open to career experimentation but at the end of the day, it boiled down to hard work. Yes, I made an in-house career change, but it took a massive effort—from personal sacrifices to in-house testing—to get my web development skills up to par. Without all that, as well as the support of my manager and colleagues, I would never have been able to change careers within the company.

Where do you see yourself going with this new career?

S.C. : " For the time being, I’m still juggling both SEO and programming work. But I look forward to dedicating myself to website development full-time. After just a few months in this new role, I can already see that the possibilities are even broader than I thought. You can really go far when you give yourself the chance. Once I’ve sharpened my development skills enough, I’d like to learn more about design and user experience (UX). I definitely want to keep amping up my skills and aiming higher!

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