Can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
My name is Aline, I’m 31 years old and I was born and raised in Ghent. I studied Veterinary Medicine in Merelbeke and graduated in 2016 specializing in small animals (dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, guinea pigs, etc).
After graduating, I did some volunteering work in Peru at a dog shelter and in a small veterinary hospital. When I returned to Belgium I started to work in a small consultation in Ghent, focusing mostly on cats.
After 1 year, however, I realized that I was deeply unhappy in my professional life. In hindsight, I think I had a very romanticized idea of the veterinary profession. I wasn’t sufficiently prepared for all the other aspects of the job, such as the management aspect and the amount of human interaction. Aside from that, the compensation is not great, there is a lack of gratefulness and the work pressure is very high.
That was definitely a hard pill to swallow as I had wanted to be a veterinarian from a very young age and I considered it to be part of my identity. I also felt guilty towards my parents who supported me during my studies, both financially and mentally.
But in the end, I prioritized my happiness and health, and made one of the toughest decisions of my life, to quit veterinary medicine for good.
At that point, I started to think about new suitable career opportunities. I knew I wanted it to be an intellectually challenging job with a decent salary and flexible hours. At first, I thought about joining the army as a veterinarian, but I fell short in the second last round of tests. After that, I also considered applying for train attendant, but again I didn’t make it through the interview.
Ultimately IT turned out to be an obvious choice. It’s a sector with a lot of opportunities, good salaries and flexible working hours. It also worked to my advantage that in general, you didn’t need to have a formal education in order to be hired.
That’s when I started to teach myself to code and attended a web development boot camp organized by BeCode. Shortly after that, I landed my first job as a front-end developer.
What is your job and what does a typical workday look like for you?
I work as a front-end developer at Be-Mobile so I create, develop, and test the user interfaces for the web applications provided by Be-Mobile. We work in teams and so far I’ve been working in the Traffic Management team. We work on a project basis and I’m either building small web applications from scratch or developing and maintaining features of existing web applications.
Usually, I work 2 days at the office and 3 days remotely..
I’m an early bird so I like waking up early, around 6 AM. First I make myself a small breakfast and a coffee. By 7 am I start working and I finish up around 4 pm.
How about when you’re not working? Any hobbies or interests you’d like to tell us about?
In my free time, I like to either go for a walk or a bicycle ride, I recently started taking spinning classes and so far I’m absolutely loving it.
I also enjoy playing video games or going to the cinema. One of my favorite things is to visit flea markets. I genuinely enjoy that feeling of going on a treasure hunt.
I recently started woodworking and made a cat tree. In the future, I’d like to create more custom cat furniture using recycled materials.
What or who got you initially interested in coding and / or pursuing a career in tech?
When I quit working as a veterinarian, I knew I wanted a 9-to-5 kind of job that paid well. And I also knew it needed to be a mentally stimulating job where I could keep evolving and learning. I found all those things in IT.
I also knew there was a lack of representation of women in IT and I wanted to be part of the solution. IT is a good sector that’s constantly growing and hiring, and I strongly believe every single person should be able to take advantage of this. Unfortunately, I don’t have any close female role models to look up to.
From all the careers in tech, what made you choose coding and more specific front-end development?
Honestly, I chose front-end development because it seemed the easiest way to get my foot in the door in IT. Lucky for me, I ended up liking it a lot. In my experience, companies seem to be more forgiving in their requirements for front-end developers versus back-end developers. For the latter, not having a formal education appears to be more of a dealbreaker.
Which skills or expertise from your previous career have given you a certain advantage since you’ve switched to tech?
That’s a tricky question because veterinary medicine and programming don’t have much in common at first sight. But they do both require problem-solving skills, curiosity, and creativity. Animals can’t tell you what’s wrong, and neither can code, so it’s up to you to figure it out.
My favorite class at university was pathology, which included performing autopsies. It might come across as macabre, but I took pride in doing a clean and precise job, with the utmost respect for the animal in front of me. Identifying the cause of an animal’s death, required profound detective work, which I enjoyed a lot. Sometimes coding also feels like detective work, which keeps it interesting.
If you look back on when you first started out. What advice would you give yourself?
Be more patient with yourself, it’s ok if you need more time to learn something. And know that it’s ok to ask questions.
Learn how to decompress after working hours and how to take work a tiny bit less seriously. I’ve been really hard on myself the last two years, working very hard in order to prove myself. But that way of thinking has given me mostly white hair and neck and back problems. I’m still in the process of learning how to balance work and personal life. I hope to get the hang of it soon.
What advice would you give to women who want to switch careers and go into tech?
Personally, I had a hard time reconciling with having studied for so long but not having pursued a career in my field. I kept wondering where I would be by now, had I chosen IT from the start and not spent 8 years studying.
It took me a very long time to make peace with that. But I often tell myself: It’s better to regret something you’ve done than to regret something you haven’t done. I know that phrase doesn’t apply to every single situation but I do believe having regrets doesn’t get you anywhere. Now I can look back on my university studies and the countless odd jobs I’ve had and appreciate how they all shaped me into the person I am today. I learned something about myself through all those experiences, and I can use that in my current and future jobs.
Ultimately, every single one of us has our own path in life. It shouldn’t matter in which stage of your life you find your calling. The important thing is that you pursue whatever it is you’re passionate about, no matter what people around you might say.
Do you have any favourite resources or projects you like to follow?
If you had to build something silly, purely for fun, what would you build?
The first thing that pops into my head is the ability to communicate with my cats. Even if that means that they’d be ignoring me most of the time. I would love to be able to check in with them throughout the day.
Another, more realistic, idea I had, was an application that facilitates the filing of objections to environmental permits. The process seems to be almost deliberately complicated in order to discourage people. If there was an easier way to do this, maybe people would stand a better chance against those big companies that build whatever they want, wherever they want.
Is there anything you like to learn / explore somewhere in the next year?
I have also always been interested in accessibility and I’d like to advocate for it at work. In my opinion, it’s a small effort for us developers to incorporate it into our day-to-day work, but it has huge consequences and benefits for the users.
Other than that, I’d like to learn more about the basics of software design. It’s a subject I haven’t had the chance to dig into so far and I’m curious about it.
Generally, I don’t like to do things halfway, if I’m learning something new, I want to understand it thoroughly.
What made you join the women.code(be) community?
I wanted to meet other women in tech to be able to share struggles and experiences with, but also to empower each other in this white-cis male-dominated industry.
As mentioned in a very interesting tech talk by Christina Wunder recently, society has made women believe that there are only a limited number of spots at the top. So, we must fight to keep our place, even if that means preventing other female coworkers from thriving.
I feel like womendotcodebe attempts to break this pattern and that is why I’m thrilled to be part of this community.
How could the tech industry be more inclusive for women and minorities?
Equal pay and better representation in the higher ranks of a company would obviously help. Also, more diverse/inclusive team activities that don’t unwillingly exclude certain people. But essentially, I think the most important is to have an active diversity recruiting strategy.
I strongly believe that diversity is good for business. When you have a product that is being used by a diverse audience, it only makes sense to have a diverse team building and developing it. It’s not rocket science in my opinion, just common sense.
What do you do in your work (or with your work) to be more inclusive? (Question from Sophie R)
I just try to talk to everyone and include people in conversations. When I sense that someone is going through a difficult time, I try to help them in any way possible.
Currently, I’m the only female developer in my company, I’d be delighted to have more female peers in the future. On the one hand, I like the thought of having someone to look up to and on the other hand, I’d love to be a role model myself.
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You can find Aline on LinkedIn.