Sonya’s journey: International business consultant to full-stack dev
Welcome to Awesome Women in Tech, where we meet inspirational women making waves in the industry.
Sonya Moisset is a front-end developer here at WorldRemit.
She’s a key player in our engineering team, working on our website. Sonya took an unconventional route into engineering.
Tell us how you got started.
My path has actually been quite adventurous. I don’t come from a Computer Science background — in fact, I started out in business.
After growing up in Saudi Arabia, my family moved to Tunisia where I got my high school degree, then to France for business school and back to Saudi Arabia as my father was still working there.
I worked for the French Embassy there, and after a while I realised I wanted something more — as I’d graduated in Business and Geopolitics for Asian markets, I started to explore the possibility of moving to Asia.
I initially went to Singapore where I worked as a business consultant. One of the reasons I chose Singapore is because I’m also a freelance photographer, and got the opportunity to work on a project called ‘Women of the World’.
It’s a black and white photography project in which women are illustrated with a different vision, by going beyond the judgments that might remain in the collective unconscious.
It’s a tribute to women by depicting daily successes as much as discriminations they encounter, and the project originally started back in Saudi Arabia — but I had always dreamt of taking this further.
It was after joining Korean and Japanese meetups in Singapore that I knew I wanted to move to either of those places, and after building up the right contacts, I ended up in South Korea. I had actually registered for Korean languages, and their university replied to me much quicker than the one in Japan, which helped me in my decision to move there.
How did you come to work at WorldRemit?
The companies I had been working for in South Korea were asking me to do everything for them, including maintaining their websites.
During my six year stay there, I was able to take software programming more seriously, and I decided to make the transition to a tech career.
Although it’s very different from business consulting, I think that my background helps a lot. You have to be really aware of how a company operates, and what the needs are of different stakeholders — marketing, compliance, business development — because as an engineer we’re at the centre of it all.
Also, technology and computers have been in my life since I was a kid, and I always loved anything related to arts or pixels, so I started to code and design at a very young age.
What’s been the most interesting technical challenge you’ve worked on at WorldRemit?
Recently we’ve been rewriting the entire website with a new tech stack, and shifting from legacy code to a new codebase.
It’s quite challenging as we have to take it bit by bit — we’ve started with the login page which will be the new entry point for the customer. This will definitely be the biggest challenge, as we’ll have to see how the users will respond to this new structure and tech — and crucially, if it’s scalable and maintainable in the long-term.
I mentioned earlier that our team sits in the middle of all the different departments, with a good example being a collaboration on a brand campaign towards the end of last year. We had to do a massive UX shift on the website to include the campaign without disrupting users.
We’re also constantly working on new features like Refer a Friend, implementing cutting-edge technical features.
My latest large project is to migrate the website to a new tech stack using React and Node.js.
Angular on the other hand (which is one of the direct alternatives) is Google’s brainchild.
It means that there’s a bit of a war going on between Angular and React — companies think it’s cool, and a pretty safe bet, to pick frameworks coming from big tech companies as they can say “I’m using this tech from Facebook” or “our company’s using tech from Google”, both of which aren’t going anywhere any time soon.
React is much quicker than other frameworks in the way it communicates with the DOM (the browser). So for example, let’s say you have a single page application, if you change one image or portion of the code, the entire page is re-rendered so it takes more time for the end user — React is one of the better choices at the moment as it will only re-render that portion.
React also allows us to decouple a website page into components, and ease the process in term of maintainability and scalability.
What would you like to work on next?
I’m really interested in apps, VR and AI — I’m currently working on a top secret project that I hope will involve one or more of these.
It’s quite niche so it really depends on how popular this concept is amongst our customers, but if it was to work then I think it would be a great opportunity to showcase our skills and produce some new features.
What motto do you live by?
Stay curious, keep on hacking and make it happen (laughs).
What’s your favourite thing about being at WorldRemit?
I think it’s the people, because as I said before, I have travelled a lot.
I was looking for a company with an international spirit, and with WorldRemit having more than 37 nationalities it gives you the opportunity to learn about so many different cultures.
You set up the company’s first Coding Club. What inspired you to do this?
When I was in South Korea, I joined Free Code Camp, which is one of the biggest open-source projects on GitHub. There are camps based in all major cities, training people to code all over the world.
I was the local leader, mentoring people in Seoul. I would host events every week for about 30–40 people, and it was initially aimed at beginners. Their curiosity actually helped me teach them, and even though some of them knew nothing about coding, their energy and dynamic meant they were willing to try — even when they were hitting their heads against the wall.
So I like helping people and giving them guidelines — and if they’re interested and get passionate about it, at the end of the day I’ve done something good.
When I started at WorldRemit I thought — why not start something similar here? We’re in FinTech so it would be great to teach people how to code — even if they won’t make the transition to engineering, it’s nice to give them a slight idea of what coding is.
Funnily enough, it worked for some. There’s a great success story of one colleague from Marketing creating a wedding website from scratch — so I was very pleased with the results.
You mentioned Free Code Camp. What other resources would you suggest for those interested in pursuing engineering?
There are a lot of free resources online. I think Codecademy provides a good introduction into coding, and gives you a good idea into whether you like it or not, because usually people will switch to this career as they think “I’m going to earn lots of money if I switch to IT”.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
I would say: if you’re passionate, set goals and be really disciplined. So if you want to learn coding, just start with 30 minutes a day. It’s important to do it regularly, your brain is like a muscle, it needs to exercise every day.
You can also join meetups, as it’s essential you meet people with the same mindset — you don’t want to be on your own and struggling, because other people will be facing the same challenges.
Most importantly, listen to your passion and don’t listen to others — if some people tell you “no, this is silly, you can’t change careers,” ignore them.
If you have the passion, do it, because it really is worth it.