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Podcast: “It’s never too late to change your career”

Written by Hans Vernimme on 23 July 2023 for Professionals

Our guest for this episode of Exellys Talks is an experienced professional from South Africa. She came to Belgium, went back to school, and is now working as a Business Manager at ING Belgium. Sindy de Jonge is an inspiration to women, people who aren’t 20 anymore, and everyone who doesn’t have Dutch as a first language. She’s living proof that you can do it if you believe in yourself. “It’s never too late to change your career,” she says.

Note: You can check out the full podcast episode in the video below or listen to the episode at the bottom of the page. You can find us on Spotify or YouTube as well. Please note that there are no subtitles. For the hearing impaired, we’ve included a written version.

Welcome, Sindy. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

“I’m from South Africa but I’ve been living in Belgium for almost 10 years. I have an 11-year-old daughter, which can be challenging sometimes. I have a bit of a creative soul: I paint, I sing, … And I’ve been with Exellys for 2 years. My current project is at ING Belgium.”

You originate from South Africa. How did you end up in Belgium? And what was it like to move here?

“The reason I came to Belgium is my husband. I met him 25 years ago, and we married in 2014. Then we had to decide where to live, and Belgium was the obvious choice because it’s a better place for children. I had a very nice job in South Africa though, I was a Finance and Administration Manager for a big retail company. Leaving my job was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. But I did it, and I had to completely start over in Belgium. That was a nice challenge, because I didn’t speak Dutch and my Afrikaans wasn’t quite acceptable as an alternative.”

People think Dutch and Afrikaans are very similar, but that’s not the case then?

“There is quite a big difference. It looks the same, so you would be able to read it, but the pronunciation is different, the spelling is different, you have double negation, we don’t conjugate verbs… It’s a bit harder when you have to work the other way around! I spent about two years learning Dutch, but it still wasn’t great.”

We’re having this conversation in English because you feel more comfortable that way, but to be clear to all our listeners: I’ve had a lot of conversations with Sindy in Dutch, en haar Nederlands is écht goed. So, you started studying Dutch. What happened then?

“I wanted to go back to work, in a similar position to what I had before in South Africa. I get a lot of energy from helping people, from teaching people, so I needed something with enough responsibility, but due to my language I had a hard time finding the right work. In those days, there weren’t a lot of opportunities in these positions, for people who didn’t have Dutch as a first language. I decided: “let’s get a little Dutch piece of paper, maybe that will open a few doors” and I went back to school. I went to PXL Hogeschool to enrol in Business Management, but I walked out as an Informatics student. I wasn’t planning on studying IT, but turns out – I love it!”

And then you graduated – congratulations! How did you go from graduating to your first professional experience in Belgium?

“I signed a contract with Exellys before I graduated, so I didn’t actively look for a job. I was contacted by somebody from Exellys, and I was immediately intrigued by the idea of the training programme and the coaching. I figured: let’s do it. I had an interview with Trang, and we got on like a house on fire. The way she talked about the programme, the environment – it was infectious. I also wanted to work where people felt that way about their environment. That was it: I signed a contract with Exellys and graduated a few months later.”

What were the next steps? What was your assignment, what was your role there and how did that go for you?

“I initially took on a project that was already in trouble. I thought it would be a nice challenge, but I also had a good understanding of what I was getting myself into. I took on a role as a team lead for a data warehouse, and I learned a lot from that project. I however had a hard time with the culture. I needed more recognition, and I didn’t really feel like I belonged there. I had a lot of conversations with my coach, and eventually we decided it wasn’t the best place for me to stay. I went back to the bench, which was very difficult for me. It felt like a personal failure.”

For our listeners: the bench is where you end up when you’re with a consultancy company, but not on an assignment. It sounds very negative, but that’s not at all the case. Our offices are also really fun. So, you were on the bench – how did that go?

“After making the decision to stop the project, I needed a bit of a breather. I needed to get out of my own head, so I took on a bunch of smaller tasks at the Exellys office. I also decided that I would not take a job for the sake of having a job. I really wanted to find a job that worked for me. I had a few interviews, but nothing great, and just when I started losing hope, Lenny gave me a call. He was very enthusiastic and told me there was somebody who wanted to meet me a few hours later.”

That’s short notice. What happened then?

“I interviewed with Tina, the lead of Business management at ING Belgium, and we just clicked. It was clear from the beginning that we understood each other. I also took the opportunity to be very clear about my needs as an employee. I was curious about how she would react to that very specific feedback. But she just asked: when can you start?”

You now have a very good idea of what you’re looking for in an employer. Actively mentioning that and putting it on the table during a job interview is a very powerful thing to do. Is that something you learned from that first experience?

“It’s a combination. I’ve always been an open book; I say what I think. With experience, I maybe learned to be a bit more diplomatic about it, but it’s also part of who I am, of being true to myself.”

And can you tell us more about your role at ING Belgium?

“I am the Business Manager for Tech BE. My work is never the same, and I’m quite busy. I do a lot of work for the CIO, like preparations for talks and presentations. I have interactions with a lot of C-level managers, I facilitate intradomain meetings, and have a few other smaller projects as well, mostly around learning and development and I’m in charge of the onboarding of new joiners. Then there are a lot of smaller tasks and projects as well.”

You said it yourself: you’re not 20 years old anymore, you have a daughter who’s 11. What is it like combining an exciting career with being a mother and having a family? I can imagine it’s not easy.

“It is a challenge. I think the only way it can effectively be combined, is by having a partner in crime. I probably have the best husband in the world. He’s always there when he’s needed. He’s my biggest supporter, and that does make it much easier. But apart from that, I also get a lot of flexibility from ING Belgium which makes it manageable to combine the two. I don’t always work 9 to 5, when I have an issue coming into the office I can talk to my manager, and I can just work from home. Finding that balance is a lot easier when you have flexibility, but of course, it’s a two-way street. I get flexibility from them, but it’s also expected from me. Another thing I really like about ING Belgium, is that there are a lot of activities that we can take our kids to as well.”

That’s cool, can you tell us a bit more about that?

“A few weeks ago, we had DevOxx4Kids. It’s an introduction to tech, robotics, programming for kids between the ages of 7 and 14. Now my daughter wants my laptop. Not to watch cartoons, but because she wants to start developing.”

It’s good to know that there are more Sindys waiting to conquer the world! One final question: to all the women listening to this podcast who want to do something like you, what would be your advice?

“If you’re interested in technology, go ahead and learn about it. It’s never too late to change your career. Just get into it. It’s a broad and interesting field, there are a lot of interesting topics. Just be yourself and trust you can do it. There’s still a stigma around tech that it’s just for men, but that is no longer the case.”

Check out her full episode down below!

About Exellys

Exellys is a Talent Incubator. We match ambitious companies with the finest talent. Are you ready to drive the innovations of tomorrow? Ready to make an impact and become a future-fit digital leader?

Whether you are a graduate or (young) professional, Exellys will unlock your full potential by guiding you to a challenging work environment that perfectly matches your personality, expectations and ambitions.

On top of that, you are enrolled in one of our very own training and coaching programs (based on your personal and professional ambition and experience). This means that, while working as an Exellys consultant, we are helping you to bridge your ambition to excellence.

Through intensive training and coaching, you’ll gain the essential skills, competencies and knowledge necessary to become the highly effective professional you aim to be. Become an Exellyst and get in touch with us today!

Written by Hans Vernimme Talent Development Manager