October 17, 2021

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Choosing your own adventure: Stories of internal mobility at Coursera

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Alex Elstrodt, right, takes a moment to juggle in our Toronto office, where he’s also juggled many roles — from marketing to engineering.

By Luiz Gonzaga dos Santos Filho, Engineering Manager

“Tell me something you’re good at but others don’t know” is the kind of ice breaker question that really gets me thinking. After a brief audit of my own hidden skills, I end up more curious about the secret talents my teammates have that I don’t see every day. 

Opportunities to change and grow at work help to bring these to light: I get to see colleagues in a whole new way while they get to flex in new directions inside a familiar environment. It’s a win-win. That’s why Coursera has internal mobility policies that formalize pathways to new opportunities for people within the company.

I’ve always felt that the most interesting stories have a plot twist. Let’s explore a few career pivots with these stories from Courserians.

Intern then L2 Backend Engineer then L3 and L4 Engineer to Product Manager to L4 Engineer

Zi has been at Coursera for three and a half years. He did two stints as a software engineering intern over different semesters while he was in school. After joining our team full time, he grew into a senior engineer role with a brief detour as a product manager. Zi had been interested in product management since university and was eager for an opportunity to explore the intersection of technical systems and business needs — and to flex that entrepreneur muscle.

He mentioned this to his manager and a director of product; a couple of months later, he was product managing a new project with support from two experienced PMs as well as his engineering manager.

Upon reflection, Zi thinks his technical background transferred well and helped him be a more effective product manager. On his transition back to engineering, Zi took with him more organizational, communications, and leadership skills, which gave him more confidence to drive his own technical projects as a senior engineer. He still considers one day transitioning to product or engineering management. Zi’s manager is ready to support him and, when that time comes, Zi will also be able to leverage the product manager or engineering manager apprenticeship programs at Coursera, which will set him up for success.

“I would recommend to anyone seeking alternative career paths to first look internally. It is always easier to transition internally than to apply as a newcomer to a different company with no prior experience in the role. Also, technical skills are always learnable, and people are always willing to help, so don’t get discouraged by what you currently know or don’t know.

The new experiences that will come your way as a result of trying out a new role will stay with you for a lifetime, and will help you understand yourself in new ways that will benefit your career, whether you stay in the role or not.” — Zi

Learner Services Degree Specialist to Skills Transformation Consultant

After two years as a degree specialist, Charlotte recently transitioned to a new role on the Skills Transformation team. Before Coursera, she worked in education policy and was always drawn to the power of data in shaping strategy. When she saw the new job description, she realized it would be a great opportunity to bring her broad range of experiences together to drive recommendations for our clients.

“I found tremendous support from our internal mobility team, as well as the hiring manager for the role. The resources that helped me along the way for my professional development were all in-house, from professional coaching to Coursera courses and technical mentorship with engineering colleagues. I am so appreciative of the warm welcome from the Skills Transformation team and am grateful for ongoing collaboration with colleagues and friends across the Services, Product, Design, and Engineering organizations, and look forward to continuing to foster those relationships in the new role.” — Charlotte

Intern to Teaching and Learning Specialist to Product Manager then Sr. Product Manager

Working with several product managers in her first full-time role here gave Janani great insight into the life of a PM. She saw the different styles and flavors up close — an experience that made her interested in how product managers brought together cross-functional teams to identify customer pain points and develop effective solutions. Now, Janani is four years into increasingly senior roles as a product manager.

“I had a background in neuroscience, experimental research, and education. I could see myself tapping into these aspects as a Product Manager and learn from the creativity of so many people around me.

All the PMs around me were very encouraging and created opportunities for me to build specific skills that would help me continue to explore this aspiration. The hiring manager encouraged me to apply and my own manager was very supportive. Coursera has provided several opportunities to learn, contribute and grow.” — Janani

Partnership Manager to Product Manager then Sr. Product Manager

Jenny shared the full story of her journey to product management on our blog a few years back. If you’re looking for the highlights: after studying philosophy and religion at Stanford and finishing her two-year fellowship with Teach for America, Jenny joined Coursera in 2013 as a partnership manager to help the world’s best universities grow on our platform. She became such an expert on our product that transitioning to product management was a logical next step. Over the past 4+ years, Jenny has led significant enhancements to authoring tools on our platform — even in her new role, she’s still advocating for university partners every day. Jenny is a constant reminder to aspiring product managers that one does not need a technical background to succeed as a PM.

Marketing Associate to L2 Frontend Engineer then L3 and L4 Engineer to L4 Backend Engineer

Alex has had a great, diverse career at Coursera for more than three and half years, where he’s found fertile ground to make it all possible. Check it out: he graduated with a degree in economics, started at Coursera as a marketing associate focused on SEO, transitioned to frontend engineering, made his way to senior frontend engineer, transitioned to backend engineering, and has his sights set on becoming an engineering manager in the future. 

Throughout this exciting journey, Alex always had the support and mentorship of his managers and fellow engineers in his new roles, who coached him on his knowledge gaps and recommended new courses so that he could quickly learn and grow (good thing he always had access to Coursera’s lifelong learning perk to upskill!).

Here’s some advice from Courserians to kickstart your journey to a new role:

  • Is there a paved road? Ask the talent or learning and development teams at your company if they have an internal mobility policy. Having official apprenticeship programs to guide and support you along the way is a great way to set you up for success.
  • Talk to someone in the role you’re interested in. They’ll be able to provide insight into what the day-to-day looks and feels like, what skills are most important, and what you can do to prepare for the transition. 
  • Courses can also be very helpful to fill gaps in your knowledge and upskill or reskill. Ask your company if they can support you. We’ve got just the thing for that.
  • Be patient and keep trying. It might take time for an internal opening in your preferred role. Keep performing in your current role while developing new skills.
  • Seek out or even create opportunities for yourself. Look for new challenges to take on that are related to the role you want to get. Talk to people in that role and ask them what projects or tasks you could take on on their behalf that would help them meet their objectives.
  • Embrace the unknown, and always keep learning. After you transition, things may not feel easy or instantly feel like a great fit. Keep learning and building your skills. One day, you’ll be looking back and find yourself mentoring someone else into a transition.

Interested in pivoting or accelerating your career alongside a new team? Check out our Careers page to explore available positions and learn why we choose to grow at Coursera.

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