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Being a mother and a software engineer

Silvana Gaia


January 22nd, 2019

Finding balance between your personal and professional lives can be challenging. Some people thrive in their jobs but struggle in their personal relationships. Others put their professional lives on hold to live the most important moments when starting a family. I always knew I wanted to be a mother and a professional, but I also knew it would not be easy. When I had kids, I wanted to dedicate energy and time to them, and I was fortunate enough to be able to take a break from work, but it is hard to return to your job after a period of full-time parenting. That is why, I want to share some of the challenges I faced, and the lessons I learned, during my journey of becoming a mother and continuing with my profession.

Becoming a working mom

In 2002 I started working at Belatrix, first as a developer and then as a leader. Things were going well for me, so in 2007 I became the production director, with 12 teams in-charge, a total of 60 people at that time (this was a long time ago – today Belatrix has grown steadily to 700 employees). It was a big challenge for me, and I enjoyed it so much. I realized that in my role, I was able to help people to perform better in their positions, and I was 100% committed to it. I gained a lot of experience in both areas, production and commercial.

But I knew that that amount of effort wouldn’t be possible when I started a family. Actually, it wouldn’t be possible due to my own desire to be present with my children. So, I decided that I should find other options. I started freelancing with a colleague, which happened to be very helpful when my first kid was born.

It was a great way to keep myself up to date, while I was working from home and being able to breastfeed my baby and being there if something arose. I remember those were hectic times, while I developed several useful skills like one-hand coding, avoiding the mirror, ignoring noise, extreme focus, and so on.

Then, when my second child was born, I decided I would dedicate 100% of my time to my family.

Although taking time out for my children was something I really wanted, I knew it was nonetheless going to be a challenge. At first, I felt anxious about being at home rather than at an office, which is why I kept reading and informing myself about the latest trends in the IT world. TED talks and podcasts are very useful as they allow you to stay informed while you are busy doing something else or taking care of your children. I was also really fortunate that my husband is a software engineer, so he helped me keep up to date, as we would talk about the challenges in his work.

In addition, I knew there was a high likelihood that I could become isolated from colleagues and friends, so I tried to remain in touch as much as possible. The best resource I used was the professional network I had developed before the hiatus. LinkedIn was, and is, a great tool, but of course its efficiency is based on the trusted relations you develop during your previous career path.

Returning to Belatrix

After a period of absence from Belatrix, I started working again as a technical consultant. Although it was a new role, I felt it was a “custom-made” job for me, because it required someone with expertise in both the commercial and professional services areas; it was the bridge between production and sales. I felt comfortable about putting in practice these two areas of expertise; however, there were many new programming languages that I had to understand in order to guide my teams properly. This involved a lot of reading and I focused on understanding what kinds of problems these new languages solved. This was a key part in getting back up to speed with everything after my break.

Also, the fact that I had previously worked at Belatrix was an advantage for me. As I had already built close relationships and earned their trust, they gave me the opportunity to manage my own time and gave me flexibility to work part time to be able to continue taking care of my family.

My advice for women in technology who are taking a break from their careers

The tech industry moves at lightning speed. So I know the challenges of returning to an area full of new technology stacks. However, if you ask me what is the best advice I could give to women who want to take a period of full-time parenting, I recommend developing a long term plan from the beginning of their career. I believe what helped me the most was planning ahead. Since I was very young, I had two visions of myself: a mother and a professional. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to spend time with my kids when I became a mother, so I worked hard before that to achieve a certain level of financial independence. As a result, when the time came, I had financial security. I know not everyone is fortunate enough to achieve this level of financial independence, but planning does help increase the chances. I was fortunate that together with my husband, we worked together as a team to develop a long-term plan – there’s a great article in the Harvard Business Review which describes couples that take this approach.

In addition, it’s really important that although you are on a job break, you keep yourself up to date with your profession. There are plenty of tech websites that you can use to help you keep up with the constant flow of technology updates. My favorite is Techcrunch.com.

Hearing stories from people who are experiencing the same challenges as you are, can also help you overcome many situations. For instance, the podcast “Women at Work” from the Harvard Business Review is a great tool where you hear advice from diverse women, which is often inspirational. Also, currently I am part of a Lean In Circle, a small group of women who meet regularly to support each other and learn new skills. The community was created by Facebook’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg, with the objective of gathering women to support each other in the professional and personal field. I wish I had been part of a Lean in Circle during my transition, as it would have made it easier, but I hope other women can join groups like this to help them maintain confidence in their capabilities and return easily to their careers.

What have been your experiences? What advice would you give to women (and men) thinking of a career break to look after their families?

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