Confident Leader

How to return to the top of the tech industry as a mother

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After having a child, returning back to the workplace and juggling part-time work as a mother can feel daunting. Especially if your field is tech and you had previously worked your way to the top. With common worries such as ‘How will my baby settle into life with a working mother?’ and ‘What if the industry has accelerated so much during my time off that I can’t keep up?’, you may find yourself often having doubts.

Here is my advice on how to return to a lead role in tech.  My family and I are living proof that it is possible to have children and stay competitive in this fast-moving industry.

  1. Use your knowledge of core technical values and practices to your advantage during the development process

With the industry constantly evolving, it’s natural to feel nervous about keeping up to date with the latest technologies when you return to work.

When I had my first child, I feared how much I would need to learn after a break, , so I decided to only take one year off. When I came back, I had to find a way to familiarise myself with the new technology landscape and found it a bit overwhelming at first.

So I decided to turn to online tutorials, Google and Stack Overflow to understand the basics. I found a more significant learning accelerator was working within an Agile team which practiced pair programming and even though I didn’t know the new framework, I still knew how the story should be designed. Working with a pair, they could show me the syntax needed to implement it, and help me understand the new framework and toolset.

As a result, I realised I could still be a positive contributor to  team, despite being a novice in the new framework, just by following good software design principles, which I had gained a deep knowledge of throughout my career.

You too can use your experience of core tech values and principles during the development process, while will allow you to feel comfortable with any technology change that might have occurred while you were on leave.

  1. Enroll in a ‘Return to Work’ program to help you get back on your feet

There a number of  programs that offer support to mothers who have taken significant time off and are returning to technical roles.  For example, MYOB’s DevelopHer program offers paid scholarships (a full-time position with full support from their software mentors and formal training) to women who are changing careers or looking to re-enter the workforce. Likewise, ThoughtWorks’ Vapasi program is a three week bootcamp on Java and OO programming helping experienced women developers on a career break to re-enter the world of programming.

Whether run as an internship, training course or a combination of the two, these programs can offer you  useful opportunities to not only upskill in the latest technologies, but also to network, connect with role models, and become an active member of the tech community all while the rediscovering your own inner confidence.

  1. Don’t worry too much that taking time off will negatively impact your career

After taking time off for maternity leave, it’s normal to be concerned that your career might plateau and perhaps struggle to continue growing.

I took a year for my leave and worried about the impact this would have, especially compared to my male counterparts.

However, what I have come to realise is that you continually grow as a human regardless, and so you are not the same person when you return. Indeed, motherhood can be a unique training ground which can enhance and cultivate important skills like: empathy, resilience, patience, creativity, adaptability, multi-tasking, working  with  lack of sleep. All skills that may be  relevant to your work.

Also, a contributing factor to the national gender pay gap, which is currently at 14.6%, is the fallacy that a returning mother should continue from where she left, and so ought to be paid at the same rate she was on before her leave. It is therefore a good idea to familiarise yourself with employers that recognise this falsehood and have a more equal approach to work. I’ve been fortunate to have been offered a lot of support relating to this at ThoughtWorks and my colleagues continued to offer me plenty of opportunities after I returned.

  1. Be honest about what you need from your team – and ask what they need from you

A big challenge you might face when returning to part-time work is learning how to connect, be informed and stay relevant when you’re not physically present for half the week. I underestimated how many decisions and conversations that dramatically altered my work happened in my absence!

One of the hard things I experienced was also that no one proactively reached out to let me know what happened when I wasn’t there.

I have since found ways to help feel connected. One of the actions I took was sharing my feelings with the team. In each new team, I explain early on my challenges with being disconnected and we establish ways around it. Usually, I talk directly to the PM or Tech Lead of the team to understand what changed in my absence. I also try to get the team to document decisions, reflect progress on the storyboard and to communicate using online chat tools a little more, which in turn helps the whole team. I regularly check the chats and emails even on my home days. If something looks pressing I will quickly give a short response, but other than that just quickly checking emails and chats gives me enough context for my office days.

My advice is to experiment, seek feedback and be honest with those around you about how you feel, what you need – and ask what they need from you.

  1. Talk to your employer honestly about potential sick leave

Lastly, another challenge that you many face as a parent is that after you have just returned to work, you may need to take sick leave. With their infant immunity system, children seem to spread germs easily and so if yours are often in close contact with other children, your family may continually fall sick. As a parent, it’s frustrating that just as you have got back into the groove of work, you may find yourself in a position to need further time off to care for your sick child.

It is also frustrating for an employer, as they may feel let down, and tasks get delayed.

It’s a good idea to ask your boss if there is a possibility of working from home, in order to mitigate any delays and to ensure tasks get done.

In addition, you can prepare well by having a plan for sickness (which also includes your partner), as well as collaborating on critical path activities, and aiming to leave each day with a clean slate.

Overall, experimenting with these ideas will help you feel a greater sense of control in returning to the top of the tech industry and looking after your child. The key to succeeding is adapting to the new landscape with a newfound confidence in your transferable skills gained from motherhood, as well as being honest with yourself about what your own needs are and confidently communicating these to others. You’ll be thriving again in no time.

About Sarah Taraporewalla

Sarah Taraporewalla is a Principal Consultant at ThoughtWorks, where she specializes in developing robust software for the future, delivered today. She is a software developer, architect, technical lead, mother. Although primarily focused on software design, she also has a lot to say about how software can be developed to accommodate the changing pace of business and how people should be treated within teams. Working part time progressing through her career whilst raising three preschoolers has given her a unique perspective on life as a woman in tech.

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