Sarah Taraporewalla writes about her career in tech and shows that it is possible to have children and stay competitive in the fast-moving tech industry. She is a Principal Consultant with ThoughtWorks, a global software company.
It’s back. I thought I would have avoided it this time, but it’s back. It starts with me addictively checking emails, shaking my inbox like a Magic-8 ball, trying to peer into the future. Then I play all the scenarios in my head, binging as if it’s a new season dropped on Netflix. Anxiety of what lies ahead has a funny way of fighting logic. Eventually, imagination will give way to reality; my maternity leave will end and I will be back at work and it will all be ok.
I have done this before – twice in fact. The anxiety this time is taking a different form.
Gone are my fears that technology would have changed too fast and too much. Gone are my fears that I would no longer advance and progress in my career. Gone are my fears of how to work part time.
All that’s left are my fears around how my third baby will settle into life with a working mother.
The fear that technology would change too fast for me to take time off was with me from early on in my career, even before I had children. Growing up, I assumed I would follow my mother’s footsteps, and take a career break to raise my family (15 years for my mother).
Being a teacher, it was relatively easy for her to resume her career (education didn’t change whilst she was on leave). However, my industry is based on constant innovation and rapidly changing technology is its cornerstone. Fearing how much I would need to learn if taking a significant break, I decided to only take one year off. Even still, I was quite surprised by the magnitude of changes that happened in that year: when I left, we were using server side rendering, with a sprinkle of jQuery; when I returned everyone was knee-deep into the Angular/React battle.
With my fear actualised, I had to find a way to familiarise myself with the new technology landscape. I turned 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. 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. We also had great discussions where new implementations seemed to contradict old best-practices, which furthered less experienced developers understanding of good software design and principles.
I realised I could still be a positive contributor for my team, despite being a novice in the new framework, just by following good software design principles. Early in my career I focused on developing my understanding of the foundations, core values and practises for building good software.
This strong foundation has been instrumental in me being comfortable now with any technology change that might happen while I am on leave.
I have now discovered some companies taking steps to help mothers who have taken significant time off return to technical roles by offering Return to Work programs. 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; 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 are offering women opportunities to not only upskill in the latest technologies, but also a platform for women technologists to network, connect with role models, and become active members of the tech community all while the rediscovering confidence within themselves.
Having decided to take a year of maternity leave, I started to worry that my career would plateau and not continue to grow. I also worried about the impact my time off would have on my career, especially compared to my male counterparts.
Before I took leave, I assumed that I would essentially hit pause on any growth. What I have come to realise is that you continually to 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 even with a lack of sleep. All skills that are directly relevant to my work.
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. I am grateful that my employer also recognises this falsehood, and still includes me in annual pay review discussions.
Before I had children, I put in a lot of energy into enjoying, advancing and progressing in my career, and was open to all opportunities were presented. I was worried that, as a mother with restrictions on my availability, I would no longer be offered these opportunities.
However, I am fortunate to work with people who believe in equality and equity of work, as my colleagues have continued to offer me opportunities. Some of these have been a natural fit within my new restrictions; others have been harder to accommodate. While I have jumped at some opportunities, laboured on the decision to proceed with others, and worked hard to overcome any logistical challenges presented, I have really appreciated the chance to make the decision, either way, myself. My managers have been supportive in offering me these opportunities, even if they couldn’t see how I could make it work; they have also been supportive and understanding when I have been unable to make them work.
I’m very happy that the fear of changing technology, and the fear that my career would stagnate turned out to be not as big and scary as I imagined. Conquering my worries around working part time was more significant.