I am a mother of two boys and I’ve had a long career in software engineering, but it hasn’t been easy.
The early years were particularly challenging when my kids were young. If you’re reading this, you probably know the drill: You send them to daycare so you can work and build your career. They fall sick as a result of being in daycare. You spend sleepless nights caring for them, rush them to the doctor in the morning and then try to compensate for work deadlines by rushing back to work only after arranging for a babysitter. Then the other one gets sick, you start the whole process over and before you know it, you’ve used most of your PTO for their sick days. Not only are you now behind on your work, but you can say goodbye to that restorative vacation you were planning. It’s an exhausting, seemingly never-ending cycle and it feels like you have no time to breathe. And don’t even get me started on the stress of daily pick-ups and drop-offs.
These challenges are aggravated by the fact that software engineering is a fast-paced and constantly evolving industry. If you fall behind on time at work, you’re also falling behind on new developments in the field. For me, it got to the point where I started wondering if it was worth pursuing a career at all when being a mom and striving for work-life balance was so very draining.
I know I’m not alone in this.
Sustaining a career in software engineering is hard. As a mother, it felt nearly impossible at times. So what do we do? It’s not about self-care or compartmentalization — this isn’t a problem we can solve on our own. The solution is for companies to create an environment that supports working moms with flexible work arrangements and PTO policies so they can thrive as parents and as professionals.
How Can Companies Support Working Moms?
Stay Relevant at Work or Care for the Kids?
Mom guilt is very real. Like many mothers, I often attribute my maternal success to the lunch I pack for my kids every day. While I often pack a simple hummus sandwich that I put together in five minutes so I can get them out the door and get to work, my friends pack lunches of freshly made Indian bread stuffed with spices and vegetables. It may seem small, but this was one consistent aspect of caregiving that always made me feel I wasn’t living up to the traditional standards of being a mother — because I was also trying to build my career.
I convinced myself that it was my place to take the backseat and lower my aspirations for an exciting career.
This guilt cuts both ways, though. As I have gone through life’s major milestones after the birth of my kids, I’ve constantly found it challenging to stay relevant in a constantly evolving industry. To cope with these challenges, I pulled back — I leaned out. I stopped seeking work challenges for some time in my career. This prevented me from working on modern software architectures and open source technologies, which led me to fall behind on technical skills and created anxiety about that gap. Even though I advanced my career by way of promotions and opportunities to grow in different areas, I worried that the rest of the world was moving at a faster pace than I could. If I didn’t do something about it, it would become harder and harder to stay technically relevant.
Needless to say, I also became worried about my own financial stability. By not keeping up with the changes in technology and software, was I jeopardizing my future? Was I compromising my kids’ future?
I also think part of the reason I took a step back from career advancement had to do with cultural conditioning and my concern over not fulfilling traditional gender roles. I convinced myself that it was my place to take the backseat and lower my aspirations for an exciting career.
Moms Are Burning the Candle at Both Ends
Once my boys grew older, I felt I was ready to level up my skills and transition to companies offering the kind of challenges I was really looking for — but I was behind. Ramping up my skill set for interviews would take a lot of discipline. I jumped into the search for a new role knowing that I had a lot of gaps to fill. I needed hours and hours to study and prepare for interviews. My daily schedule looked something like this:
- 6:45 a.m. – Wake up and make breakfast.
- 7:00 a.m. – Wake up the kids.
- 7:30 a.m. – Squeeze in a 30-minute workout.
- 8:30 a.m. – Get the kids to school and head to work.
- 9:00 a.m. – Start work.
- 9:01-5:30 p.m. – Work work work work work
- 5:30 p.m. – Leave work and rush to daycare/school to pick up the kids.
- 6:00 p.m. – Dinner, homework, bath time
- 8:30 p.m. – Put the kids in bed and clean up.
- 9:30 p.m. – Start working on technical courses, solving coding problems and preparing for interviews.
- 12:00 a.m. – Bedtime
- 6:45 a.m. – Wake up and do it all again.
Look familiar? This process was exhausting and required a consistent and sustained effort. On weekends, I would try to make sure I spent the day time with the kids but nights were dedicated to study. No rest for the weary.
Better Engineers = Better Moms = Better Engineers
Though it was a difficult time, I started seeing a lot of personal growth in many areas. This process rekindled my passion for software engineering. I came to realize that being a good mom doesn’t mean you have to give up your own interests. Solving a challenging software engineering or coding problem gave me a sense of achievement that invigorated me. This process likewise strengthened my relationship with my kids. I shifted my own approach to their studies. I discussed coding problems with my older son and talked through the problem-solving process with him — something that’s still an important part of our relationship.
I came to realize that being a good mom doesn’t mean you have to give up your own interests.
Diving back into work challenges also changed the way I measured my kids’ success at school. While I would be happy to see all As on their progress report, I came to realize through my own challenges that you don’t always need to get an A. In fact, sometimes, when you don’t do as well as you hoped, you find an opportunity for growth and improvement.
This lesson in resilience was important for me to learn, too. But I did it on my own. We need companies to help support working moms seek out learning opportunities by providing upskilling opportunities through work-sponsored training programs, technical lunch and learn sessions and hackathons — during work hours. Companies can also try creating an environment where moms don’t miss out on challenging work opportunities on account of deadlines that can’t be sustained by parents who want to spend evenings with their kids.
Companies can also work to provide a community for support through mentorship programs where parents in early phases of their career can connect with veteran parents to share experiences and lessons learned through employee resources groups (ERGs).
Systemic Support for Mothers
When I landed a job I was excited about, it came with a major sense of fulfillment. The role seemed like a good fit in terms of work-life balance, opportunities for growth and company culture. Throughout my journey, I pushed through periods of self doubt to finally see I still had it in me to have a successful career, even with all of my competing parental priorities.
If companies are genuinely hoping to diversify their workplaces, systemically supporting working moms is a crucial first step.
But I’m just one person. To make this kind of career growth sustainable across the entire software engineering industry, companies need to step up and make supporting working mothers a priority. It’s great to see individual companies creating environments where employees are encouraged to disconnect from work to care for their families — whether that’s for an evening, a weekend or for a 12-week maternity leave. I’m thankful for changes to wellness day policies, unlimited PTO and increased diversity with more moms in the tech space. I’m also thankful for women leaders openly talking about their personal challenges and making equity in the workspace a priority. But these organizations are still the exception, not the rule. Tech companies have the opportunity to lead the way in making seismic shifts in workplace culture — especially for working moms.
I recognize that I’m lucky to be with a company that’s made it a priority to promote a healthy workplace environment for parents and hope this can become a priority for other companies as well. If companies are genuinely hoping to diversify their workplaces, systemically supporting working moms is a crucial first step.