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Women in tech: Being a developer and a mom 🤪

rose profile image Rose ・5 min read

Warning: I wanted to write about being a mom in tech but I didn’t really know exactly how I wanted to approach it so I thought I’d just start writing and see what happened. This is what happened. It’s a thought dump. I feel like I’ll have to go back and revise it one day to be less of a literary disaster. But I am a mom so I have no time so I'm just going to go ahead and post as-is. Have fun. 😈

🙋‍♀️ Hello! I am a professional developer - I have been writing software for a living since 2011 and for many years before that I was a hobbiest web developer 🙂 I am very passionate about my work and loooove what I do ❤️

🤰I am also a mom! I haven’t been a mom for my whole career of course, but I became a mom in early 2018 and I am expecting baby number 2 in a couple of weeks.

I have never worked with another mom. I have worked with a handful of other female devs, but I guess due to the mixture of “not many women in tech” + “lots of people in tech are relatively young” … no other moms.

SO IF YOU ARE A MOM AND YOU ARE A DEV AND YOU ARE READING THIS: HI 😊😊😊😊

For any working mother, no matter the industry, I think there are a lot of challenges that come with the territory. Things that I was sort-of aware of before having kids, but have become more and more cognizant of now that I am living it.

I know that there’s a big push for gender equality in parenting but we have a very, VERY long way to go. A simple example: My husband is a great partner and dad, but when I ask him to take time off work because our kid is sick or has a doctor appointment he gets super stressed out and claims he can’t possibly request time off from work for something related to parenting. So it often falls to me. Because I am the mom, and someone has to do it, and it’s the mom’s job, right?

Luckily my work is amazing and no one has ever given me a hard time for needing to step away for this kind of stuff, but it’s still still stressful and frustrating knowing that there’s this expectation that I have to be the one to make sacrifices. And it’s not just my husband’s “fault” …it’s society’s fault. He’s probably right that his work would raise a lot more eyebrows at him than they would at me. (And to his credit he’s been a lot better about this recently after switching to a new employer that is more family friendly)

Another example: A co-worker dad I know talks about staying up late to get extra work done. OK obviously in this industry we have a general problem with people working themselves to death, so let’s just ignore THAT part of his comment for now and think about this: I cannot. CANNOT. Work long hours. ever. I barely get enough sleep to survive, I’m up with my toddler at all kinds of crazy hours. There is no way in hell I can stay up late to do extra work, I’d probably die from exhaustion. I GO TO BED AT 8:30PM EVERY NIGHT JUST SO THAT I CAN SURVIVE THE NEXT DAY.

I am fortunate again that my employer is great and this hasn’t posed a problem for me, but it still haunts me knowing that if I were to ever need to apply for a new job, I’d have to say very firmly “I can’t do overtime. I have to pick up my daughter from daycare at 4pm on the dot. I am not flexible. Please hire me even though that eager 20-something I’m competing with has no family and is willing to work whenever and wherever.”

As baby number 2 approaches, I also have a lot of fears for the future. I feel like having 1 kid is… tough, but 2 or 3 is when your career can really start to feel the impact of all that maternity leave. And in an industry where things change quickly technology wise, it is scary being away and “missing out”/“falling behind”. And while I know some people might scoff and tell me that if I’m so worried, I should take less maternity leave, that is not something I am willing to do. Giving birth sucks. Babies suck. That first year can be absolutely hellish and I don’t even know how some women manage to go back to work after only a few weeks. I was a mess for MONTHS. Plus as much as I love my work, I don’t want to feel obligated to sacrifice my personal life and family. I WANT to enjoy those early months and spend that time with my new baby.

So that’s all my “working in tech as a mom is scary and here's why." thoughts.

Here’s a couple of perks with my current employer that have saved me and I would look for in any other job, so if you are an employer and want to be inclusive of mothers, consider this stuff!

  1. We are a remote-first company. So I work from home! A lot! And that means on my lunch break I can throw in a load of laundry or quickly shower or whatever. Get stuff done that I never seem to have time for otherwise. My husband is out of town this week so my lunch break is my ONLY time to get anything done where I am not also watching our toddler. Having that flexibility is so so so wonderful.
  2. We also don’t micromanage people’s time. We trust that people work hard and do their best. If I tell my boss I need to leave at 3:30pm to get my daughter for 4pm because that’s when daycare closes, he’s like “that’s great, family comes first.” And that’s it. No questions asked. No secret doubt about my work ethic. Family comes first.

I also think it’s important to be aware and supportive of what a difficult role motherhood can be, and how hard it can be to juggle both work and kids. I’m sure some people reading this will argue with me, but in my experience with every mom I know: We take on more parenting responsibility than dads. We bust our butts. And when you’re also working full time, it’s a LOT. So be kind to us 😛

Discussion

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devdrake0 profile image
Si

As an alternative point of view, I'm a dev dad.

I work a full time job, one that enabled my wife to give up her job completely to be with our baby (now 14 weeks old).

My wife is a fucking soldier (excuse the language, but it's needed here). I had first hand experience of how hard it is, while on paternity leave, and she enables me to do my job.

Without her, there is no fucking way I could be a dev. I go to bed, at the latest, 9pm every night because I look after our daughter in the morning. My wife takes care of the night and during the day.

She allows me to do the job I love, and I don't understand how mums can juggle being a mum and a normal job, let alone a Dev!

Mad respect to you.

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syntaxseed profile image
SyntaxSeed (Sherri W)

Whew, the youngest is napping, the other 2 at school, load of laundry running - I can take 5 mins to write some thoughts on this topic before I crash into my own nap! <-- mom life!

I mentioned in my first comment that I have so many thoughts on this topic. Thank you for writing! It often feels like being a mom in tech is an even smaller minority, because given the few women who start tech careers, a percent drop off around this stage of life. Balancing parenting & a high-demand job is so difficult.

The challenges we face I think are pretty unique to us. Even with engaged & well-meaning partners, there is definitely still a stigma against men who prioritize family over career. Even in small doses like you mentioned taking a day off to care for sick kids, cover for a sick partner, take a kid to the dentist, etc. It's a stigma that harms both men & their exhausted partners.

My husband is a teacher - paid well here in Canada, but combined with the extracurriculars he is responsible but not paid for, he works 50+ hours per week & brings a lot home for the evenings & weekends. Impromptu teacher meeting after school?? He is expected to drop everything & attend.

I think often moms get put into that primary-parent role, where if dad is gone all day, or several days it's just understood that we will single-parent for that time, no big deal. But if I leave to a meetup for a few hours, it's a panic that he'll be alone with the kids - despite the fact he's good at it. I would loooove to attend a dev conference, but it would be out of town for a couple days. Who would watch the kids when he's at work? My parents? Either way I'd be putting someone out. But if he's gone for a few days it's a no brainer because I'm the 'primary parent' anyway.

I hear male hosts on podcasts I listen to talking about flying off to speak at or attend multi-day conferences, despite that they have children. I wonder if they realize how blessed they are with that freedom? I was asked to speak at a conference next year, but I have to decline, mainly due to childcare reasons. It's heartbreaking to be honest.

The challenges begin right away. I experienced pregnancy-induced lack of focus for a while after giving birth. I was terrified that this would be permenant. Luckily it was not & I'm back to mental full capacity now, but it was scary. Exhaustion is a big part of it. Most of the moms I know are the light-sleepers who wake up at every cough or whimper from their kids' rooms. Are their partners deep sleepers in part because they know that their wife has it covered?? I think so.

An uninterrupted night's sleep is a rare gem. Around 5 years old kids' imaginations start turning shadows into monsters & cartoon villians suddenly seem possible. My kids have sleep-regressed due to fears of the dark from age 5-7 approximately. We now sleep with the hall & bathroom lights on - not helpful for the adults.

I share your frustration that late night coding or time for side projects or open source contributions are a pipe dream for many of us. By evening I'm mentally if not physically exhausted. Being on high-alert as you care for children is so draining. This is valuable professional development or fun coding time that is much harder for us. I try to schedule it a few days a week... but's so so hard. Much of my learning is via podcasts & recorded talks & screen casts as I do chores.

When I try to fit in coding during the day, I often have a kid in my lap or literally sitting on my shoulders! I should record a coding session one day - it's absurd. But it's another challege that primary-parents face. My kids will walk right past my husband chilling on the couch, seek me out in my home office, to ask me for help. Phone/video conferences are stressful for this reason - and for the high likelihood of screaming, crying, shouting, fighting or talk of bathroom activities or penises (3 sons, lucky me 🙄) in the background. 🤣

As fullfilled as I am as a mother & as proud as I am that I put my career mostly on hold to stay home with my kids & freelance only very part time - it has been a double-edged sword. If I was a RPG character... my motherhood & emotional power bars are maxed out to bursting. But my intellectual & professional power levels have dropped to the bottom & crashed though the floor. I'm playing catchup to modernize skills that are outdated & I am frankly bored-silly. Being a SAHM (Stay At Home Mom) has benefitted my husband & kids & been fullfilling on many levels, but hot damn is it boring as hell. I'm a very smart woman & have not been challenged mentally in years.

My youngest starts school next Sept & I'm counting the days. (Let me tell you, that jump from 2 to 3 kids is rough indeed.) I have been prepping my husband & kids that I will not still being doing all the laundry & other chores & that it is MY turn to go full throttle on my career. It's been a journey as a SAHM but I'm capital-D Done with it. My husband is amazing & 100% supportive, but he's understandably fearful of what additional workload will fall on his already exhausted shoulders, and what it will mean for our adult R&R time & family evenings & weekends; time I've kept very free by doing chores during weekdays. I don't know how dual income families manage it. This will be a huge transition for us.

So yeah, this was my own brain dump of dev-mom thoughts. The single biggest thing companies & our colleagues can do is flex time. Don't worry, we will get our work done & we value our jobs - especially those flexible family friendly jobs - more than we can express. Colleagues - don't roll your eyes when a parent co-worker ducks out early or arrives a bit late - school bus & daycare schedules are set in stone & we always make up our missed time or negotiated fewer hours. And make sure dads get equal access to - and are explicitly told they can use it guilt-free - that flex & work from home time. It is soooo valuable & reduces turnover & burnout & enables women to stay in tech.

❤️👩‍💻

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rose profile image
Rose Author

Love this comment and I feel you on a lot of these points ❤️ I don't think I could handle being a full time SAHM! It's might sound a bit terrible... as much as I love my daughter I feel like being able to work and be productive and solve problems and just not be on mom duty all the time is a huge boost for my happiness levels.

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syntaxseed profile image
SyntaxSeed (Sherri W)

Agreed. If I didn't have my freelance & OSS work I'd be totally insane by now. LOL

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Elda Gomes

Hi!

Thank you for your sharing. I'm a mom of a 2-year-old boy who is awesome. I worked as a developer for some years in the past, but since 2015 I haven't coded anymore. All this quarentine thing made me think of getting back to dev. But, while I was watching some content to brush up my skills and put myself up to date, I realized that women are few and moms even fewer. I'm thankful for having found your post 'cause I don't know if I will be able to code again (nowadays I have a full-time job in tech, but not as a developer) but it's great to find people who face the same obstacles as mine. Just to mention, I'm from Brazil, so I hope my English is not that bad ;)

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ben profile image
Ben Halpern

Thank you for this post Rose! It's important to talk about this stuff so the industry doesn't treat motherhood like some kind of "edge case", which I think it, unfortunately, has.

Here's another post from @kaydacode that I really liked...

  1. We are a remote-first company.
  2. We also don’t micromanage people’s time.

While I hope all work situations become better at conforming to the needs of parenthood, I'm really happy for the prospects of more and more organizations like this which have the flexibility to accommodate so much more.

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remotesynth profile image
Brian Rinaldi

I am so glad to hear you have a supportive employer. I have been lucky in my own career to have generally had that too. Parenting is difficult. Moms tend to have a lot of societal pressures that dads do not. It's something that needs to change.

My husband is a great partner and dad, but when I ask him to take time off work because our kid is sick or has a doctor appointment he gets super stressed out and claims he can’t possibly request time off from work for something related to parenting. So it often falls to me. Because I am the mom, and someone has to do it, and it’s the mom’s job, right?

I am not judging your husband here. I understand how he felt. When I went to the head of HR at Hasbro and asked what the paternity policy was, he laughed out loud and then said, "Wait, you're serious?" They had no paternity leave policy whatsoever (granted this was 12 years ago their policy may have changed). I told him I was serious, and thankfully I had a boss who had young kids and was understanding, so I got 2 weeks, which isn't much but I didn't have to face repercussions due to taking it even against policy. So, I get it.

Since then, it is an important qualification for me as a dad to ask of any company I join. Even with kids that are older, the intrusion on parenting responsibilities on a normal day are a near daily occurrence. If employers continue to lose candidates due to poor support of family responsibilities, regardless of gender, one would hope it would bring about change. This is especially true here in the US where even maternity leave is often not required by law. 🤦‍♂️That simply leaves us with shaming and rejecting companies that are not family-friendly until the law changes.

l wish you the best in the upcoming birth of your second child continued success in your career as a dev! And keep sharing.

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rose profile image
Rose Author

Thanks very much for your response and support! 🙂 Things have been much more balanced here since my husband switched employers, thank goodness.

The lack of maternity leave in the US astounds me, and mothers who somehow manage to return to work quickly after giving birth are superheros in my eyes - I do not know how they manage. But they also shouldn't have to 🙁

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kahn profile image
Karim Hussain

In Sweden both parents are given 6 months maternity/paternity leave each. And dads are forced to take 10 days from the day the kid gets born and also forced to take atleast 3 of those 6 months i their own. The other 3 months can be given to the mom, if you want to.

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Sara Gibbons

Keep being awesome @rose ! I have 4 little humans and in the industry for 20 years. I feel you on all of this. Not an easy road to travel but now leading and directing large technical teams and projects I get to show/mentor women through the rough times. Thank you for your great post! 🤗

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Jean-Michel Fayard 🇫🇷🇩🇪🇬🇧🇪🇸🇨🇴

Wonderful! I had been waiting to read an article like this one.

I just wanted to add: It's not you, it's our industry that is insane.

With its cult of overwork.

Thinking better >> spending a lot of hours at work.

Motherhood is not an edge case.

Without it, humanity ends. Litteraly.

It doesn't have to be crazy at work

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syntaxseed profile image
SyntaxSeed (Sherri W)

Fellow Mom-Dev here... I have 3 sons under 8 yrs old. I have sooo many thoughts on this topic! I will come back and leave a second comment (once my youngest is napping).

Just want to say, you aren't alone!

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rose profile image
Rose Author

Awesome, I'm so glad you commented 🙂 Nice to see some other dev moms cropping up. I am excited for your further thoughts!!

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grepliz profile image
Liz Lam

I can't even begin to describe how much I relate to this post. Thank you for writing it!
I wrote something similar a few months ago.

I think there are so many moms that share this family vs. career tension and I think it's healthy to talk about it. Thank you for sharing!

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swiftladies2 profile image
swiftladies

hello there, i am so so in your boat, just 1.5 years ahead of you. my younger son is 1.5 years old. totally get it. working remotely is a game changer.

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_ninahartmann profile image
Nina Hartmann

Just wanted to say ‘Hi!’ and: I feel you!

Being a mom is really tough. They won’t leave you alone. Me-time is the most valuable time I have these days. When the kids are sleeping, I just want to sit there, think, read and maybe code (if I’m really lucky). This are 2 hours each day. And these 2 hours are the only time I have with my partner as well. And as you said in one of the comments below: As much as you love your kids you need a break. My kids are 3y/o and 1.5y/o and they are hitting each other the whole day randomly during their play and one of them is almost always crying or needs attention. At the moment I think “Just shoot me!” several times a day.

When my older son was 20 months old (so just wasn't a baby anymore) my younger son was born. So I had to swing a baby to sleep for 2.5 years and in the end I really, really hated it. When I stopped breast-feeding when he was ~1 y/o my husband started to bring him to bed. I take care of the 3y/o who don’t need to be swing to sleep anymore. This was a huge relief! Sleep is still an issue. Before being a mother I always assumed kids will sleep through when they are around 6 months old. My kids just started with 1.5 year. And the nights were both of them sleep through are really rare. And we still have nights when I need to sit 1 hour besides the bed with the little one in my arms and he will only sleep as long as he is in my arms (and no, he won’t even sleep in my bed). Or mornings when he decides to get up at 5:15.

But the really good news is: Coming back to work was a non-event. I was off for 3 entire years and when I came back it felt like coming back from a 3-weeks vacation. Part-time was no problem. Leaving on time (because I have to pick up the kids) is no problem too. And although I used to be a traveling consultant, my employer staffs me locally or remote. And I really enjoy the time at work. I missed coding so much! (In the 3 years I did almost no coding because I didn’t found time to do so.) Even being tired is not a big deal (on a business perspective), because this hits me in the afternoon or evening when I’m already home.

I was really worried that working would be yet another thing to do (as none of the things I did on parental leave will disappear) and I’m still responsible for most of the kids-related issues, because I’m the one working ‘just’ 6 hours a day instead of 8. But I really enjoy working and I really am more happy in general.

Luckily, I have a partner who can pick up the kids, in the rare cases I have a meeting in the afternoon (to be honest these are most of the time voluntary or private meetings) or a doctors appointment. I can also visit meet-ups in the evening and he’ll take care of the kids during this time. We decide who stays at home with a sick kid depending on who has the more important meetings on this day (by now this should be an almost exact 50/50 split). Even when I still breast-feed my youngest son, I spend a weekend with my sisters and my mother at a wellness-hotel and my husband took care of the kids (I left enough milk at home and by this time he already started eating). Also the household feels to be split evenly (I don’t know if it’s true but my gut feeling says yes).

So for me being a professional developer and being a mom works great. There is no time for extra hours and really, really rare time for pet projects but that’s ok for now. And now I enjoy the time with my kids even more.

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amcw90 profile image
Aliyah Watson

I'm so glad I found this post! I am a mom of 2 and I'm self-learning mobile development at home. Trying to learn to code with kids at home is already hard enough. I can only imagine having a full time job as a developer! Which is why I am leaning more towards a freelance dev career as my goal. Get this, I've been trying to learn to code since my kids are babies! They are now school age and I've only JUST really got into having enough time/energy to actually build things. Its been a struggle but I am determined. The kids being older has helped a lot because I have more time to myself to study.
I'm really impressed by your journey and it inspired me to keep going! Wish me luck lol

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kahn profile image
Karim Hussain

I feel you! I'm a dad but my wife got injured while giving birth and haven't been able to take care of our kid anything yet.

So I'm a dad on the mom-role. I do everything, drop off and pick up from kindergarden, stay home when he is sick, cook dinner and buy groceries for the whole family, the laundry, cleaning etc. So I know how you feel.

If it wasn't because of my biological nature I would definately be classified as the mom.

It is hard being a dev and taking care of a kid at the same time. Luckily I have a good employer too which gives me time to do anything I want when I need. As long as I deliver, they dont care if I work 4 hours one day or 14 hours the other day, as long as I keep my deadlines and the customers happy.

I wish more dads would take the mom role and stop beeing afraid of things like staying at hone with the kid when it's sick. It is not going to change if dads dont start doing something about it on their own.

Having a kid is a shared responsibility, don't be afraid of what you employer thinks about that.

If you are, move to Sweden. We have a culture of family first and you could sue a company if you get fired for things like that.

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Olga Melnichuk

Don't give up! I'm a mom of two awesome boys (2 y o and 5 y o) and I do write code. Both my kids started nursery at 5 months, and I did express milk at work and bring it to the nursery at lunchtime. I was super lucky as the nursery was almost next building to my office and I had a choice to work 4 days a week for a few months while baby was under 1 y o and more.. I had child sick days!! I wish all employers had these options.

I changed my job when youngest was 1.5 y o. I work for a startup now 5 days a week and do nursery and school drop offs and pick ups. No child sick days now, so spending my holidays instead, but still I'm happy because I do love my job. Keeping up with all events at the school and having not yet talking and always sitting on your hands and crying toddler is a challenge. Evenings and weekends are always messy. But I know it will be better soon! Wish you all stay healthy and keep going :-)

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Eddie Aich

Excellent article Rose and thank you for bringing this up! I think that software engineering as a profession does afford us a lot of flexibility that no other industry can provide, as long as you have a great employer, which it sounds like you do.

The concept of both parents working full-time is a fairly new one in the grand scheme of things and we're now just understanding the impact. Rushing our kids out the door in the morning and then coming home to them when we're all tired, hungry, cranky, and stressed is a recipe for disaster. Seeing our kids only during the two most stressful parts of the day is one big reason why our society seems to be devolving.

My wife and I have two children. Once we had two, it was an entirely different ballgame (and I hear three is the most challenging). She decided to stay home to care for our children and has recently gone back to work part-time this year. I'm running my second startup and with my wife back to work, it is WAY WAY harder this time around. Before we had kids, launching my first startup seemed like a breeze. I'd stay up all night, eat Doritos, go out to network, and everything was alright.

Good luck to you! Know that you're not alone. The mommy and child bond is very special and unique. They're so much more demanding and needy with mommy and is very obviously different between bonds with the daddy. So, I get your dilemma - one that dads can't truly understand!

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coroutinedispatcher profile image
Stavro Xhardha

I got married this year. I see that life after kids is something else completely. I still don't have a kid.
All parent devs I've met are working from home remotely or are freelancers or have their own company.

Nice post btw.

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joeey profile image
Joe

My true respect.. It's you are trying hard to combine two full jobs together.. I hope you continue your survival while having your 2nd beautiful baby

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andrewbrown profile image
Andrew Brown 🇨🇦

Where's all the moms?!

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Guney Ozsan

Being a developer dad (of 20 months) is already hard enough I can't imagine being a dev mother. Man or woman, all people without babies, just be understanding at work. This is not something you can get by imagination or empathy without first hand experience. Some parents go to work suits on top, pyjamas at bottom without even noticing because of the mental fatigue. Besides, not all mothers are lucky enough to get support from elders. Good luck to all working mothers!

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ayelen profile image
ayelen

Hello! I completely agree with your post!
How nice is meet someone in the other side of the world, having the same things in mind as me :)