loading...
Cover image for Mama Software Engineering 101: The Essential Guide

Mama Software Engineering 101: The Essential Guide

sarahrosebuck profile image Sarah Buckingham ・5 min read

alt text

THE UNFORTUNATE TRUTH

Economic realities and psychological benefits have increased the need and desire for mothers to work. While we have come a long way in terms of women’s rights to pursue a career, working mothers still face the issue of women’s subordination in a society where institutions and structures penalize them. What it means to be a good mom (putting your children first), often contradicts what it means to be a good employee (putting work first). Participation in one domain impedes the ability to have full participation in the other, thus leading a double demand that creates tension and requires new social patterns.

Working in Higher Ed, I witnessed first-hand the struggle of watching mothers suffer from work-life balance, lack of support, lack of childcare, and/or insufficient funding for childcare. I've watched them have no choice but to drop out, or having to entirely pass up any sort of higher education due to these issues. THIS IS NOT EQUITABLE.

Unfortunately, mothers are part of a demographic that is rarely seen in the software engineering field. I think I know maybe 2 or 3 that have actually made it to an eng position, but they are only acquaintances. So, if you're a Mama engineer out in the world and you want to join my circle - LET'S LINK UP. BECAUSE I NEED YOU.

MY EXPERIENCE

Switching into the software eng world has been one of the hardest challenges I have faced. Keeping up with new technologies can feel incredibly overwhelming while trying to maintain your workload and spending quality time with your children. We don’t have to struggle alone, yet we usually do. Because let's be real, we barely have enough time to breathe, let alone attend therapy, coaching, or a support group. And um, don't get me started on my best bud COVID (insert sarcasm here)! Good 'ol COVID is out here royally effing everything up for us, and then some.

Additionally, coming in the field in my 30's in a brand new field is already anxiety-provoking enough, but coming in at junior eng (and in my position I was the ONLY female and ONLY junior level engineer) takes a lot of time and resources away from seasoned engineers -- working for a smaller org it is incredibly difficult to get the mentorship you truly need to succeed. And as a Mama, I don't have the time to practice or do additional learnings post-work hours, I have to Mom.

THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE

You probably are reading this post, maybe as a Mama eng or just someone interested in looking at a guide to see how we make it all work. But the truth is, we don't know what we are doing a solid 80% of the time. We are making sh*t up on the fly and we are just out here trying to survive. There is not an essential guide because there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Every one of us comes with unique experiences, coping strategies, and kids that are completely unique in what they need (especially kids with special needs). So, what can we do as mothers? And what can workplaces do to be more equitable and inclusive of this demographic?

WHAT WE CAN DO.

“I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won't work”
-Thomas A. Edison

  1. Be gentle with yourself. Give yourself grace! We are going to fail. We will not be able to get all.the.things done. We will get mad at our kids for seemingly little things. But it's not about having a life without challenges, it's about having purpose and the ability to smile amidst the challenges.

  2. ADVOCATE. ADVOCATE. ADVOCATE. If you can't hack it, ask your direct report for help. Know your rights. Advocate for yourself if you're getting paid less, if you aren't being equipped with the tools and mentorship you need to succeed, etc. This is a great article on how to best advocate for yourself.

  3. Find your community. Community is key. You need to find people who understand where you are coming from, who have done it, or who are doing it now and can support and lift you up! They can mentor you and you can mentor them - share tips and tricks, even orchestrate a babysitting co-op during these trying COVID times.
    A few great places:
    thelighthouse: a community of rising leaders coming from different industries, functions, and companies. You'll be able to connect with other members via 1 on 1 career conversations on topics that you're looking for insight on as well as topics that you have experience with that you can advise other members on.
    virtualcoffee.io: a 2x/week dev coffee chat that's developed into an amazing community of ppl. Also, led by Mama engineers.

  4. Find online resources for your kids. Things like Outschool, or italki (there is a kid filter where you can find a tutor for a different language) are great resources.

Here is a multitude of resources.

Pro-tip for pre-school Mamas: Practice letter recognition in your codebase while explaining what the code is doing (aka rubber ducking) - I have literally found SO many bugs this way.

WHAT EMPLOYERS NEED TO DO.

“There is no doubt that a woman’s economic empowerment is very much interconnected to her health and the well being of her children.”
— Helene D. Gayle

  1. Allot your employee tickets within a sprint that are for continuing learning - allowing Mamas out there a chance to do workshops and further their skills during their work hours without being penalized.

  2. Don't micromanage your employee's time. You should have enough faith in your engineers and know that they are doing their work and their best. If I need to leave in the middle of the day to pick up my kids from school or take them to their appts - there should be no questions asked. Know that family will always come first and don't let that form misconceptions about our work ethic or capabilities.

  3. Flexibility. Allow remote work - we are all doing this right now anyways and finding out how much easier and cost-efficient it is. But also, know that right now with our kids out of school, we are definitely flexing our hours. Coding with little demons running amuck for normal 8-hour workdays is definitely not happening. I tend to do some in the morning and the rest when their Dad gets home or I have extra help at the house. Sometimes I'll even pull 12-hour workdays when I can and take time off of other days.

  4. Ensure you are hiring within this demographic. Actually finding a job after bootcamp or a career-switch is one of the biggest challenges. A lot of times Mamas don't even want to mention they have kids and/or are pregnant because they fear judgment. Provide a welcoming environment, a mentor, and even plug them into a support group.

Being a newb Mama Eng is such a struggle. But together, we can lift each other up. We can create the environment we deserve and we can all help one another achieve our personal and career goals.

Subscribe to my newsletter where you can find things related to mom life, mental health, coding, gender equality, corny jokes, and more! https://buttondown.email/sarahrosebuck

Posted on by:

sarahrosebuck profile

Sarah Buckingham

@sarahrosebuck

Social Worker + software engineer💻. I love finding tech solutions to social problems. Mother of 2 kiddos and 3 dogs. 🐶👶 Jeep driver ✌. Soap maker🧼. Coffee fiend☕. 🇮🇹 Italian + 🇨🇺 Cuban

Discussion

markdown guide
 

Love the idea of sprint tickets for continuing learning! It could be a great tool for expanding on why bugs happened and prevent similar bugs in the future versus cranking out fixes. And having an opportunity to learn something that's NOT related to a bug can be super refreshing!

Props to parents working remote in these times - and to think I thought keeping the cats out of the office was difficult!

 

As a single person with little to no responsibilities I think your situation pushes you more to grow and be practical. The single and free crowd doesn't gets enough motivation to make the most out of their time cause we have too much of it. 🙂

 

Parents are definitely forced to learn to plan and multi-task in all the strangest ways, haha! I've definitely grown as a Mom, that is for sure. Thank you for reading.

 

Thanks for that. I’m clearly not a mom, but I employ one, and it makes me a bit sad every time she feels the need to justify some absence midday to attend her kid’s matters (she shouldn’t have to).

What bothers me a bit is that even though this scenario might happen more with single moms, it feels like most employed moms count as single for this aspect. As if the “but I’ve worked all day!” argument is only valid for the dad.
Should I be more understanding if I employ a mom than if I employ a dad? How come the men never have to refuse working late because they have to take care of the children today?
That’s a hard social convention to break and I’d like some help to understand how can I address the issue when I’m “the corporation”.

 

I think this brings up a really valuable conversation - and I think it's incredibly important to view the other side to fully understand the scope. I'm actually in the middle of a research project through the University of Washington with another professor on working fathers who have children with disabilities and how they manage (or don't) work-life integration. I have found a lot of interesting perspectives from Dads.

There is actually a really great research article I read called "The New Male Mystique" that talks about how the "ideal" man today has the pressure of not only being successful as a financial provider but they are also expected to be more involved with family than before women entered the work field. Additionally, flat earnings, the blur between work-home life (with not only technology like Slack but also now with COVID) and declining job security all create a lot of pressure with Dads. And those pressures are often unspoken of.

So, to answer your question. I would say definitely do not be more understanding for a Mom than a Dad. The pressures are on both sides - it's just that there is very little research done on this topic when it comes to Dads, and men are likely less willing to talk about their feelings and the pressures they are experiencing (another social convention to break). But to address one piece of this (working Moms), you must address the other (working Dads).

So what can you do to address the issue? This is hard because each situation is unique - some men really find their meaning in work and have more of a traditional attitude and some come from a more family-centric attitude, where they'd like to spend less time working and more time with their kids but cannot because of financial responsibilities. That being said, I'll outline a few suggested things you could do - and honestly, it's mostly about the culture you provide:

  1. Ask the Dads on your team! What can you provide for them? Find solutions that tailor towards them and their specific needs in their roles - and continue to evaluate these and make changes as needed (could be part of an onboarding process - normalize it).
  2. Encourage Dad's to work only the hours they are required to work - get rid of the assumption that working long hours makes you more valuable
  3. Create a culture where men are not jeopardized for using flexibility - this can be done by doing setting an example and doing it yourself, or asking them to do it. You can also address how to work more effectively as a team - eliminate unnecessary meetings that could be done through Slack or emails.
  4. Develop a career path that includes flexibility - this makes it feel less impossible for Dads to be able to have promotions. QUALITY > QUANTITY.
  5. Provide opportunities for men to talk about it - at my current job, we have 2 Slack channels we all vent in - #parents (for all the cute kid stuff) and #parents-the-dark-side (for venting, asking for advice, etc.). It might even be beneficial and get more Dad activity if you create one specifically for Dads.

It makes me really excited that you are thinking a lot about this and trying to ensure you're not just addressing one piece of the societal structure but both ends! Your employees are really lucky to have you.

 

Yaassss, mama! Mom of 3 & 4yo here (15 mo age difference) and I definitely wouldn't survive w/o a flexible job 🙏 Thanks for sharing your experience and ideas!

 

YAS! We should connect. I would love to hear what all has helped you. Thank you for reading.

 

For sure! Reach out here or Twitter anytime! 💫

 

An interesting insight. Hope it will help others in a similar situation.

 

I hope so too! It really does take a village. Thank you for reading!