Balancing career aspirations and the responsibilities as a parent is no walk in the park. As a mom, it is doubly tough. If making the decision to have a kid is not big enough, it also comes with a kicker. In the same breath you now will have to make a choice about your career. Should I go back to work? or stay home with my child? Although legally you are not required to leave the job and the employer is required to preserve the job for a mom that goes on maternity leave, the decision that a mom has to make about going back to work or staying home, to be the with the child, is a tough one.
In my case, it was a decision my husband and I did not have to discuss as to who would stay back. I had already decided that I did not want to work until the kids grew up to a certain age. That said, I certainly don’t envy anyone confronted with that decision.
I had worked in the software sector in two vibrant start-ups and a large corporation. Working in a startup presented its own set of challenges but I would not trade it for many skills I acquired working in the start-up environment.
For the last 3-4 years, I took on part-time projects, that I found interesting and only those that allowed me the flexibility of telecommuting. Most of these projects were either in the engineering or product areas. Taking up new challenges with every assignment also helped me keep my skills updated.
While on a quassi-sabbatical/mommy break, I also decided to volunteer in my childrens’ schools and school district. Leading efforts in PTA, Budgeting, Fund Raising to running skill camps (Geo-Bee, FAME) provided me with the quota of challenges that I had sought from a corporate job. While dealing with school administration had its set of challenges, it definitely gave a new perspective on how much help our schools need.
As I now prepare to resume my career and started talking to companies, I took stock of all the skills I acquired during my mommy break. Hopefully more moms in the same situation that I am in would find this useful while “characterizing” their break.
- Communication skills – Most of my career, I have been presenting designs, concepts to a highly advanced set of audience involving geeks like myself. Working with extended education system (the school, unified district and various committees) was far from that demographic and required me to operate at a different level. The audience in most cases required me to communicate just like I would with customers or field. Establishing a value proposition and messaging that so the audience comprising of parents (from diverse backgrounds), teachers could easily comprehend. Just so I could make meetings effective and meet the objectives, I had to segment my audience into different segments and meet them ahead of time to make sure I had appropriate message tailored for them.
- People skills – Listening, accept feedback/criticism and displaying empathy. I learned that people respond better when treated with empathy – putting myself in their shoes helped me understand them and the situation better. I learned to listen and carefully direct conversations toward revealing issues. This in turn helped me analyze situations and better direct my efforts.
- Leadership – I have always been the ‘take-charge’ kind of person. But in a volunteer organization, it is a team-effort on a different scale. Apart from showing by example, the one quality that helped me most was humility. There can be no egos in a team. Humility helped me filter out the tons of feedback that came my way as I went about making changes. Many times, I had to remind myself why I was volunteering in the first place – “it is about making a difference in the lives of ALL children, not just mine”. This core belief that I was doing it for the right reasons, help me hold my head high, my resolve firm and get to work.
- Focus on Analytics – best use of time and money. In a volunteering organization, while budgeting is done for how the funds are raised and utilized, the effort of the volunteers is not taken into account. That was one important change I was able to effect. Volunteers, mostly parents, would spend many hours toward an activity that did not generate the suitable end result. We now look at the effort it takes and put a “price” on that before undertaking any activity. We always started meeting on time and ended then on time, if not early. No activity was undertaken unless we could budget for how much time it would take. By showing that time is of essence, we go a lot more working-parents to volunteer.
How are these skills going to help me in my quest to be the best Product Manager or Customer Success Manager ?
- My communication skills and my technical background, help me parlay requirements across various teams. I can speak to an engineer, a customer or Executives in their language – technical or business.
- I listen to customers and do a “day-in-the-life-of” scenario. This is the best way to understand their issues. Understanding the customers’ view helps me refine the solutions that will solve their immediate needs and filter the wants and nice-to-have features.
- Focusing on analytics helps me put a value on time and efforts. Every action/meeting/discussion should have an ROI. They should help move the team towards the goal – a software release/bug fixing/designing an awesome product.
- My people skills make me a team-player and a team-builder. I feed off the creative energy in teams. In a team, I try to do what it necessary to make the team/the division and ultimately the company successful.
As a volunteer, I was able to use my technical skills in helping raise funds, streamline operations & expenses and recruit more volunteers. The people skills that I acquired, helped me gain a new perspective on how best to use my skills to achieve success as a volunteer.
On my resume and profile, I have highlighted my work as a volunteer. I have received positive feedback and kudos for the value I brought in as a volunteer.
If you are in the similar situation, how has break/volunteering helped you ? Share your experiences.
UPDATE: Juggling a few things took its toll and I could not finish this post I started a while ago. In the meanwhile I have started working at a large financial services company in the valley.