Women face many challenges when it comes to having children, especially women in IT. Some are afraid to have kids because doing so can negatively affect their careers. Others have had to put aside thriving careers and aspirations after their maternity leave ran out. On the flip side, there are working moms who feel guilty about being busy, not spending enough time with their kids, and feeling exhausted. As the ways we work have become more flexible, we are seeing more and more examples of women in the tech industry who successfully manage careers and motherhood.
Lena, Lead Software Testing Engineer at EPAM Anywhere, is one such example. She recently joined our team, coming to us with an excellent track record and a whopping 14 years in QA. In addition to being a top-notch professional, Lena is a mom of three: her kids are 4, 2 years, and 10-months. We talked to Lena to learn more about her experience of being a (super)mom in tech and share how she navigated a layoff, several job changes, and three small kids to achieve a successful and balanced career.
Three maternity leaves and a QA Lead role
Q: You are a mom of three. What is it like to be a mom and a team lead?
I'm happy to have this many kids and even thinking about having one more baby, but in a while (laughs).
Of course, when I first became a mom, I was worried. Will I be able to handle little kids and work? What if I lose my achievements and qualifications? What will happen next? What will happen to me? I am a hard-working person. I love my job and have always given myself to it.
Now, seeing how everything fell right into place for me, I can say: if you want to have kids, go for it. Yes, it's challenging to juggle the role of mom and a leader, mainly because the birth of our first child coincided with my transition to the leadership role. But, at the same time, this helps me grow. I have changed tremendously since I've become a mom. I'm more motivated, conscious, and purposeful.
Q: So, your first child and your transition to the leader role occurred at the same time. Tell us more about how you worked it out; the challenges and joys you've experienced.
My husband and I planned to have children, so the pregnancy wasn't a big surprise to us. However, every time I took maternity leave, I encountered different challenges that I had to overcome.
When I was expecting our first child, I agreed with the customer that I'd take a 3-month maternity leave. I started my leave a few weeks before the baby arrived. When I was literally still in the hospital after giving birth, I found out that the customer laid off our entire team. That news was completely unexpected.
I have good family support, so I just decided to do what I planned and I devoted three months to our new baby. When three months passed, and it was clear that the baby was fine and healthy, I was ready for new job opportunities.
It took me about a month to find a job, and that was a pretty hard month. I had to go to in-person interviews, and since I live outside the city, it took me a 3-4 hours drive to get to the office and back. Also, I was breastfeeding at that time. So it was a lot of stress.
Anyway, I found a job. It was full-time in the office. And this is when I held the QA lead role for the first time. It was a real challenge, but it also spurred me to grow quickly. I had to pass ISTQB certification ASAP, as well as learn how to design a testing strategy and test plans, build communication with the customer, and all sorts of other things. Add to that a young child and a constant lack of time. But yeah, this was my growth driver. Plus, I felt great. I had a lot of energy, could study and memorize information better, and had the power to pass the certification and overcome all of the challenges.
While I was working, my mother helped by taking care of our child, and she continues to help me with the kids to this day. We live in cottages not far from each other, so I bring the children to my mom's every morning as if to daycare, and I pick them up from her in the evening.
Q: What about your second maternity leave?
Before my second maternity leave, I was successfully working in a new company, and we were about to release a product. It was New Year's Eve, and the customer gave us a “present", it accepted the product our team had built but... decided not to continue its maintenance with us.
I was three months pregnant then and once again in an uncertain situation. I was still a contractor at an outsourcing company, though, so when the time of the baby’s birth rolled around, we agreed with this company on the same terms: I would take 3-month maternity leave.
When I returned to work after my leave, I had a chance to work remotely and part-time, so I did that until our child was six months old. Then I had to switch to full-time and return to the office. Again, I spent a lot of time getting to the office and back and returned home late at night, so I basically didn't see our kids at all. Fast-forward to today, I now work at home and typically finish working at 6-7 pm. That means I can spend much more time with our kids. We draw, write, read riddles and fairy tales, and I can prepare them for bedtime. That's precious to me.
Q: How about your third baby? Was the baby born during the lockdown, when so many companies switched to remote?
Not really. After our second child, I continued to work in the same company, and then came the third pregnancy. This one was unexpected. While my husband and I were thinking about what we would do, the COVID pandemic hit, and we saw many employees being laid off... including me. So, picture this: me, on my birthday, pregnant and unemployed… maybe not the ideal combo (laughs). Nevertheless, we survived that too.
So, I had to look for a job again – while pregnant. But, even so, I found a job and immediately confirmed my future maternity leave.
I joined this new company as a QA lead as well. I had about five months until the baby’s delivery, so I started building processes and training the people who would replace me while I was on maternity leave. After this baby, I spent very little time on maternity leave, two months or so, and then I had to get back to work. On the bright side, we were working remotely; however, my engagement was full-time right away. Not long after that, the EPAM Anywhere program found me :)
Three kids, full-time work and… fitness??? Foundations of a balanced life
Q: How can someone build such a fascinating tech career, stay productive, and be a good mom? Maybe you have found 'cheat codes' over these 14 years that can help with this? :)
The most critical point here: working moms should not feel guilty. If you start thinking: "here I am, so busy, I must be a bad mom" – I'm telling you, it's not true. How so? The point is you don't have to spend ALL of your time with your kid to be a good mom.
You can focus on spending some effective time together. When your kids are small, you can't talk to them or read to them every single hour whether you are working or not, right? So, you can start with, say, 15 minutes in the morning and again in the evening. That's actually what I do: excerpt for some basic interaction, I dedicate 15 minutes in the morning to each of my kids, right after they wake up, and then 15-20 minutes in the evening after I finish my work. To make our time together effective and enjoyable for all of us, I prepare for it: I download and print out some games, prepare quests to play together, and books to read - every time they can choose what they want to do together with me. And when we are together, I fully focus on being with them.
This “effective time” idea helps both me and the kids. First, the kids spend time with me in the morning and evening and know that it's a pattern; when I leave them to do my work, they know they will surely see mom in the evening. Thus, they don't worry or miss me much during the day. As for me, it helps me to free my mind: I know I completed some good 'mom' tasks for today, so I'm not a bad mom. As a result, I can switch my attention to work and focus intensely on it.
When it comes to working, I just deep-dive right in and make sure that I keep myself effective. I know how to structure my time and my work, I rely on my experience and expertise for this, and I also study a lot to make sure I am keeping up with the industry. Especially since I started working as a QA lead, I've learned a lot of new aspects of my job: leadership, conflict solving, time management, effective communication, and so much more. This knowledge enriched my previous skill set for sure.
Q: What are the key tips you can give to women in IT, future and existing moms?
Here's my recipe:
Having kids is not scary; if that's something you want - go for it
If you are hesitating - make up your mind, because this is your future. Children are your happiness, motivation, and strength. Yes, challenges and difficulties will come along, but everything can be resolved.
Never call yourself a bad mom
You don't have to feel guilty if you want to finish your maternity leave earlier than planned. Instead, spend effective time with your children and just be a mother to them. Although our children don't see me so much, they care about me as a mother, and they enjoy our time together, plus we do not have much time to quarrel (laughs).
Consider and arrange the support that you need
Some things need to be planned. For example, who will take care of your kids while you're working? It can be grandma, a nanny, or someone else. And consider working remotely! It's great that we have such an opportunity these days.
Book some time for yourself
Once I started working remotely, I got back 3-4 hours a day that I previously spent to get back and forth between home and the office. I thought about how I would fill this time and claimed it for myself. Now, I spend this time on fitness twice a week, going for walks, and reading. Plus, I regularly take walks with the children, or we're taking rides or exploring the area.
EPAM Anywhere journey
Q: How did you get into EPAM Anywhere? And what are your responsibilities here?
I wasn't looking for a job; instead, one of the Anywhere recruiters contacted me. When I learned more about the way EPAM Anywhere works, I found it fascinating. Essentially, I didn't have to leave my former job immediately, I could just wait for a suitable job opening at EPAM Anywhere.
I had the opportunity to choose among a variety of projects, and, as a job change wasn't urgent for me, I decided to take my time and explore all of them. I had 6 different interviews over the course of a few months (4 of them were successful with a job offer on a project). So I had the opportunity to choose exactly the option that suits me.
Now, I'm working on an exciting project that allows me to leverage my knowledge and experience. Briefly, it's a learning platform enabling people to learn and purchase learning materials. I'm a key QA engineer here, so I'm involved in many aspects of the project: testing, process management, and acting as a connecting link between the customer, my team, and another outsourcing team we work with.
I joined EPAM Anywhere in June 2021, so this is my first project here, but I have had a fantastic experience so far.
Q: To summarize, what benefits would you focus on if you had to describe how EPAM Anywhere helped make your life more comfortable?
I'd highlight a few things that I find essential:
You're working from home, but at the same time, you are a full-fledged team member of the company with access to all kinds of resources and benefits. Before the pandemic, I didn't consider working remotely to be a priority, but now I enjoy all its advantages.
EPAM Anywhere offers tremendous training opportunities: courses (including LinkedIn Learning), mentoring programs, books, articles, knowledge sharing, and numerous programs for participating in events. Also, there are many internal resources you can ask for advice or help.
Community and expertise level
I think it's fantastic how high the level of Anywhere professionals is. Plus, I'd point out the benefits of the onboarding process that each employee goes through, which includes trainings and instructions. This material contains the EngX (Engineering Excellence) program, which I highly recommend, since it offers a good understanding of how to create, deploy, and validate high-quality code.
Space for a private life
Working remotely, I have more flexibility in my working hours, and that's essential to me.
Also, I'm happy that I don't have to drive to the city to work. It saves tons of my time, which I can use to care for myself and my family and eliminate stress, while saving money.
Freedom to choose where to work from
Another huge pro is that you can live outside the city, breathe fresh air, and drink clean water. This is the contribution that remote work makes to the health of our children, family, and myself. I really advocate for people to move closer to nature, closer to the forest. One of my colleagues now does that: in summer, she rents a house outside the city, and moves there with her family, and she works remotely from there.
Freedom of choice
I also realized that now, I don't have to worry if I decide to have a fourth child. I can safely take another maternity leave and stay at the company. You don't have to terminate a contract here. Instead, you can just stay on the bench, and when you are ready to get back to work, the team will look for a new project for you. So yeah, now I'm not afraid to have more kids when I'm ready.