Platform Engineering

Sarah Fernando

Back to the future

Posted by Sarah Fernando on 05 April 2019

work life balance, career break, return to work, people & culture

A story of a mom who believed she would never return to work

I joined Deloitte Platform Engineering (DPE) in November 2018. This is my first job in sunny Australia. Having moved to Melbourne from London almost five years back, returning to work has been a daunting idea which turned out to be a surprisingly pleasant journey for me so far, thanks to my colleagues at DPE. I hope the foregoing will give a fairly accurate insight into my life experience in the last five years leading to taking up employment at DPE and will serve to motivate, support and inspire those who are thinking of returning to work in the IT industry after a career break.

 

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As a TIBCO consultant working in London back in 2009-2013, I was working for a team that largely operated in the EMEA region. My role required 90% European travel which was an exciting opportunity as a graduate starting her career. My first project was in Finland, where I was based on client site for 8 months, doing weekly trips from London. I was also travelling back and forth from Germany for a period. However, my circumstances changed drastically as I entered motherhood and the ability to undertake frequent travel became virtually impossible. As with many Londoners, we had no immediate family nearby to call upon and both my husband and I had jobs that required frequent travel. Eventually I decided to resign from my job and take on the role of a full-time mom. Looking back, this has been the best decision in the interest of my family and I am proud that I was able to witness all of my daughters’ firsts in their formative years. I am a strong believer of the fact that a child’s first 3 years are the most important part in their life where the most amount of growth takes place both physically and mentally and the groundings of their character and personality are formed. Therefore, leaving my daughters in child-care was not a path I wanted to explore.

Having left TIBCO in 2013, we wanted more than the London city life. Melbourne consistently topping the list of best cities to live in the world and giving more opportunities to have a family oriented lifestyle made us explore the idea of raising our family there. By 2014, we were Australian permanent residents and had moved to Melbourne. The next four years for me flew by quickly and before long I had my second daughter who turned two in August 2018. While I enjoyed every moment with kids at home, seeing how time passes by so quickly and kids grow up at the blink of an eye, I started playing with the idea of returning to work again.

I had no idea where to start. It seemed like an unachievable task, especially since I was not willing to compromise on the role and the type of work I wanted to do. My doubts were based around why an employer would want to hire someone who has been out of the workforce for so long, especially when there is a ready supply of highly skilled experts in the IT industry. I knew I was capable, but I felt anxious thinking who would give me a chance to prove myself? Talking to a previous colleague from London who is now a DPE’r, my doubts were somewhat suppressed as he walked me through the new trends in the industry and opportunities available at Deloitte. When I was ready, I decided to bite the bullet and made an application to DPE. Within a few weeks I was hired. The key takeaways for me from the recruitment process were:

  • You must utilise your network as referrals go a long way
  • Be upfront about your circumstances
  • Show your drive to succeed and be honest about your expectations from the job.

What has changed in me over the years

After joining and working at DPE for several months now I have come to the realisation that nothing much has changed within me during my career break in terms of my attitude towards professional work. Instead, what I have found is that being a mother has changed my approach to work in a positive way. I am generally a perfectionist with an eye for detail, which used to make me let my work take up entire evenings and weekends sometimes. However, not having that luxury of time anymore with kids on the scene, I have become more efficient and better at managing my time. I guess the lack of time to spend on everything means I prioritise more effectively and make decisions far more rapidly.

Even though I have always been ambitious and determined in my personal and professional life, becoming a mother has changed my perspective and made me realise that you can still achieve your dreams – but it might take a little longer; which is totally fine. I believe that I was fortunate to have had a good education and professional training that helped me to return to work after a career break without much difficulty but the support and encouragement received from my DPE colleagues has been immensely helpful to make that transition seamless.

What has changed in the industry 

When someone asks me what has changed during the last 5-6 years, the first recollection I have is being greeted to my first task with an SSD that contained a VM image of the TIBCO software stack for an order fulfilment platform. Fast forward nine years, we are using containers living in the cloud that are exceptionally lightweight and fast to start. Compared to being gigabytes in size and taking minutes to start a VM image, here we are talking about megabytes in size and seconds to start a container.

With the widespread adoption of cloud and SaaS applications, integration capabilities are now required to extend to support on premise, hybrid and SaaS applications. During my time at TIBCO ESBs were used to overcome the point-to-point integration problem for enterprises. Over the years this approach has shifted towards using an API tier which allows large number of apps arising from different channels (partners, app developers) to access data from internal systems in a more cost-efficient and configurable manner.

With the demands of being agile and providing continuous innovation to its customers, organisations are using IT as an enabler to provide business solutions through digital assets. To achieve these goals new architectural patterns such as microservices have come up. When it comes to software development, I have been used to a more sequential process, where the team would embark on the next phase only once the last has completed where dev and test teams often worked in separate silos. Now, as a result of CI/CD practices being used, the agile methodology has become more popular over the waterfall methodology in software development processes because teams can integrate their work more frequently. These are some of the main differences and changes I have come across upon returning to work after five years. The thing to note is that while the tools being used and technologies may have changed, the underlying software development principles, patterns and practices remain the same. The industry moves on when you are not, but it is not impossible to surmount if you have the right level of confidence, attitude and willingness to change. Therefore the skills I have acquired in the past have been used across the recent design and development tasks that I have been involved in.  

The DPE touch

While working for TIBCO I used to travel weekly to Europe from London, but that flexibility is not there now with a young family. This has been acknowledged by DPE and I was given the option to choose my travel preferences. I am also grateful for how I am supported in my role within my project team, allowing for the flexibility to arrange working from home hours.

Initially I worried about how useful I would actually be to my team, being very much aware that my product and industry knowledge is pretty rusty being five years out of date. When you are a housewife and full-time mom you are managing and doing it all - but when you are at work it is essential that you acknowledge the fact that sometimes you may need the support from your team to share the work load until you re-establish yourself in to the role. DPE consists of an immensely bright and passionate team who are brilliant at what they do. But what I do appreciate is that every DPE'r I have worked with so far has provided me with constructive feedback and support to bring back my professional self-confidence, in addition to allowing me the time for settling in and getting trained and up-skilled with the latest tools and technologies.

Thinking of taking a career break?

It is important to remember that everyone has different career ladders that they climb at their own pace which largely depends on what their goals are in life. With hindsight, I can say there may have been a chance that I returned to work earlier had I been in contact with work during my break, but when the time came, I found that I did not agonise over the decision to return to work as DPE made it such a comfortable transition.

Moreover, the fundamental skills that you acquire in your early life do not leave you easily so when the duty calls they are ready to kick into action. They are very important transferrable skills one must value. It is like driving a car – even if you do not drive for a number of years, the moment you sit in the driving seat it all comes back! The most important thing is that you maintain your confidence in your abilities.

Thinking to return to work after a career break?

You may ask what I think would make the transition easier to return back to work after a long career break. From my experience it was having a past colleague in my team, who eventually turned out to be my ‘unofficial’ mentor and the ‘go-to’ person. This has really helped me to feel more ‘belonged’ within DPE and given me opportunities to meet new people, not to mention being always encouraged to believe in myself and never doubt my abilities.

Having said that, the reality is that it is inevitable that you lose the professional maturity that your peers would have gained during the period that you are taking a recess. That is a substantive challenge that one faces when returning to work after a career break and one must be mentally prepared to deal with it in a graceful manner.

Deloitte offers a ‘Return to Work' Program, aimed at assisting men and women have an easier transition to work after a long-term career break. Currently it is only available for employees with managerial experience of over two years. In my opinion it should definitely be extended to cater for employees down the hierarchy as well.

The Fairwork Ombudsman provides a wealth of information for employees taking maternal/paternal leave and how you can plan your return to work after a break with programs such as attending Keeping In Touch days at the workplace. This is another approach employers provide to ensure you stay up to date with what goes on in the workplace during your leave period, enabling you to refresh relevant skills to assist in returning to work.

While we mostly focus on the transition back to work after a break, there is another transition, caused by the reversal of roles that happens in the household. On the one hand kids feel the sudden change to their daily routine and experience a large vacuum by the lack of my presence that they were used to throughout the day in the past. On the other, my husband having to take on more responsibility with household duties and having to balance his work and time with the extra demands from kids. It is certainly not an exaggeration if I say that it is hard to keep the right balance between work and family and reshaping your family life after a career break. The importance of having the unwavering support of your spouse during these crucial few months cannot be overstated.

Looking back

There is not an iota of a doubt that the decision to return to work was the best decision for me. Although there have been a few bumps along the way I am happy when I think that this will make me a good role model to my children. I believe it helps children to understand the connection between education and becoming a professional in later life. As time passes I hope we will learn how to adjust our lives to meet the extra demands placed by having a full time working mom in the family.

 

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