In recognition of Mother’s Day this coming Sunday, this week we’re featuring three women at Udacity and their experiences as mothers working in tech. At a time in which the news media can’t stop asking whether women can have it all, we’re excited to bring you the stories of three women in tech who balance their families and careers on a daily basis.

Udacity moms: Gundega DekenaWe shared the stories of Liz Keleher and Catherine Gamboa earlier this week. The next to share her experience is Gundega Dekena, a course developer at Udacity.

Tell me about yourself. Where are you from? What do you do? How many kids do you have?

I’m from Latvia (it’s a small country in Northeastern Europe, one of three Baltic states) and I currently live there. I’m a course and curriculum Developer at Udacity for web, cloud and DevOps focused courses. I have one 11-year-old son. I’m divorced and I live with my son and my father.

How did you get started in tech?

I wanted to be a scientist and do research in biochemistry/biotech, but I had to leave my studies to be able to support my parents. I had access to a computer and the Internet at the lab where I was working as a research assistant. I am curious, so I learned more than just how to do the direct tasks I needed to do. I got a good offer to work in IT as a systems administrator, and then it went from there.

How has your career evolved since then?

I was incredibly unhappy that I had to give up what was I felt was my dream, so I did not really have any goals for my career in IT, I just did it because I needed money. Everything in my career up to a certain point about four years ago happened just because I am very curious and like to learn.

I learned about Linux, learned some basic programming, first for automation, then for web development. I worked in a couple of not very successful startups, at a university developing a Linux distribution for our local schools, and then at more startups. At some point, I decided that I needed to stop regretting something I couldn’t change anyway and set a new path. The new path quite accidentally led me to Udacity, but I’m happy it did.

What does an ordinary day look like for you and your family?

Since I’m located in Latvia, which has a ten-hour time difference with the Udacity main office, I usually go to sleep late and get up late, local time. My son goes to school and back with the school bus. My son is pretty independent, but sometimes he needs some help with how to approach homework or something on Khan Academy, or he wants to show me something he made or did.

I do most of my research, reading, and coding for courses over the day, and then in the evening, usually starting around 8 pm, I have video meetings with my colleagues. My father shops for groceries and makes dinner for us. He watches TV and reads books the rest of the time.

What was it like to go back to work after having a baby?  

I was the only tech person in a startup when I had my kid. So, I started working three days after the birth when I got home from the hospital.

I could do pretty much 90 percent of my work remotely, and when I had to go the office because some new hardware had to be installed, my boyfriend at the time would arrange to be home, as he worked in IT as well, and could do a lot of his work from home too.

It was very stressful to have emergency calls from work if I had to take care of the kid at the same time, but doing planned work was fine. It was nice going out to the office and meeting adults more when the kid got older.

How do you balance your career and your family life? What’s hard, what’s not?

I don’t know, I don’t exactly have a standard family model. My kid does not require constant attention. I think that most important thing I can teach him is how to find something that interests him, how to learn more about it, and how to become someone who makes things, not just consumes.

My career gives me the financial ability to support my family, but it also gives me satisfaction for the work I do and gives my kid something to be proud of. tweet

I feel like my work helps with that. I try to expose him to things that I think could be interesting to him and then he goes and plays or watches, or learns on his own. Later we just talk about things that he is doing or things he found confusing. Some of the things he says help me when I think about adult education for my work. But I don’t feel like there is a conflict between career and family. My career gives me the financial ability to support my family, but it also gives me satisfaction for the work I do and gives my kid something to be proud of.

Do you wish people asked working fathers that question?

Yes, I find it silly that people (of both genders) assume that most child care is the problem of the mother. I think if people asked this more, maybe more people would realize how silly that idea is.

What guides you when you’re making a decision that affects both your career and your family?

For me the only thing that I feel falls under this is location — does it make sense to move somewhere, given that I need a good job or opportunity to do business and the kid needs a good school? I think in the long-term. My kid will an adult fairly soon (in seven years), and he will have his own life. So, I think it makes sense to focus on what will be a better choice and provide better opportunities at that time for both of us.

Has being a mother affected your career advancement or opportunities? If so, how have you addressed that?

I have been fortunate to have flexible working times and a lot of opportunities to work from home in almost all of my workplaces. That has certainly been a benefit, especially when I became a mother. I find it hard to determine if there has been any negative effect from potential employers.

Where have you found support along the way?

There have been some friends and relatives that have helped me in some particularly hard times (not really related to parenthood), but I can mostly rely on myself. “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” So, since I’m getting stronger, life gets easier.

If you’ve worked in any other industries, how does tech compare for working mothers?

It’s much easier to have flexible work hours and to work from home in tech. You can’t exactly do an experiment requiring very large, expensive, specialized equipment when you are at home. If you have flexible hours, you can schedule your time around getting kid to school, the doctor, and activities.

If you’ve worked at companies of varying sizes, how does working for a startup compare to working at a larger, more established company?

I haven’t really worked in a super large company, but I think the most important aspect for any parent is flexibility of work time. I guess the downside of a startup is that the flexible hours end up to be more than if you do some kind of 9 to 5 job.

What’s surprised you about being a working mother?

That it’s something to be surprised about. In my country a working mother is the norm. It blows my mind that someone can actually not do something else and be “just a parent” for prolonged period of time. I would die from boredom. But people are different, for each their own.

What do your kids think about your career (if they’re old enough to let on!)?

He thinks my work is interesting. He is also a bit jealous because I travel quite bit. I try to make it up to him by traveling with him when I have time.

What makes it all worth it to you?

I don’t understand the question. What “it all” and “worth” means? It’s like asking “what is the meaning of life”? Ok, then I know the answer: 42 🙂

What advice would you give to mothers considering a career in tech or to those in tech considering becoming mothers?

I think the “considering a career in tech” advice applies to everyone, not just parents:

  • Be open-minded and understand that this is a field where you have to learn every day for the rest of your life.
  • Don’t be afraid to fail; you will learn from it and become better. If you find it hard, think about how children learn something.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback, just never take it personally, take it as an opportunity to learn something and improve.

For considering becoming a parent (not just a mother, fathers are people too!):

  • Make sure you have a good partner that will share responsibility and care with you.
  • Learn to be flexible with your work and time, find a job at a company that allows that.
  • Your life will never be quite the same, and it’s fine. As your child grows, you will be able to look at the world from a very different perspective, and that might even be good for your career 🙂

 

We’re so grateful that Gundega, Catherine, and Liz took the time to share their experiences of having children and working in tech. Their answers were insightful, informative, and inspiring, and we hope that you enjoyed reading the series as much as we enjoyed creating it!