The Mommy Chute

I’m a software engineer, and a darn good one. I love working with customers, designing systems to meet their needs, and then building systems that exceed what they expected. (“You mean you’ve already thought ahead to what I might need here, and have made it easy/cheaper to add this functionality?” “You mean I shouldn’t expect the beta period to be bug-ridden?” “You’re actually on time/on budget with my project?”)

Lately those talents have had to lie dormant. We had our first child a few months ago, and since I was nursing, it made sense for me to be the one to stay home with our child, rather than my husband staying home. There was pretty much no other reason – we do basically the same thing, could live on either one of our salaries, neither one of us is by nature a child abuser. . .
So, my husband is at work. I’m at home. Now I’m looking for part-time computer software work. You’d think that that’s a unicorn or some other mythic creature. The general reaction has been the same: there’s really no part-time work to be had in software development.

The impact on me has been near total discouragement. I like what I do and don’t enjoy the idea of giving it up. But think of the impact of this phenomenon on women in computing. . . women in software have no real choice but to put their children into day care. Those of us that want to spend at least some of their earliest most formative years with our children need to step away from software development. And need I mention that the four or five years it’ll take my child to get to school is a lifetime in software engineering?? Folks with four or five years experience in an area are considered senior, because that’s usually as long as that particular technology has been around. The technologies that I work with will either not exist or will have evolved into something similar in name only to what’s there now (think VB.NET vs. VB).

Sure, I can keep up in the trade journals, buy the latest geek books, try things out on our home computer, even pick up a degree or a certification or two. But as any employer (or employee, if they’re truthful) will tell you, that just doesn’t measure up to real-world experience. If I’m able to get back in (and that’s a big if), I’ll be at the bottom rung of the expertise ladder again, worth very little to a potential employer, as compared to where I’d be if I’d spent those five years in the field, even on a part-time basis. It’s as if the bottom just dropped out on my career, just about negating everything I’ve done/learned/earned to date. I’ve spoken with other women who’ve gone through this same thing, and the basic conclusion has been that it’s too hard to get back in, and just not worth it to start back at the bottom again, proving yourself all over again.

Just think of all those women who’ve gone down that same greased chute. And then wonder why there are so few women in IT. Maybe we got in and then got dumped out. Or maybe we’re advising our daughters/friends to choose careers more conducive to concentrating on your child for a while.

Folks keep telling me that these years go so fast, that I should savor my child’s development while I can, and focus again on my career once my child goes to school. Wonderful advice for some fields – but a seeming near death knell for a software development career.

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