Conversations #82: Unexpectedly Open to Work

Conversations #82: Unexpectedly Open to Work

Written by Rafna Bash, Bisi Josh-Falade, Ann Kilzer, Tara Hernandez, Kelly Anlas


Women Who Code Conversations 82     |     SpotifyiTunesGoogleYouTubeText

Tara Hernandez, Vice President Developer Productivity @ MongoDB, sits down with Kelly Anlas, Engineering Manager @ Paxos, Rafna Bash, CEO/Mentor @ Aktibeto, Anne Kilzner, Software Architect, and Bisi Josh-Falade, AI Solutions Consultant for their conversation, “Unexpectedly Open To Work.” They discuss the positive outcomes of getting laid off, balancing a job search with everyday life and upskilling to get ready for a new job.

Can you share why you’re here?

KA: I’m here speaking on the Unexpectedly Open to Work panel because I fortunately or unfortunately, have had two experiences with this. I’ve been a software engineer my whole career. My first job out of college I was at for about a year and a half before a layoff. I spent five months job hunting before I landed at my next role. I had that experience from early in my career going from having a job to being unemployed and figuring out what to do next. Last year I was at Twitter and was also part of a layoff at Twitter.

RB: I have been unexpectedly moved to another place, and so had that challenge of getting into the work. There were a lot of unexpected questions that I thought I would never have to go through. I started my own career as a freelancer and had quite a journey. That’s one of the reasons that I started Aktibeto to help and support women who were in a similar situation as me. Also providing all the resources and guidance they need and also the community to support them, to get back into their job.

BJ: My background is in Software Development Lifecycle, working all the way from business solutions, and analysis up to quality assurance and down to product management. I’ve had the vast majority of my experience in that space until about two years ago. I had to leave work unexpectedly because my little girl had some health issues and needed more attention. From that time till now, I’ve had so much going on. One of them is an Adona Pivot, from my product professional background to data and machine learning.

AK: I have had a couple of times in my career where I was let go or had to leave a job. The first was when I was a PhD student. My grad school advisor suddenly decided not to renew me. I was in a bit of a scramble to stay a full-time student and get a master’s degree. A few years later I was at a startup and half the engineering team got laid off. Also in 2020, I was working at another startup, and while I thought things were going well. 2020 brought some economic challenges. Our pay was drastically slashed. They asked me to work on marketing and it was extremely stressful. I ended up resigning in all the chaos. I had a couple of times in my career where I’ve just had to reinvent and build back.

How did all of you balance job searching? How did you pressure yourself as part of that process and maybe hopefully figure out how to ease the pressure on yourself? 

BJ: It was a time of pressure at the very beginning. I felt disenfranchised because I was out of work and I had to also take care of a little baby. I’ve been able to pick an area of focus. That was my first step. I decided to focus on an area in tech. I had a background in product, business analysis and quality assurance. I had to take some time out to identify if I wanted to go ahead with that or pivot. I decided to pivot, I wanted to know what data was all about. I went online for resources. I signed up for a number of mentoring programs. That was how I got into Women Who Code into the data science track. I gave myself a timeframe when to learn what at what point should I be delivering on this. I was able to balance out by doing a bit of this and also by preparing a daily schedule.

How did you balance that idea of evaluating upskilling and what type of job you wanted to go to next? 

AK: I wasn’t earning enough money to cover my rent. My monthly income had been cut below where my rent was and I wasn’t allowed to keep coding. I didn’t foresee a future where I could keep pretending to do marketing which I wasn’t interested in doing. The thing you get when you quit is time that you can focus on interviewing. That also started a clock of three months. I was on a visa and if I didn’t have an employer I might have had to leave the country within three months which is a pretty intimidating deadline. We have the power to reinvent ourselves and sometimes we have to take calculated risks.

When you were making these transitions did you feel that you needed to upskill quickly or did you have confidence that your base skills would allow you to find a new role relatively quickly? 

KA: This time around was significantly easier because I was applying for a job that I’d already done. It isn’t really your ability to do the job you’re interviewing for. It’s your ability to pass the interview. I know what an engineering manager interview looks like. I’ve got a lot of experience. I felt very comfortable in this position. I’m also a little bit later in life and better settled, so the stress of being unemployed is lower. That was very specific to this situation. I figured out very quickly upon my layoff, my coding skills weren’t sharp enough to pass interviews. My guidance on upskilling is great, but I think a lot of times what interviewers are looking at is like, “What work have you actually done?”

What was that process like for you as far as transitioning from what you had done before? 

RB: I was working in India as an engineering manager. I started my career as a software engineer. I worked as an engineering manager, leading multiple global teams. A lot of questions that recruiters asked didn’t make sense. I didn’t even get past the recruiters to prove myself to the company that I’m worthwhile. I have all the skills that you are looking for. That’s how I started freelancing so that I can show that I have experience here in the US. I started Freelancing, getting connected to all, getting more involved in the Women Who Code, and started a study group so that I could meet more women. One thing that I learned from Freelancing is I get to work in all sorts of problem-solving. I started to learn JavaScript and Python. I get to work with different technologies.

What unexpected or surprising benefits came out of your unexpectedness?

AK: I have been in coding for 20 years and actually in the industry for 10 now. You can build stronger and you can heal from these things. You might feel totally crushed at that moment. Take time to grieve in the moment. It’s okay to rest a little bit. Months later I got a 50% job increase. I became a permanent resident of Japan within a few years. I have this great new apartment and I’m building this life in Japan where I have art hobbies. I work at a really cool company as a software architect. Your career is long, and that moment is a lot of pain, and that’s okay. You can heal from it and you can reinvent yourself.

BJ: One of the things I learned during this transition is, I was able to identify things I liked to do. I had never had the ability or free time to explore them. It’s usually painful at first. I must be sincere, I was a bit depressed at first.

KA: I definitely cried the first time I got laid off. I didn’t cry the second time. That’s totally normal and it’s totally fair. The layoff led to the best career move I’ve made. I went from a job that I didn’t feel excited about to getting back into writing the kind of code I wanted to be writing.

What is something that you know now that you wish someone would’ve told you at the start of your transition, your unexpected break? 

RB: I would say, take a deep breath. It’s okay not to have a job for a few months or as long as you want. It’s not necessary to start at the point where you stop. You just have to find yourself where you can grow and develop.

Do any of you have something that you wish you’d known then that you know now? 

BJ: I wish I’d known, Women Who Code earlier right from when I stopped working. I would’ve done a whole lot more. For about a year I was depressed.

AK: Don’t feel like you need to go from a job to studying for interviews eight hours a day. Pace yourself. Balance your day. Set up a reasonable schedule for you to learn and get interviews in the pipeline. You are not going to solve it all in a day. It’s going to take time. Give yourself time to grieve and process. There’s a lot of feelings and it’s okay to have those.

How did you find mentoring resources? 

AK: ADP List. It’s a website that has free mentorship. There are people all around the world. I’ve done a little bit of mentoring on it. I think you can find mentors or be a mentor. I’m sure if you asked In the Women Who Code channels too, you might be able to find someone.

BJ: There are a couple of mentoring programs online. Reach out to people on LinkedIn. I’ve also been part of some mentoring programs. We have different tracks at Women Who Code.

How do you find freelance work? 

RB: There are lots of ways to find freelance work. What do you want to do? You have to identify a timeframe. Then, there are lots of online resources like Upwork,,, etc. There are so many online websites out there. Another main thing that I did was networking.

How can communities like Women Who Code support an unexpected career break? 

KA: It’s one of the best opportunities to solve all of the things we talked about. For one, you get other people who are definitely in the same situation. It’s also an answer to the mentorship question. My mentorship relationships and the leads of my channel are the ones who get the most mentorship from me. We end up working together on things. We work through problems like how we deal with vendors, third parties, each other, or how we put things together.