WWCode Podcast #42: Mother’s Day Tech Talk With WWCode Leaders
JR: I'm a parent of an amazing three-year-old. My wife and I had been living in Atlanta and moved to Florida during covid to get some outside space and sunshine for us and our daughter. I'm thrilled to share some of that adventure with you today.
Ivonne, tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do?
IA: I'm a software engineer, one of the three directors of the Women Who Code Guatemala network. I am also a teacher. I teach at the public State University in my country. I am the proud mother of an eight-year-old little girl.
JR: I always am fascinated that people assume that when you become a parent, you stop everything else. In some ways, your world does stop a little bit, but there are so many facets of being a parent. You were one of the people who started Women Who Code Guatemala a couple of years ago. I would love to hear a little bit about what inspired you to take that step. Why you thought Women Who Code was important for your community, and how you balance that while still teaching and working and being a parent.
IA: One of the directors was one of my students when I started teaching. She was feeling inspired about having a teacher who was a woman, because of the gender gap in technology. She reached out to me to talk about Women Who Code and I was so excited. My daughter was about to be five years old, and more independent. I think it was the right moment for me to take on helping the network. I was really excited about being part of our community of women. I'm the only woman on my team at work, and we have very few women in leadership. I was really excited about helping train women to be leaders and bringing more women into tech.
JR: Being a parent of a three-year-old is tiring. I'm not sure the last time I had a full night's sleep. I think that my journey to being a mother was unique as everybody's is, it took us almost a decade to create her. It was a really long struggle. As a result, I'm an older parent, older than I had expected to be. I think that's given me a really interesting perspective as a parent because she was actually our last attempt. I didn't even think it would work. I was resolved that maybe I wouldn't be a parent. We gave it our last shot, and then our daughter came into the world. One of the things that it has given me is a perspective around what a sheer miracle it is that any of us make it onto the earth. It's made it really easy to prioritize her, which means that I deprioritize things like sleep, and sometimes self-care. I'm now learning to reprioritize.
When she was born, she came about two weeks early. It was my first lesson in understanding that I have no control over this whole journey of being a mom. In terms of balancing a career, I highly recommend, if you're thinking about becoming a parent or you're about to be a parent, take advantage of leave. You definitely need it or I needed it in the beginning. My friend told me that in the beginning, it would actually be easier to balance your career. She was right because when they're little, they kind of sleep and they hang out. As they grow, they suddenly become this ball of energy and they really need you a lot more to be engaged and to help them just experience every day. She's very active, she loves to be outside, and I want to be part of that. I'm learning how to reprioritize myself and self-care. I would love to learn from you, how do you do that?
IA: I had to deconstruct the concept of being a mother. I don't know how it is in other places of the world, but in Latin America, there's a mindset about what being a mother is. Like you have to give up your life, your ambitions, everything and just take care of your kids. The first stage for me was I was very afraid that I was not going to be a good mother.
I started reading a book called Rebel Mom, or something like that. It was about questioning the idea that you have about being a mom. I think the idea that I had about what a mom is, I was not going to meet that expectation for myself. I needed to deconstruct that part, make time for myself, and look out for resources like you don't have to do everything by yourself. If you have a partner, ask for help. My daughter motivated me to be the woman I am now.
I talked to my partner, and then we hired a neighbor who's a teacher, and she came to help her with the homework because I didn't have time. That's okay, I'm not being a bad mom. Pay attention to how you feel as a woman. If you are too tired, you don't have to suffer, ask for help. Enjoy each stage, it happens fast. There are times when you're going to want to cry and that's fine, cry. It's okay.
JR: Thank you for sharing openly that you're not always sure. Imposter syndrome is real. Parent guilt is real. Mom guilt is real. Resources have been really important. It's hard work, it doesn't make it not fun. I have a blast every single day being a parent. I don't want to discount that if you're having a not-so-fun day, it will change.
One of the things I learned early on, pregnancy brain happens in both gestational parents and non-gestational parents. When you first have a child, you're learning so much that your brain has to dump information. I underestimated how much you have to learn as a parent. I follow this group called Visible Child, I really like their philosophy. It's about seeing your child as a human, a whole person, and really listening to their voice and listening to their needs. My wife and I try to use that philosophy to see her and hear her.
If you're in a position, you're at the director level, where you can shape your company culture, it's about showing up. Honestly, my team will tell you I show up. My hair is not always fixed, I don't always wear make-up, if my daughter needs to run into the room and needs me for a second, I'll pause and focus on her. I welcome her into my world whenever she wants to be. I have enjoyed being able to shape company culture by just showing up as me. I think that's important for everybody to do.
She's spent two-thirds of her life in this land of covid, so there's been so much change in the last couple of years. It's been really interesting to navigate that world with a child and try to teach them the things they need to know to be safe, but also help protect them a little bit and let them be a child, be free, and have all the experiences they need to have while trying to keep them safe. That's been a particular challenge for our family. What has it been like for you these last couple of years?
IA: I looked for a remote job because I wanted to be with my daughter. I was used to her going to school. You sometimes have meetings that can't be interrupted. I just say, "I'm in a meeting," and she knows she is not going to come here. In my office, I work, and then outside my office, I am her mom. Explain things to children and trust that they understand you. It was very tough at the beginning, then after the first year of the pandemic, we had a better time because she was used to me and my husband being there all the time.
They are so smart. In the beginning, I was like, they are going to take away their mask, they're not going to do it. They do, they are the first, like my daughter is the first who puts on the mask. It was a very big challenge at the beginning, but now I think we are good.
JR: Even at three, my daughter is that way, she's very happy to wear a mask because she knows she gets to go inside somewhere. If we're going in and we don't have ours on, she'll say, no, no, no, mom, you put your mask on. She's slowly returning to those spaces and entering them for the first time in our case. Seeing her light up is amazing.
Another topic that comes up quite often with parenting, is people say, how have you changed? So I'd love to talk a little bit about that. I got some great advice from a woman named Cheryl Conti. Cheryl told me, Look, when you become a mom, you're going to become a new person. You have to let go of everything that you think you know about yourself and then rise like a phoenix from the ashes as this new person.
You become a parent and it's like you want to pull all of these great things about yourself forward and stay true to yourself. At the same time, understand what this new version of yourself is. I was really worried about what my life would look like as a new mom and traveling all the time. I love to travel, it's like in my soul, I have shaped my whole career, my education, my volunteer experiences around being a nomad. I was really worried about that coming into parenthood. When I first came back to work, one of my first travel experiences was to Merida, Mexico. We had a leadership event. I cried the entire way to the airport. I felt terrible because I had a really tough postpartum period, I physically felt terrible. I wanted to spend time exploring and I physically couldn't. It was hard for me emotionally to realize, my body was telling me that I needed something different.
Since the pandemic, I had to learn to sit still. It was hard for me, but I got this huge gift of spending time with my child every day. I love being able to go visit her when I have 10 minutes between meetings. I have carried forward from the pre-Mom me that I still love adventure, I still love to travel, even though it looks different now. We do a lot of road tripping. I still want to explore the world with my daughter when it feels safe for her to do that. The thing that has changed is that I 100% want to be in a remote workplace.
IA: I want to travel with my family and work them into that. I used to be happily going off on my own. What about you? What's changed for you? What did you hold on to? What was that transition like for you?
I've changed so much. I don't think I'm a different person all over because I still have my core things that make me me, but I had to practice empathy. My daughter came to teach me. I'm very methodic, I like to have a plan and have lists and have everything in place. That's the way that I do my work. Being a mom changed that because you have to improvise. I feel more comfortable about change and about not following a plan because of motherhood.
JR: Change is something that being a parent will teach you really fast. We often get asked in the community about planning to have a child. The best thing you can do is work for a company that values you. Look for companies that have good parental leave as a component, especially in the US, where it's not required by law to have parental leave. Look for a company that when it's time, you'll have access to that benefit. Before you have children, take the risk, it's okay to make some different career decisions. Things change, you go with the flow and you figure it out. You don't have to just stop because you're a parent, you can still build your career. What do you think? Does that resonate with you or do you have any different advice?
IA: It definitely does. Do what you love for work. If you don't do what you love, do what you're good at. You can do hard things. I love that saying. We need to believe in what we can do. That's very important. If you want to have a child, do it. You have no idea what you're getting into. Once you're a parent, you think, I'm going to be this kind of mom. I wasn't able to because my daughter came and it was an emergency. I wanted to do nursing for a year because that's the best gift you would give to your child. I wasn't able to do that, and that's fine. Make peace with things.
JR: Birthing plans, I don't even know why we do that to ourselves. I feel like because we went through this whole parenting class and they gave us all these forms to fill out about what we wanted. I realize looking back that they just have you do that to make you feel like you have some sense of control. I think the only thing that happened that was on my birth plan was the music playlist, I think that's it. It's not yours to choose, you have to learn to go with the flow. I really enjoyed listening to your stories, and I have really loved listening to you talk about your child, talk about parenting, and being a mom. What's your favorite thing about being a mom here?
IA: Hearing my daughter talk about the things I talk about. I look at a lot of things about fighting for women's rights, including women in technology. It's so funny to see how she's absorbing everything.
JR: I'm going to add curiosity. I love how curious my daughter is about everything. She's just constantly learning. I love exploring the world with her and going on adventures with her. I think there's so much joy that she's brought into my life. It's an absolute honor to be her mom.
For working moms or people who are about to become parents or moms, what advice would you offer them?
IA: Ask for help when you need it. You're not being weak. It's okay to ask for help. Trust yourself. Read a lot. We don't know everything, and it's okay. Try to enjoy everything.
JR: I think my process would be, parent the child that's right in front of you. Look at all the resources. Every child is different, every person is different. They come with their own unique needs and their own quirks. Apply that same advice to you as you're trying to balance your career. Go for the career that's right in front of you.