Welp, another year has flown by, and I have to say this has been THE MOST EXCITING year of my entire freaking life!
Before I get started, I want to say that this post is going to be a bit more personal than usual, and here is why: There aren’t a whole lot of other code-writing conference-speaking world-traveling mamas out there. I am really lucky to know a few, and boy did they help me out several times this year when I really needed it. I want this post to be a kind of “paying it forward post”, to help out any working mamas out there out there who might feel alone.
Baby Droid Arrived!
In mid February my husband and I welcomed our first child to the world! Baby Droid is totally TOTALLY awesome, and I’m so happy he is finally here. Giving birth was totally the most bad ass thing I’ve ever done, and afterwards I literally felt like I could run the entire world.
I took my maximum possible leave from my job, which was 3 months. I had thought maybe I’d have some “down time” while baby slept to do some blog writing and professional development reading. But, turns out, Baby Droid had other plans for me! Ha! In fact, I looked at a computer screen exactly twice during my maternity leave. (The plus side of this was that after just a few weeks, I no longer needed glasses to read words on paper…. 😱 That was pretty awesome!!) Taking this photo was as close as I actually got to making it through my maternity leave reading list. 😆
— Kelly Shuster (@KellyShuster) April 10, 2017
Maternity leave was super hard! Harder than anything I’ve ever done (and, quite frankly, I think I’ve done some pretty hard things in my life)! Also, it was really SO awesome to get to spend my days and nights helping my new little human adjust to life in this big new world. During my last few days of leave I attempted unsuccessfully to achieve Inbox Zero, and also spent a fragmented hour (ie, 10 minutes here, 5 minutes there) writing and submitting conference proposals. I returned to work in mid-May, and began the adjustment to working pumping mom.
I set no explicit goals for 2017. Instead I just set a theme: “Find a way to stay.” I didn’t want to fall of the face of the (professional) planet after baby came, and am happy to say, I stayed! 🙂 I remained a contributing team member at my job, and I was able to still give several talks for the Android community.
I returned to the Android conference circuit in July with a new talk on the Android Support Libraries at 360|AnDev in Denver. Then in August I gave the Keynote Address at Android Summit in the DC area (another brand new talk). I was a panelist at the inaugural Mobile Innovation Summit in Denver in September. Also in September I travelled to NYC to speak about technical speaking at the Google NYC office for the Women Techmakers Leads North America Summit. My last community event of the year was in October, where I was a mentor at the Denver stop of Megan Smith’s Tech Jobs Tour.
I returned to work during a big app release, and jumped right in to help get it across the line. I was the second Android dev in company history, and have helped the team grow to six members (and counting… come work with me!!). Finally, I was accepted into a really special program which pairs a select few employees with a member of the senior leadership for 6 months of 1:1 mentoring. I am paired with Ibotta’s Chief Marketing Officer, Suchit Majmudar, and am absolutely thrilled about it!
The Cost of Staying
I am doing a disservice to all present & future working parents and very specifically working mothers if I just say “I Stayed”. Because, I want to be really clear that staying has not come for free. Retrospectively, I can see that I had unrealistic expectations for myself, and I want to publicly call out how I actually managed to do this, so unrealistic expectations are not created for others.
The short of it is this: At first I thought I could do it all. Then I had a moment and realized I had to ask for a lot of help and change all of my expectations for everything.
My fear of not disappearing led me to take on a bit too much after baby was born. Because I was taking on far less than my pre-baby self, I thought I’d scaled back enough. But it turned out, it wasn’t enough. Writing and delivering two new brand new talks back to back (one of which was a keynote) was way too much. We got through it, but it was rough there for a bit.
This led to me asking too much of my partner (who also works full time, and has a career he is excellent at, and cares very much about). The thing is, taking care of a tiny baby is A LOT of work. Writing a new talk is a lot of evening and weekend work. With pumping eating into my work schedule, I also needed extra time after work to stay on top of everything with my regular job, too. Ugh, it was too too much. Even just thinking about that month makes my blood pressure rise, ha!
My career is so important to me, but ultimately my familia is more important to me. I *can* have both, but I’ve just got to figure out a way to balance it well. I knew others at least look like they do it all. So I decided to figure out what’s actually going on behind the curtain.
First, I found a few working moms on YouTube who had babies close to the same time I had Baby Droid (Samantha Maria and Brittany Vasseur). It was really amazing to hear them vocalize many of the same challenges I was facing myself, and how they were working through it. I wasn’t a failure after all! This is just a hard thing.
Next, I reached out to some fellow software / conference speaking moms that I know, and got some great advice from them.
Here are a few changes I made that really helped:
- No more procrastination. EVER. Baby could get sick. Partner or I could have a massive work deadline at any moment. My old trick of “just stay up late” can’t work because I’m already staying up extra late taking care of little baby throughout the night.
- Can’t be as willy nilly and fluid when working on talks. My approach needs to be a little more like a university term paper, and little less like a hobby craft project. (Eg, Outline must be done by this date, slides done by this date, talk run-through practice scheduled on family calendar).
- Find moments of time w/o baby which I’m not adding extra burden on my partner. This ended up being on the train commute to and from work, since I already work through lunch and my pumping times.
- Take a day of PTO to work on my talk. This was something I’ve never done before, but was an amazing suggestion from another working mom I know. At first I was kind of resistant (but PTO is for relaxing!! waaa!!). But I realized I only have a finite amount of time in my life to do things that are just for me, and if I really enjoy conference speaking that much, its worth it.
- Slightly lower my expectations. This one sounds terrible, but hear me out. I usually spend a TON of time on my slides. For example, if I decide to change my spacing by a single space halfway through my slides, I used go back and add a single space to the previous 40 slides. I won’t be doing that kind of stuff anymore.
- Get paid help for partner when I travel. We did this on my first trip away, because we weren’t sure how it was going to go. It was a good idea. Even just a few hours with a second set of hands will go a long way.
I have an amazing partner who meets me more than halfway every day. Real talk: There is no way to have this level of professional achievement AND also have a child/children unless you are getting a lot of help from your partner and/or paid care takers!
Actual footage of me attempting to maintain pre-baby commitments now that baby is actually here 😬😬😬😬 pic.twitter.com/9cYIEBl1UB
— Kelly Shuster (@KellyShuster) May 15, 2017
So I stayed, but the cost of staying was much higher than I realized it would be. As my partner and I came to realize what life with a baby was really going to be like for us, I slowly gained a more clear vision of what I could and could not handle. I once heard somebody say “You can have everything you want in life, just not all at the same time.” Reminding myself of this was very comforting as I had to make decisions to leave some things behind.
Probably the biggest leaving decision was to step down from the Women Who Code Denver Director position. Before baby came, I figured it would be a good way to stay involved in the community while not needing to travel away from baby. This was sound logic, but ultimately, my time is SO limited now, that I’d rather my time be spent on other things.
I left my blog for awhile.
I did not attend Google I/O and made a decision to do no international travel (causing me to miss out on the GDE Global Summit in Poland and my most favorite conference, Droidcon London).
The two trips I did take (DC and NYC) were extreme whirlwinds, with no extra “sight seeing” days.
I withdrew submissions and turned down invitations to speak at several conferences.
I halted attendance on most local meetups, as I used my evenings instead to prepare for conference talks or care for baby.
Every time I left something, it killed me a little, but it was always absolutely the right decision.
One thing I have to say, is the Android community is just so amazing. So many people sent me kind notes during Google I/O, when I was sad I couldn’t be there. So many people have sent warm wishes about Baby Droid. So many people have offered to support me as a pumping traveling mom so that I might speak at their conference. So many mothers and parents have reached out to check in, shared advice with me when I asked, and lifted me up when I felt discouraged. You are all AMAZING! Thank you all so much. 🤗