Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Developer relations & motherhood: Will they blend?

My very first job out of college was in developer relations at Google, and it was absolutely perfect for me; a way to combine my love for programming with my interest in teaching. I got to code, write blog posts, organize events, work tightly with eng teams, and do so much traveling, giving talks all over the world. I only left when Google started killing products left and right, including the one I was working on (Wave), and well, my heart was a little broken. (I'm now jaded enough to not loan my whole heart out to corporations)

12 years pass...

I'm back in developer relations, this time for Microsoft/Azure on the Python Advocacy team, and I once again am loving it. It's similar to my old role at Google, but involves more open source work (yay!) and more forms of virtual advocacy (both due to Pandemic and increasingly global audience).

There's a big difference for me this time though: I'm a mom of two kids, a 4 year and a 1 year old (born the week after I started the job). My littlest one is still very attached to me, both emotionally and physically, as she's still nursing and co-sleeping at night, so I essentially have no free time outside of 9-5. (For example, I am writing this a few inches away from here in our floor bed, and have already had to stop/start a few times).

Generally, developer advocacy has been fairly compatible with motherhood, and I'm hugely thankful to Microsoft for their parental leave program (5 months) and support for remote work, and to my manager for understanding my needs as a mother.

However, I've found it stressful to participate fully in all the kinds of events that used to fill my days in DevRel. I'll break down difficulties I've had in fitting events in with my new mom-of-two life, from least to most friction:

  • Live streams: Many advocates (and content creators, generally) will easily hop on a stream to show what they're working on, and it can be a really fun, casual way to connect with the community. I avoided casual streams for the first year of my baby's life, while I was still pumping, as I had to pump too often for it to be practical to be on camera. Now that I'm done pumping, I've had a great time jumping on streams on my colleague's channel. Thanks for the invites, Jay!
  • Virtual events: I'm the one that gets really excited when I hear a conference will be online, since then I can participate from the comfort of my own home. But after speaking at a number of virtual events, I've learnt to ask for more information about the exact timing before getting too excited. Specifically:
    • Is the event in my timezone? I'm in PT, and lots of events cater to audiences in Europe/Asia (rightly so), and their timing may not overlap my workday.
    • Is the event during the week? Lots of conferences are on the weekend, which means paying for childcare and potentially missing out on events with my kids.
    • Is the speaker rehearsal check-in at a convenient time? This is what keeps burning me: I'll happily get a slot speaking at 10AM PT, and then realize there's a speaker mic check at 7AM. I am usually awake at that time, but with a child draped over me who will wake up screaming if I jostle her, waking the rest of the house. Now, if I discover early mic checks, I either pay for my nanny to come early or I explain to them that I can connect but can't test my A/V yet.
  • Local events: I've attended a few Microsoft-sponsored events in SF that were pretty fun. I had to leave before the after parties, and even before the final keynote, in order to get home at a reasonable time for evening nursing, but I still got a lot of good interactions in from 10AM-4PM. There are some local meetups as well, but they tend to be on weeknights/weekends, so I generally avoid them due to the need for childcare. The hassle and added stress on the household often doesn't seem worth it.
  • Non-local events: I've managed to attend zero such events in my 1.5 years at Microsoft! My colleagues have attended events like PyCon and PyCascades, but I haven't felt like I could take an airplane ride with a nursing baby at home. Now that she's nearing two years old, I'm hoping to wean her soon, and a non-local event might become the forcing function for that. I'll be running a session in March at SIGCSE 2024 in Portland, Oregon, which is just a 2-hour plane ride from here, but I'd love to attend for a few days. I'll need to pay our nanny for the night, since she and I are the only two people who can get my little one to sleep, but hey, at least Microsoft pays me fairly well.

You may very well read through all my difficulties and think, "well, why doesn't she just wean the baby? or at least sleep train her?" Reader, I've tried. I'm trying. We're trying. It'll happen eventually.

Once both our kids are preschool aged, it should be much easier for me to participate more fully in events. I never see myself doing anywhere as much travel as I did back in my 20-something Google days, however. It wouldn't be fair to my never-traveling partner to constantly leave him with full parenting duties, and as the child of an always-traveling parent, it's not something I want to do to my kids either. Fortunately, the developer relations field is already much more focused on virtual forms of advocacy, so that is where I hope to hone my skills.

I hope this posts helps anyone else considering the combination of developer relations and motherhood (or more generally, parenting).

1 comment:

remotesynth said...

DevRel can be particularly tough as a parent, particularly a mother with small children. I'm glad to hear that it sounds like Microsoft is being supportive.

I think it helps when a team recognizes that DevRel is about more than just events. While events can be important, there are a lot of ways to have a big impact in DevRel without simply speaking at a lot of events. Writing, recording videos, live streaming, contributing to documentation, managing communities, virtual talks with customer's engineering teams, etc. There's so many ways to do DevRel and, while not minimizing the importance of events, in my opinion, many of these activities can have as larger or sometimes larger impacts than events.

That being said, I do also believe in virtual events as a way to expand accessibility to this content to folks who are unable to travel for whatever reason (including parents with young children). If you are ever looking for a place to speak, I'd love for you to speak on my channel.