“A.”, preferred to remain anonymous as she shared her journey as a woman engineer and mom in India and the difficulties she faced with parenthood. She talks about Indian society, having a child with ADHD, her career break and how it impacted her career and her choices. She also talks about how she “builds in public” as a introvert and the joy of being a mom.
A., Technical Consultant, Indie Developer
👩🏻💻 Job: Providing technical/research inputs to the management team, implementing short projects, coordinating and working with external teams for more complex projects, Working on side projects as an indie developer
👶🏻 One 7-year old boy
Career and Parenting
Being a woman engineer in India
Could you tell us more about what it is like to be a woman engineer and mom in India?
It is impossible to talk about being a ‘woman’ engineer in India without also talking about the deeply entrenched attitudes about gender roles in the Indian society. A man’s primary responsibility lies in providing for the family and acting as the head of the family while the woman’s primary responsibility is in managing the household, raising the children and maintaining harmonious social relationships. This expectation is all pervasive and it’s very difficult to go against even a part of it. It doesn’t help that a majority of the families live with constrained financial situations. When resources are limited, everything becomes a choice. Education and career are about ensuring a basic financial security more than about making the most of a child’s talent.
The thinking goes that when the boy child grows up, he’ll take over the financial responsibilities of taking care of the aging parents, while the girl will get married and any gains she gets will be enjoyed by her future family. To so many of the families, raising a girl is a losing proposition. Even if the family’s financial situation is a little better, girls are encouraged and subtly (and not so subtly) coaxed and guided into careers that are more compatible with their expected future roles of being a wife, a mother, and a daughter-in-law. Of course things are changing slowly for the better in various ways but not for everyone and across all dimensions.
In such a society, being lucky enough to be raised by parents who’d encourage me to be an engineer if that’s what I wanted? That’s already a privilege. Less than 10% of my graduating class were women, and we had jobs even when recession hit. We were privileged.
A child with ADHD, career break and tough time
Did you face challenges or wish some things would be different to make your life easier?
Things started to lose their shine once the reality of being a women-in-tech hit. That’s not really a new story and yeah it sucked but not enough for me to reconsider my career. I got married, life went on. We thought about having a baby… Corporate jobs in India typically provide 3 months to 6 months of maternity leave. So the plan was to work till I safely could, avail the full leave and figure out a daycare situation. And even though things did not go entirely according to plan, things were largely on track. We had found a great daycare for the baby, and though it was insanely hectic, I was doing interesting work.
And then the daycare closed, and the new one wasn’t good, things became extremely stressful at both home and work… Things were clearly unsustainable and I decided to take a few months break work wise and figure out something that’d work better for us. Long story short, nothing did. The kid did not adjust to school well and eventually got diagnosed with adhd. Mental health is another area with a lot of social taboos around it. Getting him the help he needed, and researching adhd itself became the priority. Through one reason or the other the few months break turned into one year, then two then three.
I’d say that was the most difficult time for me. My child needed me and I obviously couldn’t say no. We were thankfully in a situation where even if it made things a little tight, we could get by on my husband’s earnings.
Yet I had never planned to not work. I missed the joy that comes from exercising your mental faculties, from seeing tangible signs of your progress and it’s associated rewards.
Parenting (well) is perhaps the most challenging project you can take on and also one of the most meaningfully rewarding one but it can also be amazingly frustrating and lonely and you never feel like you are making any progress however much you are trying. It can be relentless and dreary interspersed with absolutely priceless moments that’ll keep you going.
Speaking baldly, I did not take the full time parenting well. As an extreme introvert I regularly need time for myself and there was none of that.
I was also simultaneously stressed and worried that taking this time away from the workforce would impact my ability to be able to get good work again.
In the meantime my friends and peers were progressing in their careers, and even though I hadn’t been very ambitious career wise before this, the increasing disparity in our personal and professional situations made me feel even more alienated. There was the guilt of not utilising my hard won professional education. I felt I was letting down myself, my parents and even women in general if I didn’t put my training and education to use.
It felt like I was fighting a war on all fronts, one I could not choose to opt out of coz dammit my child needed me, but couldn’t hope to survive with my mental health and sanity intact either.
Though it was a difficult period, it was also a period of intense introspection and getting to know my own self, my needs and my priorities.
I had to learn to identify my fears, and separate out thoughts/things that truly mattered to me vs what I felt should matter to me. I had to learn to be OK with the roads not taken and truly understand at the gut level that you need to focus on your own journey and find your own motivations and success metrics instead of going along with whatever seems to be the norm for whoever the world sees you as. It took work and tears and the help of professional therapists and a burnout for things to slowly start getting better.
The problem with following the well trodden path well is that if life throws you a curve and you can’t follow that path anymore, you don’t have the skills to figure out your own path either.
We are thankfully in a much better position now. My child is thriving for now, and I have the confidence and the skills to get him help if he starts struggling again. I have started working part-time again in a remote consulting role. I used to feel like I was cheating coz I got it through friends-and-family connection but I’m learning to not let it bother me. It is the best fit I have been able to achieve that both works with my constraints and my priorities and I do good work. My career goal now is to make my living as an indie-maker/developer off of a portfolio of products. And I am committed to steadily (if slowly) working towards that.
Becoming an Indie Maker, building in public as an introvert
How did you come to be an Indie Maker? What do you especially like about your job?
I ended up dissecting all the various types of work I’ve done. I identified which things make me feel excited to work and which don’t. I identified what parts of working in the traditional corporate technical role I absolutely disliked. I listed all the constraints of our life situation and my own strengths & weaknesses, and the things I wanted from my career.
Indie making was the only sustainable option I could find that would fit.
It allows me complete freedom to work on things I’m excited about and a complete ownership of how I want to go about things. I’m in control of my own time.
I realised that money beyond a certain level of ‘comfort’ doesn’t really matter to me, and I’ve no hankering to build vc funded businesses. I would be perfectly happy in the indie making lifestyle for a decade or more. My bar for the financial success needed is modest (a benefit to living in a country with a favourable cost of living compared to the US and Europe). And I get to not let my skills rust so in an emergency I’d still hopefully be employable haha :)
I read that you “build in public”. Could you tell us more about the built in public concept? Being an introvert, don’t you feel anxious about this way of doing?
Building in public doesn’t feel comfortable at all and I’m definitely anxious about being judged harshly. However my plan is to focus on the process and trust that consistency and staying true to myself over a long period of time will compound :)
Do you encourage your son to build in public?
I don’t really talk about building in public with my child.
I’m more concerned about fundamentals like encouraging a growth mindset, fostering reasoning and planning skills (to help tackle some of the challenges that adhd is bound to bring), encouraging curiosity, emotional resilience and independence etc.
Watching how kids learn
What do you enjoy the most about being a mom?
The best thing about being a mom? The conversation and the cuddles :)
I love watching him grow and learn skills. Watching how kids learn a new thing is absolutely amazing.
It’s fascinating trying to trace a child’s internal thinking process and identify the bit that’s giving him trouble. I love the unexpected connections they make and the things they come up with.
It’s amazing how the world becomes new again when you explore it with a child :)
I encourage my child to think about what he enjoys while making sure he understands that things cost money haha. He’s too young for me to encourage him in a particular direction but he’s curious about a lot of things including what I do so.. Who knows :)
The Crossroads of Should and Must: I think this article has a lot of overlap with the way we learn to balance motherhood and a professional career