Real insights into the compatibility of family and work
Java programmer for complex warehouse logistics software and proud mother of twins. Does not work? Sure, it does! I am telling you about my everyday experiences, not only in my professional, but also in my family life. These small insights illustrate the compatibility of family and work. It shows how both worlds cross over and co-exist and reveal points in your life, where you feel like you are hitting a wall.
Suddenly mother of twins
For a long time, my life revolved around being a Java programmer at a global company. I developed and programmed strategies for the storage, warehouse organization and replenishment and commissioned and supported their implementation. When both of my children were born, I suddenly took on a completely new role. Overnight I had become a mother of twins. At the beginning the new task in my life was great. It involved completely new insights and challenges, which also showed me my physical and psychological limits. However, after ten months, there came a feeling of boredom. Being “just” a mom around the clock was not enough for me. I wanted to do something intellectually more challenging from time to time and not only spend my time changing diapers and trying out new baby food recipes. Therefore, after fourteen months of being at home, I decided to gradually go back to my job as a programmer instead of taking three years of parental leave, which I had originally and euphorically applied for. My plan was to put my children into daycare for three afternoons a week and work ten hours per week.
After one month of settling into daycare and a long absence from my job, I was looking forward to my first day back at work. However, it turned out to be less spectacular than I had imagined. Reinstalling tools, checking out projects and getting my development environment running again. It felt good not having to talk about children, diapers, toddler groups and similar things for four hours a day. At 4:45 pm sharp I finished work to pick up the kids from daycare. The next day, my task was to search for a problem in an old project, which included going through log files, determining the data status via flashback queries, trying to reproduce bugs on the test system and debugging Java processes. Very quickly I was back at my old routine and very focused. A look at my watch told me that it was already past 5 pm. I dropped everything and rushed to the daycare center. The kids were already fully clothed. The staff was waiting to finally call it a day. Oops... I told myself that things like that just happen and it had only been my second day back at work. However, it kept happening to me. A meeting, that took longer than expected. A colleague, who wanted to know something quickly before I had to go. A critical bug that had to be fixed right away. Anyone without children can simply stay at work longer. I, however, had to gradually learn how to adjust and adhere to a strict deadline.
Slowly raising the bar
The combination of work and children was working out well. That is why, after six months, I decided to raise my weekly hours from ten to twelve and, after another six months, to even fifteen hours. I was fortunate that I had my kids enrolled for more daycare hours than work hours beforehand and that I had worked more hours than my planned working time. The built-up overtime came in very handy for holidays and sick leave. This way, it was not a problem when I sometimes had to pick up my kids from daycare earlier than planned or when I came in later for work.
Even though home office is a great alternative, I hardly make use of this opportunity. I personally value the direct contact to my colleagues and do not want to be home all the time. Until today, working from home only works well when the kids are asleep. On that note, I would like to share a little anecdote.
One time I had to perform a software update early in the morning. Usually this would not be a problem since the kids normally sleep until 7 am. But that day of all days they decided to wake up early. And, of course, the update did not work right away. While I was struggling with the build on my computer, my kids discovered the packaging of a new lamp for the children's room. The styrofoam in the box was like an invitation to make a mess. They tore it into pieces and slid them along the wall. After the software update, I therefore also had to fix the apartment and vacuum up the remaining styrofoam from the floors and walls. The clean-up work in the physical reality took up at least the same amount of time as the deployment and activation of the new software.
This context switch took some getting used to. Just to give you an example: I was busy carrying out a palletizing order on the test system. I had to create an XML file with the test order and import it via SOAP, generate a packing pattern, deposit a pallet with the item in the emulation, create empty pallets, insert the test data in the database. On top of that, I had to find out why the cartons could not be retrieved via remote debugging in Eclipse. I had just narrowed down the problem to a filter in the constituent stream when my telephone rang. It was daycare. Please pick up your son immediately. He has a fever. Within a three minute drive to the daycare center, I had to switch from [i]stream().filter()[/i] to caring mother and domestic crisis manager.
Back into the world
Little by little I realized what I had missed most about my job. It was the commissioning of the software on-site, directly at the customer's premises throughout the world. This is when I can finally view the result of the development stage of the software, when I can test the PLC and conveyor systems and see how the bins and pallets are being transported. Hence, I decided to talk to my team leader and tell him that I wanted to join the commissioning of the current project at the next opportunity. However, I could only do a maximum of three non-consecutive sessions of ten days each so that the kids would not have to be without their mother for too long at a time. And off I went. I had to organize the childcare with their dad and their two grandmothers, who worked out an exact schedule during my absence. I flew to Great Britain for commissioning, which involved fixing bugs, restructuring and completing workflows. And the kids enjoyed a long week of quality time with daddy and the grandmas. Even though everything went smoothly, it was a major transition for me to suddenly work ten instead of four hours a day again and to work even on a Saturday. However, the next challenge already waits around the corner. Because as the kids started school, we will have to readjust and reorganize everything in order to keep succeeding in all areas of life.
Valued employee and mother
When it comes to work, I only need my mind, laptop and a high-speed internet connection. If the circumstances allow it, work cannot only be fun, but also brings along ideal conditions for the compatibility of work and family. These include flexible working hours, home office, video calls and the possibility to take the children with you to work every once in a while. I am especially grateful to my understanding colleagues, who occasionally have to fill in for me when I have to leave work urgently. Only this way I have the necessary flexibility to juggle both worlds. Even in the challenging times of COVID-19 that we are all currently facing. I am very thankful to my superiors, who support me in every situation and who appreciate me as a valuable employee even though I only work part time.
About the author
Martina Baumer works for SSI SCHÄFER IT Solutions GmbH in Oberviechtach, Germany.
Since 2007 she has been a developer for warehouse logistics software with Java in various industry sectors. Her work priorities include the development of algorithms for storage strategies, warehouse reorganization and replenishment processes in highly complex logistics systems. Since January 2014 she has been a proud mother of twins.