[00:00:20] Kate Martin: Welcome to the apprenticeship.io podcast, where we gather the courageous leaders, the tech industry needs to talk about education, equity, job hunts, hiring in tech and you guessed it apprenticeships, whether you're considering a career switch to tech currently studying or working and leading in tech, we hope to show you stories, ideas, and tactics to inspire you and equip you to make the tech industry, and our future together, a more equitable place for all of us. Let's get to know today's guest.
[00:00:52] Kamrin Klauschie: Today's guest is Amelia Padua. Amelia became an Apprentice Software Engineer at Trunk Club after attending Dev Bootcamp in Chicago in 2014. When we last interviewed her, she was a Senior Software Engineer at Pixavo. Today, Amelia is a full-time pregnant mom and caregiver. Her daughter, Adelaide is four years old, attending remote preschool at home and Amelia is due to give birth to her second child in April. Amelia was born in Venezuela and comes from a very academic family. Her mom is Venezuelan and a Professor of Food Science and her dad is Mexican and a Professor of Computer Science. Both of her parents teach at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign. These days, Amelia is considering going back to school in Computer Science to make her dad so happy and proud.
[00:01:39] This episode was recorded in March of 2021.
[00:01:42] Welcome back to the podcast, Amelia.
[00:01:44] Amelia Padua: Thank you so much. Thank you for having me back.
[00:01:46] Kamrin Klauschie: I'm excited to catch up with you about all things, pandemic life. It's been a few years. What have been some of the highs and lows for you since our last conversation?
[00:01:57] Amelia Padua: There's so much that happens between work and at home.
[00:02:00] At work, I feel like one of the highs was definitely at Pixavo when I was able to take on a segment of the business and lead that on my own mostly. Of course I had support and help, but I was leading the B2B side of the business. I was the contact for our retail clients. Just a little background at Pixavo, it's a software for a personal stylist, basically to create assets and sell clothing to customers. We would sell that to retail companies. So if you go into a company like, say Nordstrom, you see a sign that says, do you need a personal shopper, call us or come see us. Then we would read the software to help those personal shoppers connect with clients. I was the one that I ended up being the point person for the technology team at the retail company to work with and to set up and do all the integrations with the company. That was great. It was scary at first, but it was really interesting to work on the skillset of not only how to code and figure out, balancing that. How can we make sure our software is generalized enough that we can use it for most customers and when does it make sense to customize something? Also working on a skill of just interacting with other people at other companies and working on setting up meetings, making sure you communicate clearly what Pixavo needed as a company, and what we needed from them. I'm sure everybody can relate to thinking you said something totally clearly, and then realizing that the other person on the other end heard something completely different. That was a great high point.
[00:03:23] The low point was coming to the decision that it was time to leave Pixavo was really tough. Had a really hard time with that, and figuring out when and how to do that was also hard. I didn't have any ideas of what to do next or whatever. I was really just heads down in my work there and what I was going to do there, and as things developed and changed, I was still trying to figure out what my place there would look like, but ultimately things changed enough that it turned out not to be a great fit for me, so I decided to make the decision to leave, and that was hard.
[00:03:50] Kamrin Klauschie: It sounds like it was a challenging but exciting role. What kicked off the shift for you of realizing that you needed to leave your full-time role?
[00:04:00] Amelia Padua: It was basically Pixavo was coming to a crossroads. We had two sides of the business, the B2B and B2C side, and we had gotten to the point where we had to choose which direction we were going to go and then with that direction, how do we go about accomplishing that?
[00:04:16] As decisions were being made, the path that the company was going down–basically the role that I would have had was not a role I had originally envisioned myself being part of. We were a really small team to begin with and in order to build quickly, the idea was to bring in a consultant company to help build. They had already a bunch of people hired to build out a big part of the platform to move quickly, which makes sense for a lot of companies. I ended up being the only engineer for a time there and my role was turning into, was going to be basically the middle person between a couple of different consulting companies, whereas I wanted to be part of a team that was designing and building the platform, so that's why I left.
[00:04:55] Kamrin Klauschie: Interesting. So it was that part of, it sounds like to me, a bit of a shift from what would otherwise be like a technical track versus a management track. It sounds like just due to the circumstances of the business and needing to build the platform very fast, but being resource constrained in terms of being able to hire in-house engineers. You ended up being in a more management position than what you had originally hoped for.
[00:05:23] Amelia Padua: Yeah, essentially. Exactly. So a product company that has a larger team, if you go down technical versus managerial, you're thinking more when it comes to managerial, you're managing engineers and heavily one-on-ones and helping them with their career and with team dynamics and things like that, and team decisions. Whereas with this, it was more coordinating than I think managing, more of alright, this task needs to get done. Did you get it done? At least that was my sense of it. If this would get done over here, can it get done over here and more like that? A project manager, I think, than like an engineering manager.
[00:05:54] Kamrin Klauschie: That makes sense. 'Cause you're not really directly in charge of people's full time, if they're not right for you. Exactly. That makes a lot of sense. How did you make that decision for yourself? When did you know it was time and then what did you do afterwards?
[00:06:10] Amelia Padua: It was tough and I probably should have come to the decision sooner, but I was really hoping to make the role fit somehow. But I think ultimately when we had found a consultant company that we're going to use and started to go down the track of that company, those engineers were already starting to build stuff. I was working on maintaining the old platform and, at that point, I couldn't envision my role moving forward then. As the consulting company got going and I could see the roles kind of diverging. I realized that I needed to get out at that point. What did I do at that point? I told them it was time to leave and my plan was to just take some time off and reassess what I wanted to do and what opportunities were out there. What's funny is, I said goodbye, and I was taking a little time off, the CEO of Pixavo asked if I could help out a little bit because since I had been the last engineer, they still needed help. They needed somebody to help maintain the old software, so I agreed to help them out for a few more months part-time as a contractor.
[00:07:12] Kamrin Klauschie: It's really cool that you essentially were able to negotiate something that worked better for you. What were some of the perks and drawbacks of flexible contract work for you?
[00:07:24] Amelia Padua: It's funny. There's things I love and I really don't like about it. So obviously it's great to have flexible hours, just working when you need to work. The nice thing about that particular job and the part-time hours there is that I wasn't really in any meetings. It was truly whenever I wanted to work. The only problem was that also, always on call, so whenever something broke, I was also the only engineer to fix it. You never really knew when something would pop up. Being the only engineer is definitely its own drawback, but it's great to work when you need to work because you can have your own life, especially if you have kids. It's great. The drawback for flexible hours is something I ran into in my last role because after Pixavo, I worked as a contractor for a different consulting company. I started off part-time, but it's tough, at least, or for me, coming from a very team-focused kind of background, there's not that same level of team work because I wasn't technically part of the team, it was just doing the work that they needed me to do. There was less of me coming up with my own ideas of ways to work together and ways to solve a problem. It was more of letting me take the homework assignment and go complete it and turn it in kind of thing.
[00:08:28] Kamrin Klauschie: I feel like that's the kind of thing you fantasize about as you become more comfortable and confident. Or I should say, I fantasize about, in imagining being more confident in my coding skills, that you can lift your head up and look at the horizon and say: what's coming next? Or how can I help others tackle problems they might have? Or basically just getting that comfort and confidence to be able to work on more than just the immediate next feature or that ongoing anxiety that you have just going from one pull request to another pull request. I totally can imagine that you would want the team, you'd want all the experience that comes with being able to look at that horizon and see the bigger picture.
[00:09:11] Amelia Padua: Absolutely. It's funny because I think there's still this stereotype, this perception that as engineers, we work very independent and the engineers personality is to want to be by themselves and just focus on the work, and there's definitely a lot of people like that, but I think better software comes out when you are able to also embrace the social side of coding, collaborating with other people to come up with ideas and to come up with better work processes so that the team can work better together. You could still just work on your pull request, but there's also a side of it that I enjoy just as much, which is the social aspect of it.
[00:09:45] Kamrin Klauschie: Absolutely. Are you willing to chat about some of the highs and lows on a personal front?
[00:09:50] Amelia Padua: Sure. I think I mentioned I have a kid, so definitely having my girl. I can't remember. I don't remember when we talked.
[00:09:56] Kamrin Klauschie: Yeah. We chatted in 2018. I think she was pretty small.
[00:09:59] Amelia Padua: So I had a kid then, but raising her is definitely one of the highs. It's the high I guess. Lows on the personal side, which I think pretty much any parents can attest to, is just sleep deprivation and how that really messes with your mind. So learning how to live with that is another skill.
[00:10:17] Kamrin Klauschie: Absolutely. You've also had to adjust to pandemic life with your daughter. I was so curious to try to understand what a remote preschool looks like? What do you have to do while she's on her school calls? I would love to be safely and healthfully inside of your house just seeing what that looks like. Nobody can. What are you experiencing day to day?
[00:10:39] Amelia Padua: So funny. I saw a tweet, a mom saying, "I've become a professional muter and unmuter for my child," and that's essentially what it is. With Adelaide, we're fortunate to have a virtual option, but they also have the in-person option and the majority of the kids actually go in to school and there's a handful that opted to stay home. I'm sure the kids in school, it looks funny to have a little screen of a bunch of the other kids' heads, but for us, we have a few classes that we call into on this video conference call. The teachers are actually really great at her school at teaching their lesson, calling on the kids that are at home to make sure that they're engaged. I just sit and make sure that she's engaged. We'll talk a little bit while the teachers doing something else. It's just a matter of managing, like just try and keep her engaged with the lesson, which can be hard for a three or four year old that is trying to absorb something through a screen that is not necessarily fully focused on her the whole time. So it's just a matter of managing engagement. For our school, they give us activities that we can do every day and so when you complete an activity, you upload pictures of what you did that day for this teacher to see. If you're fortunate enough to have the time and space to give your child your full focus to guide her through school and stuff, it's not too bad. The real difficulty would come in trying to work and do that at the same time, I have no idea how anybody is able to manage that, especially for somebody at Addie's age, it would be incredibly difficult.
[00:12:04] Kamrin Klauschie: I can imagine. Essentially what I hear you saying is you are watching her in real life and no one else can do that. She has to say safe. She has to operate an electronic device that is not designed for three-year-olds and you have to keep, you know, that real life situation on lock. And you're also paying someone on the other side to teach her. I assume she's doing things like numbers and colors and all of the joyful things that are preschool. You're essentially trying to get someone to help her learn those things for a few hours during the day.
[00:12:39] Amelia Padua: It's funny because learning, like numbers and counting and whatever, happens definitely more so offline when it's one-on-one time, when it's just me and Adelaide doing an activity or whatever they assigned for the day. She definitely learned some things through the live sessions, but I don't know if we didn't do things offline, I don't know how much she would be able to absorb and progress without the offline attention that she also gets.
[00:13:02] Kamrin Klauschie: Makes sense, like learning is tactile. So much of learning is social. Oh my God.
[00:13:07] Amelia Padua: Absolutely. I'm sure everybody appreciates teachers 10 times more after this pandemic, realizing how much they have to do, and then figuring out how to do that at home without the professional background, without the social aspect of the other kids. A new skill to add to life.
[00:13:22] Kamrin Klauschie: Absolutely. What are some of the things you wish people knew that maybe they're not as sensitive or attuned to if they don't have kids? Is there anything that really pops out for you the difference between someone who has young kids versus someone who doesn't?
[00:13:39] Amelia Padua: Before I had Adelaide when I was working, it's not that I would work 24/7 all the time, but if I was working out a problem during the day and I just couldn't figure it out, I would come home and do something else, watch TV. Oftentimes I would have the problem mulling around in the back of my brain and at eight or nine o'clock at night, I'd be like, "Oh, maybe I should try this," and I had to hop on my computer and try something new or try something different. Sometimes figure out the problem, and then have it done by the next day.
[00:14:04] And with the kid, you don't have that time. When you're at work, you're at work and you're trying to get as much done as you can, but when you're at home, my main focus is my family and like trying to manage like a dinner bedtime, all that stuff. And then even if I thought I might have an idea to solve a problem, I am so exhausted by the end of the day. I just try to crawl into bed before I pass out on the floor. I just don't have the mental capacity to finish problem solving at the end of the day.
[00:14:32] Something that I try to tell people when I work with them is that when something comes up during off hours and that needs my help or something, for whatever reason, I am more than happy to help once I get my kid into a safe location, but I oftentimes need some help jogging my memory. Not that I forget everything, but it's not at the top of my mind. Sometimes I feel like I sound crazy 'cause I'm like, "wait, what is this?" And the other person's "what do you mean? We spent all day working on this today". It's just because I need a minute to get my brain back into gear and pull up basically my brain files related to what's going on.
[00:15:04] Kamrin Klauschie: It sounds like a lot of context switching and keeping track of detail. As someone who has recently started career coaching college students, the assumption I see is, "Oh, you work all hours of the day at night. If I ping you at any time, I am entitled to your time and entitled to your full attention," and essentially what I hear you saying is that's a luxury. That is something that is afforded to you, maybe at certain points in your life, but we shouldn't expect it from each other. A lot of people in various types of caregiving roles, due to the pandemic, are really dealing with tough stuff at home and having to adjust to a lot of changes. We have to be more patient and graceful with each other about the fact that what you're doing is heroic. You have become basically a preschool teacher by circumstance, so I certainly am just in awe and amazed.
[00:15:59] Amelia Padua: Thank you. I'm fortunate to be in a position where we have a ton of support. For us, it's not bad compared to people who don't have the support. I just have no clue how they're hanging on because even for somebody with as much support as I'm able to have, it's still tough. It's a whole new world that I hope goes away soon.
[00:16:18] Kamrin Klauschie: Amen. Not to get too political about it, but I was a supporter of universal preschool before this. Early childhood development is so important and it feels even more important now. So does universal childcare. If we want to have a functioning, healthy society, we've got to take care of people. We have to get things back in order. It just, it's so much. What do you wish employers were better about when it comes to working and raising young kids? Are there perks and benefits now that mean the most to you that maybe changed over time?
[00:16:53] Amelia Padua: So I've actually been pretty fortunate to have worked in places that have been pretty empathetic to engineers with kids. One of the perks that is great to have is the ability to work from home when you need to. If there's days where you take your kid to a doctor's appointment and it's probably easier to just work from home the rest of the day or whatever, instead of fitting in the commute time. And also being able to take time off even just to say I need a mental break, I need this Friday off just to decompress from whatever thing going on is also super helpful.
[00:17:23] Aside from like official perks and benefits, just having the team culture, being, understanding towards people who have kids is also super helpful just because, especially if you're on a team with other people that already have kids, I can definitely tell a difference, because there's an understanding of "sorry, my kid's sick. I just had to give them some medicine," I'm like, "Oh yeah that's a tough job, that it must have taken 20 minutes," or whatever just get a little bit of medicine in your kid's mouth. You can relate, you understand that there's a person who might need a minute to calm down from one stress to switch over to the next thing. So it's more like the perks are great, but I think there's just a team culture of understanding and having empathy for that context, which is super important. Helpful.
[00:18:02] Kamrin Klauschie: Yeah, totally. I grew up in a household where my mom was a primary caregiver for my grandfather growing up and so he was my sibling to a certain degree because he had gotten in a really bad accident where he lost his short-term memory and couldn't even speak anymore when I was one year old. My mom basically rehabilitated my grandfather and also raised me from the age of one year old.
[00:18:27] For me, it's always been very present, what caregiving means because there was a human being who hums and has his routines in my house who is not just a sibling. There's this very clear delineation between the different types of caregiving also, because the things my mom was doing for me were very different from the things she was doing for him, although there's also a lot of similarities like she had to help him learn how to speak again. I can totally empathize with the idea that if you don't have a culture where people understand or know intimately, the way that you live or the way that your life works, it just feels very alienating and isolating.
[00:19:08] I've had to reflect recently on my mom's experience because I'm now at the same age my mom was when I was born. It's just sometimes I'm in awe of just "Wow, I can't believe that she was able to handle all of that," and then on the other hand, it's of course she didn't work, like it's so much work put on to a person. When you bring it to life with personal stories and make it more clear how it works and that it's not just "Oh, I don't care about my work," it's no, I care about my work and I also care about two human beings who depend on me for their day to day functioning. Like it has a different... it hits different, shall we say? At work, especially, when folks just default to that discrimination against caregiving, it's really hard. It's really hard to not be valued and to not see that work as extremely important and crucial. It's something that hits home for me a lot.
[00:20:02] Amelia Padua: I'm sorry, your family had to go through that and your mom sounds incredibly strong and amazing for having pushed through. You do what you have to do to survive, but it sounds like she did an amazing job on top of that. I would perhaps cross to her. That's incredible.
[00:20:15] It's so funny to think of. My mom also had kids in her early teens, 20 then, like I'm not in my early twenties. Just thinking about what our moms, the generation before went through and what they had to deal with or decide between is also different.
[00:20:26] What's interesting about what's come up with the pandemic, if you were fortunate enough to be able to work from home with other team members that also work from home, I feel like people have started to see more of a person's family life through those types of meetings.
[00:20:38] It's been more accepted, more acceptable to have your kid, even sit on your lap during a meeting. I feel like that's also highlighted some of the home life that people have to go through.
[00:20:47] Kamrin Klauschie: I totally agree. Or even just the idea that if I shower in the morning, my hair will be wet on a call. It definitely has brought up the double standard of what's acceptable attire or acceptable presentation for a woman versus acceptable presentation for a man because I still feel a lot of guilt and of course I'm not putting on makeup right now.
[00:21:06] And also like, why did I ever do my hair to begin with? I just saw a lot of like, why did I wear jeans while commuting for hours? Like never again. Totally. I'm just me being silly, but what's the coolest thing that your daughter has done recently? Coolest can be however you define it.
[00:21:23] Amelia Padua: Gosh, what to choose from. She's been really into inventing things, more engineering kind of stuff at school recently. She invented her own chocolate dispenser at home, which was basically a Kleenex box attached to a hanger with a string attached to it so that you could just pull on it and chocolate would pour out into her hands, which she finds very exciting.
[00:21:43] The coolest thing has been, we were reading this book called the National Geographic, like My First Book of Why, and we were reading, you learn like why do I have a belly button? They go through and try to answer it in an age appropriate way. Then she started asking her own questions, which so we should have her own questions, our own why questions? Yeah that's a great idea, and we can look up the answers for all your questions. And she said, "Yeah, then we can make our own book and give them to other people who don't have the answers." That's a great idea. She got really excited about putting together this book and asking a ton of different why questions and wanting to research it, which just blew me away. That's the coolest thing she's, we've been doing recently.
[00:22:17] Kamrin Klauschie: Basically, your daughter is dreaming of being an author and writing books in preschool. I love it. This is why we need kids because they dream and do stuff. So cool.
[00:22:28] Amelia Padua: Yeah, let's just do it. Let's just go ahead and start doing it, Mom.. "I'm like, okay. Yeah, sure." I'm more of the type of person who would be like, thinking about do I, should I do this the right question? And she's no, just let's just do it. Write down this question, write down this question. I'm like, okay, cool. She does more in half an hour than I do in three days.
[00:22:42] Kamrin Klauschie: That's amazing. And I know that this is a bit off for you in terms of the future, but how are you thinking about returning to the workforce? How are you figuring out how to navigate that? Who or what is helping you navigate this part of your life? For me, I think at the age I'm at now, it feels I didn't imagine more, and so it's hard to think about who or what would help in such a situation navigating your career. Once you get, past senior level, having kids like we talked about the generational divide, for me, I don't talk about this kind of stuff with family. I'm curious how you're thinking about returning to work and then how you're navigating it, whether that's resources, people, how you're doing it?
[00:23:26] Amelia Padua: Great question, and the TLDR is I don't know yet, but I'm fortunate enough to have a lot of support in my life. During the career that I've had so far I've met some great people and a couple of which I've turned into mentors that I've kept close relationships with. One has a couple of kids, so has, understands the background of it.
[00:23:42] The other mentor is the kind of person that pushes me to do things that I am social. I cannot do it yet. No, that's a bad idea. I'm not ready for that. He's always no, you totally can do this. Just go for it. So I have a couple of mentors that are still in the industry still working. That helped me a lot.
[00:23:58] I also have the incredible support of my husband, who's also a software engineer, who's been in the business for 20 years now and obviously he understands where we're all coming from very well. He's super supportive of everything that I do and then I have my dad who is a professor of computer science. He's pushing, he really thinks this is a great time for me to go back to school and get my Bachelor's in Computer Science. I will definitely be considering going back to school. I will at least give that a full consideration for my dad's sake.
[00:24:26] But also, as I think about going back to interviewing again and going back to work, I will definitely want to brush up on things to start. I have my own projects for a little bit to try to brush up on my own skills. I'm not just going into an interview totally cold.
[00:24:38] Kamrin Klauschie: Awesome. I love it. Do you have any final words of wisdom or advice for the aspiring senior software engineer mamas out there?
[00:24:48] Amelia Padua: Oh, that's a great question. It's funny because I see senior engineers, I still don't consider myself a senior engineer, even though I think that's what I am on paper. The advice I've often given is that you might not feel like you're ready for this next role or for this next thing, but you should go forward anyway, because there are a lot of people who are definitely not qualified for it, and many of them will get the job anyway.
[00:25:10] If you're not getting rejected, at least part of the time, you're not shooting high enough. This is advice I've been given that is really hard for me to do. But something I'm working on.
[00:25:19] Kamrin Klauschie: Thank you so much, Amelia, this has been super inspiring and I love learning about preschool.
[00:25:26] Amelia Padua: Thank you so much for having me. I always love talking to you every time, so I'm happy to chat whenever.
[00:25:31] Kate Martin: Thanks so much for listening to this episode of the apprenticeship.io podcast. You can learn more about apprenticeships and find us online at www.apprenticeship.io. Don't forget to follow us on Spotify, and subscribe on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. Want to get a shout out on the podcast or support our work?
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