I started my career as a data analyst. Being an Indian and from a conservative middle class family, my parents married me earlier. I relocated to my husband’s town in South India and gave up my job. I became a mother in two years and my career break just extended. I did not have a strong support system to help me bring up my child and as many Indians would agree, day care facilities in India even in urban cities is not up to the mark for a young child. I finally started working when my daughter was 1.5 years old. Finding a job was very difficult as Indian employers somehow consider women with career breaks an excuse to bargain hard for a decent job profile and salary. Also, long working hours is a norm in tech industry as sadly most of the Indian tech industry is outsourcing, add to it the extremely cumbersome daily commute in a busy city like Mumbai.
It has been 7 years since I restarted and although the journey till now has been a difficult one, I am doing well in my career. I am working on the latest technologies in data analytics and data science and if I go by the feedback from my clients and team members, I know my job well. Women in tech is not an easy role, hope that below pointers from my experience will make this journey easy for women like me who too plan to restart :
1. Take a full credit course from a reputed institute:
When you are planning to restart your career in analytics/data science, remember this field is already crowded. And recently, it appears everybody is talking about data science as if data was never consumed by companies before. You have to understand that although you may be in your late twenties or early thirties you will be competing for the same job with a fresher who may be great at coding Python, Scala, R etc.
These young freshers will always have an added advantage of age and time which they will spend in taking multiple online courses from Udemy, Coursera, Edureka etc.
You on the other hand will be juggling work and office. My advice would be to do a full credit course to gain an advantage. There are many universities which are offering Maters in Data Science in collaboration with Industry Leaders. I did my M.Tech from BITS Pilani with a major in Analytics and believe me no online course can bring concept clarity as a full credit course.
An added degree on your resume may not still lead you to your dream job, but new concepts on ever evolving technologies will certainly give you a confidence boost in your interviews. Also, during your break if you feel you have lost touch with like minded people who share the same passion, you will get a chance to interact with your classmates who can help you with better networking also.
2. Continue getting certified:
Another thing which will help your resume shine, is to get Industry certified. While a added degree will improve your skills, adding badges and certifications to your Linkedin page will improve the chances of your profile being shortlisted by potential recruiters.
A certification of some data science course from say Coursera might not be as well regarded as taking up a Industry certified course like AWS or Azure off course depending on your profile in the Analytics domain.
3. Write blogs, participate in hackathons and build your profile –
Although the above point is particularly important, I myself have not been able to keep up with it. These days, a good tech recruiter will not be interested in reading your two-page resume, rather he wants to look at your projects on Git hub. Writing technical blogs on say Medium, getting it published in a good data science publication, scoring on the leaderboard of well-regarded hackathons like Kaggle and taking up pet projects on Git hub, solidifies your position as a data scientist.
Having said that, I know and empathize with women like us who barely have any time at hands after a full-time job and growing up kids. A workaround may be is, not to be too ambitious about it in the beginning. Start slow, create a profile on Medium, on Git hub but plan to work on say one technical blog in three months and so on. Slowly, as your kids grow you will have time to build your profile.
4. Choose a domain and build your expertise around it:
In data analytics, domain understanding plays an important part, as better understanding of domain leads to better understanding of data at hand. In short, technical expertise and domain knowledge will help you reach to your dream job faster.
There are many fields where domain understanding becomes critical like Banking, Healthcare, Life Sciences, Pharma etc. This may be an area where you may have an edge in terms of age and experience. Stick to your domain where you worked before taking a break or if you want to change your domain, feel free to do it and then build your knowledge around that domain for a long time.
5. Starting small is perfectly okay:
You may not land up at your desired role/company in the first go after a break. This off course does not apply to the lucky few who are on long sabbatical and are confident that they will start from where they left.
It is totally okay to start small, even if that means to settle for an underpaying job or not so interesting profile. As long as you are working on your desired technologies or roles which interest you, rest will fall in place as time passes.
I faced similar situation when my child was just 1.5 years old and I wanted a lot of flexibility at work place. I worked as Tech Manager in a not for profit for good 5 years where I was responsible to build entire on-premise data warehouse and establish a Business Intelligence stack from scratch. It was no where close to working on data volumes that I am currently working on, but it was something. It kept me in the business, and I learnt R programming there while working on Research projects simultaneously. Also, my personal time was taken care off, and today when I look back, I feel I would be in a better paying job had I not worked in a non-profit, but I am truly satisfied that I got to spend so much time with my little one and was there always for her.
6. Network with people who will in long run will not hesitate to refer you:
Again, though I think this point is extremely important, I am not incredibly good at networking. Reason, I am an introvert and I find it difficult to reach out to people for references. However, I am working towards it, and although I am not good with networking with people on social media, I have very good relationships with people whom I have worked on one or the other projects. So, if you are also like me and find difficult to network with people in conferences, bootcamps, workshops etc., let your work and work ethics speak for itself. Believe me, it also goes a long way in building relationships, and people do remember someone with strong concepts and professionalism.
I have been referred by people who are quite senior to me. They have remembered me months after I requested them to refer me and have gone out of the way to mentor me. I joined groups like ‘Women in data Science’, ‘Women who code’, ‘Rladies’ etc. You too can look out for such groups where women do help each other in finding the right opportunity.
7. Build your credibility by showcasing your soft skills as well:
This point is quite an underrated one but trust me after a stage in your career it is all about people skill. Work ethics and professionalism is also an area where experienced professionals like us have an edge over the young crowd. Your team leads and managers will expect more from you in this area. Where project delivery is concerned it is okay if you are not ace at some technology, till you display qualities like ownership of project, timely delivery, and good client communication.
Any new tech stack that your company wants to take up will go through the cycle of thorough R&D, POC, building a prototype,cost approvals, and if all goes well, production development. At each of these steps, there will be interactions at all levels which requires negotiation, discussion and at times disagreements. There will be teams who would be doing the same job with no or some automation. It is not easy to tell people you are doing it all wrong and changes in processes, technologies often bring insecurities in people. This is where your interpersonal skills are crucial and if by negotiating your way you can make your boss’s life easy, nothing like that. After all, no break in your career can take that skill away from you.
8. Work guilt free:
Finally ladies, work guilt free. You took a break for something important in your life, may or may not be important to others, but important for you and your family. Your career however crucial, is not your whole life, it is just a part of your life. So, no matter how insensitive employers are during interviews, no matter how snobbishly the HR staff treated you in some HR round, never feel apologetic for your breaks.
We women are always on a guilt ride, guilty because cannot extend office hours or guilty because no matter how hard we try we miss some play dates, birthday parties, PTA meetings. And there are people who thrive on your vulnerability, they may be someone at your workplace or at home. But you also meet people in your journey who support you, value you also mentor you. Be optimistic that even if things are moving slow for you right now, they will pick up pace soon.
LinkedIn is planning to add ‘stay-at-home mom’ and other job titles to enable parents and caretakers to describe their gaps in employment more accurately. Many companies are working towards gender inclusiveness and welcoming women to resume work after breaks.
Hope this blog will give you some useful pointers too. All the best to all my fellow analysts!!
Happy to receive your responses and feedback. Connect with me on Linkedin!!
Blog by Ruchi Deshpande