There’s so much buzz around whether women can have it all, but hardly anyone’s talking about what it’s like for fathers to balance their family and career. Let’s start! In recognition of Father’s Day this coming Sunday, we talked to three Udacity fathers about their experience as working fathers in tech. Today’s post features Program Manager Jason Barros.
I am from California, born and raised in the Bay Area. After high school, I joined the United States Marine Corps. After the military, I went to college at UC Santa Cruz. I currently live in Gilroy with my four kids, with one more on the way in October.
How did you get started in tech?
I was working in education (I’m formerly a teacher and academic advisor) and got to the point where I could not afford to support my family. I started looking for jobs (any jobs) in tech.
I found an entry level position with a small company that was contracted to build a team of engineers for a Lockheed Martin communication project. During my tenure, I started to build a network of people in the Valley, which eventually led to my first startup opportunity. I joined edtech company Edmodo as employee number five. I helped build the company from a small handful of users to just over 36 million.
How has your career evolved since then?
I have been pretty fortunate. It has been nearly ten years since I started at that first tech company and I have been exposed to nearly every facet of tech startups (engineering, product management, customer support, people operations, business development, marketing and even a voiceover for a promo video). I went from building a small team of network and software engineers (first company) to building a company (Edmodo) to building a program (Georgia Tech’s Online Master of Science in Computer Science) that educates engineers all over the world.
I wish every industry was as flexible and willing to do support folks in finding a work/ life balance like what I have experienced in tech.
What does an ordinary day look like for you and your family?
On weekdays, my wife and girls get up first, at approximately 5:45 in the morning. My son and I usually follow around 6:30. I take my eldest daughter and her friends to high school (for zero period) at 7 am. Then, I come back home and take my other daughter to middle school by 7:30 am. By the time I make it back home, my wife and son are walking out the door for work and preschool.
I start checking email and begin my Atlanta meetings. Depending on the day, I usually leave the house, after my meeting around 10:30 and head into the office (90 minutes away). I usually leave work around 5 or 5:30pm and head home. I usually get in around 6:45 or 7:00 pm just after the kids finish dinner. I get about an hour with the kids before they head off to bed. After bedtime, I eat dinner, relax with my wife. I may check email and work for a little bit before heading to bed around 11 pm or midnight.
Did you take time off work after having a baby?
At Edmodo, I did take off a “couple of weeks.” It was really a week off and a week of “I am just gonna check this real quick.” This time, when my daughter is born in October, I plan to take off at least two weeks.
If so, what was it like to go back to work afterwards?
At my last job it was difficult. At the time the company was still very small and I was wearing about five different hats. There were some things I had planned for other folks to look after while I was gone, but there were still some other things that didn’t get addressed until I got back.
That made coming back pretty difficult. I needed to get caught back up while trying to stay on top of my daily workload, all while raising a newborn baby. I got very little sleep during that period as I was essentially co-parenting two babies: my son and Edmodo. This time, I plan to delegate a lot more and try to actually unplug for the entire time I am gone. We’ll see how successful I really am.
How do you balance your career and your family life? What’s hard, what’s not?
Learn from past experiences, take it a day at a time and get lots of support from my wife and family. The hard thing in the past was blurring the lines between work life and home life. Since I work in tech, it is easy for me to work from home. But that also comes with a cost, because it’s easy for me to jump on the computer and start working any time of the day or night.
I am slowly, and begrudgingly, coming to the realization that I am not 22 years old anymore. I look in the mirror lately and see I am a man, husband, and father with responsibilities. It’s super weird.
Since joining Udacity, I am trying to make more of an effort to have a clear line between “work time” and “family time”, something that is truly supported here at Udacity. Udacity seems to make a real effort in helping us find that work/life balance.
In the past, it was not unusual for me to be 30 minutes late to dinner on a Saturday night because I had to do “just one more thing for work.” (the dinner table is literally the next room from my desk at home). Another reason for making a work time and family time distinction, since joining Udacity, is that I travel way more now than I used to. I fly to Georgia Tech about every six weeks. When I do, the responsibility of the kids and our home falls on my wife, who also works full-time.
What guides you when you’re making a decision that affects both your career and your family?
I try to to be as logical as I can and I try to put family first. Sometimes this is difficult because the very reason I work is to support my family. I also have to do something that matters, I can’t work for a company just because they have the latest and greatest widget. There needs to be an altruistic component to my career, otherwise I couldn’t justify to myself spending time away from my family.
What do you wish people knew about working fathers?
Hmm… good question. I guess, for me, I would want people to know that I do enjoy the “after hours” events and though I usually don’t participate, it’s not because I am anti-social but because I miss my family. There always seems to be the tradeoff: have a beer with co-workers or see my kids before bedtime.
Has being a parent affected your career advancement or opportunities? If so, how have you addressed that?
In the past, I have been willing to trade advancement for flexibility in my schedule. I have also not pursued positions because of the amount of work it would require to be successful in that position. This has been insanely difficult at times because I enjoy a challenge.
Where have you found support along the way?
Family. My wife has been extremely supportive. I can’t lie, it really helps she has a master’s degree in social work. So, I get a personal therapist to unload on when times get rough. There have also been people I have worked with that have been extremely supportive and trusting in the things I try to do.
If you’ve worked in any other industries, how does tech compare for working parents?
I wish every industry was as flexible and willing to do support folks in finding a work/ life balance like what I have experienced in tech. Just being able to work from home when one of the kids are sick, having the flexibility to attend school events, or to bring my kids to work with me just because has been invaluable to me.
If you’ve worked at companies of varying sizes, how does working for a startup compare to working at a larger, more established company?
I haven’t really worked for any large established company, but I have worked for a few different universities and I can say without a doubt I much prefer working for a startup. From my perspective, there is more of a challenge and a willingness to experiment and iterate.
Startups tend to be much more flexible and are much leaner, both in terms of management and technical bloat. Just prior to joining Udacity, I was offered a position at a very large education corporation. The pay was great but the reason I ended up turning it down was the lack of challenge and a seemingly depressed working environment. Their office was all cubicles and the paint on the wall was a really old and dull gray. Comparatively, when I walked into Udacity for the first time, it was bright, open, and fun.
What’s surprised you about being a working father?
The fact I am a working father. I am slowly, and begrudgingly, coming to the realization that I am not 22 years old anymore. I look in the mirror lately and see I am a man, husband, and father with responsibilities. It’s super weird.
What do your kids think about your career (if they’re old enough to let on!)?
They think it’s super cool I work in tech. But what has stood out the most is that when they come to work with me, it is ALWAYS about the free snacks and treats they get to enjoy.
What makes it all worth it to you?
Seeing my family happy. Watching my kids grow up to be smart, healthy, and independent. Being able to work in an industry that has supported my efforts to not only provide for my family but also has allowed me the time to be a part of their lives. I recognize that not everyone is that fortunate.
What advice would you give to fathers considering a career in tech or to those in tech considering becoming fathers?
Do it! If you have the opportunity to get into tech, do it! It’s challenging, it’s enlightening, it’s frustrating, it’s flexible, and a lot of times it’s fun. You don’t have to trade flexibility for opportunity… flexibility is built in.
Are there any questions I didn’t ask that you wish I had?
“What, if anything, has prepared you to be successful in tech?” For me it is the leadership experience I received from my time in the Marine Corps. I know I would not be nearly as successful as I have been without my experiences in the military.
Thanks for answering my questions, Jason! Stay posted for part three of the fathers in tech series later this week. If you missed the first post, you can read it here.