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. The first features software engineer Art Gillespie.
I was a military kid so I grew up all over the world. My family and I currently live in Sunnyvale, California. I’m officially a “software engineer” but I think of myself as a “guy who builds stuff” — someone who learned programming out of necessity. For me it’s always about the problem I’m solving or the experience I’m building for people. Software engineering is a means to an end.
My amazing wife Jenn and I have two kids: a seven-year-old daughter and a three-year-old son.
How did you get started in tech?
I was ten. My dad was stationed in Salt Lake City that year and I was in the fifth grade at Wasatch Elementary. There was an Apple II in the school library that nobody seemed very interested in, but for me it was love at first sight. I “borrowed” all the manuals and taught myself programming. I remember writing what I considered a pretty convincing clone of Pac-Man. I’ve been in love with the challenge of getting computers to do my bidding ever since.
How has your career evolved since then?
I’m very fortunate to have worked at some incredible companies like Nest and Google and now Udacity, and there’s no doubt I’ve grown as an engineer and a leader, but ultimately my career is still about my fundamental love for making computers “do stuff.” These days, though, I try to put that love and those skills into the service of improving the lives of the largest number of people possible.
What does an ordinary day look like for you and your family?
There are no ordinary days! We homeschool our kids, so we have a ton of flexibility and every day is different than the one before it. Generally, though, I try to spend about an hour with the kids in the morning (both are great at helping me pull the perfect espresso shot) before I head in to the office and I make it a point to get home at least an hour before bedtime so I can help with music, math and science (and story time!).
Please don’t assume that we’re okay missing recitals or birthday parties or even bedtime because we’re dads.
Did you take time off work after having a baby?
I wanted a lot of flexibility when the kids were born so I could help out and just be there for all the great memories, so Jenn and I sold the company we had started together and I freelanced for about five years until my son was almost a year old. It wasn’t “time off” in the strictest sense, but the extreme work-at-home flexibility it afforded was critical during those first years of parenthood.
If so, what was it like to go back to work afterwards?
Returning to a regular tech job after five years of mostly work-at-home freelancing was an adjustment…
How do you balance your career and your family life? What’s hard, what’s not?
What’s easy is being home in the evenings and on the weekends. What’s hard is not replying to email or [hanging out] on Slack when you should be enjoying an afternoon at the park or a fun electronics experiment. Smartphones are great, but in a lot of ways they force you to have almost superhuman discipline when it comes to separating work and family.
What guides you when you’re making a decision that affects both your career and your family?
I love my career, but at the end of the day if there’s a decision that affects both my career and my family, we have a family meeting and sit down and talk it out. If there’s a conflict between career and family, family comes first, always. I’m fortunate to work at a Silicon Valley startup that supports this family-first philosophy. It makes hard choices far less frequent than they might otherwise be.
What do you wish people knew about working fathers?
Sometimes even the best-intentioned folks forget that dads care as much about ‘being there’ for their kids as moms do. Please don’t assume that we’re okay missing recitals or birthday parties or even bedtime because we’re dads.
Has being a parent affected your career advancement or opportunities? If so, how have you addressed that?
Nope. If I ever felt I was at a company where I had to choose between my family and my job or where my opportunities were impacted at all by being a parent, I’d find another job.
Where have you found support along the way?
Bourbon, mostly. 🙂
Smartphones are great, but in a lot of ways they force you to have almost superhuman discipline when it comes to separating work and family.
What’s surprised you about being a working father?
The most surprising thing is that it’s not as difficult as I imagined it would be.
What do your kids think about your career (if they’re old enough to let on!)?
My daughter is super-excited that I play a small part in helping teach people technical skills. She loves math and science and robots, and is hopeful that I can help her with her robotics engineering career even though I’m “just a software engineer”.
What makes it all worth it to you?
It’s the same things that make it worth it for any parent: those incandescent moments when your children are just miraculous — when they first walk, or ride a bike, or say something wholly original that makes you laugh, or write a “Flappy Birds” clone in the Scratch programming language like my daughter did.
What advice would you give to fathers considering a career in tech or to those in tech considering becoming fathers?
For fathers considering a career in tech, I imagine that the challenges that face fathers in this industry are the same as those that face fathers everywhere: put your phone down and be present for your kids.
For those already in tech considering becoming fathers, I’d say make sure your job (or your next job) fully supports parents. I think a flexible schedule is key here — can you go home at 6pm every night but get back online at 9pm after the kids are down if need be?
Thanks for sharing your story, Art! Stay posted for parts two and three of the fathers in tech series later this week.