Blog Uncategorized Udacity Dads: User Research Manager Steven Johnson

Udacity Dads: User Research Manager Steven Johnson

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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 User Research Manager Steven Johnson.

steven_johnsonTell me about yourself. Where are you from? What do you do? How many kids do you have?

I am a Bay Area native, born and raised! I am currently the User Research Manager for Udacity. My duties include researching the student experience and identifying areas where we can improve. I have one 6-year old-first grader named Brandon (code name: Mr. B). My commute to and from work is around four hours (my longest ever was seven hours!) because I drive about 75 miles to the office on traffic congested freeways.

How did you get started in tech?

This is actually my first experience working in the tech field. I heard about Udacity from a friend who, at the time, was working on one of the courses. I had always thought about working in the tech industry but didn’t know where I would fit given that my background was helping run a statistics lab. It turns out that tech companies don’t just need computer programmers!

How has your career evolved since then?

Even though this is my first go at employment in the tech industry I can honestly say that I can see my future evolving to a place I would have never imagined. I work with and learn from amazing people. Given that the company is a startup, I feel like every day is a new adventure and that my future career can only benefit from working with such talented and passionate people.

What does an ordinary day look like for you and your family?

It is usually dark when I wake up or the sun is just rising. I get ready, get the boy ready, and send him off to school. I work remotely or make the two-hour trek to the office and get work done. My family picks my kid up from school and makes sure he does his required activities.

Around dinner time, I weave my way back home through Bay Area traffic until I arrive at the place I call home. First thing I do: give the big man a hug! I ask him how his day went and listen to all the new things he has learned, the playground events, and how his swimming flip-turn is coming along. I listen to him while he practices his piano pieces after which I tuck him into bed. I’ll try to get an evening workout in, and then I check my work email for the final time. Then, I get ready for my nighttime slumber but before I do, I check to make sure he is sound asleep. Sometimes he is not and I’ll just lay with him for a while until he does. Finally, I go to sleep.

Wake up, repeat.

Did you take time off work after having a baby?

I didn’t take any time off from working after having a child. For me, it seemed like working and creating financial stability was priority number one along with protecting and raising a well-rounded happy baby into young man.

How do you balance your career and your family life? What’s hard, what’s not?

The hardest thing is finding enough time. The days are definitely not long enough, and the sun seems to set much too quickly. Managing time to be a good employee and a good parent/family member is the key to being successful at both.

I think the best course of action would be to inform employers of any situations where being an active parent may affect the timeline of certain projects.

Once you devise some sort of strategy, the balance becomes much easier. For me, I tend to do most of my work during the day and spend time with my family during the evenings and weekends. For projects that are urgent or for family events that are urgent, I will make time, even if that means sacrificing sleep.

What guides you when you’re making a decision that affects both your career and your family?

There are often times on the weekend or outside of normal business hours that I have to make the decision whether or not to choose work over time with my child. As long as the work assignment is not an emergency and can wait, I feel like my family is priority. I also feel like spending time with my child constantly reminds me of why I do the things I do. It’s good to take your mind off work for a little R&R with the family. It’s a way to stay sane and keep the brain fresh.

What do you wish people knew about working fathers?

You can do it. On the outside looking in, being a working parent does seem like a daunting task — and it is. However, in my experience, all things worthwhile are difficult, but difficult in the most rewarding way.

By trying to be the best father and the best employee I can be, I can set great examples that I hope resonate with my child for the entirety of his life.

Has being a parent affected your career advancement or opportunities? If so, how have you addressed that?

In my experience, being a parent has not really affected any opportunities that I might have had to advance, but I can imagine that it may be the case for some people. I think the best course of action would be to inform employers of any situations where being an active parent may affect the timeline of certain projects. In my experience, informing those around you at the workplace of things that come up has worked well. For the most part, people do understand.

Where have you found support along the way?

My family and my colleagues. I am fortunate enough to have family to support my child when I am not there and awesome colleagues that understand there are times when I will need to be gone so I can be there for my child.

If you’ve worked in any other industries, how does tech compare for working parents?

In my experience, other industries are more of a 9 to 5-ish experience, whereas the tech industry could have you working on a spur of the moment project well into the next morning. This can, at times, affect the routine or activities planned with family but it is always rewarding. It can be challenging managing time to work on projects because they often require extra time, but it is totally worth it.

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 feel like working at a startup brings more excitement than working at an established company. With a big company, many of the processes are already set, whereas the startup life allows you to help build the foundation for future processes. You get to be at the forefront of something new that is challenging and allows you to bring your creative mind to the table. The environment at a startup is filled with energetic people that have the mindset of “I get to be here” rather than “I have to.” It is awesome!

What’s surprised you about being a working father?

How quickly the days go by. Being a working parent means that you are always busy. At the end of the day, I often find myself wondering where all the time went.

What do your kids think about your career (if they’re old enough to let on!)?

My child knows that I work in online education. He thinks that what I do is really cool but is not yet at the age where he understands my day-to-day activities.

What makes it all worth it to you?

The moments. The times where I see him learning and discovering the world around him. There are moments that to the average person don’t seem like much, but will absolutely melt a parent’s heart. The first step, the transition from baby-talk to formal language. The first day of school where your child looks at you, nervous about being left with all these new strangers, and you do your best to return a look of absolute reassurance — only to realize that a moment later he finds a new friend who brings him joy and removes all of of his apprehension. It leaves you feeling, for a moment, sad that your kid doesn’t need you, but it’s immediately followed by reassurance and pride that you raised a child that is going to be just fine without you.

The hugs. I can come home after one of those days that leaves you feeling like you need a reset button and when I see him and give him a great big hug, all of that goes away. In a way, I know that my child finds a sense of security when I give him a great big hug, but for me, the hugs I give him make me feel complete.

There is nothing better!

What advice would you give to fathers considering a career in tech or to those in tech considering becoming fathers?

Sleep while you can! Seriously, sleep while you can. If you are currently childless, you can probably lay down and take a nap or go to sleep whenever you please. Imagine laying down trying to take your usual nap or to get some rest so you can feel refreshed and thrive at all the things you do, only to have a little mini-you barge in and inform you that the Cheerios that once had a nice, safe home in the cereal bowl are now on the floor, or how their paint project went awesome and when you get up to see their accomplishments, you are left in wonder over how the paint managed to get everywhere but the intended target.

On the outside looking in, being a working parent does seem like a daunting task — and it is. However, in my experience, all things worthwhile are difficult, but difficult in the most rewarding way.

Watch your feet! Kids have toys, all over. You are not used to this. You will step on, kick, and stub your toes on a great many things throughout the course of fatherhood, and this will bring you much pain and frustration. Bring your eyesight and agility A-game to the table. You will need it.

The television will no longer be yours. On the weekends, you will probably find yourself watching the same G-rated movie that you did the past ten weekends. You will know these movies by heart and sit in awe each time your child watches it like it is the first time they’ve seen it.

It is the best thing, in my opinion, that can happen to a person. Despite all the changes and all the fears, being a parent will bring you a type of joy you have never felt before. There is nothing that can compare with watching your child grow and experience the moments that you will.

You will be great! It’s normal to wonder how you will do as a parent, but you’ve got this. It’s hard and you will be tired, but you will perform at the highest level, pushing all your faculties to the limit. You will do the best you can at all times, and go to sleep knowing you have done so.

Thanks for sharing your story, Steven! It was a great conclusion to our fathers in tech series. If you missed the first two posts, be sure to check out Art and Jason’s stories.

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