Moms in tech: Tales and tips from the IT trenches

Mothers who work in technology share their best stories of work + children collisions -- and their go-to gadgets and apps for balancing the two

Computerworld: Tech Moms 2015 [cover]
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Life is a balancing act

Dr. Seuss may not have been the first to recognize that life is a great balancing act, but he was the one who paired it with the admonition to "step with care and great tact."

That advice is no doubt familiar to many parents who juggle work and child-rearing -- but nobody ever said they couldn't get an assist from technology. To celebrate Mother's Day, Computerworld asked eight moms who work in tech about their own balancing acts, what gadgets or apps make managing their lives a bit easier, and if they have any advice for other parents or parents-to-be in the tech field.

The takeaway? Balancing work and parenting can result in some hilarious stories -- but it all works out with some good old-fashioned time management, enabled by some not so old-fashioned tech tools.

Computerworld: Tech Moms - Monica Eaton-Cardone [2015]
Credit: Computerworld
Monica Eaton-Cardone, Chargebacks911 and Global Risk Technologies

Tale from the trenches: One day I was on a conference call, which was meticulously arranged for a time when both of my kids would be sleeping during their afternoon naps. About two minutes in, with eight people connected to the call, I heard a scream from my youngest daughter, who had woken up early and wanted out of the crib. I put my phone on mute and ran to rescue her, sliding on the stair and spraining my ankle in the process.

Limping and hopping, I got to her room in record time, to find that my other daughter had graciously given her a tube of my red lipstick to "help" out. I grabbed a roll of toilet paper in an attempt to stop a face full of lipstick from making it to every wall and sheet in sight, ducking into the closet every now and then to chime in on the call. Luckily the conference call went great, and my ankle healed after a couple of weeks.

Tech to balance work and life: I really like Smartsheet, which I use to organize myself, my work, and my family. I also love the Cherish Kids app for iPhone -- it saves times and dates to your photos so you remember your kids' ages in the photos and have instant scrapbook access.

Advice: When it comes to life, things don't always work out as planned. There will always be last-minute things that challenge your patience and wreak havoc on the most well-organized schedule. Some days you may fail, but it is not what defines you -- move on and don't let this stop you from trying harder next time.

Also, have dinner together as a family, even if it is 100% out of a box or delivered.

Computerworld: Tech Moms - Julie Farago [2015]
Credit: Computerworld
Julie Farago, Google

Tale from the trenches: I had an important meeting scheduled with our VP in California over videoconference. Normally, I insist on all meetings between 9 and 5, but we had to move this one at the last minute. As a result, I ended up having a 5:30 meeting on a night when my husband was out of town.

I picked up the kids early from preschool, took them to the office, printed pictures for them to color, piled snacks in front of them, and set up an episode of "Jake and the Never Land Pirates" for them to watch on my tablet in an adjacent conference room. I then video-called into the conference.

I was supposed to present two or three slides in the 20-slide deck. As I started on my first slide, I heard screaming and the door burst open. The video had frozen. I handed off the slide to a colleague, fixed the video, and returned to the conference. Then it happened again. I swapped the tablet for a laptop and, again, returned to the meeting.

Not two minutes later, there was a louder scream as my 5-year-old burst in, yelling, "I peed! I peed!" I left the meeting, cleaned her up, and tried one more time. Then I heard the combined screams as my daughter tackled my 2-year-old son -- he wanted to leave the room and I had instructed her not to let him. At that point, I gave up and left the meeting for the final time.

I was by far the most flustered by this. My teammates and VP were all very supportive.

Tech to balance work and life: Google Calendar helps me stay on top of the kids' schedule. If it's not in the calendar, there is zero chance I will remember it. I also use WhatsApp almost daily with my mother-in-law. She loves getting pictures of the kids and I love sending them.

Advice: Be strict and clear about your working hours. If you sometimes take meetings after 5, or you occasionally email at night, people will expect that. If you never do, people learn to plan around it. You can work at night, just don't do it publicly.

Computerworld: Tech Moms - Karen Mattox [2015]
Credit: Computerworld
Karen Mattox, Eaton

Tales from the trenches: I worked at home as a self-employed contractor and programmer for many years while my children still lived at home. I've completed projects with sick kids at home, taken conference calls from the car on the way to and from kids' activities, and put dinner in the crock-pot while grabbing another hour of work time.

I also taught computer skills part-time at the small school my sons attended in exchange for their tuition. The boys were extremely proud that their mother was so technical (and that their friends said it was their favorite class), and they've never lost that feeling.

Tech to balance work and life: Group text messaging. We have an ongoing family chat with my husband, myself, our sons, and their wives. We post pictures of whatever we're doing, comments, teasing, schedule information, etc. as a running chat. We also keep running text chats with each individual and each couple. It's a great way to stay up to date with family members during busy workdays, or anytime.

Another app is Pinterest. Being a mother-in-law is a difficult job. Sharing things with my daughters-in-law via Pinterest has been really useful -- at first it was wedding showers and wedding planning, then recipes and decorating, now baby shower planning and baby crafts. It has helped our relationships a great deal to communicate in this way.

Advice: Either find a good employer or work for yourself -- and work hard to do that employer or yourself justice. If possible, don't put making money ahead of the needs of your family, or yourself. You may have to think outside of the box about ways to make money and still be a great mom and wife.

Most important, don't sweat the small stuff. Enjoy the time with your children; it goes so very fast.

Computerworld: Tech Moms - Meera Murthy [2015]
Credit: Computerworld
Meera Murthy, Evergage

Tale from the trenches: While traveling for work one time, I stepped out of a meeting to sing bedtime lullabies into my phone from a bathroom stall. People around me must have thought I was crazy, but those were precious moments when I could connect with my boys.

Tech to balance work and life: Google Calendar. Everything goes in there, from dinner menus for the week to play dates, activities, pick-ups/drop-offs, birthday parties -- anything our family needs is on the shared family calendar that my husband, our au pair, my mom, and anyone else in my support system has access to. Being able to see our entire family's schedule at a glance at the office or from my phone is a lifesaver.

Advice: One of the first lessons I learned as a parent was to stop trying to be a super mom. It only leads to failures and feelings of mommy guilt. Instead, I now whole-heartedly believe that it takes a village to raise a child. My village consists of my amazing and supportive husband, our childcare providers, our family, and my awesome mom friends.

Computerworld: Tech Moms - Domenica Antignano [2015]
Credit: Computerworld
Domenica Antignano, Hewlett-Packard

Tales from the trenches: I've had plenty of juggling situations over the years -- sometimes finishing up an important meeting while waiting for a child needing a ride and simultaneously chitchatting with her classmates' parents, and pulling it off with neither side knowing about the other. I once led a walkthrough of a solution design while making my daughter lunch and creating a dessert plate for Grandparents Day at school. It's always a magic act.

Tech to balance work and life: Microsoft Project. I am a project management professional and have learned to plan everything. Since I work from home, my daily activities are an integrated set of work and personal tasks intertwined in a way that lets me get everything done. I used to try and stop and start my work day and my personal day, but the nature of my work has no strict end time, so I've resorted -- successfully, might I add -- to integrated planning.

Advice: Schedule everything into one big calendar so when colleagues add to it, they avoid any personal commitments. It will all work out, as long as everything is planned.

Computerworld: Tech Moms - Kavita Ravi [2015]
Credit: Computerworld
Kavita Ravi, MassCEC

Tale from the trenches: One time I took my younger son to the ER at 1 a.m., got out at 6:30 a.m., and then had to make it into work for a 10 a.m. meeting. The doctor strongly suggested that my son not go to school that day, so I took him to work with a sleeping bag, some books, toys, and food. He slept under my desk and was quite the attraction at work. It was an experience for him, too. 

Tech to balance work and life: A good calendar app keeps things under control, though I have yet to find one that matches all my needs. Mostly, I use Google Calendar (I have five for the family) on my iPhone calendar app.

Advice: It's tough, but hang in there. It is worth having both work and a family in spite of the squeeze they put on you every now and then.

Computerworld: Tech Moms - Deb Walsh [2015]
Credit: Computerworld
Deb Walsh, Quadrant Software

Tale from the trenches: My company provides 24/7 support, so it seems like my phone rings at all hours, mostly inconvenient ones. Last July 4th, I was sitting at the beach when my work phone went off. It was a little windy that day, so I sat with a towel over my head to cut the wind noise while on the phone. On the ride home, my kids told me how ridiculous I looked and asked me to please go sit in the car next time.

Tech to balance work and life: Google Calendar and Skype are my go-to apps for work projects as well as family and scouting events. Skype is great for keeping in touch with the kids while I'm at work.

Advice: Spend your off time enjoying something you love, not working. My family and I spend lots of time going on nature walks. I never bring home reports or paperwork to get caught up, because no matter what there will always be more.