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From Stay-at-Home Parent to Data Scientist

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When I was pregnant with my second child, the startup I was working for failed and I was out of a job. It was 2002 and the tech bubble had burst. I was far from alone — many startups were failing, and many people were out of a job. So I decided, rather than competing against people who weren’t sporting a “6-months pregnant” belly, I would take a year off and stay home with my kids. My memories of not having a “mother’s room” at the startup and pumping (and being interrupted) in random places — the team kitchen, the bathroom, the conference room — were far too vivid for me to want to repeat the experience. So I thought, sure, for one year I can probably handle being a stay-at-home parent.

While I love being a mom and always wanted to have kids, I never pictured myself as a “career parent.” When I was a kid, and a woman walked by with a baby and a puppy, it was my sister who said, “Look at the cute baby,” while I said “Look at the cute puppy!” And when someone I dated said his ideal wife would have a PhD but would want to stay home with the kids, I thought, “Fat chance of that!” I had worked too hard on getting a PhD to “give it all up.” But one year? Yeah, I could do that.

Six years later… Yup, I loved being a stay-at-home parent. One year turned into two, two into three, and it wasn’t until my youngest was in first grade in 2008 that I finally decided it was time to go back to work. My husband and I had gotten used to the luxury (and in the Bay Area it is definitely a luxury!) of having one parent available to drive the kids to and from school, sports practices, dentist appointments, and playdates. So my plan was to work part-time. But how could I get a part-time job that was interesting enough to make it worthwhile to juggle home and work responsibilities?

When I first finished my PhD in Operations Research and was looking for a job, I searched for “statistics” or “computer science” to find relevant positions. But something amazing had happened while I was out of the workforce. The vast amount of data that was being collected and needed to be analyzed had resulted in a new appreciation for my kind of technical skills, and data science (although it wasn’t called that yet) was born! There were so many jobs that looked exciting (including some that I could actually find by searching the job board on “operations research” — amazing!). I didn’t want a part-time job anymore — I wanted to work full-time!

But how was I going to get one of these amazing jobs? I had been out of the workforce for six years. And it had been 15 years since I left grad school. I knew I had the right skills for some of these jobs, but I hadn’t used them in a long time. I knew I’d be a little rusty, but I didn’t realize how much I’d forgotten until I started interviewing. (I don’t think I’ll ever forget “homoscedasticity” again! I still can’t say it, but I haven’t forgotten it.)

That is when I learned the real power of a network. My resume got into the right hands because someone referred me. I got an offer of a contract-to-hire position, because someone I used to work with went to bat for me at Intuit. Had I known that my former colleagues would have that big an impact on my re-entry into the workforce, I’d have spent more time nurturing those relationships.

And while I still recommend nurturing your network to anyone who plans to re-enter the workforce after taking a lengthy leave, I’m happy to report that things have become easier. There are now “returnship” programs made for people like me — people who have strong technical skills and need a chance to dust them off and show how much value they can add. Intuit has such a program, called Intuit Again, and we are looking for software engineering or analytics candidates.

So if you have a PhD (or other degree) but wanted to stay home with your kids, if you’re ready to re-enter the workforce, dust off those skills and jump back in. There are programs available to support you!

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