Professional Development During Maternity Leave: How One Developer Did It

Maternity leave offered time away from work to focus on aspirational goals.

By Karoline Klever (Senior Developer)

There’s a major conversation afloat across the professional world about the ability to “have it all” – that is, being a good, involved parent and simultaneously having a successful career. In Norway, where I’m from, we’re lucky enough to be given a full year of paid parental leave to care and bond with a new child. While this is a perk I wouldn’t trade for the world, I found that it also saddled me with a fear that I would be rusty — and not as good at my job when I returned 12 months later. When I became pregnant with my first child in 2012, I was both thrilled and terrified. I was excited grow my family, but fearful of letting my technical skills become antiquated. After all, the programming industry moves at lightening speed. Working as a consultant and EPiServer expert for Epinova, I knew that to stay relevant in the field, I would need to stay current on technological updates and procedures.

Cabin Fever

My first maternity leave started in December 2012, when my beautiful son Henrik was born one and a half months earlier than expected. Given my son’s underdeveloped immune system, my doctor ordered that we not go outdoors. With the Norwegian air resting at 20 degrees below zero, I wasn’t about to fight him on that! But after spending three months indoors with a tiny, constantly sleeping baby, I found in addition to the challenge of raising a child, I was craving mental stimulation. To stay sharp, I decided to continue my professional development from home.

Setting Goals

In making this decision, I had two main goals. First, I wanted to stay up to speed on specific technologies I knew I would have to understand once I returned to work. Specifically, the EPiServer CMS I worked with, which previously only supported Web Forms, began supporting the more robust ASP.NET MVC framework in the time I was away. Secondly, I wanted to improve my craftsmanship by becoming a more sophisticated developer. I wanted to build better, cleaner, longer-lasting code. It was refreshing to have the opportunity to focus on these more aspirational goals — something I didn’t always have the bandwidth to spend time on in the grind of the workplace. Because of my constraints — being homebound and at the mercy of my newborn’s schedule — I turned to an online learning platform called Pluralsight to achieve these goals. The online format allowed me to dig into the specific programming technologies I knew would keep my skills relevant and gave me the flexibility to learn at my own speed, something not always possible in the workplace.

Taking the Time

While Pluralsight was the right fit for my needs, the principle is the same whether you’re using any number of paid training resources or simply being a scrappy, self-taught learner: time off doesn’t have to be time lost on professional growth. There are far too many learning resources from qualified professionals available at your fingertips online to not use them. Now that I’m in the middle of my second maternity leave, I make sure to spend at least one dedicated hour per day on professional development. That includes reading blog posts, preparing future tech talks, watching webinars, participating in tutorials or doing technical book reviews — even if my newborn daughter needs to lie on my chest while I do it!

Finding the Payoff

I realized just how valuable my out-of-the-office training was when I got back to work and didn’t have to catch up. I just sat down and started working. This rang especially true when I secured a promotion to technical supervisor for our e-commerce team within six months of returning — something I know would not have happened as quickly otherwise. Aside from becoming a better craftsman, I was able to secure certifications in HTML5 with JavaScript and MVC, ASP.NET MVC 4 and EPiServer MVC. And all while caring for my newborn. If you find yourself in a similar situation, know that I felt the stress you might be feeling. A lot of women want to be able to balance family and career. But when it comes time to have a child, they think they have to prioritize or choose one or the other. I’m here to tell you that is not true. While it takes some creativity, organization and dedication, there are ways to develop professionally, while enjoying quality time with your growing family.

About the guest blogger: Working as a .NET developer and consultant, Karoline Klever has developed a passion for continuously challenging herself and sharing her knowledge about web development. She is an active conference speaker, a Microsoft Certified Solution Developer and an EPiServer MVP. Follow her on Twitter at @karolikl.