An honest account of working part time as a Software Engineer at Glean

Meet Jo. Part time Software Engineer. Full time Mum. Here's what daily life looks like balancing both.

Clock 5 min read Calendar Published: 18 Apr 2023
Author Jo Holloway
An honest account of working part time as a Software Engineer at Glean


So, I work 3 days a week as a Software Engineer at Glean.

I previously worked full time for 10 years. However, after having my first child, I knew I wanted to be part time. I did not want to lose my new role as the primary carer for my family but I also wanted to stay up-to-date within the software world.

Considering the number of programming roles advertised, it was slim pickings for anyone wanting to work part time. And in an age of flexible working and equal opportunities, it seems so old fashioned from a supposedly modern industry.

Hooray! I found Glean and started working for 3 days a week 🎉

2 years on, complete with a second child, I am pretty sure that if I was working FT, the house would be a giant ball of chaos! Hats off to those parents where everyone is FT.

With this experience, I want to write about how I find working as an engineer, part-time, and with a family. I am hoping that it will not only help others in this position but also people who work alongside them.

Illustration Of A Name Card, Mug And Headphones On A Pink Background

Catching Up 💻

My working week starts on a Tuesday. There are always A LOT of Slack messages to get through from Friday and Monday.

You think you need to be caught up and up to speed because that’s where everyone else is, right? You’re overwhelmed by the amount to do, then you fear that you need to find the important ones and lastly you wind up losing track of what messages you have already read.

It’s like your first day back after a holiday. People have got on with work in your absence. You’ve had to be a completely different person for the last few days.

I have learnt to skim read a lot and use the Slack save functionality for the ones that are longer or need me to do something. The unread messages tab is a lifesaver as you can mark a whole channel as read once you’re ready. 

It is also useful if the channels are organised, split well, and used for their purpose. This will help with not missing the important ones.

Ticketwise, I have always forgotten what on earth I was in the middle of doing. Now, to help remind me for the following week I write a few notes. It doesn’t have to be much, just the specific problem you were last facing will pretty much do.


Mental Load 🧠

Being the part time parent generally means you still have to be the primary parent and home manager, yet still worry about work. 

On working mornings I need to be strict with our timings. I (somehow) get everyone out of the door. (Their dad takes them to nursery, I don’t just let them roam the streets just to be clear here). I still have breakfast pots to sort; porridge to scrub off the floor, ceiling, windows; load the washing; make beds; pick up clothes; toys; lights off; plan tea; ring dentist; the list does not seem to stop.

But, I need to, and then switch from this mode to, er “where was I mode”.

I have to, so that I can finish with time for the evening tea and bed routine.

I get to my desk, but I still have my “mum ears” on, so every sound from the house I’m listening to with my mum brain going, what are they up to? And they’re not even in the house. I am now hardwired to think if it’s quiet something’s wrong. 

So yes, where was I?

When I am struggling to focus I put on headphones. This allows me to sit and work at my desk and not get too distracted.

A part of your life that easily gets lost once you have children is trying to reflect upon the working day. It’s important. To learn from your mistakes, or chew over problems still left unsolved. I usually find some time walking to their nursery for the pick up. But to be able to do this I need to finish work on time so having meetings limited to core hours is a necessity.


Time Management and FOMO ⏰

Being a part time developer means you have less time at work to do all the things your full time colleagues do. It should all just be proportional though right, less of this, less of that. So what makes this difficult?

I want to feel productive, which means getting tickets across the board. Having less time for this and you lose some amount of the “I win!” rush.

I want to learn but the need to be productive pushes this down the priorities list. Which makes me less productive. Which leaves less time for learning. Vicious cycle.

I want to help, learn from, and contribute to all the other conversations happening. But the amount going on means I do need to limit what I choose.

What I have learnt is that it is important to manage my time. I structure my day to give time to each aspect, just not too regimentally, if I’m in the flow, I want to stay there. Otherwise, I personally focus too much on trying to be productive. There are many blogs and articles about how and why this is a bad approach, you can check them out here.


Blocking ❌

When you’re coming to the end of your week, you start to worry: Are people and/or features going to be stalled or blocked while you’re away?

For example, I probably won’t start reviewing someone’s long PR with the aim of approval late on a Thursday because it may not get finished. They’ll either be waiting for me to come back or someone else will need to review it.

Would it make sense for me to pick up an urgent task that will need finishing on the Friday for example? Probably not.

It is an extra question to ask yourself as a part timer. Is there someone better placed to do this who will be able to carry it on tomorrow? They are the kinds of questions you’ll ask yourself before you go on holiday.

If you haven’t finished your ticket at the end of your week, you think about the fact that someone else could have picked this up and finished it by the time you’re back. Or you put yourself off selecting one of the bigger juicier tickets for this same reason. But the tickets you start are the ones others don’t have to.


To Summarise ✏️

It is a lot harder than I expected. You cannot just jump into programming part time and find it as easy as full time.

Is it all worth it? Definitely. Here’s why.

  • Contribution - There are many many features I’ve contributed to, bugs I’ve fixed, technologies I have learnt. My personal favourite being that I added a slide view to the Glean mobile app and now feel pretty competent with the Flutter framework.
  • Perspective - I can quite easily bring a fresh perspective to my squad as I am likely to have been less involved. It’s a bit like reviewing someone’s PR, you get to see it for the first time when it’s all been put together.
  • Different Skills - I have had plenty of practice multitasking, and stopping and starting tasks. If you’ve ever had to simultaneously prepare tea, whilst changing a nappy, whilst trying to explain to your toddler that you don’t currently have the capacity to read Room on the Broom, whilst mentalling noting that you’ve abandoned emptying the dishwasher half way through. You’ll know what I mean. It is a skill you must develop, and yes it is definitely applicable to the mental throws of software engineering.

Reading and listening to people. I am now highly attuned to the language of grunts.

Keeping calm when panic ensues. When the far too tall Duplo tower will not stay standing.

These skills put people like me in great stead for looking after and noticing when others are struggling.

What would my advice be? 

For people like me. Be patient and persevere. It gets easier. Make sure you celebrate the wins, write them down if you have to.

  • For the colleague. Don’t forget about us. Allow the part timers to get involved if possible, but don’t pressure us into doing so. My colleagues at Glean have always been great at this, scheduling meetings for when everyone is in. Also making sure there are minimal mandatory meetings.
  • For the employer. If you inclusively cater for and value the part timers (and the parents for that matter) you will get a more diverse workforce. Today, developers are needed to fulfil many different roles, leadership, DevOps, front end UX, Code Architecture, buddying or teaching. Opening the doors to programmers who work part time is one way that Glean is achieving this.

Final thoughts, there have been a lot of studies of the 4 day working week and these have shown an increased boost in productivity and employee wellness. Does the same reasoning apply for a 3 day working week? Tune in next time to find out.

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