Matt took a break from his software engineering career for five years to care for his newborn daughter. When she was ready to start preschool, he decided it was a great time to return to his career. Matt completed a returnship at Seeq, a software company that publishes advanced analytics applications for manufacturing companies, where he now works full-time as a senior software engineer. Matt tells us about all the ways he refreshed his skills during his career break, including building a demo project, his returnship experience, and how his team – and Seeq’s virtual environment – supported a seamless transition back into the workforce.
What did you do prior to your career break? What prompted your break and how long were you out of the workforce?
I was a software engineer at Cisco Systems for about nine years. I started out as an employee, but had moved to a contract position after the Great Recession. My wife and I were expecting a child a few months after my contract expired, so the timing worked out for me to take time off and focus on our newborn. I never had a plan to take a set amount of time off, but I ended up taking a break of about five years.
What prompted you to return to work?
I never wanted to take a lengthy career break, especially with how fast the software industry moves. I wanted to be sure that my skills would still be seen as relevant. When my daughter started preschool and was becoming more independent, I decided that it was a great time to start getting myself up to speed and looking for new career opportunities.
How long were you actively looking for work prior to applying for a returnship?
I started looking in early 2020, but when COVID-19 shut down schools, I had to put my return on hold. When my daughter’s school reopened in the fall, I started searching for opportunities and found out about returnships. It seemed like a real win on both sides, for the company and for returners. It’s comforting to know that your work environment understands that you have relevant work experience, you just need time to adjust and get back up to speed.
Did you take any classes or upskill to prepare for your return to work?
I watched videos and tried taking several online classes to reskill. However, the number of online courses out there was overwhelming. I found it more effective to pick a topic I wanted to learn more about, do my research on it, find websites dedicated to it, read articles, and go through tutorials. I picked Python as a new programming language to learn and started coding up a simple Tic Tac Toe program, because I had been teaching it to my daughter. I decided to hold myself to the same coding standards and best practices that you would find in a real work environment, like testing and documentation, and used GitHub as a source control. I then extended the program to include other games. What you actually create doesn’t matter, it’s just the cyclic process of implementing a small feature, doing testing, and publishing it that builds your confidence in learning a new language. In my experience, it was great to have a project on my resume so a hiring manager could look at my work.
Could you talk a little bit about your returnship role at Seeq?
I was hired as a senior software engineer returner into a particular software team — or squad as they’re called at Seeq — and focused on a particular area of our product. What’s great about Seeq is that when you start your returnship, you’re treated no differently than any other developer. You’re put on the team that’s most relevant to your past work experience and interests, and that really sets you up for success. At first, you’re given starter tasks that allow you to gain confidence, start contributing to the team right away, and ease your way into learning the codebase and the different components of the product. Then, you move onto working on larger projects with your team or implementing features that have been requested.
At Seeq, you don’t just work on one component or programming language, you have freedom to move within your team. Since we work with so many different technologies, you can work with your manager and mentor to pick and choose what you’re most passionate about. Your growth and progression at Seeq are a real collaborative effort between yourself and your manager.
What was the experience of returning to work at a fully virtual company like Seeq?
At Seeq, we use our own custom-built virtual office software, which enhances the office experience in your home. The fact that they took the time to build their own in-house tool is a testament to Seeq’s culture, which puts a priority on employee well-being. Employees are encouraged to “knock” on a coworker’s virtual office if they need help or just want to chat, so I never felt isolated or that I was on my own.
We have daily standup meetings on Zoom and I had frequent meetings with my manager, where I had the chance to ask questions and make sure I understood everything. There’s also the option of going on Slack and talking to the team to crowdsource and see if anyone can help you with an issue. Overall, Seeq is a great, collaborative environment.
What skills from your pre-break career have come in handy in your new role?
I was fortunate that my previous job had me working on SaaS applications, which is relevant to my current role as Seeq’s web-based application is a main product. I think keeping an open mindset and having a willingness to listen and engage with people has helped me immensely in my new role. Those types of soft skills always go a long way. You should always try to build a connection with the people you’re working with.
What did you find most helpful in being part of the Path Forward program?
I enjoyed the Path Forward workshops with my fellow returners — both from Seeq and from other companies — the most. It provided a space for everyone to share their experiences, get feedback and helpful tips, and gain moral support from the Path Forward team, other returners, and alumni who came to talk to us. It was such a big help to be in an environment where you can freely talk about your feelings, how to navigate work-life balance, and other things that are specific to your shared situation. Returning to the workforce is a big adjustment, and the workshops helped walk us through that lifestyle change. We really created our own community, which was one of the strongest parts of the returnship.
How does Seeq’s culture support work-life balance?
Seeq’s culture is built upon collaboration and interacting with your fellow employees. But there’s also an understanding that when you sign off, you’re out of the office. There’s freedom and flexibility to create your own schedule. Employees are located across the globe, so everyone has different hours. There’s a core four-hour block that everyone shares, to make sure you’re able to interact with everyone, but there’s flexibility to go pick up your kids, or take care of your non-work responsibilities. Having that freedom makes it easier to create a work-life balance after returning to work. It’s what Seeq really wants for employees — the notion that you’re never going to miss out on anything because of your work.
What has been the most exciting or gratifying part of returning to work?
I really enjoy being part of a team, and the family-like atmosphere and culture. The company encourages interacting with co-workers both on and outside of your team, and to foster that, there’s a lot of scheduled and unscheduled fun time, which creates a great working environment. You spend a good part of your day at work, and you want to enjoy it. So having a company that recognizes the importance of that – of your own social and mental needs – is paramount.
What are you most proud of accomplishing during your return to work experience?
I’m proud of being back in a professional environment, learning new skills, and making meaningful contributions to a team. I believe that self-defining your goals, no matter how small, and then meeting them, is a great way to measure your own success and feel pride in your accomplishments, especially when you’re returning to a career. I’m proud of myself whenever I tackle a problem and overcome it which gives me the confidence to take on larger issues
Finally, do you have any advice for future returners?
Returning to work after a lengthy break can certainly be very nerve-wracking. The most important thing is to learn by doing. I think upskilling by taking a course, or doing some reading and then applying that knowledge into a project will help you build confidence. Having a portfolio that you can show to hiring managers and prospective companies proves that you’re capable. It makes a great conversation starter because you have something you can discuss on your own terms in a job interview to really show off your knowledge and skills. It allows you to make your case for why you’d make a great hire and how you’re dedicated to coming back to your career.
Thanks for sharing your story, Matt! We are so happy you’ve found success and balance in your career. You can learn more about Matt on his LinkedIn page.
– The Path Forward Team