Success Story: Swati Sapar

Company: Netflix
Role: Senior Back-End Software Engineer

Swati Sapar took a two-year break from her software engineering career to take care of her kids. She always planned to return to work, and felt ready when her youngest child started elementary school. Swati completed a returnship at Netflix, and now works there full-time as a Senior Back-End Software Engineer. She talks about her return-to-work experience at Netflix, how she slowly ramped up responsibilities during her returnship, and why it’s important to narrow down your job goals.

Tell me a bit about your career break. What type of work did you do before taking a break? What prompted your break, and how long were you out of the workforce?
I took a break of almost two years to take care of my kids. In my previous career I was a Senior Software Engineer, and during the break I had some anxiety about how I was going to get back to the field, and how the transition was going to work. 

What prompted you to return to work?
I always wanted to go back to work so it was never a question of if, but rather a question of timing and when the right opportunity presented itself. When my younger child started elementary school, I felt more comfortable starting to look for a job and take on something new. I was looking for work for about four months before getting my returnship at Netflix.

Did you take any classes or complete any training in preparation for your return to work?
I prepared by first narrowing my scope of what exactly I wanted to do. Initially, I was so excited to go back to work that I was ready to take on any kind of job. I quickly realized that that wouldn’t work, and that I needed to focus on just a few areas that I was passionate about. If you’re applying to return to work in ten different types of roles, you’re not going to be able to prepare as deeply as if you’re only focusing on one or two. 

What was your returnship role at Netflix?
I was a Backend Software Engineer. I started with smaller assignments – things like making minimal changes to existing features, which I could do on my own, and I would ask someone senior on the team if I wasn’t sure about what was expected of me. Slowly, the features I worked on grew in size and complexity. The last feature that I worked on involved gathering requirements, documenting the technical specifications, updating API’s, editing the database tables and deploying the changes to production with proper testing. I was responsible for running this feature on my own, but always had support and someone to go to if I had a question.

How was your returnship experience at Netflix like?
I had a great experience because my team was so supportive. They made sure that I never felt hesitant to ask the smallest or easiest questions, and they were always readily available to answer and help me out. My hiring manager was really good at planning out what I’d accomplish in my returnship, and gradually increased the size of the tasks I was given. Early in my returnship, I asked my manager about the most important skills needed for my job, and he gave me a list of skills that I should work on if I wanted to succeed as an engineer on the team. This included some technical concepts like messaging systems/frameworks, coding standards, SQL and noSQL database concepts, and more. The list helped me know what to focus on and what to be learning while completing my assigned projects. 

What role are you in now? Does it differ from your returnship role?
I’m now a full-fledged Senior Back-End Software Engineer on the same team I worked with during my returnship. As a full-time engineer, I am now responsible for running tasks and implementing new features on my own. 

Are there any skills from your pre-break career that you use in your new role? What about skills you gained during your career break?
Knowledge about programming and hands on experience with coding languages, including Java and Kotlin, helped me a lot, as did being familiar with the distributed version control system GIT.

What did you find most helpful about being part of a Path Forward program?
Being able to have a foot in the door with the returnship allowed me to ramp up on projects at a slower pace, while also allowing me to showcase my work ethic and potential, interest in the team, and the product and projects – and gave me the fundamentals to be a successful colleague to my broader team. This ultimately allowed me to scale and be more impactful across the business – which led to me joining Netflix as a full time senior software engineer.

Separately, Path Forward also allowed me to connect with others who had a similar journey through returnships at Netflix. We’ve managed to maintain communication and see each other regularly even though we all work across different teams.

What are you most proud of accomplishing during your returnship?
Gaining the confidence to be able to work with other engineers again and to be able to contribute in the same capacity as them has been so rewarding. I am also glad to have the opportunity to continue learning new technologies, systems and tools as the Netflix platform and ecosystem evolves.

Do you have any advice for future returnees?
Try to short-list one or two areas that you really want to work in. Evaluate the most important goals that you want to achieve by coming back to work. For example, the goals could be gaining experience in a specific area of work, developing a good professional network, specific financial goals, etc. Also consider how far you are willing to commute, how comfortable and supportive your team is, etc. Prioritize these factors and pick the role that works best for you.

When you’ve been out of work for a while, it’s very easy to get carried away and think that you’ll be able to stretch yourself to the limit. Be mindful and think about what you really want, and what will make you happy in the long-term.

Thanks for sharing your story, Swati! We are so happy you’ve found success and balance in your career. You can learn more about Swati on her LinkedIn page.

– The Path Forward Team