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By Avanti Tilak
Originally an astronomer by training, I studied supermassive black holes in the nearby universe. After my kids were born, I took a career break as I wanted to enjoy that time with them but it was never meant to be permanent. Once the youngest was old enough for preschool I focused on my aspirations once more. I needed to change directions and so I taught myself programming (Python, R) and started my journey toward data science.
Trying to reenter the workforce, my challenges were three-fold: I had a gap in my resume, I was changing careers, and I was bound by geography. Whenever I introduced myself as an astronomer wanting to switch to data science, there was a lot of interest… but it would easily peter out once they found I had a gap on my resume.
As I was searching for jobs, I found ways to keep updating my skills, whether by enrolling in online classes or by doing various projects, paid and unpaid, but it was hard to build a strong narrative that would compensate for the seven-year gap.
I did not want to pretend the gap years didn’t exist as those are some of my most cherished memories. I also picked up so many skills during these early years of motherhood – soft skills that are exceedingly valuable in the workplace – negotiating with unreasonable parties to get the best possible outcome (yes, you have to wear a winter coat in a snowstorm); setting expectations and boundaries (no, you may not stuff crackers in my shoes); and focusing on the task at hand despite the surrounding chaos. As a result, I no longer needed a place to get my work done; most of the time, I didn’t have one.
Then, I found out about the IBM Tech Re-entry program – it was for people who took a break, for whatever reason and are looking to rejoin the workforce. The application process itself was straightforward. It seemed even more so, because I did not need to obfuscate over those seven years.
From the first day, my manager and team knew I had young kids. I did not have to make up an excuse or hide why I needed to work from 7:30 to 4. I was encouraged to ask questions and given support when I needed. The interns in the program were assigned technical mentors as well as “buddies”, to help us navigate our projects and work culture. IBM has a Think40 initiative to encourage personal and professional growth. We can attend conferences, talks, and seminars as well as getting access to internal and external learning materials. And I am learning so much more from my colleagues. This has allowed me to be a productive member of my team.
My “returnship” has proven to be a valuable experience under my belt. I have made wonderful friends, the other interns in my cohort. We are each other’s cheerleaders, whether over a successful project completion or childcare snafus. Working here has been a privilege and a blast. I love coming in to work and I can go home with a sense of satisfaction at having achieved something that others can use. I can say with pride “I am an IBMer”.
More information about Tech Re-Entry can be found at www.ibm.com/techreentry.
Avanti Tilak joined IBM as an intern for the Tech Re-Entry Program in March 2018. Today, she is a data scientist working at Watson Health and investigating ways to improve patient care at hospitals. Her kids seem to have inherited her passion for “why” and “how”, much to her mom’s delight.
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