This Software Developer Shares How IBM’s ‘Returnship’ Program Helped Get Her Career Back

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With Jill Burns (4 min read)

After a 10-year break from her technical career, Jill Burns joined IBM in March 2018 through the IBM Tech Re-entry Program—an internship program that provided her with the support and resources to reintegrate back into the workplace. Outside of work, she is a member of “Women Who Code” and “Girl Develop IT”, non-profit organizations dedicated to inspiring women to excel in technology careers and build confidence.

In this installment of the Tech Re-Entry series, we had a chance to speak to Jill about her internship experience and learn all about the work she has been doing at IBM. She is currently a Software Developer working on Watson In Support.

Tell us about your experience when you decided to go back to the workforce…
I had lots of apprehensions coming back into the corporate world, both at the office and at home. Having elementary age children, I had to manage after-school care and find someone who could take them to their activities; I had to learn to simplify and delegate many of my household jobs. I’m still trying to find ways to make it a smooth transition as every season has different challenges. Back-to-school activities, holidays, family vacations… all these have to be managed differently now. Thankfully I did not have to go out and buy lots of new suits as my development team is business casual. The ongoing meetings with the cohort were super helpful in the transition, knowing we were all going through this journey together provided much needed support.

In terms of technology, how did you keep yourself updated? Did you do any preparation before going back to work?
I was taking online classes since I started my career break. When I found out that I was accepted into the internship, I started doing tutorials on skills that I thought were important. Then when I began with the internship, I had access to the “Your Learning” tool at IBM, which I found to be a great resource, and I began doing tutorials and research there. In my first weeks, I had to quickly become productive so as I came into some new code I would research on-the-go as required by my project.

Aside from online study, I learned from the resources around me. I had a technical mentor who guided me through some projects, plus there are other experienced engineers within the team who provided assistance whenever I got stuck.

Applicants should really plan on spending a few extra hours a week outside of regular hours for education and study.

What is the most valuable benefit of the Tech Re-Entry program, and how did it make a difference in your life or career?
Aside from providing a path to get back into the field, I think the most valuable benefit was the time we spent at orientation. We had some fabulous speakers—Bran Antle on eminence, Carol Fishman Cohen on iRelaunch, and Jennifer Howland providing insight and support. It also allowed us to bond with other members of our cohort. Being a part of a cohort where we had ongoing meetings and slack channels to discuss our different journeys was invaluable. I will continue to keep in touch with many of them throughout the rest of my career.

What is the most memorable moment of your IBM internship?
Besides checking in my first lines of Node.js code into Github and having it promoted to production, it was meeting the women in my tech re-entry cohort. I felt humbled by their vast education and experience and yet they all had career paths which included a career break. In all my professional years I can count on one hand the number of female software developers I worked with who similar experiences.

What can you say about the projects you are working on as an intern, and the impact it has on the client, or the community?
I have been working on a Support Search with Watson project. Our team is working to improve the search function for our support agents. The better equipped our support agents are, the better they are able to help our clients.

And what do you consider as the biggest challenge of your job?
You can never get completely comfortable. It’s extremely dynamic in that whenever you gain a new skill something changes and requires you to readjust. There is always more to learn!

How would you describe the work environment at IBM?
We enjoy a professional atmosphere yet you often see jeans and trendy tops. In the office we have a good mix of people who get together for lunch, play table tennis, and celebrate holidays. Many of my project team members are not co-located so we do lots of virtual meetings and we get to know each other through an online presence.

What motivates you to go to work every day?
My motivation is not the same every day. Some days it is the learning challenge, other days it is the sense of independence and pride in my family contribution. Most importantly I want there to be a path for our youth that includes women in technology.

The coolest part of my job is continuously learning new technologies and seeing real world examples of amazing ways they are implemented. I’m proud to have a connection to IBM and Watson.

How does it feel to be working on strategic projects again after taking a long break?
I love having the opportunity to stretch my mind this way again. It’s amazing to see how technology has evolved since before my career break. Granted there are days when juggling this new work-life balance makes me need to step back and take a few deep breaths, but then I move forward again and have a sense of pride in my accomplishments.

The IBM Tech Re-Entry Program is now accepting applications for US, Canada, and India to start in early 2019. More information about the IBM Tech Re-Entry program can be found at www.ibm.com/techreentry.

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