This May, we celebrate working women who are mothers by interviewing female Encorians from around the world. In our second interview of this series, we talk with Suyen Rojas, a Software Engineer who has been working at Encora since July 2016. Suyen is based in Costa Rica where she lives with her husband and their daughter Lucia (3).
Suyen, please introduce yourself and tell us about your background and current role?
I’m a Fullstack Software Engineer with experience in Java, Angular, HTML, CSS, and related frameworks, and I’m highly experienced with HubSpot. Five years ago, I graduated with a bachelor's degree from the National University of Costa Rica. I’ve been working with Encora for four years.
As a Software Engineer at Encora, what is the best thing about your job?
I enjoy visualizing solutions and being able to build them myself using software applications. Before starting my studies, I barely knew anything about programming and developing, but it was definitely the right path for me. I love creating things, solving problems, and challenging myself in new technologies. I'm continuously learning and developing my skills.
What were the biggest challenges you faced going back into the workplace after giving birth?
The mom guilt made it hard for me to go back to work. I remember walking to the office with tears in my eyes and feeling upset about leaving Lucia at home with someone else. She was crying when I left the house that morning and that image stuck with me the entire day. My colleagues could tell that I was having a hard time and tried comforting me but the guilt did not go away. When my manager suggested that Lucia could come to visit me at the office, things got easier for me. Since we lived so close to the office, our nanny could easily bring Lucia over. I realize that not all parents get this type of support and that I'm extremely fortunate to have such a wonderful support network in the office.
Do you have any tips for mothers regarding returning to work after maternity leave?
There are two things that I would have loved to have known before returning to work. First of all, your baby is going to cry when you leave them with someone else. But nothing is going to happen to them, and they will have stopped crying long before you stopped worrying about them. Secondly, I would want all mothers to know that they are allowed to feel sad and homesick. Don't suppress your emotions, but don't overthink them either―your baby is going to be fine.
What are your favorite things about being a mother with a career?
I am proud to be a role model to my daughter. Lucia is now at the age that she is starting to imitate me, and it’s the cutest thing. The other day, I walked in on her while she was playing with her toy computer. When I asked her what she was doing, she answered “I’m working mom, now please close the door.” Both my husband and I are engineers, and we work from home. She understands that when our office door is closed, that we are at work and that she can’t interrupt us.
I stimulate her development but I never push her to use computer appliances, yet she seems to have a natural interest in technology. She will ask me to Google things for her, or to activate Siri. Every night, we have a 20-minute conversation during which she asks me how to say certain things in English. Her pronunciation is impressive, I’m so proud of her. Finding a balance between working and parenting can be challenging, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
How has the pandemic affected your work and family life?
The pandemic is a serious public health crisis, but being at home as much as we have, has had its positive aspects. Before the pandemic, I was already working from home a lot but I would still go into the office one day per week. Now that my husband no longer goes to his office, we get to spend much more time together. We had to find new routines and adapt to them, but we are pretty synchronized now and have found a good balance. It has been challenging trying to explain to Lucia why we’re no longer taking her to ballet classes, or why we can’t go to the park to play. We found YouTube videos that help parents explain to young children what is happening and how to comply with measures. After watching this with Lucia, she started to welcome visiting family at the door with a can of Lysol. When it comes to working, the communication between my colleagues and myself has actually increased now that they are also working from home. I’m receiving more phone calls and attending more meetings. Plus, people now have their webcams on by default which makes our meetings more personal.
What is Encora doing to support parents who are working from home?
They have been extremely supportive and I couldn't ask for better support. During virtual meetings, we all know that there might be background noises, sudden connection problems, or colleagues holding their babies. Everyone has been understanding because we all face similar struggles while trying to adjust to this new way of working. Plus, it usually adds a little laughter to meetings when a cat walks across a keyboard or someone's dog demands attention.
What do you think other companies could do to support working parents?
Friends of mine are not experiencing the same flexibility in their jobs as I do. They are still expected to work from 8 AM till 5 PM, while they are working from home and have their children running around. Having such a strict work schedule does not work for parents. Even parents who have a nanny at home might sometimes need to step away from work for a bit to deal with situations. If I need to leave my desktop for an hour, it’s never a problem. I don’t feel stressed taking some time out of my day to deal with family responsibilities. Business owners and leaders at other companies should give their employees the same flexibility, it pays off for them in the form of more engaged and loyal employees.
What would you like your daughter to know about entering the workforce?
I would want my daughter, and every other girl, to know that it might not always be easy but it will be worth it. Whether you’re joining the tech industry or a different sector, you might face more resistance than your male classmates. People might tell you that you’re unable to succeed, but you should never let others define your capabilities or kill your dreams. You are able to do whatever you set your mind to. For me, it was challenging to graduate with a bachelor's degree in a systems engineering program. Not just because the material was complex, but because people would tell me that technology is a man’s world. I have faced sexist assumptions about my technological proficiency more than once. As the only girl in a project team of boys, I have been mistaken for someone’s girlfriend while in fact, I was the project leader. Everyone should know that there have been lots of women who played vital roles in the field of computer science and information technology. Some of them have developed essential components of modern IT. So you better believe that women can do whatever men can do.
If you had the power to change one thing in the business market for employed mothers, what would you change?
Essentially, I would want to change the way mothers see themselves. I think that we often feel that we are not doing enough, that we’re not exactly where we are supposed to be, or that we are somehow failing. If we ourselves could believe that we are enough, doing enough, and having enough, maybe we wouldn’t feel judged or burdened by other people's expectations and opinions of us.
For our first interview in this Mother’s Day series, we spoke with Encora’s Jessica Sonju who is based in Scottsdale, Arizona. We asked her to come up with a question for you. Her question is: In Costa Rica, do you feel women are still being judged when they return to work after having given birth? Is there a feeling of shame for “abandoning your children?”
Yes. Absolutely yes. Whether it’s the day that you return from your maternity leave or years after having given birth, people will judge you. Just weeks ago, someone questioned why I’m still working now that I have started my family. I felt offended and hurt, especially because the person in question happened to be a woman. We should support each other’s decisions without feeling intimidated or inadequate. I have my job, I raise my daughter, and I’m also a loving and supportive wife to my husband―you don't have to choose between these roles if you don't want to.
What question would you like to ask the next woman we interview?
Unfortunately, some people still have trouble seeing a woman as an engineer, programmer, or developer. I‘d be interested to know what they would want to say to men who still believe that women can’t reach top positions, or are unable to excel in STEM fields.
In the first interview of this Mother’s Day series, we spoke with Jessica Sonju who works as Senior Manager, People & Culture in Scottsdale, Arizona. Click here to read what she has to say about motherhood, work, and life at Encora.