Being a new dad while working at a startup
One of our team (JP) recently became a father for the first time. I thought it might be interesting to discuss his experiences, as well as sharing some strategies for working in a high-stress startup environment while raising a tiny human, since one might think that the two are incompatible.
JP with little Sara's head just visible:
Extreme work-family balance. Aka, our first pair programming session. pic.twitter.com/vvfEgqXjUZ— Jean-Philippe Boily (@jipiboily) May 27, 2014
Let's jump into the interview.
Fred: JP you're a dad!!! Holy sh*t.
Fred: How old is Sara now?
JP: She’s about to turn three months in 10 days, so that’s 11 weeks exactly.
Fred: So I guess the first question is what do you think employers need to do to make it easy for their employees to feel like they can have kids and still work on the startup?
JP: Being flexible. Not asking for crunch time too much. Four months of crunch time, it just doesn't work with a baby. It’s just not possible. Right now as soon as I stop working I’m back on family stuff, and when I’m done with that I sleep. Then we start over. I don’t have any free time... well in the last week or so I started to be able to code again just for fun, but not that much. Like sometimes it’s five minutes. Basically, being flexible, not asking for too much crunch time, and understanding that for the first few months at least the employee might not be at full productivity.
Fred: What else has helped make this time as easy as possible?
JP: I think for me at least, working remotely is a major point. Not having to commute like an hour or two a day. It’s like an hour or two of time I can spend with my wife and kid. That’s non-negotiable for me. I don’t think I’ll ever work in an office ever again, but that’s me.
Fred: Do you think you can define the important milestones so far? Maybe how it relates to your life at Rainforest?
JP: Yeah. The three first weeks were pretty hard, because getting used to not sleeping was... kind of hard for me. And it’s probably hard for most people. Then we figured out a way of working, my wife and I. Basically I sleep, she doesn’t sleep.
That works, and I’m now able to work, and I’m not worried during the day that Sara's okay and everything is fine. Probably the first three weeks were not at full speed. I think I was back at full speed probably after three weeks. But then the focus is not the same. Well, not... not the focus is not the same... the focus is probably about the same I guess, but the thing is I don’t have time to think about bugs and fixes out of work. Usually I was thinking of stuff maybe in my shower, while watching TV, you know. Now I’m mostly thinking about family stuff. Or just not thinking at all because I have so much on my plate.
So there’s probably that to expect, at least for the first couple months. And it depends on the baby obviously. We’re reading a bunch of stuff and like people say, “my baby is sleeping 10 hours a day, every night.” Nope, that’s really not the case for us. I’m expecting that Sara will sleep way better in the next three or four weeks. Like hoping to, at least.
Fred: Do you think this whole kind of timeline is mostly about the baby's sleeping patterns, essentially? And how it impacts your sleeping?
JP: I think so. I need to help my wife, well not just help her but let her sleep during the evenings. So I’m like full-time dad plus a full-time employee. I don’t have any spare time. Probably in a month or two I’ll be able to spend maybe a night a week to just hack on stuff. My wife and I decided to give ourselves a night of break each week roughly. That’s the idea we had before having Sara. I don’t know if will be able to do that. But that’s the plan. At some point. Right now my wife is breast-feeding Sara so that’s not possible. But I think I might be able to do that soonish. Like last night we had an Open Hack here in Alma and I hosted at my home actually.
Fred: Excellent. Extrapolating this out, how do you think that’s going to change? Obviously you’re just guessing right now, but do you think at some point Sara is expected to sleep through the night? Will it just be like, when she’s four years old, then you can start to have some normal life? Have you spoken to other parents? (you can tell I have never had children)
JP: I think it’ll be before that. It depends on your definition of normal life. I don’t think I’ll ever be doing as much stuff as I was doing before. Maybe, I don’t know. My expectation is to be able to get back to pretty much full speed at six months of life for Sara.
Fred: And that’s based on the fact that she’ll be sleeping and you guys will be adjusted?
JP: Yeah and she’ll also be able to make fun by herself with toys and that kind of stuff. Because now we need to entertain her, we can’t leave her alone. Well, we could but that would not be good for her. So it’s a full-time thing right now. My guess is six months of life, so roughly in three months? Well, I was saying full speed probably at that time but maybe it’s around a year. I don’t know, I’m totally guessing. I guess I’m more hoping than anything!
Fred: So I'm a new father, I'm expecting a child in like a month, and I'm reading this. What should I be telling my employer? Assuming the employer is super cool, like us.
JP: Yeah, that’s the key part of it. When I told my previous employer that we’re going to have a baby, they were like 'cool!' And then a few months later I told them, “I’m leaving for probably five weeks in May.” And they were like, 'wat?' (JP makes face). That was quite different.
Make a plan as soon as possible, communicate it, and just make sure it’s cool. Be flexible. Your employer is flexible, try to be flexible too. Ideally I would have taken five weeks, but five weeks is quite a bit, mostly for the US mentality. Here in Québec five weeks is pretty much normal. Everyone just takes five weeks, and everyone’s just like, “it sucks, but it’s five weeks, cool.” Being flexible, just taking three weeks, just taking two, is helping, because a startup needs to move fast. Losing someone for five weeks is quite a long stretch for a startup. So cutting that into multiple phases like we're doing probably makes more sense.
Fred: Is there anything else? Anything else about communicating what to expect for the first couple months?
JP: For the first couple months, doing smaller tasks at work would probably make sense. Starting on something big, and then something happens with the baby, and you need to work on different hours, it probably makes more sense to do small things for the first couple months. Until you have your routine, and you get used to it with the baby.
And with side projects, I guess it depends. If it’s important for your employer to hack on stuff at night, you should probably tell them, “I won’t do any commit that will be public in the next six months, or year.” And it depends also if your priority changes, and to what extent.
Fred: Do you think it was a good decision to join Rainforest and become a parent, rather than join Google or Microsoft or something?
JP: Yeah totally. For me it just doesn’t make sense. I’ve been through big companies before. Well it wasn’t those companies, but government. Government and big companies are roughly the same for a bunch of stuff. It’s more relaxed, you do your little thing, and just get back from that, 35-40 hours a week. Like, take 2 months of vacation in some places, or like a month. But it’s totally different. I work in a startup because, first, I love the product, and I like being part of everything, touching everything... I guess it depends on what you like. If you like big things, big places, well maybe. I don’t think you should stop working for a startup because you become a parent. You should just pick a good startup, like Rainforest. (JP actually said this!)
Fred: Any other tips you would give? As a father who’s been working at startups, is there anything that you tried, or you didn’t expect?.
JP: Not really to be honest. I didn’t find anything magic.
Fred: Just pain.
JP: No, it’s not that painful. It’s being busy.
Fred: Do you think it was a good decision?
Thanks JP! If you have any follow up questions tweet @jipiboily and he will reply to you in all his free time.
(This interview was transcribed from a recorded Google hangout by our friends at Scribgrid - highly recommended).