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This past 2 years in the SAP ecosystem has been massive for me. And massive feels like an understatement. I left the shadows of passive SCN participation and found my voice (well my fingers found the keyboard). I developed my online professional reputation using SCN as a platform. This provided me with opportunities and recognition in being a Topic Leader, Member of the Month, Moderator and eventually a SAP Mentor.

I also changed jobs in the past 12 months (as an independent consultant, regular job change is normal) which resulted in cross-country commuting – a 6 hour flight from one side to the other of Australia and living out of a suitcase. At the same time, my partner was posted to another city so I threw in a 3-city triangle commute. But the benefit was access to the new products within SAP: HANA platform, SuccessFactors, Ariba, Fiori and soon mobility. And pay the mortgage whilst we’re at it (for the home I never see).

How could I say no to all of these opportunities? I love my job: the work I do; the problems I solve; the variety and the people. My work is my hobby. I’m a proud nerd who lives and breathes SAP and its technologies. I spent my 20s studying and working. Any opportunity to get exposure to new content and help out would see me cancelling my social life and staying back late in the office. My friends knew to find me in the office and could only entice me out if it involved food and wine.

At the same time, I did manage to meet a wonderful person – happened to be an ex-colleague (I do wonder how many relationships have formed due to SAP implementations). He understand go live coming up means a temporary pause to social life. He’s not surprised when we’re watching television that I’m multitasking with SCN on my iPad or that I’m going to scan my emails before I go to sleep and when I wake up in the morning. Or my insomnia that awakes me at 2am will be channelled into SCN community. He knows I’m a workaholic and he still wants to marry me (yeah that’s another thing I’m juggling with joy right now). He also wasn’t surprised that I’d choose to have the wedding a week before a major go live (honeymoon is deferred to next year as I hop on a plane back to work).

To add to my busy year my partner and I decided it was time to start a family before my age catches up with me. Monster (kids are scary) must have realised at the beginning that my life is a Spreadsheet and embraced my schedule with an intention to greet us in October (no TechEd/dCode for me this year as airplanes apparently aren’t a substitute for hospital beds).

But now I find some realities and practicalities catching up with me. And this means it means I have to accept some limitations and make some changes to create more balance. It also means I’m going to have to be less selfish in my career-first approach to life to achieve this balance. I’m going to have to recognise monster might be kind enough to fit my schedule right now but come October my project-plan approach to life won’t work.

This realisation (to which everyone else can roll their eyes and see how clueless I am) has meant major reflections on how best to proceed with my career. The reality is: I have to stop flying from August. I have to add numerous doctor appointments to my schedule and learn patience (they are never on time and some dates you are told when to turn up without choice). I have to accept the physical symptoms of pregnancy – burning the midnight candle isn’t sustainable in the best of times and near impossible when monster has sapped you off all your energy and sleep is the only option (preferably not during a client meeting). Living off a box of skittles each day for instant sugar hit isn’t sustainable either. I have to relinquish a fair bit of control and reset my expectations.

But what I have discovered more recently is I can keep my career. As much as I fear career stagnation (monster making was one of my motivations in writing that blog) I know I’m in a unique professional situation to sustain my skills and continue to work in some capacity. I just have to change how I work and how I contribute.

I haven’t got the answers but what I have learned so far:

I work in a male dominated industry

Ok hear me out on this one if you have just had a “WTF are you blind” reaction. When I go to work each day I don’t pay attention at all to whether someone is a male or female. I work and collaborate with colleagues based on their positions and skills. I don’t check myself as the door as some woman in a man’s world.

I work with some pretty awesome men and I don’t see a glass ceiling

Based on news articles, government policy and Facebook feeds I feel that I am in a pretty fortunate and unique situation. I felt comfortable to tell my boss (a man) that I was pregnant at 8 weeks. I didn’t have any fear or worry that my job would be at risk due to this revelation. His reaction was to support me in whatever decision I wanted to make with my career and we’d work something out.

There were a few stressful moments where I found myself lacking some confidence in standing up for myself. I confided in my boss that I was struggling to differentiate between preggy-emotions and valid frustrations of the project. His reaction was I’ve got your back and you’re not being emotional (or it’s not impacting decision making). What a huge difference to stress and overreacting when someone supports you and you are able to get a sanity check.

My immediate team (all men) congratulated me and asked how they could be of assistance. They’re all fathers themselves and each with daughters – and if they had the chance to be at home with the kids instead of the office they’d take the opportunity to be. They considered my change in dietary requirements (they learned I’m still allowed a coffee a day); they understood when flu season hit I would avoid the germy people; they knew I’d be home at 5 for a nanna nap but online later. They genuinely cared. But ultimately, they treated me the same professionally: if there’s a security question then ask Colleen.

I have built a pretty good reputation and I don’t have to give it up

This one hit home in the past few weeks. As much as I want to stay in my current role there may come a time when it’s no longer feasible. And so I worried – what would this mean to my finances to be out of work indefinitely? Even scarier – what happens if I have a huge gap in my resume and no longer have the skills that everyone seeks? Or the still unknown – will my mind go gaga from lack of mental stimulation and adult interaction?

My fears and worries were unfounded. I have had:

  1. An acquaintance through SCN still encouraged me to collaborate with him and his company in some form or capacity.
  2. A bunch of awesome SAP Mentors tell me about other work opportunities and offer to keep an eye out for me.
  3. A publisher asked if I would be interested in writing a book at some point.
  4. My awesome boss still willing for me to work in some capacity.
  5. My professional network offer to consider me for part-time and/or short client engagements.
  6. And the list goes on (even moments of pass the monster around the office floor and come in for a few meetings).

I can continue my education and keep skills current

SAP has so many platforms now to learn. I have SAP Learning Hub access. I can enrol in Open SAP courses. SCN has a wealth of knowledge.The list goes on. Availability of time and motivation will be my only barriers to continuing my knowledge development. I don’t have to be stuck on the outside unable to learn and de-skill as a result.

I have opportunity at flexible working conditions

I just need to adapt and recognise life won’t be the same. I have been able to develop working relationships and prove my ability to work remote and still deliver quality. I am an independent consultant who is not reliant on my employer’s schedule and work policies. I can seek out part-time work. I can take time out of the workforce for as a long as necessary (something my partner and I are working through now) and gradually re-join it when the time is right.

I’m not sure what will happen post October. I have no idea what my priorities will be next year. I have no idea if I’m going to find my calling as parent and find work is no longer my main hobby. I do know life will change. I do know I have to adapt. I do know I have a fantastic support network – partner, family, friends and colleagues. I know I have choices. And for all those reasons I am very lucky and even more grateful! For now, I’ll keep my eyes out and eventually figure it all out.

Regards

Colleen

P.s – I’d love to hear your stories on how you made a transition with your careers or even decided to balance out your private life from the world of SAP!

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17 Comments

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  1. Tammy Powlas

    Wow Colleen – congratulations on multiple fronts.

    It sounds like you have really thought this through and I am happy for your changes and news.

    Career transition advice – I think you will know when the time is right for change

    I am looking forward to seeing your Coffee Confession video; will it perhaps make an appearance in the Coffee Corner space? πŸ™‚

    Best of luck to you.

    Tammy

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    1. Colleen Hebbert Post author

      Thanks Tammy πŸ™‚

      No idea what Tony de Thomasis is doing with those videos but I’m sure they’ll turn up somewhere. Funnily enough we had to leave the coffee machine and stand at the bar for my interview…. I miss red wine πŸ™‚

      You are right – I’ll know when the time comes. I’ve had to accept that I can’t answer what will I be doing in 6 months time or 9 months time with work. I’ll be able to say in January what I’m doing in January. I’ve come to peace with that.

      Regards

      Colleen

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  2. Susan Keohan

    Hi Colleen,

    What a brave woman, to tackle so many life-changing ‘projects’ at once… and I really admire you for sharing your self examinations with us.

    For me, I was not quite in the SAP world when I got my first ‘monster’ – but even as I definitely worked in a male-dominated area, I found incredible support, being allowed to work from home way back when it was hardly even heard of.  The middle-of-the-nights dialing in to log some hours in order to make up for the daytime naps – and yes, it was actually ‘dialing in‘ (boop-boop-beep-boop…. buzzzzzz).    I had the same support when my second monster came along 6.5 years later (and I was involved with SAP by then).

    I have no doubt that you will find your own successes and adaptations and have a great time (along with the middle of the night squalls) along your way.

    I wish more women (and MEN too!) were as fortunate as we are…. See John Oliver’s take on family leave:

    http://www.salon.com/2015/05/11/john_oliver_rips_americas_disgraceful_maternity_leave_policy_thanks_for_giving_us_life_now_get_the_fck_back_to_work%E2%80%9D/

    Cheers,

    Sue

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    1. Colleen Hebbert Post author

      hahah I think brave could be replaced with crazy/stupid with the amount I’m juggling. But if the alternative is boredom I know what I will choose

      Completely agree on your wish. I probably have a more controversial opinion on improving women’s return to the workforce and balancing out families. I wonder that maybe the focus needs to shift toward men/other spouse: overcoming perception and making it possible/comfortable for them to stay home and be the primary caregiver. Set up opportunity that the partnership decides who works and who stays home (or day care/nanny path). Cultural changes so people don’t find it weird or judge the mother for returning to work or perceive a man/other spouse on parental leave is on holidays. More of this happening will create more opportunity for women to return to work sooner/when the time is right for their family unit.

      My partner’s employer has a very generate paid parental leave program open to the fathers as well. My partner is looking forward to taking that opportunity

      Cheers

      Col.

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      1. Gretchen Lindquist

        Colleen,

        I used to work with an SAP consultant whose husband was a stay-at-home dad since she put in so many long hours with the SI consultancy. This was 15 years ago and it was quite unusual, at least here in the US. I wish you lots of luck with your new phase of life; if anyone can help lead by example with a new social model, I am confident that you can do it!

        Cheers,

        Gretchen

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      2. Matt Fraser

        I would venture to say that paternity leave is still rare and unusual in the US, 15 years later, but it’s not unheard-of. Seriously, though, even maternity leave is often unpaid here, let alone paternity leave, so for many young families this can be a serious struggle to figure out how to cope. Since FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) became law in the US in 1993, employers are required to give eligible employees 12 weeks of unpaid job-protected leave for the birth of a child (so it’s now illegal to fire an employee for becoming a parent, as long as they return to work within 3 months, and, oh, a huge section of the working population is not actually eligible for this protection). My, how generous (as Sue’s linked article states, the US is one of only two countries that doesn’t mandate paid parental leave of some kind, though some states within the US do so at the state level). Some employers do offer paid maternity leave on their own, because after all such a benefit attracts better employees, though it’s not necessarily for the whole 12 weeks, and some fewer number offer paid paternity leave, but I think this is still quite rare, and may be for an even shorter period of time.

        I would say, though, at least where I live the social perception of new dads who take leave to raise a child while their wives work is no longer as negative as it used to be. In fact, I think some other men look at that with some envy (though, perhaps they wouldn’t if they lived the day-to-day reality!). However, I live in a relatively progressive corner of the country, so I wouldn’t want to speculate whether these perceptions hold true elsewhere.

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        1. Colleen Hebbert Post author

          always interesting. The Australian Government is currently reviewing paid parental leave rules. I don’t think I qualify so I’ve never made any plans of access to it. My partner can only take the leave if he’s the primary caregiver – therefore I must return to work.

          Nice to see social perception is changing. I have a friend (she’s a single mum) and she gets worked up every time she hears men saying ‘can’t go out tonight as the missus is going out so I’m babysitting’. You will get her rant of ‘when they’re your child it’s called parenting NOT babysitting’. The male friends do this deliberately to get a rise out of her. However, it goes to show that even the language used to describe men looking after their children has a bit to go.

          I was worried about writing this blog as it’s a lot more personal than usual. But I’m glad I did if since it’s bringing out these types of information and discussions. I know I living in a pretty lucky country πŸ™‚

          Cheers

          Colleen

          P.s def a SCN happy family going on – one day we’ll all meet.

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  3. Sam P

    Hi Colleen,

    Congratulations. You are a good human being and good things will happen to you. About career and money you don’t need to have a second thought. At this knowledge level you are all set for rest of your life.Take care. and Good luck.

    Sam

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  4. Matt Fraser

    Colleen,

    Wow. Yeah, for a “life-plan-by-the-numbers-on-a-spreadsheet” kind of person, this is indeed going to be a major transition! Congratulations! Though, already I see your keen planning and analysis skills shining through as you figure out in advance what changes you need to make for this to work, and I suspect that none of us who know you (virtually, anyway) have any doubt that you will be as successful and find as much joy as a mother as you are and do as a consultant and all-around tech geek. And if anyone can figure out how to make those two sides of life compatible with each other, it will be you.

    When you said, a few days back, that your fingers were itching for putting out another blog, I knew something good was coming, but I admit I didn’t expect this.

    Perhaps you are lucky in your boss and your colleagues, but I suspect that it’s not so much luck as good planning on your part to place yourself in such an environment.

    Again, congratulations, my friend, to you and to your partner, and all the best wishes from your SCN family.

    Cheers,

    Matt

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  5. JΓΌrgen L

    I am already curious for the blog that you will write in two years about implementing security, revoking authority and segregating duties at home.

    Congratulations.

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    1. Colleen Hebbert Post author

      hahaa … although my latest idea for a book:

      Team up with a raising children’s author and copying the book with find and replace of manager and employee. Now that would be a laugh and a way to get managers to consider employees needs and emotions/developments/learnings/opportunities/motivations/etc

      Cheers

      Colleen

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  6. Jelena Perfiljeva

    Colleen, congratulations! You will make a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful mother! πŸ™‚

    One of the most annoying thing I found in pregnancy (even worse than physical symptoms) was the loss of privacy. All of a sudden it somehow became acceptable for everyone (as the responsible humans concerned about the well-being of a future citizen, I’m sure) to openly judge and discuss your dietary choices or share all kinds of labor horror stories (because that’s exactly what expecting mothers should hear). But a good thing about SCN is that we can’t give you a virtual “should you really be having that coffee in your condition?” look. πŸ™‚

    I also had to make some transitions to have my own “monster” (I always thought pregnancy was very creepy, like the Alien movie, but it felt surprisingly normal, must be hormones) and left an interesting but very demanding job that required travel. On a bright side, I met the most awesome people of RWD who taught me a lot about life and SAP and even C#.

    Our circumstances allowed for a stay-at-home dad (it’s becoming more acceptable, but still far from being mainstream), so I went back to work after about 3 months of “short term disability leave” (that’s what pregnancy is considered in the US) and paid/unpaid personal time off. Then for about 9 months I shared the “mothers room” (AKA old supply closet) with two other fantastic moms while my husband was occasionally skyping me pictures of diaper explosions and other fun I was missing at home. πŸ™‚

    The surprising positive thing that came out of it was – I take many things much easier now. Crying babies on a plane? Well, that’s what babies do. No time for makeup? I’m sure cashiers at Target have seen worse. Trip to an SAP conference where I get to sleep in till 8 am (uninterrupted!) and not read a single ‘Don’ let the Pigeon…’ story for 3 days – jack pot! πŸ™‚

    I’m sure you’ll get tons of unsolicited parenting advice (see above about loss of privacy), so I’ll try to make mine short. Pretty much anything that happens is normal and not just you (once our baby ate some cat litter – Google had it on instant search, I didn’t even have to finish the sentence). And empty plastic containers of different sizes (and some other recycling) make great toys. Save money for things you’ll actually need. Like therapy. (Just kidding! πŸ™‚ )

    Best wishes! This will be super-exciting!

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    1. Colleen Hebbert Post author

      Thanks Jelena πŸ™‚

      You are 100% spot on about privacy. More so, all these “private” or socially taboo topics are suddenly treated quite clinically. I found it really strange that I was waiting for some magic 12 week mark to tell family and friends yet I lost count of the numerous admin assistants, doctors, pharmacist who would let me take antihistamine or cough syrup, of my status and how many weeks I was.

      Children on planes – I’ve usually been really laid back and feel sorry for parents who are judged. But I do now look at them and think ‘gee that could be me soon’. Now when I see parents at airports trying to contain their children in the airport lounge from running around, I really feel like intruding and tell them to let the kids run and play to burn some energy before they are couped up in the plane. Might even have a greater success of them passing out (again, my ignorance is shining through).

      Plastic bottles is on par with most kids I’ve seen at Christmas who have taken more delight in scrunching wrapping paper than playing with the gift. Hang out with kids and you appreciate the simpler things in life.

      Cheers

      Colleen

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  7. Graham Robinson

    A really wonderful and thought provoking post Mikki. Thanks very much.

    I already know that meeting you in person for the first time last week will be a highlight of my year.

    Thanks

    Graham Robbo

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  8. Jarret Pazahanick

    Thanks for the sharing, congratulations and best of luck.  As someone that has been through 30 SAP/SF Go-Lives and have 2 kids I can you that work/life balance is something that can be a challenge at times but definitely possible if you work at it.

    Since you asked for stories I made a major transition about 2 years ago as I was on a very rough project implementing a poor SAP OnPremise offering, part of huge team with a big SI (as an independent contractor) and a challenging customer.  It was a toxic mix and for the first time I wasn’t enjoying consulting. It just so happened that we had a summer family vacation planned and after walking down the beach for a week, talking to my wife, spending some real quality time with my kids and doing some soul searching I realized that even though it was a great financial opportunity it was not a good opportunity for me personally at at the same time life as a road warrior was wearing thin.  My wife and I had always talked that once our kids were 5 I would get off the road and they were 7 and 6 at the time.


    I had a couple remote clients so I just enjoyed the summer, spent tons of time with the family/kids and it continued to reinforce that I didn’t want to travel as much (had been traveling between 12-15 days a month for the past 15 years). I decided to dive into SuccessFactors and got 3 certifications as was easy to see that is where things were headed in HR Technology + I liked the work/life balance many of the opportunities had (mostly remote).  Fast forward 2 years later, and my business is as strong as it has ever been, I am traveling under 30 nights a year, and have missed very few baseball/soccer practice/games either :-).  It is definitely the work/life balance that I want at this stage of my career as your kids only grow up once.


    It is often hard for people to relate to the burden of consulting travel over may years + all the changes in our industry + trying to balance with younger kids/family as it is not easy but I can say without a doubt that the road warrior lifestyle is one I am not planning to go back to.

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    1. Colleen Hebbert Post author

      Hi Jarret

      Thanks for sharing your experience. Yours is probably where I’ll find myself in 6+ months time. I admit, I already struggle to hope on the plane. I find anyone who sees romantic notions in travelling for work hasn’t done it. Some see it as travelling to the new cities and seeing the sites. More than often it’s airport to hotel to officer to hotel to airport.

      Road Warrior Lifestyle – good imagery and I don’t blame you for reluctance to return. It’s a pity it takes a bad project to come to that conclusion

      Regards

      Colleen

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      1. Rakesh Ram

        Hello Colleen,

        As always reading through the post still I feel I need more of it….

        Hearty Congratulations and definitely you will make a wonderful mother….and a small request :once u get more time off, please spend some time posting the blogs in SCN.

        I recently had a child and its a baby boy…..Planning to name him from SAP Security Terminology….Can you suggest me a name please? Had it been a girl, I would have definitely named her Colleen Lee…

        You are such a role model and inspiration for many in the forum….

        For you there is no career transition…..You just need to select what you want and a whole bunch of techies will wait there to welcome you out…..

        All the best for your future endeavors

        Regards

        Deepak M

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