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How Working in Operations Prepared Me for Motherhood

My journey into motherhood has been, well, phenomenal. A lot of it was luck. But I also think that subconsciously applying a few things I learned in over a decade of operations leadership has eased my way.

Headshot of Kelsey Waters
Kelsey WatersSenior Director, Operations
How Working in Operations Prepared Me for Motherhood

A few nights ago, as I rocked my daughter to sleep around 3 am, I realized that I’d been writing an article in my head for the last two months. My journey into motherhood has been, well, phenomenal. A lot of it was luck. But I also think that subconsciously applying a few things I learned in over a decade of operations leadership has eased my way.

Always On Call

If you’ve worked in operations, your number likely has been listed on an “on-call roster” or in PagerDuty. You’ve read afterhours email alerts from a monitoring system on your phone. You know that the network never sleeps, and you’re always ready, at a moment’s notice, to rub the sleep out of our eyes and pop on a call, alert and ready to assist.

When my daughter wakes up at 2 am (and 5 am, and sometimes midnight), I’m leveraging a whole lot of years of conditioning. Sometimes I’m up and out of bed before I’ve quite processed why I’m on my feet. More importantly, I don’t begrudge the little creature for needing food or comfort -- like I don’t begrudge my incident management team and engineers for calling when a call needs to be made. I’m grateful for the call, because I’d much rather know now than find out later.

Troubleshooting 101

Thus far, my baby is a lot easier to troubleshoot than a multi-vendor, multi-code-revision, variable configuration network of 50,000+ devices. I got back to basics with troubleshooting through a short list of possible root causes. The methodical application of good troubleshooting principles definitely works here (as does the pacifier).

Who remembers the Cisco troubleshooting methods? “Top-Down,” “Bottom-Up,” “Divide-and-Conquer.” Sound familiar? Thanks to technology, targeted troubleshooting of a new baby is pretty easy these days. I readily access the time of her last feeding and the length of her last nap. When her diaper gets wet, it issues an alert by changing color!

Aside from the occasional corner case, it’s generally clear why she’s upset. Drop in the right playbook after troubleshooting and I am one step closer to a happy baby.

Obsessed With Data

An obsession with data complements troubleshooting. How do you know, for example, that the latest firmware update is causing more failures without reliable data? How do you know that your new approach to releases is actually driving down time to provision and making customers happier? I’ve never met a good operations leader who doesn’t have a healthy method for measuring the right data points and using the data to drive change.

I spend a lot of time looking at my app that tracks feedings. I see patterns and schedules emerge. Sometimes, for example, I may see that she slept for an extra hour and if I pull a few feedings closer together, she won’t go to bed hungry and fussy.

That said, I reserve the right to have coffee in my lucky mug before the big maintenance, and I’m still going to put her down at night in those lucky socks she slept in really well that one time. After all, in the words of the great Michael Scott:

Working with Customers

One of the best operations leaders I know taught me to never work “against” customers. There’s no value in defensiveness. Thus, I always work with customers against unexpected hardware failures, bizarre corner cases, and processes I’m responsible for fixing and improving. Customers don’t always appreciate the great lengths engineers will often go to track down the root cause of a complex issue. And that’s fine, but I, as an operations leader, certainly do.

In the same way, I don’t work against my newborn. It’s the two of us vs sleep -- a magical place we both desperately want her to get to at 5:45 am, so she can be rested and I can grab that precious extra hour before starting the day. Why engage in a battle of wills when I can choose to be teammates with my child?

Almost Time to Return

As my leave draws to a close, I’m also thinking of all those who’ve had a more difficult journey. I have a full-term baby who is an excellent sleeper and eater, and I’m so incredibly lucky to have the support of my husband and my family. I know things might change tomorrow -- sleep regressions, bottle struggles, and so on -- but I have one final weapon in my arsenal: relentless optimism and a positive mental attitude.

I know I’m not even on day 60 here. To those of you struggling out there and to those on day 999, I see you. RESPECT. MAD RESPECT.


Published on

01 September 2021



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