Balancing motherhood and a tech career
Photos: J.Judisun Photography and Siow Yee Shin
Not every mum wants to go back to work after taking a break to care for her children. For Siow Yee Shin, the big decision to resume her career, albeit tough, was a rather spontaneous one.
A tech veteran, Yee Shin began her career as an applications developer in a small local firm in 2003 before switching fields to focus on IT security in 2008.
Since then, she has been specialising in IT governance and risk management, long before cyber security became one of the most in-demand jobs of the tech industry in recent years.
The cyber security professional, who majored in computer engineering, wasn’t particularly interested in technology lest you thought her interest in tech started at a young age. Instead, it was her farsighted father who first saw the tech sector as a growing industry, and convinced Yee Shin to pursue the degree programme.
Today, Yee Shin is an Assistant Director at Cyber Security Agency of Singapore’s (CSA) critical infrastructure team. Her day in office involves “working with critical sector regulators like PUB and MAS (Monetary Authority of Singapore) to build their cyber capabilities” and “reviewing their cyber security landscape.”
Why she rejoined the workforce
After six months of being a stay-at-home-mum (SAHM) to her two school-going boys aged 9 and 6, what made Yee Shin decide to go back to full time work?
“I chose to be a SAHM in early 2016 because of my kids’ discipline then. Also, my eldest was in Primary 2 and I saw a need to help him focus on his studies,” she explained.
In June last year, Yee Shin was approached (by her ex-manager) to join CSA. Presented with a job opening that was right up her alley, the mum was in a dilemma initially. After careful assessment of her options and with the assurance from her supportive husband, Yee Shin eventually took the leap.
“After spending months at home, routines were established and things seemed more stable so I thought it was good timing,” says Yee Shin, “And for me, it was an opportunity to go back to my field.”
“A working mum can never have it all”
“I definitely struggled being a working mum,” said the soft-spoken and petite 37-year-old. “On one hand, I want to spend more time with my kids because as a parent, you’re responsible for them. On the other hand, there’s the job satisfaction from a career that I love.”
Before becoming a mother in 2008, Yee Shin’s driven personality and love for her job meant that her life centered around her career while her firstborn was mainly taken care of by her mother-in-law. Soon enough, she found herself caught in a position that many working mothers faced – an endless cycle of guilt.
The long hours spent at work in a consultancy firm and being away from her child got to a point where her (then) 9-month-old baby started drifting away from her, and it pained the first time mum. Something has to give.
Determined to find work-life balance, she quit her job and settled for a new one at a sovereign wealth fund that offered her better working hours. When her second child came along a couple years later, she was adamant not to make the same mistake twice and made sure she’s always hands-on with the needs of her children – as much as time allows it.
Embracing the life of a working mum
“Unfortunately, there’s a limit to how much you can do with your family when you have a career,” she said plainly. “Say, you’re strict with your kids’ diet or discipline but when you’re not physically there with them, it’s hard to enforce the rules through the caregiver. So you have to close an eye…”
Yee Shin was also candid about reaching the top rungs of the corporate ladder while balancing work and a busy family life at this phase of her life.
“A working mum with family commitments can’t be as driven as those who are single,” she said. “Maybe when my boys are in their teens, I hope to focus on my career advancement then but definitely not now.”
Despite the challenges, Yee Shin has found a certain equilibrium between family and work, something that has allowed her to return to a career that she loved.
“Technology is a field that’s ever changing, it keeps you challenged constantly and that’s where the job satisfaction comes from.”
Are her children adjusting well to their mum’s back-to-work routine?
“My kids are happy!” (Laughs)
“Although every now and then, my youngest boy would still ask if I’m taking time off to spend with them.”
Finding work-life balance
Working at CSA has allowed her to properly juggle both work and family, as well as spend quality time with her children – thanks to an understanding boss, a supportive husband and her in-laws who help babysit the kids while she’s at work.
“One of the good things is that I can work from home so I don’t have to stay late in the office,” Yee Shin shared. “It also helps that my boss is always open to feedback, and rarely assigns last minute tasks to me so I’m able to plan my work and time productively.”
Having a super hands-on husband, who actively helps out in parenting duties, is something that Yee Shin is also very grateful for. Her weekday typically starts at 7am when she wakes up to prepare herself for work and get the younger boy ready for kindergarten while her husband takes charge of the eldest boy’s morning school routine.
In the evening, the husband-and-wife teamwork continues. She leaves work everyday at 6.30pm so that she can be home to have dinner with her family. By 8pm, the kids would have been washed up and ready for homework review time.
“When it comes to school work, I’ll usually review with my (Primary 2) older boy while my husband helps with the youngest one,” said the self-described strict parent. “I’m the disciplinarian, mostly, and my husband is the fun parent.” (Laughs)
Having to switch from work to home mode especially after a long demanding day in the office is tough for everyone especially for a working mum. Apart from good family support, Yee Shin says finding a personal space to unwind is the key to finding the balance.
“My shower time is my me-time. That’s the time when I’ll calm myself down.” (Laughs)
“I also jog and do yoga to relax myself, and I find talking to friends who are also working mums and exchanging tips to find work-life balance is equally important.”