Participant Spotlight: Gunjan Bhatia

Company: Red Ventures
Position: Software Engineer

Gunjan Bhatia took a six-year break from her software engineering career to support a family move to the US and to care for her son. Gunjan completed a software engineering returnship at Red Ventures, where she now works full-time. She talks about her remote returnship experience, how Red Ventures and her team supported her return to work during the uncertainty of the pandemic, and gives advice on what technical returners should do to prepare for their career restarts.

Tell me a bit about your career break. What type of work did you do before taking a break? What prompted your break, and how long were you out of the workforce?
After I finished my education in 2006, I started my career as a software engineer at an IT company, and eventually moved up to become a senior software engineer. My family moved to the US in 2012, and since I was pregnant at the time, I decided to take a caregiving break to care for my child. After six years, when my son began kindergarten, I decided to return to work, and started searching for opportunities. I started looking in September 2019 and was offered a returnship at Red Ventures in March 2020. 

Did you do anything to prepare for your return to work?  
I attended a few virtual and in-person career events to network and learn about return to work opportunities in my area. I also used my break to get myself trained and certified in a few new technologies by taking online courses through platforms like Udemy. Around that time, I learned about returnships through Path Forward. There was an opportunity at Red Ventures that seemed relevant to my skills, so I applied and fortunately was accepted into the program. 

What was your returnship at Red Ventures like? 
My returnship at Red Ventures was a really great experience. Red Ventures has a really good Learning and Development department, and they equipped us with the skills we needed to be successful, which helped us get comfortable and grow in our roles. Red Ventures also connected us with a lot of our colleagues, and we were each given a mentor, who would guide us on important skills and what we should be focusing on, and a buddy. All of this made for a pretty smooth transition. After our training, we worked on a few projects, which our mentors regularly reviewed and gave us feedback on. Once we were done with those, we were assigned to a team, and started out by picking up a few tickets. Initially, we were given the simpler ones, which helped us practice and grow, as well as contribute to our team. The entire experience was so well-planned and organized. 

Are there any skills from your pre-break career that you use in your current role? 
In my pre-break career, I worked with quite a few front-end applications, and I was aware of how things worked in the back-end, and I’m now more or less doing the same type of work. Even though technologies have advanced a lot in seven years, and some best practices have changed – for instance, we used to use different methodologies, and now it’s all Agile – the basics are still the same. So my existing skills have definitely helped me.  

You returned to work during the pandemic. What kind of support did Red Ventures provide to make the transition easier? What do you think it says about the culture at Red Ventures?
The culture at Red Ventures is something that encourages me to stay at Red Ventures! It’s a really cool company, and the managers are so supportive and encouraging. During 2020, when everyone was working from home, my son was also attending remote school and there were some initial struggles to get into a routine. It was definitely different from what I had in mind when I planned to re-enter the workforce. I expected that my son would be in kindergarten during the day, and that I would go into the office. Thankfully, my manager was able to provide me with flexibility in my work schedule. If I needed to take time off during the day, my manager and team understood, and tried not to schedule meetings or anything urgent at those times. There was a level of understanding  and work-life balance that made transitioning remotely much easier. 

One of the most important parts of returning to work is the ability to connect with new colleagues. How did Red Ventures ensure you were able to make those connections while working remotely? What was it like going through the program with your cohort?
Working remotely took some getting used to, but everything was well-planned from the Red Ventures side. They ensured that we had a lot of contact with team members and colleagues, to replace the lack of casual face-to-face conversations. It was more of an effort to get to know everyone, and we had to take more initiative to keep in contact and connect with our team members. But the support and mentorship we received helped with the initial challenges of starting remotely. 

I have regular one-on-one time with my manager each week, and have more casual meetings each day that we can hop into to talk with our teammates. It’s a more casual environment, where we can work out any issues or just chat and get to know one another more.  

What did you find helpful about being part of the Path Forward program at Red Ventures?
I think Path Forward did a great job of providing us with a platform to come in and discuss our issues and get inspired from both one another and from alumni. They have a big network of returnship alums to connect with, who can come and talk about their experiences and offer advice. It was really helpful to hear from others who have gone through what you’re going through. You think, if they can do it, maybe I can, too. Coming back to work after a career break can bring up some discouraging and negative feelings around whether you’ll be successful or not. So it was great to attend Path Forward meetings and get support, as well as to expand my professional network. 

What is the most exciting part of returning to work? 
To realize that I can still learn! After such a long career gap, the first time that I did my coding and started working as part of a team was really exciting. It gives you the feeling of self-achievement and it increases your confidence. You start feeling good about yourself and your abilities. 

What are you most proud of accomplishing during your return to work experience?
Right now, I am the only one who is handling the entire back-end development on my team. It’s taken me time to get up to speed and learn how everything is done, but my manager has been nothing but encouraging about the work I’m doing, which makes me really happy.

Do you have any advice for future returners? 
Brush up on your skills on your break, which will definitely help you, not just in your next job, but even during the interview rounds. If you’re returning to work in engineering, I’d recommend taking some courses in the React framework, which is really common right now, and CSS bootstrap or any CSS framework, which everyone uses. There are plenty of courses available on YouTube and Udemy to learn those skills. If you’re looking to return to work in tech, you can take a few free courses, which will be a big help later on.

Try to make the most of your returnship period. Learn as much as you can, because you’re provided with so many resources and opportunities to grow your skills. And finally, remember to connect with as many people as you can during your returnship. Reach out to your colleagues, connect with them on LinkedIn, and expand your network. And if you’re struggling with something, don’t be afraid to speak out and ask for help. At Red Ventures, everyone is so supportive. Not to mention, the returnship alumni at Red Ventures are ready to help incoming cohorts, because we’ve all been through what they will be going through!

Thanks for sharing your story, Gunjan! We are so happy you’ve found success and balance in your career. You can learn more about Gunjan on her LinkedIn page.
– The Path Forward Team