Returner Spotlight: Aarthi Karnawat

Company: Allstate
Position: Software Engineer

Aarthi Karnawat took a break from her software engineering career to care for her newborn daughter and her own health. After 5 years, she felt ready to return to work. While completing a Master’s degree, she returned to work at Allstate, where she now works as a software engineer. Aarthi talks about how Allstate’s work-life balance and supportive, learning-oriented culture helped her transition more easily back into the workforce,  how her family supported her return to work,  and why she’s excited for Allstate’s new returnship program. 

What type of work did you do before taking a break? What prompted your break, how long were you out of the workforce, and what prompted you to return to work?
I worked as a Software Engineer at Tata Consultancy Services for about 7 years, where I was also leading a team of 10 developers implementing complex projects. I took a break from work to embrace motherhood to my lovely daughter. When I was ready to get back to work after a little over a year, I experienced health issues, forcing me to extend my break. This break lasted for almost 5 years. I never expected to have such a large career gap, but life happens. 

Returning to work was always in the cards for me but I was just waiting for the right opportunity and for my little one to start elementary school. I had wanted to earn a Master’s degree when I was working, but never got the right opportunity to do so. I thought getting a degree would not only fulfill a life ambition but also help me with my return to work.

What was your return to work job search like? Did you take any courses to prepare for your return?
Technology changes so drastically, that by the time I was ready to return to work, my experience was out of date by about five years. I did a few freelancing projects for my friends, because you just cannot keep me away from work, but these involved technologies I worked on years ago. Since I was not consistently working on the latest technologies, it affected the way I was performing in my job interviews. 

I started doing courses on Pluralsight on Java, Spring Boot, Design Patterns and much more. I created a few of my own projects and published them online as a portfolio. I felt like the next logical step was to finally fulfill my goal of getting my Master’s degree, so I started doing GMAT and GRE prep as well.  

As the saying goes, fortune favors the bold, and while I was still studying for my Master’s in Information Systems Management at Arizona State University, I was hired at Allstate as a software engineer and returned to the industry in late 2019. 

How did you and your family navigate the transition from you being a full-time caregiver to working?
My daughter started kindergarten right when I started working full-time, which made things easier for us. Allstate offers great work-life balance, so we’re able to spend our evenings and weekends together. My husband is a bit of a workaholic, and works crazy hours. But when I returned to work, he really stepped up and started to pitch in to help more with childcare. We’ve been able to find a good balance, so having that support from him, especially in the hectic year that I was working and finishing my Master’s, really helped us pull through. Also my lovely daughter has really learnt to cope with the change and self-manage her routines.

What was your experience of returning to work at Allstate?
For me, landing a job was a bigger challenge than being at work, and Allstate’s commitment and trust towards an employee like me, who was returning to work after a break, was commendable. The hiring managers and the leadership team were very welcoming and supportive. I have been in technology for my whole career, but post-break, I found that the landscape of technology had changed. While I didn’t have the benefit of the formal return to work program that Allstate is launching now, Allstate organized several training programs for new employees, which helped me get learn and get accustomed to the latest technologies.

Luckily, I was assigned a greenfield, or newly developed, project, which everyone working on was completely new to. This worked in my favor, because I not only got to work on the latest and brightest technology, but I was able to more easily fit in and learn alongside the team. And finally, I want to give a few words of praise for my brilliant managers and supportive colleagues, who have helped me all along the way at Allstate.

Do you have any advice for others who are thinking about returning to work after a career break?
I would give three words of advice: again, again, again! Once you have decided to get back to work, you need to keep upskilling yourself, keep applying to jobs, and keep reminding yourself that you are good enough. 

Also, never ever underestimate yourself, and do not hesitate in asking for help – be it from friends, family or a coworker.

What are your thoughts on Allstate launching a return to- work program?
I’m really excited about the upcoming Allstate program. Allstate is a great place to return to work. They have great work-life balance, and continuous learning is a very important part of Allstate’s culture, so you get many different opportunities to learn and grow. I’ve experienced nothing but support from every level – from my fellow team members, to my immediate managers, all the way up to the leadership

I know how tough it is for people returning to work, because when you’re applying, you’re usually being compared to those who have been continuously working, and who have had the opportunities to showcase their abilities. Taking a career break is not a crime, and you shouldn’t be punished for it! I think this program is going to be a great opportunity to bridge the gap for people returning to work, and bring in diversity during these crucial times.

Thanks for sharing your story, Aarthi! We are so happy you’ve found success and balance in your career. 

– The Path Forward Team