Returning from maternity leave after a pandemic to a changed landscape & how one woman thrived

Young mum holding her baby while working at her computer


In this piece, Anna Boekestyn, senior quality engineer at Markerstudy, shares her experience on returning to work following maternity leave in the pandemic.

Anna Boekestyn, Senior Quality Engineer at Markerstudy

Returning to work after having a baby and nine months off was always going to be daunting. I worked for a different employer back then, and it wasn’t easy getting agreement for a four-day week. Around three months later I realised I needed a new start, somewhere I didn’t feel like a troublemaker for going against the norm and wanting to be a mum for one day a week. As fate would have it, I was approached by BGL Insurance and secured a new role based on the hours I wanted, right from the start. I’m so thankful for that opportunity and it’s the company I still work for, seven years later.

That was my experience the first time, Next time wouldn’t be as bad surely? My working hours were sorted from the start, what else could come up? Oh yeah, a global pandemic, that could cause a few challenges.

After starting the new job, I lacked some confidence. I had suffered from postnatal depression and plunged myself into an unfamiliar setting, adding extra pressure. It is safe to say I didn’t feel like I belonged for a good couple of years, but then my confidence started to return. 

I had started on a major project of migrating our existing sales platform to a new technological platform which involved .NET and APIs. I had no experience of APIs up until this point, but little did I know, I would soon become one of the quality engineer SMEs in this area. I eventually started to write my own API automation tests in Postman, first alongside the integration developers, then eventually I’d write them alone and only call on others if I was utterly confounded. This was my first taste of writing automation scripts and using coding syntax outside of university, which felt like a lifetime ago, and most of those coding languages seem antiquated now.

Obviously like learning to drive, you start a little slower, so I did ask for help when I felt a little pressured. I increased my knowledge in API automation test scripting by researching online. There were Postman tutorials, the good old Stack Exchange and plenty of chai.js cheat sheets. I grew more and more confident in this area.

After about two years on this project, I fell pregnant with my second child and went on maternity leave with no worries this time, except about the start of the Covid pandemic. During my maternity leave, I had to learn to look after myself and take more responsibility for my newborn from day one due to the restrictions and not having visitors, even being left on the maternity ward for three nights alone with my baby (after having gone through an emergency c-section, again!). I’m so glad this wasn’t my first child! I just had to jump (or slightly shuffle) out of bed and get on with it, as my daughter had no one else. I feel like it was this moment of epiphany that changed me forever, nothing was ever going to be too difficult again.

Fast forward nine months, and I returned to work, and to a different landscape this time. I would be meeting my new team colleagues and getting up to speed, BUT remotely. I was to start on another technically complex project. This one involved working with a major third party, integrating our insurance customers with their corresponding banking products. I started as the SME for API testing on this project. There were two other quality engineers already working on it and on my return, I ended up being their mentor, as well as still trying to get my head around everything after returning. It was another ‘let’s just get on and think later’ moment.

Over time, I became the longest serving Quality Engineer on the project. It was one of the most successful projects I’ve worked on. For once I felt in control, like a commander in chief.

I learnt new skills on the way, engaging with third parties and stakeholders, configuring test plans to run on Bamboo on our CI pipeline, creating a whole new suite of automated API tests, all in a short space of time. 

With this came a new confidence, I shared my learnings across my community of practice, and I wasn’t afraid to give anything a go. Within a year of returning to work I was hoping for a promotion, and I achieved this and am now proud to call myself a Senior Quality Engineer. I feel truly appreciated and rewarded for the hard work I’ve put in and enjoy mentoring my peers and giving them good aspirational advice, to get where they’d like to be, too. It just shows anything is possible if you just do it.  




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