Career Success in Tech as a Single Mother: Forget The StereotypesFeatured

On October 22, 1996, I arrived in the United States with my five-year-old twins, five cardboard boxes with our belongings, and $300 in my pocket. October 23 was my first work day at a tech startup.

In 1996, the internet was not “a thing” yet, and looking back, I believe it was for the better: nobody told me that what I was up to was completely impossible and overall a crazy thing to think about, let alone to do. Luckily, I didn’t know that!

By then, I already had a fifteen-year-long career in tech, and from the beginning, I did everything wrong, at least from a reasonable person's point of view.

Juggling a career and motherhood in the Soviet Union

I learned about databases and data management during my sophomore year at university, and I immediately thought it was the coolest thing ever and wanted to do it for the rest of my life.

As was customary in the late 70s-early 80s, I married young and was already pregnant with my first child when I graduated. Still, the company where I was dispatched to work (it was the time of the Soviet Union, so there was no free will) was very enthusiastic about my arrival. I was in the top 1% of my class and they were willing to wait for my return from maternity leave.

I started to work part-time way earlier than “a good mother” should, and all my relatives were scolding me for “thinking more about my career than about my son.” Despite their efforts, I didn’t feel guilty. My older son had a severe vision disability, which required extra time and effort on my side, and I learned all the tricks of flexible scheduling, working evening shifts, and taking extra projects outside regular work.

Five years later, when I decided to have another child while not married (and it turned out, I had twins!) the public outrage was even worse. This all happened in 1991, at the time when Russia was experiencing major social transformations and total economic collapse.

Still, I didn’t turn to reselling stuff at flea markets or tutoring children of New Russians. I worked two jobs and started pursuing my PhD, while my younger children were “abandoned” at daycare, and my older son was in school.

My first job was as a researcher in an academic institution, and my second job was as a part-time database developer in a Russian-based American startup. I got this job bypassing hundreds of candidates not only because I had skills unmatched by others, but also because I was passionate about database development. My boss lent me a laptop and set up remote access to office computers which made me a partially remote worker in the “stone age” of the early 90s.

Did I ever doubt I was doing the right thing? Not really. First, I was happy working, and I knew that it was important for my children. Second, I could do my job really well. I had been growing professionally all these years, and I knew that I could make the most money doing what I do best. Third, I knew that my bond with my children was strong, no matter what.

Making the leap across the “pond”

During the early 90s, I was often in survival mode. I did a lot of things that people “do not do,” because nobody told me that those were wrong things. So I did what seemed right to me, and I didn’t have many choices, because I had to live, work, and feed my children.

My old friends still laugh remembering how people used to ask me: How do you manage? I would always reply: How do you think it would look like if I weren’t able to manage it? I had no choice but to “manage my life.”

After “managing my life” like this for several years, going to the other side of the world didn’t seem to be that dangerous.

At home, I shared one 140 sq. ft room with all my children, and I was going to have a whole apartment in the US. At home, I never knew when I would get paid for my work, or whether I was going to be paid at all. In the US, I received a paycheck on the first day of each month, guaranteed. What did I have to lose?

The most important thing was that I had a job offer, and that’s when it all started to pay off: once again, I scored an interview, leaving other candidates far behind, and my future boss was willing to take on sponsoring a work visa for a single mother of three.

The reality of starting over in the US as a single mother

As it turned out, things weren’t as rosy as they seemed. The salary which looked gigantic from the other side of the pond was at the survival level. My twins had to be in daycare after their morning kindergarten, which cost more than half of my earnings. The rest was rent, utilities, a ten-minute call home once a week, and very basic groceries. So, from one survival mode, I transitioned to another, although undoubtedly more comfortable.

I went to work the next day upon arrival. I didn’t have any time to spare - I needed to start earning money right away. But even in the US, in a society that praises hard work over everything else, there were enough people who pitied my “abandoned children.” Once again, I didn’t have much choice, and I was sure that I was doing the right thing, but there were enough people who told me that I underestimated the consequences.

Work-life integration

Now, all my children are in their 30s and are personally and professionally where they want to be, and my daughter has two children of her own. They tell me that they never felt “mother-deprived,” although other parents were referring to them as “poor kids.” They also tell me they learned work ethics by listening to my keystrokes while falling asleep.

I was unable to attend many of their concerts, games, and other activities, but we all knew that in the evening we would gather around the dinner table, and share how our day went, what good things happened, and what went wrong. I was always there to listen. With my demanding work schedule, my rule was: drop everything when they need you to listen to them (that’s why I always say that teenagers are more time-consuming than babies!). And if there was a real problem, I wouldn’t hesitate to take time off to rush to the rescue.

I didn’t ask about their grades, but I asked them what they wanted to share about their days, what new things they learned, and whether they had interesting conversations with others.

And that’s what we call work-life integration because balance does not exist.

Now it’s time to summarize the takeaways.

  • Becoming a parent early in your career does not imply that you won’t have any career at all. There are even some advantages to that: you have more energy to manage it all, and you learn to use time efficiently (it was during the time I had two jobs while taking care of my babies that I learned to complete an 8-hour work assignment in four hours).
  • During most of my career in IT, and definitely in its earlier years, I knew I had to be twice as good as any man applying for the same position to be considered. While this awareness facilitated my professional development, I do not think that’s something we should put up these days. Be confident in your abilities
  • When it comes to parenting, the quality of time spent with our kids is way more important than quantity. Even very small children understand that you are a whole person, not only a parent. When you believe you are doing the right things, your children feel your confidence. Don’t be afraid of nontraditional solutions, trust yourself, your common sense, and your children.
  • Do not give away your dreams for what seems to be a financial success. You will always make more money doing the things you are the best at, and you are the best at what you enjoy doing.
  • Think about what’s important for you. What you want to achieve. Most importantly, think about what you love doing. We spend too much time at work to do things we do not enjoy doing.

It had been twenty-eight years since the day I arrived at O’Hare International Airport. The border control didn’t want to let me in: they could not believe that a relatively young woman with two small children was indeed issued a work permit in IT, so they held us in a room with other suspects until they reached out to my office-to-be and verified my identity. I remember walking out of that guarded room holding my younger children’s hands and seeing our five cardboard boxes by the luggage carousel in the by-then-empty arrival hall. I had my kids, these five boxes, and three hundred dollars in cash in my pocket. My new life was about to begin.

You're so incredibly inspiring!! I'm so grateful you shared your story with us! Such a role model for your twins and many other people in tech!!
Thank you! I am always happy when I can inspire others!
This is SUCH a beautiful post!!!!!! Thank you for sharing your inspiring story with our community. As a mom of 4, who is also a Life & Career Coach for moms, I found your takeaways extremely relatable and true! If its ok with you, can I share them anonymously on my instagram stories? Please let me know! πŸ’œ
Absolutely! And it does not need to be anonymous! I share my story quite often because I know that it inspires others. I am on Instagram, and there are more stories about my journey in my personal blog at
This is an incredible story, thank you so much for sharing it! I too had my kids young and am now a single mother working in the tech space - I don't often see other women who are in the same position, but reading your story is extremely inspiring :)
Thank you so much! It makes me happy to know that reading my story is inspiring and reassuring!
I applaud you. You did what was best for you and yours while marching to the beat of your own drum and your children saw you happy and whole. I wish more women had your courage. Bravo.
Thank you!
Thank you so much for sharing your story! You’re so inspiring and this post just made my evening! You rock!
Thank you so much @lyndachiwetelu! Happy to be an inspiration!
Wow, thank you so much for sharing your incredible story. I'm at a point where I'm considering kids but also climbing into more senior roles. After reading your post, I feel like I can do both: "Quality of time with kids versus quantity" just wow
Having kids actually inspired me to "move up" because my future was happening right at that moment, and I had no time to waste. I am at a conference in LA this week, and I find it interesting that so many people from my professional network read this share on LinkedIn and approached me at the conference, saying how inspiring it was and how it gave them a whole new perspective of me.