By signing up you accept the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy
Career Advice

How This Working Mom Embraces a Parenting Balancing Act

Insight from Kensho's Danja Spoja

If you're on a Zoom call with Danja Spoja, you may notice the guitar that makes it into the frame.

It's there on purpose, she says. "It's a reminder for me to take a break and strum it," explains Danja.

That doesn't mean she actually does it all that often—"How many times have I done that? Four times," she says, laughing—since the Team Lead of API Services and mother of two is kept pretty busy.

But she keeps it there as a symbol of the balance between good intentions and what's actually possible. It reminds her to do her best but to not expect perfection.

We sat down with Danja to hear about how she approaches motherhood, and how she's navigated the pandemic as both a parent and a team lead at market data analytics firm Kensho.

Finding her path

Danja's first introduction to the world of programming came when her dad brought home a Commodore 64. "It was the thing back then, especially in my country where computers were not that common," explains Danja, who grew up in Croatia and came to the U.S. almost 30 years ago. "It was a dream of mine since I was a kid, to come to the United States," she says. "That dream was pushed into reality by the civil war that my country went through in the nineties. My parents felt it was a good opportunity for me to explore that dream a little closer."

There was a brief moment in childhood where she thought she might want to be a ballerina, but Danja ended up studying mathematics and computer science. "I loved the ballet, just not the pain and suffering," she says, laughing. Math was a better option: "I really enjoy writing code," explains Danja.

A part-time job at a software engineering company turned into a full-time role by the time she graduated college, and Danja explored various roles, deepening her technical understanding and taking on bigger and bigger scopes of work, until a Kensho recruiter reached out.

"Kensho sounded very interesting from a technical perspective, and when I came on site, I was really impressed by the people," says Danja. "They were amazing then—and they're still amazing today! My Kensho teammates are exceptionally talented and also such kind, respectful people."

Danja also liked how family friendly Kensho's culture was, since, as a mom of two, good work-life balance was especially important to her.

Creativity on and off the job

Part of Danja's job requires creative problem solving, collaborating with people across functions and projects to assist other teams and keep evolving her own. That same creative problem solving has been useful for her and her husband as they manage parenting during a pandemic.

Danja says she's grateful that her daughters, ages 15 and 9, are older. "It's been invaluable that they're that age; they're older and can take care of a lot of things by themselves," she explains.

Like many of us, Danja and her family have found ways to keep themselves entertained at home during this pandemic: baking and cooking, everything from empanadas to fresh bread; reading; enjoying the outdoors; experimenting with at-home haircuts (done mostly by her husband, who Danja says successfully gave their teenage daughter the Miley Cyrus-inspired mullet she'd been wanting); and playing piano.

Danja herself is a fan of Bach and is working on picking up some new classical pieces. Her younger daughter is learning the piano too, along with the violin, and her elder daughter is learning the guitar. It's part of Danja and her husband's deal with their kids. In a house where no one watches TV on weekdays, Danja's younger daughter can earn screen time on her personal device by practicing instruments. "15 minutes of instrument playing is 30 minutes of playing on the device," says Danja. "She's like, 'Okay, that's fair.' And I say, 'It's more than fair! It could be one to one instead of one to two,'" she says, smiling.

6 tips for working parents

Though Danja has plenty of tips to share, she's quick to note that she's not supermom, she doesn't have it all figured out, and she does not mean to suggest that it's all smooth sailing at the Spoja house all the time.

"I'm so keenly aware that this has been a really hard time," she says. "It's been hard for working parents for a long time, even before the pandemic."

But still, that disclaimer aside, Danja has some advice for other parents trying to balance their work ambitions with their family goals:

  1. Communicate openly. "Open, honest communication, whether it's to say 'I'm overwhelmed' or 'I need to step away,' has become even more important," says Danja. Remember that you're not alone, she adds, and that other people are probably struggling, too.
  2. Be kind to others. "Understand that we're all in the same predicament. If someone's having a hard time with something, it's not because they don't like working with you, it's likely because they have other outside things affecting them," she says. Showing kindness to each other can bring you even closer with your colleagues, she notes.
  3. Set boundaries between work and home. This works best with older children, notes Danja, who has an "on air" sign that she puts on her office door when she's not to be disrupted. "The kids know that they should only come in when the 'on air' sign is up if there is an emergency. And even then, they should first call 911, then come in," says Danja, laughing.
  4. Be clear on what your must-dos are. Danja uses a small notebook for this purpose. "I feel the pleasure of crossing things off," she says. At the end of every day, she writes down what she needs to take care of the next day, then updates it as she makes progress. "Sometimes I have a solution that's not yet implemented, but it's resolved in my head or in my little notebook, and that makes me think, 'Okay, I know what's going to happen tomorrow,'" she says.
  5. Set a routine. Her family's routine has become connecting at breakfast and lunch, with her daughters self-managing through school, then music and activities. For Danja, extending that routine all the way into what's for dinner has taken another thing off her daily to-do list. "It helps you in the middle of the day, since you're not going, 'Oh my gosh, what am I going to feed my family?'" says Danja, whose family looks forward to homemade pizza on Fridays and burgers on Sundays, alongside other day-specific treats.
  6. Prioritize sleep. Sleep instead of watching more TV, and sleep instead of doomscrolling for another ten minutes. "Everyone knows how much sleep they need to run optimally," says Danja, who keeps her own doomscrolling to five minutes in the morning where she checks the news, including pandemic updates.

Danja's most important tip is less of a specific recommendation and more of a general way of being, and it's this: "Be honest with yourself. What is that balance of work and life that's acceptable to you?"

Personally, Danja recognizes that both her family and her career are important to her and that to manage each well, she needs a job that lets her focus on her family. For her, that means one with flexible hours that doesn't require extensive travel.

"Family is very important to me, so I've had to balance that with the types of choices I make professionally," she explains. "For some people it skews more heavily towards, 'I just want to be in the middle of it, working from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.'. It's great. That's fine. That's the choice you make. You just have to understand that there will be sacrifices...and you have to make sure you have your support system in place."

Coming to Kensho made sense for Danja, who brought up in her first interview with her now-employer the fact that flexibility was important to her. She was excited to join based on the strength of her interviewer's response. "My values and Kensho's values are aligned," says Danja, "and that allows me to do well and to enjoy my work every day."

Learn more about Kensho and their open roles.


How These Companies Are Celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

According to a recent study, anti-Asian hate crimes have risen 150% since the pandemic started. But these acts of violence are not new — they are part of a much larger history of anti-Asian racism and violence in the U.S.

That makes celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month (which was named a month-long celebration in May by Congress in 1992 "to coincide with two important milestones in Asian/Pacific American history: the arrival in the United States of the first Japanese immigrants on May 7, 1843 and contributions of Chinese workers to the building of the transcontinental railroad, completed May 10, 1869") this year all the more important.

Autodesk, Inc.

How Embracing What She Doesn’t Know Led Autodesk’s Arezoo Riahi to a Fulfilling Career in DEI

Arezoo Riahi isn't a big fan of the "fake it till you make it" approach. She'd rather ask for the help she needs and learn from it.

Autodesk's Director of Diversity and Belonging joined the design software company from the nonprofit world after a long career in connecting people from different cultures. While her work had been deeply rooted in DEI values, there were certain parts of the strategy-building aspects to her new role that she wasn't sure about.

"If you know it, show up like you know it. If you don't know it, you shouldn't fake it. And Autodesk didn't shame me for not knowing everything. They helped me, and the entire team, by providing the resources that we needed, bringing in outside expertise to help teach us when we were in new territory," says Arezoo, who has been at Autodesk for three years now, during which she's been promoted twice into her current role.

We sat down with Arezoo to hear more about her path into DEI work, what she thinks the future of that work must include, and what advice she has for women looking to build fulfilling careers, from knowing what you don't know and beyond.


Behind-the-Scenes: Sales Interview Process at LogMeIn

Get an inside look at the interview process for sales roles at LogMeIn, one of the largest SaaS companies providing remote work technology, from Michael Gagnon, Senior Manager of Corporate Account Executive Sales.

Procore Technologies Inc

How Being an Open Member of the LGBTQIA+ Community Has Helped Procore’s Alex Zinik Overcome Imposter Syndrome at Work

Alex Zinik wasn't surprised that she started her career in education—she decided she would become a teacher when she was just in third grade.

She was surprised while working as a paraeducator in the school system and preparing to become a special education teacher, she discovered that it didn't feel quite right. "I didn't know if that's what I really wanted to do," she recalls.

So a friend suggested she take a job during her off summers at construction software company Procore. She thought this would be the perfect opportunity to try out this new challenge, and if she needed to, she could go back to the school district once the summer was over.

"Five summers later, I'm still here!" she says, smiling. "And I see myself here for many more years. I just fell in love with the company, the culture, and with the career growth opportunities I was presented with."

As part of our Pride month celebrations, Alex, currently the Senior Executive Assistant to the CEO at Procore, sat down with us to share how a common fear—the fear of being found out—underlay the imposter syndrome she felt when pivoting to an industry in which she lacked experience, and the anxiety she often felt before coming out to her friends and family about her sexuality.

Read on for her insight on overcoming negative thought patterns, being yourself, and paying it forward.


The Outlook That Helps CSL’s Paula Manchester Invest in Herself and Her Team

If you told Paula Manchester that you weren't good at math, she wouldn't believe you.

"That's a global indictment," she says. "'I'm not good at math' implies that you don't have the ability to nurture that muscle. And then I'd ask what kind of math? There's a lot to math."

© Rebelmouse 2020