Learn More about Audible's "Next Chapter" Returnship Program and How to Prepare for the Interview Process
Audible’s ‘Next Chapter’ Returnship program is a 16-week paid full-time internship for experienced professionals returning to the workforce after taking time off for caregiving.
The program is open to professionals who have at least 5 years of professional experience and have been out of the paid workforce for at least one year to focus on caring for a child or other dependent.
Join us to learn more about our distinctive returnship program and how to prep for the interview. You’ll hear from our Program Manager, Supriya, who will give an overview of the program and interview process, a returnee-turned new hire, Archana, will share about her personal interview and returnee experiences and from a mentor, David who will discuss the importance of mentorship and it’s impact on returnees in our program. We hope you’ll join us!
On a given weekday afternoon, you can find Cindy Batang working from the parking lot of a golf course while her younger daughter practices her swing.
She did the same thing for her older daughter. That dedication paid off not just for that daughter, who now plays college golf, but also for Cindy's career. She rose through the ranks of Zynga while raising two children, and is now the Manager of Governance, Risk, and Compliance at the gaming company.
"You learn how to multitask," says Cindy of managing both her work and her home life over the last decade at Zynga. "You find a way to get everything done."
Cindy started her career at Zynga in IT, then transitioned into security and then into management. Over the years, her daughters have worked on her lap while she fixed computers, begged to come into the office to play the arcade games, and "grown up at Zynga," says Cindy.
We sat down with her to learn more about that path, as well as how she juggles being a working parent—and what parts of Zynga's culture, including their flexible work policies and their parent-focused ERG, zParents, have supported her throughout the years.
Finding Fulfillment in Tech
Cindy and her husband have been married for 22 years and together for even longer. She credits him with a lot of what she loves about her life—including getting her into tech.
While she was still in college, he suggested that Cindy take a Windows certification course. Even though Cindy had been exposed to computers from an early age—her dad built them at home (and, when he lived in Nicaragua, also had his own shop where he would rebuild radios and TVs)—it wasn't something she considered exploring as a kid. "It's kind of funny to me that his hobby became my job," says Cindy of her dad's influence.
Cindy took the course and ended up getting a contract IT job, then leaving school to enter the workforce full-time. This was right as the dot-com bubble was heating up, she says, and when the economy crashed a few years later, right as Cindy and her husband welcomed their first daughter, Cindy decided to leave tech for a bit and become a real estate agent.
"I felt like I needed more time with her, and I couldn't do that with a nine-to-five," she explains.
In that job, Cindy recognized how much she loved working with people. But when the real estate market crashed, too, she decided she'd go back into tech—but ideally in a more flexible, more people-facing role.
She got started in a contract tech support role, then worked for a small gaming company where she really enjoyed the more laid-back culture. As a big Words With Friends fan, she'd heard of Zynga, and when someone in her husband's network said Zynga was looking for IT support analysts, she applied.
Because she'd been at a much smaller company where she wore a lot of hats, Cindy quickly took on a management role on Zynga's team. She worked in access control, which gave her exposure to Zynga's security team. She knew the company's CSO and told him she was interested in learning more about cybersecurity—and had another new role a few weeks later.
"He fast-tracked things and created a position for me as a security analyst," she says. "I wasn't expecting that!"
Cindy credits her diversity of experiences at Zynga with the long-lasting career fulfillment she's found there. "One of the reasons I've been here for so long is that I haven't been doing the same thing for ten years," she says. "I've been able to grow and expand. Now I'm in management, I'm able to take what I've learned and work with my team to give them that same kind of flexibility."
Experiencing a Family-Friendly Work Environment
Cindy's daughters were three and nine when she joined Zynga, and now they're in high school and college, respectively. As her career evolved, Cindy says she always felt like her family was welcome at work.
"I'd bring them to the office, especially when I was working in support and didn't have somebody to watch them," she says. "Zynga was a big playground for them, with the pool table and the snacks. My managers never had any issue with me bringing them to work as long as I got the job done."
"[My kids] would ask me, 'Mom, can I go to work with you?'" remembers Cindy, smiling.
Beyond an open and kid-friendly office, Cindy enjoyed getting to set her own hours. If she needed to take an hour off to do school pick-up, she was able to finish her day at home later in the evening. "I liked that they let me step out and understood that at the end of the day, I'd get the job done," she says.
She also took full advantage of zParents, Zynga's ERG for working parents.
"zParents events were the highlight of [my kids'] day," says Cindy. "When the opportunity came up for volunteers, I immediately jumped on board." She currently plays a leadership role for the ERG, which includes putting on family friendly events and supporting employees by sharing available company resources.
Over the pandemic, zParents expanded to Zynga's global offices with virtual resource-sharing and events. "In our Slack channel, you'll find a very active parent support group," says Cindy. "From new parents asking for advice on how to get babies to sleep through the night to parents asking for help with complicated math homework!"
It's the community that Cindy values most when it comes to finding support at work. "When you have your first child, you don't know what to expect. You don't know what's going to happen. You have this life that relies on you heavily, and it kind of stresses you out," she says. "But you know what? It's okay. We've all been new parents and you figure it out."
4 Tips for Paying it Forward as a Manager of Working Parents
Now that Cindy's own children are older, her day-to-day is a little easier to manage (golf practice parking lot laptop sessions aside).
She knows that's not the case for her whole team, though.
"I know that things come up at the last minute, so I focus on giving [employees] the flexibility that I also received," says Cindy. "I encourage people to take the time with their kids, because they're only young for so long. Work will always be here, you know? It's important to spend time with your family."
Cindy also shares advice with working parents on her team, including:
- The importance of communication. Cindy highlights that this should go two ways: communicating with your kids, and letting them know you're there to support them and that they come first even if work responsibilities need to be worked around; and communicating with your management, to set expectations upfront around schedules and flexibility.
- Spend time wisely. There will always be more work than there are hours in the day, says Cindy, who suggests making daily and weekly priority lists and tracking project deadlines against them.
- Don't compare yourself to other working parents. "It may seem that other parents have everything under control. But don't compare yourself. Everybody has different circumstances and a different style of how they manage things. What works for them may not work for you."
- Take care of yourself, too. "People struggle with trying to take care of everybody else and then they fail to take care of themselves," she says. "If you need downtime, take a nap, read a book, go for a walk, do something just for yourself. Something as simple as that can change your perspective for the rest of the day."
She would add one more tip: apply for a role at Zynga! "This is a great company to be at for raising kids," she says. "I can't speak highly enough about the ways that Zynga enables you to be able to manage your work-life balance."
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Supporting Parents and Employees During a Pandemic: A Conversation with Smartsheet’s Victoria Azzaline
Back in June, Victoria Azzaline hit the limit on her patience.
Her house was in disarray, her partner was traveling for work and she was solo parenting their five-year-old and two-year-old, who were acting out, and she was in the middle of taking back-to-back meetings from her makeshift home office.
"I was angry. I felt as though in that moment, they knew better and knew I needed to work," says Victoria. "But after giving it thought, I was able to recognize that they just needed my attention. They just needed time and I couldn't give it in that moment." That was an opportunity, she now realizes, to recognize her own boundaries and figure out how she could show up for and balance two key roles—being a Senior HR Business Partner at SaaS company Smartsheet and being a mom.
We talked to Victoria about parenting during a pandemic, the role HR can play in supporting employees in times of crisis, and tips to help parents and non-parents alike adapt to extended blurred boundaries between work and home.
Adapting work during times of change
As a Senior HR Business Partner, Victoria occasionally worked from home in pre-pandemic times but was otherwise working from Smartsheet's Bellevue, WA, headquarters. Her job was to support the organization's Worldwide Field Operations teams across their people needs, from career growth and performance management to strategic planning.
That's still her job, but it looks a little different nowadays.
"We've come a long way in trying to navigate our way through it. Early on we were in a state of being reactive versus proactive, which is a different way for us to function," she says of her team's approach.
"We're doing everything we can to make sure employees know about resources available to them"—including Smartsheet's options for flexible schedules and home office equipment resources —"and focusing on a 'people first' mentality, which is very much part of our culture anyway, but now more than ever we're seeing that come through," says Victoria.
She's also making herself available to employees who need to vent or commiserate. Her number of one-on-ones has gone way up.
"We want people to know that we will figure out the right solution [for them]. It's not a matter of making their situation fit into outdated models, but instead it's meeting them with their needs and being supportive during this time," she says.
Sometimes this means helping employees meet their needs in a very tangible way. "With the continuing impacts of COVID-19, Smartsheet recognized that their employees needed to balance work and life in a new way. To help alleviate some of these challenges, in September all global employees were provided a premium Care.com membership so they can search for and post jobs to find child caregivers, adult caregivers, special needs caregivers, tutors, pet sitters, housekeepers, and more," explains Victoria.
On navigating dissolved boundaries between work and home
Victoria used to commute at least an hour each way to and from work every day. "That was a transition time to switch on or off from workplace to home life," she says. "Now, I'll log off from a meeting and walk out of my office and suddenly I'm a mom. And there's zero opportunity to transition or to clear your head."
Now that the line between work and home is basically nonexistent, she's had to remind herself to treat herself with grace—and she encourages other working parents to do the same.
"If you need to take a minute after your last meeting to decompress before you shift into the other mode, give yourself that space to do so. Give yourself permission," she says. "Just allow yourself to be how you are right now, without the expectation of who you used to be—forget the idea of this is 'me' at work, this is 'me' at home. Because those lines are so blurry, we need to just be present as we are now, rather than trying to fulfill our previous idea of what that should've looked like."
On parenting through a pandemic
Dividing her time between her children and her work has been hard on both Victoria and her kids, particularly when her husband has had to travel for his work. "They don't know me as an HR business partner at Smartsheet. They know me as their mother. So when I'm not able to fully lean into that role for them, it's challenging. I can see it on their faces and their body language, just how it impacts them. That part's been especially difficult to balance," she says.
Having as much of a schedule as possible has helped mitigate the struggle of balancing parenting and work, says Victoria. This fall presented a new layer of complexity with many school districts in Washington state adopting a remote-only structure. "Carving out dedicated time for specific activities has always been important, but now with adding in the day-to-day management of classes and curriculum needs, we're incredibly dependent on having a clearly defined schedule of events for the week." she says. "Prior to school starting back up, I liked to map out a game plan in advance, even if it evaporated throughout the day. At least knowing I had an understanding of where my opportunities were to connect with my kids was helpful in allowing me to be able to shift in the moment if I needed to."
It hasn't all been hard; Victoria has enjoyed getting closer to her kids' everyday experiences and spending extra time with them during the day. "I'm getting a firsthand look at exactly where they're at in life, from what's troubling them to where they're showing new and stronger areas of interest. And getting to have lunch together or go on a midday bike ride are experiences and memories we'll be able to look back on from this time," she says.
As she continues to figure out how to balance her different roles, Victoria's remembering to support other parents. "I think we all need to continue to hold each other up and not be critical of one another," she says.
While extra time with her kids has been invaluable, says Victoria, she's excited to connect with coworkers in person, once it's safe to do so. "I'm looking forward to fully engaging in my work again. To be in that mindset without having in the back of my mind, 'What's happening in the playroom? What are my kids doing right now? Is my house torn apart?'"
She hopes to take some of the learnings she's come to about balancing work and family with her. "We're all going through this and have this opportunity to take inventory of the areas that we were not feeling great about before," she says. "We can see where we'd like to make permanent adjustments or carry things forward into the future as things kind of shift back into work and home separation. What types of behaviors and boundaries do we want to continue to hold for ourselves and to establish?"
If you're interested in learning more about Smartsheet, including their open roles, head here. And if you have questions or comments for Victoria, leave those in the comments!