Software Development and Fatherhood

Written by Marc Fichtel May 27, 2021

A short account of what its like to raise twins and build things during a global pandemic.
Software Development and Fatherhood

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Marc Fichtel

Marc Fichtel is one of our professional mentors on MentorCruise and works as Software Engineer at Unity Technologies.

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Software Development and Fatherhood

In the wee morning hours of September 1 last year, my wife and I welcomed our babies, a set of boy and girl twins, into this world. At 38 weeks of pregnancy, they arrived right on time, and if you do the math you’ll note these were not lockdown babies — they were conceived right before COVID-19 started to change everything.

At the time of writing, they were just over six months old. Since then, our lives have been transformed — everything has been turned upside down! Having kids is the best thing that has happened to us, but it would be remiss of me not to point out that this miraculous change of pace came with a large set of challenges, both anticipated and unexpected.

Read on to hear about my experience of what it's like for a software developer to become a parent of twins during a global pandemic.


Background

Since this is a completely personal account, here’s a bit about myself. I’m a software engineer. More accurately, I self-identify as a problem solver. I like playing games, mostly (but not exclusively) of the digital kind. Games, to me, are fun problem-solving exercises and prepared my mindset for a career in software development early on. My wife and I moved to Canada in 2015. 

Other things you need or may want to know about me include the following:

  1. I love my family and friends — my loved ones are always my first priority.
  2. I genuinely enjoy my work — programming, to me, can be relaxing at the right time, and there are few things more satisfying than tracking down and fixing an elusive bug.
  3. I am pretty career-driven and am always looking to get better at what I’m doing, both in hard and soft skills.
  4. I do and always have preferred quiet environments, just like my wife.
  5. We are a pet-friendly household: our collection of pets include a corgi, a rabbit, a bearded dragon, and 18 tarantulas.

Alright, with that background out of the way, let's start the story already.


Introduction

So what is it like raising twins in a pandemic? In a sentence, it’s the most rewarding, arduous, fulfilling, exhausting, wholesome, and scary thing I’ve ever gone through. It’s a balancing act of tradeoffs, constant prioritization and reprioritization, and the sudden and startling realization that the very concept of a ‘Plan’ has disappeared from your personal dictionary, replaced only with a reference to ‘See Improvisation.’


Getting Good at Context Switching

The pandemic brought with it the onset of widespread Work from Home (WFH) arrangements, and the same happened for me. While no doubt this was a huge blessing, it didn’t come without its own set of challenges. Like any problem-solving activity, programming requires focus — to think a piece of logic through, to get the syntax of the language right, to explore edge cases, etc. After getting into a state of flow, I’m at my most productive.

Babies, however, have needs. Needs that need to be met as they come up, and often even before they themselves realize they need something. And with two of them, one person alone can’t always manage, so it's good that I’m there to help. It just means my work is frequently interrupted, so getting proficient at multitasking so as to not lose my thread of thought whenever I leave my computer is essential. It may sound like a trivial thing, but this has been one of the biggest challenges in my experience.

A related, but slightly different, issue I ran into a lot is that raising kids and providing for them comes with a totally new set of constraints and risk factors. When do babies need to see which doctors, how much do they need to eat and sleep, how to juggle two kids on different schedules, staying on top of clean and age-appropriate bottles, bottle parts, bottle warmers, bottle cleaners — and that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

None of this came unexpected — we were under no disillusions about that. What I didn’t have on my radar was the head space all of this would take up. Staying on track and producing expected outcomes at work required more focus than ever before, as a hundred other things, none inherently less important, were at all times battling for the lion share of my attention span.


Safety vs. Support

Remember how I was talking about tradeoffs? Well, I don’t need to tell you about the reality of living through lockdowns and socially distancing. If I had to point my finger at the single biggest impact the pandemic has had on our family with infant twins, it would be that, rather than staying safe AND getting help from family and friends, you can only choose one. For us, the choice was straightforward, but not easy: safety first.

The only people we would regularly meet up with were my wife’s parents. Visits with other family members and even close friends were either extremely rare and short, or nonexistent, for fear of the virus. Add to that the frigid weather (below -20°C), and the result of this was that, at best, we felt isolated and the kids were quickly getting bored at home. At worse, there was little to no relief from exhaustion and sleep deprivation when it was most needed. As parents everywhere know, things get easier over time, and so they are here, but the challenge of choosing safety over support will continue as things such as daycare, finding a nanny, and exposing the kids to as many things as possible become more relevant.


Making It Work

For all the challenges that arise with having kids, I do believe it is giving me the opportunity to be better — a better, more compassionate, and empathetic person, as well as a better software engineer. That is not to say things got easier, but my adaptability to ever-changing circumstances has increased dramatically. Despite having to balance between work and helping take care of the kids, my performance hasn’t dropped. If anything, I’d posit it has actually increased, in that I’m able to regain focus pretty quickly. It has also helped me in avoiding tunnel vision when working on implementing a new feature. Considering a more complete set of alternative approaches, use cases, and edge cases will make any piece of work more thought out and, thus, better.

Regardless of the work and problems that come with raising kids, I’m overjoyed to be a father and want to do everything in my power to raise these munchkins right and give them the best head start at life possible. Challenges can be overcome with perseverance and determination, and the payoff of having kids is, for us, immeasurable. I’m looking forward to solving any and all problems for — and with — my kids that the universe may throw our way!


Photo by Fallon Michael on Unsplash

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