First Person: How Lifeblue Helps Me Thrive as a Developer — and as a Mom

Nicole Oakes in the Lifeblue conference room.

We asked front-end developer Nicole Oakes to share her experience as a woman in tech. Since joining us in 2016, she’s coded exceptional sites for our partners, including the Dallas Zoo, the Perot Museum of Nature and Science and the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. 

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When I first joined Lifeblue, my mentor started every weekly check-in by asking, “How are you?”

I’d tell Jonny – a senior developer who’s since joined Google – about challenges outside of work or a coding question that popped up. If I got stuck, he’d tell me, “Sometimes you need to stop working now to work better later. Go to a coffee shop, get a coffee and try again once you’ve cleared your head.”

A big part of what made me feel comfortable actually doing that was seeing how Jonny would do it himself sometimes, too. There was no question that he’d get his work done — just like there was no question that he might leave to go on a walk or attend his daughter’s concert.

It felt vastly different than the rigid corporate environment of a previous employer, where heels were expected and sitting at your desk from 9 to 5 was a given.

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As a 22-year-old just starting my career and surrounded by intimidating co-workers, I didn’t even feel like I could ask questions. I didn’t want to show any vulnerability. 

But at Lifeblue, asking questions is encouraged. We all are here to help one another grow. 

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I’ve found a company that fosters a supportive environment and makes a concerted effort to support parents.

That includes offering four weeks of paid paternity leave and 12 weeks of paid maternity leave. That’s a benefit I didn’t have during my first pregnancy at another job. Instead, I took unpaid leave, and since finances were tight, I had to take a freelance gig from bed just three weeks into postpartum.

Since I desperately needed a steady paycheck, I asked my full-time employer if I could briefly work from home. My request was denied, so eight weeks after having my first baby, I returned to the office. Needless to say, motherhood has been drastically different – and much more enjoyable – since I joined Lifeblue.

Lifeblue staff Nicole Oakes working on her laptop on the couch with her two kids.
Lifeblue front-end developer Nicole Oakes, working from home, where she has a laundry basket full of dinosaurs within reach.

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It comes down to trust. Lifeblue leadership trusts team members enough to create policies and benefits to offer a results-only work environment with flexible scheduling and unlimited PTO.

As a parent, flexibility is so important, and it’s become even more critical during the COVID-19 pandemic. When we went remote about a year ago, I’d hoped to save money on childcare by watching my 4-year-old and my 1-year-old while I worked.

Pretty quickly I discovered that was impossible to do.

Throughout the year, family members have watched the kids, and they’ve gone to daycare some, but there are still times when they have to stay home. Sometimes, they’ll snuggle up with me in bed to watch movies while I code.

Or I’ll break up my work – finishing half of it during typical business hours and the other half at night – so I can spend part of the day with the kids, running around the backyard and baking cookies together.

All I have to do is stay on top of my projects and communicate with my team.

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Lifeblue offered what I’d been missing in my career: a community that collaborates together and respects one another’s lives away from work.

There isn’t the pressure to look a certain way or sit at your desk at a certain time, just a team of people who support one another. When I walked in for my first interview here, in fact, I remember everybody was huddled around laughing and someone even rang a gong to celebrate a team victory.

I remember thinking, “These are my people.” And I was right.

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