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Episode 34: What I Wish I'd Known about Returning to Work after a Career Break with Maureen Byrne

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Episode Description

Maureen Byrne, a Product Manager at MobileIron, relaunched after a 10-year career break raising her three children. Despite stellar credentials including a master’s degree in software engineering, work experience in the field prior to her career break, website development during her break, iOS development classes at Stanford, and Toastmasters training, Maureen candidly describes her initial return to work as a time filled with self-doubt and “fear of exposure.” Hear how Maureen learned to appreciate the perspective she gained from her career break, how it became a part of what she brings to the table as an employee, and how she “found her voice” after relaunching.

Note: Maureen was a participant on the relauncher panel, “What I Wish I’d Known,” at the 2017 and 2018 iRelaunch Return to Work Conferences with the Stanford Alumni Association.

Read Transcript

Carol Fishman Cohen: [00:00:00] Welcome to 3, 2, 1 iRelaunch...the podcast where we talk about strategies, advice and success stories for returning to work after a career break. I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, CEO of iRelaunch and your host for today. And today I'm very excited that we have with us, Maureen Bryne who's a senior product manager at MobileIron and a relauncher.

[00:00:34] We'll hear more about her relaunch story shortly. Maureen currently works for MobileIron as a member of the product management team. She's responsible for defining and driving strategy for their new mobile app analytics offering. She manages a global customer base consisting of enterprise Fortune 500 brands. When Maureen first relaunched almost five years ago, she worked at Oracle as a product manager responsible for the security framework of the Oracle enterprise manager product.

[00:01:04] We're going to be speaking with Maureen about her relaunch but she did spend 10 years at home raising her three children and prior to her career break, Maureen had graduated with a master's degree in computer engineering and had worked in several software engineering positions. So, hi Maureen, thanks for being with us today.

[00:01:23] Maureen Bryne: [00:01:23] Hi, Carol. Thank you for having me, I'm so excited to talk to you today.

[00:01:28] Carol Fishman Cohen: [00:01:28] Yes and we're excited to talk to you too. There are so many topics we want to cover, but before we get into it, can you just briefly walk us through your career path, including your career break and then how you relaunched?

[00:01:42] Maureen Bryne: [00:01:42] Yes, Carol. As you mentioned earlier, I have a master's in computer engineering and I spent several years as a software engineer, then a software engineering manager. I took 10 years off to be with the children. And then I returned as a product manager with Oracle, which was a very different role from a software engineering role, a wonderful role where I liaised or was the contact person between customers and engineers and working with sales to enable them to sell products, the product that we were building for the customers. It was a wonderful role. I spent two years with Oracle. Then I transitioned to a senior product management role with Jive Software and six months ago, I transitioned to MobileIron. They are very close to where I live and I am a senior product manager responsible for launching a new product..an app analytics offering, which is very exciting also.

[00:02:50] Carol Fishman Cohen: [00:02:50] Maureen, can you tell us a little bit about how you managed to relaunch your career at Oracle after being out for 10 years and also a little bit about, did you have to intensely update your skills and just, how did that happen?

[00:03:07] Maureen Bryne: [00:03:07] Sure. So, while I was off, firstly, I tried to start my own business. It was a website that catered to young families...entertainment and things for children of different ages, what was available in your local community. And the plan was that I would get local services to advertise on my website.

[00:03:32] But I realized that I was spending way too much time on that and not enough time with my children. There were times when I would sit on the floor with the children and I was wishing I was in front of the computer and I felt like I wasn't serving this website or the children very well, so I put that aside.

[00:03:51] I took a website design course and I built a website for my sister-in-law's preschool. All the Stanford lecture series are online, so I took a few of those. I joined Toastmasters also, and a few of my mom friends were asking me why I would ever join Toastmasters because it seemed like such a scary thing to do, but that was exactly why I did it...I wanted to scare myself and put myself outside my comfort zone. And I knew when I would start interviewing again, that I would be terrified to do so. So in a strange kind of way, I wanted to tackle that and be confident with public speaking. So I really believed that that was a fundamental thing that really stood to me when I started interviewing,

[00:04:45]Carol Fishman Cohen: [00:04:45] Let me just interject right there because you're not the first relauncher who has sworn by Toastmasters. And in fact, we recommend it broadly to relaunchers when they are getting ready to get back in, not only to help with telling your story and get comfortable in that public speaking role, but because most of the people at Toastmasters are working...and it's a great and supportive network to be in when you're making the transition back.

[00:05:19] So I'm just so intrigued that you sought that out, in part to scare yourself, but it had these other byproducts. How many years was that before you actually relaunched your career? Was it, did this all happen within the year before you went back or was it a longer term thing?

[00:05:39] Maureen Bryne: [00:05:39] No. It was about three years before I went back. During the 10 years, my husband and I and the children were traveling between California and Ireland. While I was in Ireland, I started interviewing, but the interview process was really difficult. It seemed there weren't that many jobs and I would seem to get pretty far in the interview process but when it came down to the offer, it always went to the person who currently had a job. So I did start Toastmasters in Ireland. And then a year before I started working, we had moved back to California. So I didn't do Toastmasters for that year and it wasn't until I started working that I picked up Toastmasters again, and now I'm a president of a local club in Palo Alto. So I have continued to be involved in Toastmasters and I believe totally, it's been invaluable to me.

[00:06:38] Carol Fishman Cohen: [00:06:38] I love hearing you talk about that. Can you talk a little bit about the technical side, did you feel like you had to do updating or was the work that you were doing with the website building and the courses that you were taking, I don't know if you can be any more specific on those, was that sufficient?

[00:06:57]Maureen Bryne: [00:06:57] So I was technical development manager for a monitoring tool, monitoring infrastructure for the company for cable and wireless while they were in the United States. And it was a pretty technical role, but 10 years on the technology that I knew had changed... and it was now all about mobile phones and iOS development. And that was an area that I didn't have much experience in, so that was the Stanford course that I took. I didn't want to be an iOS developer, but I felt it was important for me to know the language, to know the terms that were being used that would be brought up during conversations in interviews. It felt like it was important for me to at least know the landscape.

[00:07:46] Carol Fishman Cohen: [00:07:46] And did it function that way? By taking that course, did you feel like...okay, I'm not going to become an iOS developer myself, but now I am comfortable with the terminology enough to manage people who are doing that and to be in interviews where that language is being used?

[00:08:06] Maureen Bryne: [00:08:06] Yes. Yes. I was able to form an articulate response because I knew what their terms were that they were talking about. But as you mentioned, I did not want to be a developer. I felt like the technology had changed so much that, I didn't want to be a developer and I felt like I never truly loved being a software developer, that I wanted to be in this position which straddles sales and customers and communicating with engineering and marketing, which is the position I hold now as a product manager...so I do need to still be technical, but I'm not writing code. I just need to understand the components of writing code.

[00:08:49] Carol Fishman Cohen: [00:08:49] Right. And then how did you actually get the job? Was there a personal connection involved from someone you had worked with prior? Or like what do you attribute your initial success at relaunching at Oracle to?

[00:09:02] Maureen Bryne: [00:09:02] Yes. So it was down to my network. I had worked in Oracle previously, but not as a product manager. I worked there as a software developer and not in a security role either. So the interview process was rigorous. It was eight interviews with eight different people, two PowerPoint presentations, where one was over the phone on a product that I had worked on previously and then the other PowerPoint presentation was what I could learn about the product, I would be working on...what I could learn within a two week period. They didn't give me any collateral, any documentation. And I had to go into the boardroom and present to people in the office and people on the phone and then I had to write a technical white paper.

[00:09:52] Carol Fishman Cohen: [00:09:52] Wow.

[00:09:53] Maureen Bryne: [00:09:53] So it was tough...but Toastmasters really helped...because I was standing up in front of people and I knew the fundamental structure of a presentation, I knew how to level set. And I knew how to present technical information in a fundamental way so that it would reach all audiences, so that it would resonate with all people within the room irregardless of their technical level. So Toastmaster definitely.

[00:10:25] Carol Fishman Cohen: [00:10:25] That's incredible. So you ended up with that job and can you talk to us about what life was like in your early years of relaunching now that you're a relauncher veteran, having relaunched for over five years.

[00:10:40] Maureen Bryne: [00:10:40] Yes. Yes. So when I joined it was an immediate start...so it was like starting in the next week and it was like a whirlwind. We had a nanny all lined up and that was all taken care of and all of a sudden I had to context switch to learning this new technology, this new industry, security terms, the security infrastructure, learning the product. What does someone in this new role actually do?

[00:11:08] What are my responsibilities? And I was consumed with learning and thank goodness my husband was as supportive as he was. I would leave before him. I would come home after him. And he just picked up all the pieces at home. I felt I was so consumed with learning and I said this in my letter that's on your website, my introduction that I kind of lost sense of myself. It all happened so fast that I really didn't step back and be kind to myself. I felt like I was constantly judging myself...I didn't give myself the allowance of having the ten years off or out of the industry...I felt like I needed to perform and I needed to perform at the level of everyone else at this career level, but I felt like I was constantly being judged...even though I probably wasn't because I was 10 years older than everyone else at this career level and of my peers who were the same age as me, they were career levels above me.

[00:12:27] I felt like there was always this question mark over my head...like, oh, what's her story? Well, where did she come from? Why is she at this level when, you know, clearly she's older than others. And I felt like I had to defend myself constantly. Which I later came to learn, I had this thing called imposter syndrome where I felt I didn't have a voice or I had nothing to contribute or I wasn't smart enough. And I didn't know what this was. And I learned from a Natalie Portman, Harvard commencement speech, that it was something called imposter syndrome. I'm not this smart woman in Harvard...firstly, she got into Harvard and she is consumed with these feelings, then I definitely have this too. If she feels like she has nothing to contribute, then I certainly have nothing to contribute. And I couldn't even have the conversation with someone because I genuinely believed that these feelings were real and I couldn't step back and be intellectual about it. I mean, I knew I had a master's, I knew I was competent, I knew I had a brain, I knew at one stage I was able to use it, but emotionally, I think everything had happened so quickly from leaving the kids at home, to being consumed with the changing industry and being consumed with every time someone would mention a term that I didn't know, I immediately wrote it down as something that I would have to research.

[00:14:10] And the roller coaster of emotions that followed, about 18 months after I relaunched were very distracting and upsetting to me. But once I started to have the conversation with people about imposter syndrome, all that frantic technical diligence that I had paid finally came to fruition because I felt like I did have a voice and I was able to talk about it.

[00:14:42] Carol Fishman Cohen: [00:14:42] Wow...hold that thought for a minute, I just want to tell our listeners, you're listening to 3, 2, 1, iRelaunch...the podcast where we talk about strategies, advice, and success stories for returning to work after a career break. This is Carol Fishman Cohen, CEO of iRelaunch and your host for today.

[00:15:02] And today we're talking with Maureen Bryne, who's a senior product manager at MobileIron, but we're talking earlier on in her career path when she relaunched at Oracle and she was facing what she is now or at that time later determined to be imposter syndrome. So, Maureen, I'm just wondering when you were going through all this, and I know it was incredibly distracting, not to mention, probably disorienting in some way to be questioning yourself...how were you able to function on the job? And then when you said you came to terms with it and started talking with people about it, like, what was that moment and who did you talk to? And then did you talk to more and more people about it and found that a lot of people experienced it or what happened at that point?

[00:15:52] Maureen Bryne: [00:15:52] Yes, there was definitely a moment. I was able to function...I had to prepare for every conversation, every meeting beforehand. I felt like I couldn't come to the table without having a script. Which meant that I wasn't present, I wasn't in the moment...I always had an agenda which was very stressful for myself. But there was a moment. And the moment was, I was in a meeting where myself and a few senior directors were sitting around a table reviewing a presentation deck that I was about to give to our executive leadership team. And I sat very quietly in that meeting and my manager and my manager's manager were both in that meeting.

[00:16:44]The moment came after that meeting where my manager took me aside and said...I don't think anyone in that room knows the value that you can bring...and I don't think you do either. You get in front of your work. And that moment terrified me...because I thought...I'm going to be exposed, they're going to know that I don't have anything to contribute.

[00:17:09] Even though I had put this deck together and he was commenting on the content of their deck saying that it was presented really well...that was the context of the conversation. And, I felt like I was going to be exposed finally for not having a voice or not being able to have a voice, but I also knew deep down inside it was exactly what I needed. To get myself out there to come to terms with the fact that I do have a voice and that I needed a new chapter, I needed a new story and a new conversation in my head.

[00:17:45] Carol Fishman Cohen: [00:17:45] Wow. So like what happened in that moment and how did you like reset yourself?

[00:17:52] Maureen Bryne: [00:17:52] It was like I needed permission. I needed to hear that from him. I needed to hear that I did have a voice. So I took a moment and really thought about what is it I need to help me step forward...and it was a career coach. And she was more than just a career coach. Her mission statement was to help you find your voice. And I kind of thought, well, I know the technicalities of presenting, but she focused on what it was that was holding you back...not the technical process of making a presentation, but why you feel like you don't have a voice and the techniques and the process that she used was incredible and invaluable to me.

[00:18:46] And it gave me the confidence to know that I did have a voice and by taking time off, I was a richer and stronger and more valuable employee and person than I was before I took time off. And it just gave me this incredible confidence and it was like the light was finally switched on.

[00:19:10] Carol Fishman Cohen: [00:19:10] And how did you find that particular person whose mission it was to help you find your voice. Was it by an internet search or a recommendation? That seems incredibly, I don't want to say lucky, but like to be matched with the right person at the right time.

[00:19:29] Maureen Bryne: [00:19:29] Yeah, it was after a Toastmasters meeting, I was telling someone else who was in our Toastmasters club about exactly what I said to you...the fact that, okay, I knew the technicalities of a presentation, but the fear that I was feeling or the ability to not let things flow, to constantly feel like it had to have an agenda for a meeting, or an agenda for a speech. The lack of confidence of just letting things flow. And then that lady who I was speaking to recommended this coach.

[00:20:06] Carol Fishman Cohen: [00:20:06] Wow. That's really something. So what was life like after you made that discovery and were you able to then carry that with you once you changed your role to the Jive role, and now that you're in this new role, or do you feel like there's ever a step back and then you have to make up some lost ground because you're in a new context?

[00:20:28]Maureen Bryne: [00:20:28] When I had that conversation, when I found that lady, there was no going back. She caused a fundamental shift in me, undoubtedly. There were times when I felt I had made a tiny baby step back, but she readjusted me and sent me on my way. Since I have switched roles again, six months ago, I feel like I'm a totally different person.

[00:20:55] I have a voice. I feel like I know just as much as everyone else at the table and I just feel like in hindsight, I didn't have the compassion for myself that I should have had when I relaunched. I should have been kinder to myself. This imposter syndrome is something that happens to 50% of people in tech...because you're using being one of the smartest people in your class, in school, or in a previous job...then in Silicon Valley, there are so many smart people here, there's no way that you can possibly be the smartest person. Yes. I just didn't have the compassion and the kindness for myself. I didn't celebrate achievements. I didn't focus on the value that I was bringing. I was focusing on all the attributes that I didn't have and that I needed to work on.

[00:21:48] Carol Fishman Cohen: [00:21:48] Wow. That's very powerful. So, at this point...in your career, now that you've been back for over five years, does it feel like you never took the career break in the first place or does that still feel that time still feel really fresh in your mind?

[00:22:05] Maureen Bryne: [00:22:05] It doesn't feel fresh, but it feels like it's still there. It's a part of me, but it's something I can talk about now. I felt like it was something I couldn't talk about before. And that was probably just me and my lack of self-confidence and my lack of owning it. Now, I am proud of the fact that I took that time off because that is something I would absolutely never, ever regret.

[00:22:35] If I hadn't done it, it was something I would have regretted doing. But it makes me a better employee. It makes me a better manager. It makes me more compassionate to others and it makes me more inclusive of others. Now, if I see if I'm in a meeting and I see somebody who's sitting back or not contributing, I am so empathetic now. I draw them into the conversation simply because I know what it's like to sit there and feel like you can't speak or don't have a voice.

[00:23:08] Carol Fishman Cohen: [00:23:08] That incredibly mature perspective and also the perspective that can only come from having experienced something directly then has these benefits for your whole team and for you being at the company. I have to thank you for being so honest and being such an incredible example for our relaunchers everywhere and our employers too. And talking about your transition and talking about the fact that you took a career break and how that adds to and is an integral part of who you are and it's part of what you bring to the table as an employee...I just think all of that is so important for employers and for relaunchers too, to know. Maureen, so we're getting toward the end of our conversation, although I love to have this go on a lot longer, but I'm wondering if you can give your best piece of advice for relaunchers, even if it's something that we've already talked about during our conversation today.

[00:24:21] Maureen Bryne: [00:24:21] Yes, I do. I have a couple of pieces of advice. Treat yourself with compassion and don't be hard on yourself. I was so terribly hard on myself, focusing on what I didn't have, instead of giving myself time to grow and learn.

[00:24:44] And don't ever feel like you can't say no, or that a company went out on a limb to hire you...it's business and they hired you because they saw the value that you could bring to their business and they're not doing you a favor. You have value, you have a voice, you have knowledge, and you have this unique position that only you can bring by having taken the time off.

[00:25:08] And it's not about finding that first position, finding that first job, even though it represents getting your foot on the first rung of that ladder. It's about finding a job that you can grow and thrive and enjoy and love and makes you a better person and makes your family whole. And it's about being a good role model for your daughters and your sons. And having fun. Don't stress about it, please!

[00:25:38] Carol Fishman Cohen: [00:25:38] Excellent. Thank you so much. And Maureen was a speaker last year and will also this year be a speaker on the, What I Wish I'd Known panel at our iRelaunch Return to Work Conference at Stanford University coming up...the iRelaunch Return to Work Conference with the Stanford Alumni Association. And her candor, then and now, and also what we're we know will happen again this year is it's just, so appreciated Maureen. A lot of people won't go to this personal place, but it's incredibly helpful for all of us. So thank you very much for being with us.

[00:26:22] Maureen Bryne: [00:26:22] Thank you. I loved being here. Thank you for having me.

[00:26:25] Carol Fishman Cohen: [00:26:25] You've been listening to 3, 2, 1, iRelaunch...the podcast where we talk about strategies, advice, and success stories for returning to work after a career break. I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, the CEO of iRelaunch and your host today. For more information about iRelaunch, please go to www.irelaunch.com. You can contact us at info@irelaunch.com directly. And if you like this podcast, be sure to rate it on iTunes and your favorite podcast platform, and be sure to share this podcast with a friend on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media.

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