The best possible advice I can give to work from home and balance the needs of your family and quarantine schooling is to make a schedule and communicate your schedule with your family. But, perhaps most of all, my advice is to have grace with yourself. Everyone is having to deal with this situation now and the best thing we can do for our family and ourselves is to have grace with ourselves. We’re not going to be able to do everything for everyone at all times.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.
As a part of my series about how women leaders in tech and STEM are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Amanda Perkins.
With 8 years in the field, Amanda Perkins is a Quality Assurance (QA) Engineer for Clearcover. She focuses on not only improving the quality of software but the quality of interactions between team members. By combining her background in customer service, retail sales, music, and leadership, she brings a creative and unique high-quality approach to QA. Amanda lives near Kansas City, MO with her husband, two kids, cat, and dog.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
That is a rather interesting story honestly. I initially attended college for Music Education but decided to go a different direction. An undetermined different direction, but a different direction all the same. Through a variety of customer service and retail jobs, I landed in the IT department of an online university. My journey towards becoming a quality analyst started on a whim and flourished from there. After several years of pursuing quality in software development, I found myself working with this fabulous insurtech startup company called Clearcover as a Quality Assurance (QA) Engineer with the goal of making auto insurance easier, better, and more affordable for everyone.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?
Interesting story, let’s see. Well, the most interesting thing that happened so far is when I visited the Clearcover office for the first time in January of this year. Like 30% of my colleagues, I work remotely, even before the current health crisis forced us all to work from home. You see, Clearcover headquarters are in Chicago and Chicago at winter time is a very interesting place. On my final day there, we had an evening get together. While we are in this amazing venue, playing darts and eating delicious foods, it starts snowing. If you’ve ever been in downtown Chicago when the weather changes, you know it comes in really fast. Having not been in downtown Chicago before, I did not know this — and proceeded to watch the snow roll in and make travelling back to my hotel a crazy experience. Well, a friend and I are waiting for our rideshare and I get a notification on my phone that my flight back to Kansas City has been cancelled. Long story short, I ended up back in my room working with Amtrak, and scheduled a train ride home. As I had done this before, I knew it would take a few hours but shouldn’t be too bad. Murphy’s law tells us that what can go wrong, will go wrong and in my case, it did. We were stuck on the tracks for several hours and rather than taking something like 8 hours to get home, we arrived home almost 12 hours later, somewhere around 1am. It was an interesting experience for the first time in the office — and one I’d rather not repeat, honestly!
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We have some really great things happening at Clearcover right now. Some of the projects we are working on require human capital, like myself, to ensure that what we are doing is making insurance easier and better for everyone involved. On my team, we’re automating tests against our product to make sure that what we offer and what we present to our customers will be easy to use and provide the best possible service.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
That is a fun story indeed. So, remember how I spoke about moving to the IT department of the online university. Well, that wasn’t my idea. I was actually pushed into it by the man who would later become my husband. (It’s not nearly as scandalous as it sounds!) While I worked at the university, I worked for him in the Registrar’s office. Some of the things I did there, well, I just wasn’t very good at doing. But, if you gave me a task that was in some way IT or tech related, I took to it like a duck to water. So, when the opportunity came up for a business analyst position in IT, he suggested I apply for it. I did. They didn’t choose me for that role, but they did offer me this position of quality analyst, something I had never heard of, and I took it. In a couple of my recent talks, I actually relate this story as the turning point in my career. It’s my “Alice down the rabbit hole” moment; that moment that you have no idea what you are doing or what you want to do and you kind of just fall into the thing that you were always meant to do. But, I never would have fallen into QA and IT if it weren’t for my husband pushing me to try for the job. Since then, he has continued to be my biggest supporter in all things, whether it’s my job, my talks, my writing, or our family. I couldn’t be more thankful for that time he took to recognize what I was talented at and push me to pursue it, and to this day still does.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic?
Everyone has their own challenges, and we have a good number of challenges in our house as well. First of all, just the work demands, sheltering in place, and quarantine schooling our children is a challenge. Making sure my husband and I can work at our day jobs, and the kids are doing their school work is probably number one. But, we have other challenges. Like what happens if my son, who works at a grocery store, ends up bringing the pandemic home? My husband is asthmatic and both he and I are in our 40’s. If my daughter gets it, it’s a sure thing I’ll end up with it too because I can’t leave her to deal with it alone; she’s only 10. I have taken on the role of “lead grocery getter” in our house too, so I’ve been nicknamed “quartermaster.” I make sure we have what supplies we need and keep getting what we need, when we need it. Another challenge we are facing is the fact that my daughter’s father lives in Kansas and I’m not comfortable with visitations because of all of this. So, keeping the household running and still being a contributing member of my team at work is a really big challenge as well.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Mostly, we look at them as challenges. We acknowledge that and work with it. For quarantine schooling, we have a schedule that includes academic, outdoor/workout (and snacks of course), and quiet creative time and their classes have set dates and times for video calls. I use a chalkboard to list my meetings so the kids, and my husband, know when I’ve got to do work tasks. As for the challenge of trying to stay healthy, I’m the only one that goes to the grocery store and who drops off my son at work. I’m also the only one that picks him up. When he gets home, I have the washer loaded and ready; he just has to put his clothes in and start it and take a shower. We try to work with my daughter’s father in order to make sure we are doing what is best for all of us; there are video meetings and lots of talking. My main challenge is trying to find time to myself in a room where no one else happens to be in that 5 minutes, but with 2 kids, a husband, a cat and a dog, well, I’m never really alone now, am I?
Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic?
The biggest work-related challenges I’m facing today are making a schedule that works for me, my husband and my kids. I’m blessed to work for a company that understood the seriousness of this pandemic from the start and understood the potential challenges we would face as parents. Blocking off time for the children to do their academic work and still get some outdoor/active time, plus being able to block off my time for meetings and to get work done are the biggest challenges I have right now. I also find that, on occasion, I have a hard time concentrating in meetings. I mean, with everything in the meeting and then hearing the kids in the background and the ability to switch screens at whim, that’s tough.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
One of the ways I’ve addressed the challenges is having a schedule for the kids. They get up at a relatively normal time for school — they get dressed, have breakfast — and they head down with me to do their work while I do mine. Another way we address the scheduling is by having blocks of time set for academics, outdoor activities, lunch, and even quiet time. They are in 1–1.5 hour blocks and that works best for us. By utilizing two chalkboards we have (one is by our “common area” set up and the other was one my grandfather gave me from the school he was head custodian for that removed them and went to whiteboards), I list out when and how long my meetings are and use the larger one to say “MEETING IN PROGRESS” and block off my office area. Using these together helps the kids and my husband to know when I need to focus on work. For work, if I need to step away to tend to the children’s needs, I leave a message in our Slack rooms that I will be stepping away for a moment and then set my status to away (if I remember before I get pulled away!). As for being able to better focus in meetings, I have a weird little solution. You see, at my previous employer, a friend gave me this little tin of thinking putty. At first, it was just a little fun stretchy, not quite gooey thing to use. Now, it’s become my go-to for meetings or things where I really need to think or concentrate. It can get a little distracting to others so I try to keep it below my camera, but I can sit and pull it and shape it and basically fiddle and, for me, it keeps me focused on what is going on. It’s just a little something that is soothing as well as keeping me on task. I’ve had meetings that have had fiddle toys — basically pipe cleaners and little things like that to keep everyone entertained and more focused on the tasks at hand.
Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?
The best possible advice I can give to work from home and balance the needs of your family and quarantine schooling is to make a schedule and communicate your schedule with your family. But, perhaps most of all, my advice is to have grace with yourself. Everyone is having to deal with this situation now and the best thing we can do for our family and ourselves is to have grace with ourselves. We’re not going to be able to do everything for everyone at all times. And that has to be okay. Over-communicate with your workplace and with your family. Tell them your needs so that you will be able to help with their needs. We’re all trying to find a way to make it all work but the only way that we will be able to make it all work is to work together.
Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place for long periods with your family?
HA! Sane and serene?! You haven’t met my people, have you?! I’m kidding. In all seriousness, the first thing that has to go is this idea of “when everything returns to normal.” There is no return to normal. There is a new normal. Just like after 9/11, things will be different and we have to deal with them going forward. Another thing that needs to happen is that you HAVE to make time to yourself. I am this weird mix of introvert and extrovert. An ambivert, you could say. I need to be around people, I need to see people and get that social interaction. But, when I’m done “people-ing” (as we call it), I’m done. I want to be left alone. I need to recharge, I need to refill my emotional bank. If that means on Saturday nights I get the whole basement to myself and I just sit and listen to the house noises (because I don’t seem to have the internal monologue that other people have, I just sit and listen to people and animals moving around in the upper floors and the regular house noises that happen), then that’s what I have to do. Honestly, I’m dealing with this much differently than anything that’s come before and that’s probably because it’s completely different than anything else. I’m typically pretty wound tight and stressed — but I’m amazingly calm. Now, that’s not to say I don’t have my moments, but I tend to do better in moments of crisis — that “thing” inside me kicks in and I’m calm and cool. For others it could be meditation, yoga, running, exercise, writing, reading, a bubble bath…whatever works best for you, do it. The way to stay sane and serene is to do what you need, what your body tells you it needs to do.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
My first advice would be to stop watching so much of the news! Especially the daily briefings! Seriously. My 10-year-old daughter suffers from anxiety and is seeing a therapist and one of the things she has expressed to us is that the news causes her to worry. So, we only watch the news in the morning (for us there seems to be more good news and less news that causes anxiety) and then we spend the day doing our schooling and the evenings are spent streaming (next up is a Star Wars marathon, in chronological order) or doing crafts or playing games. The Queen of England actually said it best just the other day, “[W]e will meet again.” And we will. We have to do this now in order to flatten the curve so that we can meet again. If you are lonely and need social interaction, talk to your people — your family, friends, online friends — and start a video chat. Seeing their faces and hearing their voices is so helpful. It is for me, at least. Lean into your feelings. Yes, it’s scary and uncertain and lonely. For now, that’s okay. We’re doing what we need to do in order to move forward. There will be an end to this. We just have to make sure we are doing our parts to help that end come.
My 5 reasons to be hopeful…let’s see
1 — This all will have an end. Everything else we’ve gone through has had an end. From wars to plagues, it all ends some time. What is great is that there will be a new beginning and that’s something that makes me hopeful.
2 — There’s going to be a new normal. That’s not a bad thing. We’re going to be more prepared for anything that could come our way. We will come out with a knowledge of what we can do. We can work from home and quarantine-school our kids. We can have social gatherings that use the technology that we have spent so much time burying our heads in. We can support our local small businesses in new ways.
3 — We’re nothing if not adaptable. We will come out of this pandemic with a new insight into ourselves. We will see that no matter what life throws at us we can adapt and handle it. That doesn’t mean it’s not going to be hard. It just means that we can and will find a way to make the best of it and keep moving forward.
4 — I’m hopeful that our communities stay as close as they have become. We did this back when 9/11 happened, we got closer with our communities and now we’re doing it again. We’re looking out for each other, we’re making scavenger hunts of clovers or bears or Easter eggs in windows so we can keep our distance but still find things around our neighborhoods. We’re using our manners and being polite in stores when we do have to be out. The constant mantra is “we’re all in this together” and we’re seeing it everywhere. We’re applauding our healthcare workers and grocery staff. We’re doing what we can to keep ourselves and each other safe and healthy.
5 — I’m hopeful for more people to keep the manners they have been using lately. I was at the store the other day, in my facemask with my spray hand sanitizer in my pocket and I noticed something. We were all being very polite. We were giving way to each other to let others by and we were saying thank you. We were saying excuse me and no one was getting upset. We were looking each other in the eyes. I’m hopeful that remains in practice after we are allowed to be in public again.
From your experience, what are a few ideas that we can use to effectively offer support to our family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Gosh, there are so many answers for this. First, it’s okay to grieve what won’t/didn’t/can’t happen. We were super excited for lots of things — graduations, celebrations, comicons, get-togethers — and now those things are either postponed or cancelled. It’s okay to be disappointed and sad and to grieve that it won’t happen. Second, do what you can to find ways to cope. If you need to cry, do it. If you need a bubble bath and a bottle of wine, make it happen. If you need to take a walk out to the woods and scream, well, be careful, someone may think you’re in physical distress, but if you need to do it, do it. Also, don’t be afraid to reach out to a counselor, a friend, someone who is willing to listen. My 10-year-old daughter has anxiety and was seeing a counselor in person before this. Now, they are able to have telehealth sessions. And that is helping her. If you need to talk, there are people out there willing to listen.
My biggest piece of advice though is this — stop watching the bloody news! Or stop watching it as much. We’ve taken our news watching down to only in the mornings before we start our day. That time of day seems to have softer stories and less of the bad things. I mean, there’s still facts and facts are scary, but having that buffer of feel-good news helps keep the anxiety a little at bay. Stay off of social media as well. Or at least find ways to adjust your feeds to show only good things and less news. If you keep yourself wrapped up in it, you’ll stay wrapped up in it and stay in that anxious state.
Most of all, talk to those around you on how you are feeling. Let them know that maybe their behavior is not helping, or something they are saying is making you anxious. Work with them and help them work with you. Suffering in silence is still suffering and doesn’t help anyone. Speak up and ask for what you need.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I don’t know that it’s a quote so much as just something I’ve always done. Never give up. There have been so many things in my life that tried to make me stop — sports tryouts, failed opportunities, personal hardships — but I just haven’t let them stop me. People tried to tell me I wasn’t worth it or that I’d not amount to anything and I did everything I could to prove them wrong. But with that you also have to know that there comes a point when it is time to stop and to move a different direction. That’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned. Never give up but know when it’s time to do something else.
How can our readers follow you online?
You can find me most often on twitter @theqadiva
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!