Front runner Paula Zymela

Paula Zymela has combined the best of both worlds as a mother of two young children and an IT project manager, by only working during school term...

Paula Zymela has combined the best of both worlds as a mother of two young children and an IT project manager, by only working during school term times.

Zymela negotiated a year-long work trial with her employer, Hampshire-based IBM Data Sciences, which ends in October. She works 22 hours a week, from 9.20am to 2.30pm, and has all school holidays off, although she may be asked to work a two-week stint in the office in the middle of the summer break. She also has a laptop at...

home so she can be contacted at any time if problems arise with any of her projects.

The deal saves on the cost of childcare for Rhiannon, aged seven, and Heidi, five, and Zymela says it makes for a far more enjoyable home life for all the family.

"It helps that my job is pretty contained - I work alone, supporting five projects, and we're planning to set up a group in which all project managers can support each other during holidays and busy times," Zymela explains. "Most of the time the systems are not used over holiday periods anyway."

Zymela's role is mainly troubleshooting for PC-based flight procedure training systems for RAF pilots. The systems are low-cost desktop alternatives to more expensive simulators, giving some feel for the strength of winds and the view from the cockpit, plus a full range of aircraft controls.

Supporting the systems is made easier by the fact that four of them run on the same software and all are fairly mature. Most of Zymela's time is spent on internal administration - keeping the projects ticking over, and making enhancements when they are needed.

One reason Zymela suggested her unique working arrangement was that she could not take advantage of homeworking, as most of the Ministry of Defence documents she needs to consult have restricted access and cannot be removed from the office.

"I'm lucky that I have far-sighted managers who understand the pressures of combining work and a family," she says. "It has helped that I've been here a long time and they know me well."

Zymela graduated in pure maths and computer science and worked briefly for Honeywell Information Systems before joining IBM as a programmer, then team leader, consultant and project manager.

Major projects have included processing data from an Earth Resourcing Satellite and developing a management information system for a charity. But she is now prepared to put her career on hold for the sake of her family.

"Being part-time I can't attend as many meetings, courses, or career progression activities, and I accept that. When I go back to full-time - which I will at some point - it will be up to me to get myself trained and pick up on the things I am now putting on the backburner."

"I have won a better balance between my work and home life by working this way," Zymela concludes. "Without this deal I would have to find a childminder or holiday club, which isn't ideal. This way we can all enjoy a better quality family life."

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