Jo Higgens

I started thinking about what I wanted to be/do when I was as young as 12.

I had a vision of going to sea as an Engineer or a Radio Operator as my Grandad was in the Merchant Navy and told me I could achieve anything, I loved the sea and I thought why not! I applied at a Marine College in Liverpool where I was accepted as one of the only two women to apply. Three years later I emerged with my qualifications, which by todays standards are old fashioned, but have stood me in good stead all my career. I also won the coveted prize of the Best Morse Code Operator in the North West of England of which I am still very proud as no other woman had ever won it and no other woman has won it since(although Morse Code is now not used)

I then started to apply for jobs and was excepted for 4 different positions. One of which was with Government Communications Headquarters in Cheltenham, this is where my career in Engineering really started in 1983 at the age of 19. The position with GCHQ was for an Engineer/Radio Operator role. I was the only woman in my class in Bletchley, this threw up extra challenges for me which I had to work through and emerge successful. I did 9 months of concentrated training as a civilian alongside ex Army/Navy and RAF, to get me ready for my future with GCHQ. The following 19 years saw me through 2 tours abroad, 2 UK postings, where my primary job was to keep the UK troops safe during the cold war and then through the war on terrorism. I am proud to say I have a personal letter from our Prime Minister at the time ‘John Major’ to thank me for saving many lives through the work I did.

I left GCHQ in 2001 to join Orange as a Signalling Engineer, and worked my way up over the years to become a Principal Network Architect, I am now working for BT, who bought EE a few years back. In total I have now done 20 years this month in the Mobile Network Technology space, again a space with only a few women, of which I am actively trying to change from within. I am part of the Diversity and Inclusiveness team in BT where I represent the ‘Gender Equality’ area. Compared to 30 years ago it is a lot better and we are moving in the right direction, but there is still a lot of work to be done, I am passionate about bringing more women into Engineering as it has been the best career I could have ever hoped for and I would like to see other women benefit like I have.

I have to say, my career has been rich and fulfilling. I have been given the space to thrive and evolve, and I have been given the free rein and trust from my Leadership Teams through the years, to work, lead and see through to delivery cutting edge technologies, and set the architectural strategy for each for Orange/EE and BT, i.e. 3G, 4G and 5G. I work with Products/Consumer/Enterprise and Global to inform them of what the technology will look like and how it will benefit them and their customers. I also Mentor young Engineers and try and pass my knowledge and love of my career to them, this is also fulfilling especially when they themselves move through the company to be successful.

To wrap up I am still enjoying my life in Engineering even 35 years later. I have watched Technology and Communications evolve from Landline Phones to Mobile Phones, from no computers to computers and onwards into Artificial Intelligence and Machine to Machine Internet of Things, and still it will keep evolving which is very exciting, my next stop, well it could be 6G or who knows 7G , the world is my oyster 🙂