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My journey building a career in STEM

Priyanka Tiwari

Field Engineer

June 13, 2022

The world of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) is one of the most wonderful places to be for people who want to create magic. And like so many industries, there’s a real need to open the doors for more women.

For our very own Field Engineer Priyanka Tiwari, this probably doesn’t come as a surprise. We caught up with Priyanka in our Birmingham office to learn about her career in STEM, the hurdles she had to overcome and why in a dream world, she’d love for her daughter to join her at Virgin Media, too.

Priyanka! First things first, how did you know you wanted to work in STEM?

My dad actually said that when I was a kid, I never played with anything like dolls or toys. All I was interested in were tools, tools, and more tools. As I grew older he could see how much I loved technology and encouraged me to get into engineering. So I did an undergrad in India and got a first-class master’s degree in Electronics and Telecommunications Engineering from Staffordshire University.

Getting a master’s was really important to me because after I did my undergrad it was hard to find a job. I did temporary jobs such as a data analyst and even worked in hospitality but I wasn’t having much luck and I decided to study further. I’m a strong believer that knowledge gained is never wasted.

What did your world look like once you found a more permanent role in the industry?

I had a baby after I finished my master’s and the family was my top priority. Once I was ready to jump back in, I found a job at Sky as a Systems Engineer. The only drawback was that it was in London. Being from Birmingham meant I had to commute a lot and with little ones back at home, I found it tough. This pushed me to find a job more locally.

I applied for two types of engineering roles at Virgin Media. One was a Design Planner and the other was Field Engineer. As I had more experience in the Field Engineer area, that’s the job I was successful in. As a mum, it’s worked out for me because I get to be with my family and help other people.

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At what point in your journey did you realise the STEM industry needed more women?

I remember my first day doing my master’s so clearly. I’d got all dressed up because I wanted to look like a professional taking my master’s degree and I was so excited. When I got into the class the first thing the professor asked me was “are you in the right place”. I thought it was because I was smartly dressed. Then, he asked me what my name was and he replied “Oh I’m so sorry, I thought Priyanka was a guy”. That’s when I knew we needed more women in the industry.

A lot of my time studying wasn’t easy because I was a woman. I knew my professors didn’t expect me to go far. It’s really sad but it did give me more motivation to prove them wrong. Even with a degree throughout my career in this industry, I’ve realised there’s a lot you can learn on the job, with training and the desire to practice every day. I think if we shared this more, it would encourage more diversity. Anyone can do this if it’s what they want to do and they put in the work.

You’ve definitely proved those professors wrong. What positive changes do you feel can be made in this industry?

For me, a lot of change comes from your managers, mentors, professors etc. The people who help you progress. This is something I’m so happy I’ve seen at Virgin Media, my manager and my team are a supportive group of people. Our manager has check-ins with the women to make sure we have an open and safe space to talk about any issues that may be bothering us and finds ways to support us.

A big difference from other companies I’ve worked at is that feeling of belonging. I instantly felt like I was supposed to be here, and that people wanted me here too.

Lastly, where do you see your future at Virgin Media?

I love my current role and I’m still determined to progress into a network or planning role, which is also exciting. I’m doing some networking courses at the moment two days a week. There’s so much opportunity here and as a woman, I think it would be wonderful if my daughter also found a career here in a STEM role, being the doctor for people’s internet like I’ve been made to feel. Whether she actually follows in her mum’s footsteps is completely up to her.

What I will also say is there’s a lovely feeling of Virgin Media feeling like a home away from home. That feeling of inclusivity, belonging and team play really matters. For any parent, that’s not only what you want for yourself but for your children, too.

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