Sue Steggles-Cole, Head of Build Wales & South West

Virgin Media

June 20, 2019


Can you tell us about your role?

I’m Virgin Media’s first and only female Head of Build for Wales and the South West and manage a team of about 25 engineers. Put simply, we dig up streets to put in broadband for our customers. However, often the reality is much more complicated and requires lots of news ideas and forward thinking. It’s a bit like playing with Lego everyday but on a larger scale and who doesn’t like Lego?

And what does an average week look like for you?

I try to spend at least two days a week in the field to check that the build quality is good, talk to the team and our customers and overcome any difficulties that may stop our build progressing. I also spend time visiting councils to talk through our plans and have a day with my managers to plan the build and discuss the future. One day a week I focus on innovation and looking at ways we can do things differently. For example, we’re currently four months into multi-skilling our engineers across build, commissioning and diversions, so we can cut down on travel, make the most of their time and make the roles even more exciting.

What are you excited to be working on at the moment?

There’s always a lot going on. We are using mole plough technology on the back of tractors, so that we can lay our cables across a field. As well as looking at digging techniques that will make our trenches narrower that the palm of your hand, we’re always looking to find new, faster and cheaper ways to connect our hard to reach customers.

How did you get into engineering?

I studied a mining degree at Camborne School of Mines in Cornwall and completed my masters in Computer Science at the University of Bristol. Initially I focused on computer programming, as a university lecturer and later joined Openreach where I built the largest data warehouse in the UK at the time. I’ve always been driven by what’s exciting and challenging. So when the role came up to roll out broadband and build a legacy for the future, it was an opportunity too good to miss. Over the last 10 years I’ve been focused on network build and I’m really proud to have delivered broadband to over 15 million premises in the UK.

What’s your experience of being a woman in engineering? 

You have to be a certain type of person, as it’s still a male-dominated industry, you will come across people who may underestimate what you can do. So it’s important to stand your ground and make sure your voice gets heard.

But it’s not just being a woman. I also have a rare bone disease and some of the challenges you face when you have a disability can even be more difficult. That’s why you have to remember to believe in yourself and know that whatever path you want to follow you can do it.

What do we need to do to get more women into engineering?

Engineering can be an exciting roller-coaster where the unexpected can happen every day. So to get more women into engineering, we need to focus less on your technical experience and focus more on the type of person you are. If you are driven, want to make a difference and can manage tricky stakeholders and look outside the box to overcome challenges, it’s a great career for you.

What do you think about the engineering opportunities at Virgin Media?

At Virgin Media there are a good variety of engineering roles, such as a build engineers, commissioning engineers or service engineers who spend time in customers’ homes. There are opportunities to swap and try different roles, plus as the service provider who offers faster product that any competitor, it’s a very exciting place to be.

Who or what has inspired you?

As a disabled person, I’ve always been inspired by Stephen Hawkins, you look at what he has achieved despite the severity of his disabilities and can’t help but be amazed and want to achieve more. As a woman, I worked for a really inspiring female managing director who got me into broadband and she is still my mentor today.  From an engineering perspective, I grew up in Cornwall, when I was younger I can remember being in awe of The Royal Albert Bridge across the River Tamar by Brunel and I always thought that when I grew up I’d build houses or bridges. As it turns out I’m building networks instead!.

If someone is wondering whether a role in engineering is for them what advice would you give them?

Don’t delay, dive in. I’d start by writing a list of all the areas of interest and the roles you’d like to do, then reach out proactively to the people that lead those areas and invite them for coffee. Make sure when you meet them that you do something memorable, that way when an opportunity comes up you’ll be the first person they contact

What are your top 3 tips for women looking to get into engineering?

  1. Be persistent, you’ll get nine no’s before you get a yes, but it’s worth preserving!
  2. Know your own strengths, if others can’t see your ability that’s their problem, not yours and that isn’t the right role for you.
  3. Believe in yourself and find a good mentor, you can achieve anything you want to, its up to you to set and follow your own pathway.

Thinking of this year’s theme #transformthefuture – what would you like to change in the future?

Every customer is connectable, but we need innovation and out of the box thinking to reach them. I’m excited to look at new technologies that look overhead rather than underground, like drones so we can connect customers in hard to reach places. Plus I’d like to see more women in engineering, girl power brings a more balanced dimension to a group of men.

Lastly, thinking of purpose, how are you building connections that really matter?

The more connections we build that really matter, the easier and faster our broadband network is to roll out. My purpose is building a broadband network that enables us to leave a legacy for our children and grandchildren and their grandchildren.


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