Celebrating the women of telecoms

Celebrating the women of telecoms

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March 8, 2024
Three Group Solutions

More women than ever are now working at the front and centre in tech — from computer sciences, to programming, engineering, and more.

To celebrate how far the industry has come, and to set the tone for the future, we sat down with two of our experts to talk about their careers, life as a woman in tech, and their visions and aspirations for the coming years.

Meet the experts

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Barbara Balice
Radio Design Manager

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Loretta Liu
Principal Network Architect

How long have you worked in tech? What has your career to date looked like?

Barbara: It’s been about 22 years now. I started out as a consultant in 2002. I then moved into a permanent role in the CK Hutchison (CKH) 3G strategy team, working at first as a Radio Design Specialist then later a Radio Design Manager. I now work in the same role for CKH IOD supporting Three Group Solutions.

Loretta: I’ve worked in tech for about 20 years. I did telecoms at university, with a focus on industrial applications. Once I left, I worked for a different telecoms company for around seven years before I joined CK Hutchison. Since then, I’ve worked across the Group as a Network Architect, Principal Service Architect, and now I am a Principal Network Architect at CKH IOD supporting Three Group Solutions.


Can you share a little about what you do?

Barbara: I work in chipset, device and network specification, which involves upgrading devices to work on higher frequencies. So, if a client has a device that is configured to work on 2G, I could reconfigure it to work on 4G for example.

Loretta: I work as a technical expert working closely with the Three Group Solutions sales team. I’ve got a background in telecoms — 2G, 3G, 4G, 5G, all wireless comms. I work as a design strategist, which involves designing private network roadmaps for clients and helping stakeholders understand the strategy involved.


What does a typical day look like for you?

Barbara: I have a kid, so family is a big part of my life. Every morning, I spend time with my family and also get some exercise in. Then, before the workday begins, I check to see if there are any urgent messages to attend to. The rest of my day is usually spent in calls; conference calls, calls with my team, meetings with vendors, coordinating other people… I also do a lot of reporting, which involves writing documentation on specific technologies and reading up on new technology documentation.

Loretta: I start every day with a quick check of requirements to see if there’s anything urgent I need to deal with. If everything’s calm, then coffee. I usually have coffee on-call with my team, so we can all chat and set our to-do lists for the day or week, this helps me to prioritise the tasks. It’s a nice way to start the day and it puts me in a good mood as I start the day. I try to reduce the business travel time, though sometimes have to travel. I spend most time on strategy documentation and design paperwork but try to fit in at least an hour a day of self-learning.


What has been your favourite project?

Barbara: I was part of the project team tasked with launching 3G in the beginning! I think I was around 25/26 at the time, and the prospect of implementing an entirely new technology was very exciting. It was also great because I got to collaborate with other companies and people. I still remember spending long days in the office — up to 20 hours at times! — but it still felt like a good time, because I was young and it was a good age to socialise, so I bonded closely with my teammates.

Loretta: Similarly, my favourite project was a launch too, but for 4G! I spent 10 years working on this project; and, when they kicked off this project in 2014, I had actually just had my daughter. So, in many ways, it was like my second baby. It was also very interesting because I was on-site, and had to deal with equipment that was 65 metres high. It was terrifying, but I definitely look back on that time proudly. That project was also the start of my journey into private networks, as I had been focused on consumer-based projects until then.


Did you always know you wanted to work in tech?

Barbara: Yes. Definitely. I can thank my dad for the inspiration, actually! He worked in telecoms, and I remember at a young age, he told me that his boss was an engineer. So, naturally, I decided I wanted to be an engineer.

Loretta: Not really. At the beginning, especially when I was in university, it wasn’t really the career I would’ve chosen for myself. It was actually my mum’s idea for me to pursue telecoms in my studies. So I did my bachelors in EEE (Electrical & Electronic Engineering) and my postgrad in telecoms and digital. That’s when I started to really take a shine to it, and I was keen to work on bringing all the telecom elements together. Now, I love it. I feel lucky every day to still be in this industry — especially as I know many of the people I studied with have moved to different things.


What do you think is the best part of being a woman in the tech industry?

Barbara: I think the biggest strength of being a woman in what is still a male-dominated industry is that you’re able to bring different strengths and skills to a room. I find that I’ve been able to help communication flow better, facilitate idea sharing, and connect better with people in other companies. I think women bring an element of empathy to tech, humanising it.

Loretta: Telecoms isn’t the friendliest environment for women; not because of the people, but due to the actual environments you’ll work in. They tend to be very harsh environments — you may work on difficult rigs, for example. That’s one thing that’s tough to overcome. But I think it’s important that women become engineers, nonetheless. I bring a very different point of view to my male counterparts, and that’s made a big difference at times. I think women bring a fresh approach to problem solving, and that has made me feel very confident working as part of the team.


What has surprised you the most in your career?

Barbara: How much and how fast things can change. It’s so fast, especially in tech. You need to stay on top of the newest tech all the time when you work in this industry. But I think that’s what’s kept me in this role so long. You don’t get bored because the tech is always evolving — we’re already seeing the start of 6G, for example — and that means I’m always evolving my skills and learning.

Loretta: 15 years ago I designed, built and configured a network to make the first call from a small island. I made the first international call to my remote support team and told them we made it! Today, we bring a broad range of technologies to our customers and build networks for their businesses. Fast forward just 15 years and the telecoms industry has moved beyond connectivity to delivering automation and back then I would never have imagined what is now possible.


What would you say to women or girls considering a career in tech?

Barbara: Always be strong and never feel like you cannot do something. And, most importantly, speak up for yourself! Make yourself heard.

Loretta: Don’t be afraid to do it. Women have a different way of contributing, and that diversity of thought and ways of looking at challenges is so important. Also, be brave.


If you had to do it all over again, would you? And is there anything you’d change?

Barbara: For sure. If I had to change anything… I’d have taken the opportunity I was offered when I was younger, to take a transfer to a project in another country. I think its one thing I missed out on, and it’s definitely the sort of thing that’s easiest to do when you’re young, before having kids.

Loretta: there’s no doubt the answer is yes. I love my work and I am proud of the contribution I made so far. If I had to change anything, I’d like to spend a little bit more time and extend my recreational diving certificate to commercial diving certificates which would allow me to explore offshore work with telecommunication technology. For example, a variety of underwater inspection, construction and maintenance of transmission networks.


Finally, what are your hopes for the next generation of women in tech?

Barbara: I hope they won’t be treated like assistants. I think that’s currently one of the dangers; that women study for so long and so hard… and then they enter the industry and start getting treated like an assistant if they’re not careful to hold their ground. Thankfully, I haven’t experienced that in my role at CKH IOD, but I know it’s a common problem.

I don’t have any daughters, I only have a son — but you’d best believe I’ll be teaching my son not to treat the women they work with in the future like that. Change starts with today’s mothers.

Loretta: My hope is that the decision to go into engineering will be less of a big decision for women — something more normal. Until then, I’d tell all women in and entering the industry: Don’t allow yourself to be labelled a ‘woman engineer’. That’s not what you are. You’re just an engineer.