GUEST BLOG: Being a female tech leader

In this guest post, Susan Bowen, vice president and general manager at Cogeco Peer 1  and new trustee at education technology solutions organisation Jisc, explains her journey into the technology industry and how she became a female tech leader.

When it came to my A-level choices, I chose to study English and economics with a plan to work in the big city (I grew up in South Wales and had never visited London). But then I found a subject that interested me even more, and one I was good at: computing.

It was the first time I’d studied computing as an academic subject rather than an enjoyable, passing interest. I found it fascinating and got a buzz from it.

I also enjoyed writing code. In those days I would buy computing magazines and copy the code to a BBC Microcomputer, delving deeper and deeper into the workings of computer systems. With every new lesson I saw the great potential computing could have in the future.

Having missed the required A-level grades for English and economics, my computing grade gave me the opportunity to study computer science at Portsmouth University (the university clearing process served me well!).

After graduation, I started working for Electronic Data Systems, which is where my career in technology took a surprising turn.

At school it was never explained that a career in IT could lead to travelling and working on some incredibly exciting projects – but it did! I got to code fixes for the millennium bug, alter banking code that everyone now uses and travel the world at the same time. I’ve been lucky enough to visit places like Singapore and work out of the World Trade Center, New York.

This job gave me the skills I needed to join Hewlett Packard, where I worked with many inspirational leaders, including Meg Whitman. Nearly 17 years later, it led me to my current role at Cogeco Peer 1, where I head up the Europe, Middle East and Africa teams.

My experience within the industry and the inspiration around me gave me the drive and desire to make a difference in the sector. I wanted to give something back to an industry that had given me so much and to also address the imbalance for women in technology. So I joined the techUK Board, where I am currently chair for the Women in Tech Council.

Being a leader isn’t about taking all the praise for yourself; it is about working as a team and sharing the glory with those who are learning with you and producing incredible work.

During my time at Cogeco Peer 1, I have been honoured to oversee some remarkable people and projects, and I come in day after day ready to embrace the next challenge, knowing I have a strong team behind me.

Likewise, there is a strong team at Jisc, which is leading the charge in ensuring that the higher and further education sector is embracing new technology and producing a digitally savvy workforce for the future.

It is for this reason that I am excited to start work at Jisc as a new trustee. With with more than 25 years in the industry, my experience could be valuable and I am looking forward to helping maintain this forward momentum.

Companies like Jisc help make the UK a world leader in the higher education and research sector, which is a key contributor to the economy, and this is an exciting time to become involved.

When I first started studying computing I could see the potential in the industry and, as I began to learn more, I could see its potential for me too. It is this potential that I want to encourage in all students who want to start a career in technology.

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