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News | 10 Dec 2019

Vodafone high-flyer wins big at Women in IT Excellence Awards

Women engineers and technicians like Jo Steel lead the way at Vodafone UK. 

Vodafone employee Jo Steel (pictured above, left, with host Suzi Ruffell) has been honoured with the Outstanding Transformation prize at the annual Women in IT Excellence Awards – founded to celebrate and promote fantastic female talent working in the industry. 

Jo is responsible for coding some of the most important online systems at Vodafone UK, from the home broadband online store and the My Vodafone app, to the management systems used by enterprise customers across the country.

She has no doubts about the inspiration behind her success: “My mother was a programmer in a tobacco company for 40 years. She was not only the sole woman in the IT department, she was the only non-smoker too! She broke the mould and taught me that genderand how people react to itshould never stand in the way of my dreams.” 

Jo is just as adamant in her advice to other women and girls considering a technology career: “There is no reason why a woman shouldn’t start a career in IT. My top tip is to have the self-belief and quiet confidence in your abilities. If you have the skills, or are interested in learning them, you have as much right to be at the IT table as anyone else.”

Customer expectations of the systems Jo looks after are high – they expect to be able to order new products and services, manage the ones they already have, and resolve issues whenever and wherever they are – with just a few mouse clicks or finger taps. New features and updates are constantly in demand and must be implemented with next to no downtime. 

Jo led her team in implementing code changes using a “flip” system. Rather than implementing new features and updates in multiple branching versions of code, they’re pushed out immediately in an “off” state. During quiet periods, such as the middle of the night, Jo and her team would then turn on the updates. This not only meant updates could be rolled out far more quickly, they could be disabled and rolled back just as rapidly in case something went wrong.

Jo was also nominated for the Digital Leader of the Year and Role Model of the Year (ENT) awards

Jo’s implementation of the flip system proved so successful that she was able to deliver three times as many code changes with less downtime and interruption for customers. It’s no surprise she was soon confident enough to switch on new changes during business hours, a productivity boon for customers and Vodafone staff alike that Jo proudly describes as “a game changer.”

The WISE Campaign (Women into Science and Technology) reported last week that there are now 1,000,000 women in core-STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) occupations, which is an increase of more than 350,000 in the last decade. But the proportion of tech roles filled by women has flatlined at 16% since 2009. 

Encouragingly, the WISE Campaign is confident that on current trends the UK will be at 30% women in core-STEM roles by 2030 (30% being the ‘critical mass’ level at which a minority group becomes able to influence change) – in no small part, it would seem, thanks to the paths being cleared by successful, pioneering women such as Jo Steel.

Learn about our programmes encouraging more girls to pursue STEM careers.