Sunday, April 21, 2024

In the fast Layne


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NICOLE LAYNE is a young woman blazing a trail in telecommunications, and she hopes more women will follow in her footsteps.

For the vice-president of technology with telecommunications provider Flow, the career which she is mastering was a matter of choice rather than chance.  “I have always gone against the grain rather than follow the pack, set my own goals and worked to achieve them,” Nicole told Easy on a Friday afternoon when some of her staff were wishing her a weekend of rest.

She thanked them for the concern but reminded herself: “The network does not sleep so I don’t either.” As head of a technology team of over 100 (95 per cent being men), she is on call 24 hours. The moment an alert about a major network problem rouses her from sleep she is on the job to assist the technology group she heads.

“As the VP of technology I have quite a wide purview from outside plant and construction; to the guys in the big trucks and pulling the cable; the design survey; then inside from our provisioning as well as network support and build. So the technology group really does form one of the bases for Cable & Wireless,” the former Charles F. Broome Primary and Harrison College student explained.

“With the network, people expect their services regardless of what time of night it is and I have to be available to guide the team to resolution.”

She accepts this is the reality of her job and she has no intention of shirking the responsibilities that come with the position. After all the sacrifices made to master difficult studies in telecommunications, she is finally living her dream.

Today she holds a bachelor’s degree (double major) in computer science and math from the University of The West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, and a master’s in computer networking and distributive computing from London’s University of Westminster, where she graduated as the only female among six who started out as part of a class of 30. 

It was a “tough” part of her journey but Nicole said: “From young, even with doing my master’s, I knew you had to make sacrifices. I remember in England I used to have friends who were studying with me who were travelling to France and Spain for the whole European experience,” but Nicole reminded herself, “I am here for a purpose. I am not doing this twice so I need to focus.”

Though she acquired the qualifications, work was hard in coming. The theoretical knowledge was not enough, so for job experience she volunteered, did teaching jobs between the volunteering, interned in IT departments and took contract work, all “to get my foot in the door”.

It paid off. The three or four years spent in London getting work experience and international exposure was pivotal to her landing a job related to her field when she eventually returned to Barbados.

Back home she started as a network specialist with another company. It is now ten years since she joined the company that is now Flow.

“I don’t know why, but I have always had that curiosity when it came to machines and equipment,” said Nicole whose parents could see from early that this was the direction in which she would go.

Unlike her sister who chose a career in event planning, Nicole was the tomboy who showed an early curiosity in the make-up of machines and equipment.

“I think from young I have always been interested in seeing how things work, like the radio. If it stopped working I would pick it down and try to look at the circuitry to see if it was broken and put it back together.

“As a child, as soon as I got a toy I would dismantle it to see how it would work and put it back, so it has always been an interest of mine.”

She admits her career has robbed her of a social life, but she has not allowed it to break friendships. “I still communicate with people online and message people because it is easier than calling or finding the time to go out to all the events out there.”

She views her role as important, particularly the implication for women and possibilities for them at the top of the telecommunications field. “When you look at the advances in technology, say in the last ten years, we have fibre-to-the-home coverage all over the island. When we look at our TV platform, we’ve really come a long way and you can actually say you were part of that change.”

Citing her own experience Nicole said: “Sometimes you go into a meeting and there are people who don’t know you or know of you and they assume you are there to take notes.

“When they hear you, a woman log into routers and switches and you actually know what you are talking about when it comes to this field, it is met sometimes with a bit of doubt as opposed to if a male was in the role.”

She knows what it is like to be sitting around the table with men who test her to see if she really knows what she is about.

“You say something but it would have passed unnoticed or unaccepted . . . . It comes out of a man’s mouth afterwards and it is like ‘great’.

“Sometimes you have to just not take it on. But it is a case of constantly having to prove yourself and showing that I do know what I am talking about.”

Her confidence is a definite asset to driving the technology team she heads.

“It is a very important group and it (the leadership) is something to be proud of having to achieve, because on one hand it is sad that many people are surprised that a woman is at the helm of that department. On the other hand it is like ‘well yes, she is’. Sometimes it can be bittersweet because to some people it is a shock. But is it something to be proud of.”

The downside to the assertive, responsible role she holds is its cost to the fulfilment of a meaningful and productive partnership.

Motherhood is not yet within the scope of the 35-year-old aunt of three who is still single and not shy to say her current status is neither by desire or design.

“It is one of those things where it takes two. I would love to have a family of my own but it is difficult,” Nicole said.

“Men feel very intimidated, and for me, I am ambitious and I should not have to make excuses for it and it is sometimes almost as if you are being blamed for your achievements and for somebody else’s shortcomings.”

In the execution of her job, Nicole has resolved to do her part to influence change in the stereotyping which she says “is still very much prevalent in Barbados where people don’t very much think that there are other than the traditional careers that women can get into”.


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