A woman with long dark hair wearing hi-vis vest and dark baseball cap stands outside a BT building.
Edel Harrington. Image: Iain White/Fennell Photography

‘An engineering profession does not limit your possibilities’

5 Mar 2019

BT’s Edel Harrington recounts how her career in engineering has brought her around the world and back again.

Edel Harrington is an IP network design engineer with BT Ireland. She is the platform owner for BT’s access equipment – this is the box BT sends to customer sites in order to deliver its services to them.

In this role, Harrington is part of a team that looks at innovation in BT’s networks, continuously asking how they can make networks more efficient and generating new ideas. She is also involved in new product launches and any product enhancements, working closely with other teams in engineering, finance, procurement, sales and product.

Harrington also gets to work in a test lab where she has a small-scale replication set-up of BT’s network. Here, she can install new equipment and test new technologies without any disruption to BT’s customers.

For Engineers Week 2019, Harrington answered our questions about the variety a role in engineering provides, her experience working abroad and her experience in turning to entrepreneurship.

‘A lot of engineering skills are transferable and therefore you are not limited to one area of work’

How long have you been working in BT?

I have been in BT about six years in total. The first two years I worked on a contract for a large project which involved upgrading legacy 2G equipment for newer IP-capable equipment. During this time I became aware of the scale of BT and the variety of work available, so when a role became available I jumped at the chance to take it.

I have been in my current role about four years. There are so many different technologies and platforms in BT so I never get bored. Also, BT has a significant amount of global customers, as well as local here in Ireland. No day is ever the same and I really enjoy what I do.

What were you doing before this job?

I worked in many different roles before I joined BT. When I left college I took a position as a radio design engineer in O2 (now part of Three). This was a very exciting time as 3G networks were only emerging and I was tasked with identifying the best locations to put our equipment on to provide the best coverage to consumers.

I also worked in the UK and Australia, with different telecoms operators and vendors – both were great experience and challenging. The culture is slightly different but the technology is the same.

Additionally, working as an engineer gave me the opportunity to start an engineering business in 2010. It was extremely challenging and fun but the amount of travel involved over the years became difficult and I exited in 2014. However, it does prove that an engineering profession does not limit your possibilities. In fact, I think it has provided more opportunity for me and will do so in the future.

What led you to where you are now?

I come from a lovely place in Ireland where three counties and three provinces meet. I went to primary school in St Mary’s National School in Arva, Co Cavan, and then secondary school in Moyne Community School in Moyne, Co Longford. I spent many summers on my uncle’s farm and he was always building and fixing things, so I think this is where my interest in engineering started.

I did electronic engineering in Dublin City University and, about a year after I started, the new buildings for the college were completed so I had access to a brand new lab and computer area.

I find my best learning and training is on the job and hands-on. I don’t retain much information from reading and trying to remember, so all my Leaving Cert subjects were heavily practical – engineering, technical drawing and physics.

Based on your experience, how does the work of engineering vary from country to country?

In my opinion the work of engineering in telecoms anyway is not much different country to country. The systems and process and equipment types may be different but ultimately the same technology is being delivered to the customer.

I found that the strong Irish work ethic is different to other cultures so it really helped me become senior in my positions in other countries very quickly.

Do you think Ireland is a good place to work in engineering?

In my opinion Ireland is a good place to work in engineering. There are significant opportunities and a vast array of different technology companies all with different engineering requirements.

Many large global tech players are based in Ireland for our skilled workforce. In my opinion a lot of engineering skills are transferable and therefore you are not limited to one area of work.

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