Empowering the next generation in telecom

February 27, 2024

Isabelle Paradis, CEO HOT TELECOM

I’m the founder of HOT TELECOM, a trailblazer in telecom strategic consulting and market research for 20 years. As the landscape evolved, so did we. Now, we’re not just about strategy; we create unforgettable content and host standout events for telecom operators worldwide.

Though my roots are Canadian, I’ve made the UK my home. Yet, the world is my workplace. I travel globally, serving our clients and navigating the intricate world of international telecom. Our specialty? The niche, wholesale realm of the global telecom arena.

Our clientele? The major players. We collaborate with leading carriers, wholesalers, and other international operators. Our expertise spans data centers, subsea infrastructure, voice messaging, and the full suite of services powering the international telecom landscape.

People often ask about my journey into telecom and the knowledge and skill set the ICT sector demands. As a seasoned woman in the industry, I believe it’s crucial to mentor and guide the next generation. Especially young women who might be pondering a future in this field or haven’t yet seen its potential. The industry needs their fresh insights and talent.

So, here’s my offering: a distilled account of pivotal lessons from my 30+ years in the sector and my top advice for budding professionals.

The “accidental” engineer

At a glance, people who know me in the business world might be surprised to learn that I’m an industrial engineer with an MBA in finance. Pursuing the MBA was a conscious choice to bolster areas I felt less confident in.

Unlike many engineers, I didn’t grow up with a burning ambition to join the field. In fact, as a child, engrossed in ballet and later transitioning into professional figure skating from age 5 to 18, the world of engineering was the furthest on my mind. I dedicated countless hours, six days a week, to my passion for skating while pursuing my academic studies.

But around 18, a crossroads appeared. Would I chase the elusive Olympic dream? Realizing that wasn’t my path, I hung up my skates to fully embrace academia.

Engineering wasn’t an obvious choice. My family, deeply entrenched in the medical field, hoped I’d follow suit. But medicine wasn’t for me. I needed a direction when my brother stepped in with a suggestion: “Why not engineering? It’s a foundation that will unlock any door you wish to open.” Although we didn’t always see eye to eye, this was a piece of advice I’m glad I took. Once I delved into engineering, I was enamoured.

There’s a prevalent misconception about the dichotomy of creative and analytical minds, particularly among women. Many deem themselves as either “left-brained” (logical) or “right- brained” (creative), thinking the twain shall never meet. My journey disproves that. I’m evidence that it’s possible to possess a flair for both artistic pursuits and analytical problem-solving.

Indeed, my creative and analytical sides aren’t at war—they synergize. My structured approach to problem-solving, coupled with my creativity, allows me to bridge technical aspects with the user experience in business. In essence, I believe we shouldn’t box ourselves into categories; explore, and you might be surprised where your talents lie.

Know yourself

First and foremost: embrace authenticity. During my time at engineering school, where women were a rarity, I thrived. Yet, contrary to some preconceptions, I was—and remain—a proud “girly girl.” A prevalent myth suggests that femininity and engineering are incompatible. I stand as evidence to the contrary: you can be an engineer and wholly embrace your femininity.

Young women often approach me with concerns, like the appropriateness of wearing a dress while presenting. My counsel is always straightforward: be unapologetically yourself. Authenticity is your strength. Pretense can be discerned, leading to a lack of trust and credibility. I’m living proof that creativity, femininity, and engineering are harmonious, not contradictory.

My inclination towards industrial engineering was not arbitrary— it was a marriage of solution-oriented thinking with the managerial aspect, reflecting both facets of my skills. My pursuit of an MBA after engineering wasn’t a fleeting thought. It was a deliberate move to complement my strengths and bolster areas where I perceived gaps. Recognizing your strengths and weaknesses and proactively addressing them is key to personal and professional growth.

Luck and planning in equal measure

My second tip is to recognize that both serendipity and meticulous planning can shape your career. Cultivating a robust network of connections is invaluable. In 1993, at the heart of a recession, my job hunt seemed endless. But then, a friend’s positive experience at Teleglobe and a fortuitous newspaper ad merged my path with theirs. Accepting that role marked a thrilling new chapter in my life.

Teleglobe, transitioning from a monopoly, had an innovative CEO, Charles Sirois. His vision: to reinvent the company’s competitive edge. His strategy? Recruiting 30-40 youthful minds from eclectic fields—economics, politics, engineering, marketing—to instigate transformation. As part of this dynamic group, I witnessed the power of diversity firsthand. It cemented my belief that fresh perspectives can revolutionize industries.

In the energetic environment of Teleglobe, my roles were manifold—from product management to regional direction across continents. This whirlwind of experiences underscored the importance of continuously seeking opportunities. It not only kept monotony at bay but also nurtured my creative spirit.

Know yourself and trust yourself

Here’s my third piece of advice: truly know and embrace yourself. To any young woman considering engineering: dive in. It equips you with invaluable life skills. It teaches problem- solving, teamwork, and the rewards of hard work blended with enjoyment.

While I’m often asked about challenges I’ve faced as a woman in the ICT sector, my gender hasn’t been an obstacle. Occasionally, it’s an advantage. Being the only woman in a room means you stand out. All it requires is the confidence to raise your voice and trust your abilities.

Admittedly, confidence didn’t come naturally to me. At 18, I had my fair share of self-doubt. Through sports, I understood that persistence is the path to success. Growth comes from stepping out of comfort zones. While confronting a daunting task, like public speaking for the first time, might induce stress, with repetition, it becomes second nature. Always remember, mistakes aren’t the end of the world. People root for your success.

Laugh off missteps and push forward. Self-doubt hinders growth. Choose to believe in yourself.

Positive energy is transformative. When you exude passion, your audience is captivated. They remember not just what you say, but how you made them feel. Celebrate your uniqueness—it’s memorable.

Now, as I introduce young individuals to the stage, their initial apprehension is palpable. But by the end, most express exhilaration, eager for the next opportunity. Seeing that transformation? That’s when I know I’ve made a difference.

Women in today’s ICT

At the outset of my career, the rapid evolution and increasing inclusivity of the industry was beyond my wildest dreams. Today, we see greater representation of women and individuals from diverse ethnic and social backgrounds. While progress is evident, there’s more ground to cover, particularly for the next generation. The influx of younger talent will undeniably shift the industry’s culture, creating a ripple effect of change. Regions once challenging for women are witnessing positive transformations. My contributions to organizations like PTC and GTWN are laser- focused on accelerating this shift.

The rise in women CEOs serves as a beacon of possibility for young women, illustrating that leadership roles are within their grasp. This underscores the vital importance of mentorship and role models for tomorrow’s leaders.

Being an entrepreneur

I actively mentor young women in entrepreneurship. Today’s youth often harbor dreams of helming their own ventures rather than joining large corporations, akin to my career path. Embarking on entrepreneurship is undeniably appealing, but it comes with its unique challenges and responsibilities. Every dollar earned is a direct result of your efforts – you can’t just show up and expect financial rewards.

Becoming an entrepreneur necessitates self-awareness. Recognize your strengths and actively bridge the gaps in your skill set. Additionally, a successful entrepreneur needs a strong risk tolerance. My entrepreneurial journey began with more enthusiasm than clarity, and I’ve since learned that while you might be free from corporate layoffs, your venture’s success hinges on your grit and character. It’s a demanding path, but immensely fulfilling.

The silver lining for budding entrepreneurs is the increasing support from both public and private sectors. Leveraging these networks can offer invaluable guidance and resources as you build your vision.

The cool kids

When I first embarked on my journey with Teleglobe, the tech industry epitomized innovation and was undeniably “cool.” We were at the forefront of change, reshaping the world for the better. Over time, this dynamic landscape has evolved into a domain dominated by established corporations. The zeal and novelty, it seems, have taken a back seat.

However, the technology itself remains just as exciting, with groundbreaking advancements like 5G, AI, ultra-fast cabling, and revolutionary space tech. The problem? The industry doesn’t market itself as the thrilling space it once was, leading to a dearth in awareness among the youth.

To revitalize our sector, we need an infusion of fresh energy. It’s crucial to attract young, vibrant minds who can not only reinvigorate the industry but also serve as ambassadors to their peers. By doing so, we can inspire the next generation to see tech as a realm of endless possibilities and compelling career prospects.

Positive energy end giving back

The magnetic force of positive energy is undeniably potent. While it might not be the entire equation, it undeniably constitutes a significant portion. There’s a certain vibrancy to the energy we radiate, and I deeply resonate with the idea of mirroring and reciprocating energies. Embodying positivity not only ensures a harmonious atmosphere around oneself but also magnetically draws in like-minded individuals.

But the ripple effect of this energy extends beyond personal interactions. My guiding philosophy is channelling this positivity to uplift and support the budding talents of the younger generation. They are the pillars of our industry’s future, and we have a collective responsibility to ensure they find their rightful place.

Translating this ethos into my professional sphere, I aim to create ripples of positivity with my clients. It’s more than just business transactions; it’s about impacting their lives and enterprises positively. Whether it’s keeping the environment light-hearted, fostering camaraderie, or simply offering a friendly gesture, every little positive act compounds over time. As I’ve learned, when you consistently radiate goodwill and strive for others’ best, life has a beautiful way of repaying the kindness manifold.

This article is based on a Nomad Futurist podcast. Isabelle was interviewed on 18 September 2023 by Nabeel Mahmood and Phillip Koblence. Listen to the podcast here: https://www. nomadfuturist.com/empowering-the-next-generation-in- telecom/

Isabelle Paradis, a seasoned expert with 30 years of global experience, serves as the President and Founder of HOT TELECOM—a trailblazing telecom research and consulting firm celebrated for its innovation and creativity. Over the past two decades, HOT TELECOM has provided invaluable support to global operators and vendors, with a specialized focus on International and wholesale realms.

In recent times, Isabelle has become a leading voice in guiding the world’s telecom service providers through their transformation strategies. A prolific thought leader, she frequently authors articles and graces conference stages to discuss the future of telecom.

Beyond her industry-specific contributions, Isabelle champions the inclusion of women and young minds in the tech and science sectors. Through hosting global panels and interviews, she’s an active advocate for diversity in tech. Her dedication is evident in her roles with key organizations: she’s a distinguished member of the Youth and Women Entrepreneurship ESBN taskforce initiated by the United Nations ESCAP, sits on the PTC Board of Governors, and holds a board position with the Global Telecom Women’s Network.

Isabelle has a Bachelor’s Degree in Engineering and an MBA in Finance, equipping her with a robust foundation that underpins her illustrious career.