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Tech Roundtable 2017: Beyond Speeds and Feeds and Attracting Talent

VR/AR, the cloud, hiring engineers 10/09/2017 11:02 AM Eastern
The 2017 Tech Roundtable (l. to r.): Kevin Hart, Cox; Dan Hennessy, Liberty Global; Jay Rolls, Charter; JR Walden, Mediacom; Tony Werner, Comcast Cable

The 2017 Tech Roundtable Panelists
Kevin Hart, executive vice president and chief product and technology officer, Cox Communications
Dan Hennessy, chief architecture architect, Liberty Global 
Jay Rolls, chief technology officer and senior vice president, Charter Communications 
JR Walden, senior vice president of technology and CTO, Mediacom Communications
Tony Werner, president of technology and product, Comcast Cable

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MCN: What matters beyond speed and throughput/range and reach for some of the services headed our way -- augmented reality, augmented discovery, VR, aging in place, automation, healthcare? Pick your favorite.
Jay Rolls: What matters is network latency, and overall visibility. Things like AR and health care and adjacent verticals -- it’s all about interactivity, and the rapid translation of photons to electrons.

Technologies like 802.11ax will help with the latency quest, which will be never-ending. And real-time, local visibility into how the network is running will help us to deliver a consistently high quality of experience, across devices.

Kevin Hart: We're very excited about home healthcare...around enabling the aging population. Just based on demographics, there's a huge need and a huge opportunity, but within the network some of the artificial intelligence and some of the connectivity speeds but also some of the privacy components around HIPAA-compliant information ...are also important.

The infrastructure we're putting into place, from a speed [perspective] is great, but privacy and security and latency, some of the real-time responses, I think will become even more important as you see more [need] for remote healthcare monitoring and more healthcare-centric solutions over time.

Dan Hennessy: Other network conditions start to come in to play here, like latency, jitter, and packet loss.
We have equipment distributed across our footprint and in our network that allows us to closely monitor these parameters – to ensure that we know if it changes, why it changed, and what it means to the customer. This will become increasingly important. New standards, such as DOCSIS 3.1, also have targeted changes to improve the quality of service.

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For sure, what we expect, and as discussed in context of IoT, is a continued growth in devices. Giving our customers visibility and control is key. Making sure their devices get the right priority, and remain secure, powered, live and connected on the network -- as more and more devices connect and need proper “care and feeding” -- becomes more critical to day-to-day life.

MCN: How has your reliance on the public cloud evolved over the last couple of years? Are you using more public or private cloud, and why does that matter?
KH: It's really a hybrid of all of the above, based on the use case. We're doing a lot of things internally and some our own cloud capabilities with infrastructure-as-a-service and platform-as-a-service and some of the things we're doing around virtualization. We also use third-party clouds where it makes sense, based on their skillsets and capability. And from a managed service perspective, we have some product and service offerings leveraging cloud-based components. But now that you've adopted this hybrid cloud environment, it's now about how do you optimize it for performance and cost and security -- that's probably the next frontier.

JR: We rely on both -- private and public. Both are good at different things, and the crux of it is taking advantage of what they’re good at. For instance, the public cloud is good for things that need velocity -- prototyping, instantaneous scaling. The private cloud is more for things that are in production, which need to be highly secure. A good example is cloud DVR. Cloud DVR is obviously going to need a lot of cloud infrastructure, but it’s also well understood, with well-defined metrics. Because you know how it’s going to perform, it’s just going to be more cost effective to do on a private cloud.

MCN: What is the right balance of engineering talent you need these days, and how do you attract it?
Tony Werner: We do a lot of recruiting, especially when we’re speaking at non-traditional industry events. The right balance is a tricky task - we still need RF engineers, because we still operate a lot of RF. We still need infrastructure experts, because we operate a significant infrastructure. In general, though, it’s software, systems, and architectural engineering talent that we seek. We’ve made significant strides in how we attract that talent, primarily by making sure that Comcast is a great environment for developers and innovators to come work, but we can always do more.

JR Walden: We're finding less need for HFC talent every day, in part because you still have a lot in the organization, so demands are kind of in the decline. Five to ten years ago, it was hard finding network skills. The battle for high-speed data is over. Cable has won. And most people in professional areas see that, so people with networking skills who have interest in being in the internet business are finding us a lot more than ever before.

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The area of challenge is on the software side. That has been tougher. I guess the good news is that being near New York doesn’t make for the most inexpensive job market, but people with those skills in New York are definitely not working for .com companies. At least I'm not competing for that talent. We've been plucking millennials straight out of college and teaching them ourselves and hoping that they don't leave too quickly. But we seem to be doing okay keeping the folks we have sort of home-grown.

KH: Investing in our people and our talent is a top priority at Cox in both product and technology and training and skillsets. [In early October], my team worked on an operating model of the future for the team, but software-enabled everything is critical, virtualization is critical, cybersecurity skills are paramount.

We bring in talent through recruiting and through our third-party vendors and we also have a very robust co-op and intern programs, and interns from leading schools like George Tech right here in Atlanta. Tulsa is one of our markets, and they have one of the top cybersecurity schools in the country. We're bringing in interns and co-ops and recruits from these feeder schools and also brining in talent with a lot of experience, as well, from some of these new trending areas, like mobility, IP, cybersecurity, etc.

DH: Our move away from closed vendor ecosystems to open, embedded software development -- either directly ourselves or with partners – means we must ensure that we have the right talent onboard. It’s these engineers that drive our business forward.

Over the last 12 months we have brought our technology group together across Europe, which gives a truly global opportunity for our engineers and developers to build products and services -- all the way from the UK, Germany and Switzerland, through to Eastern Europe, and across to Latin American and the Caribbean. Whether it’s fixed or mobile access, Internet, TV and video, or a full suite of B2B services. That’s a pretty rare opportunity.

JR: The right balance is the technologist who has a degree of nimbleness between hardware and software, and tends to think about things from a systems perspective. We’ve been surprised to see talent coming to our Denver engineering groups from Silicon Valley. The recurring themes appear to be both quality of life, and cost of living. I think you’ll see more and more evidence that shows a talent shift in our collective direction, and that’s really gratifying.

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