Technology

Setting the Pace of Innovation

Meet five women executives making the future happen sooner 9/26/2016 8:00 AM Eastern
Women of Tech 2016 (clockwise from left): Kalpa Subramanian, Comcast Cable; April Smith, Cox Communications; Kim Keever, Cox Communications; Sherry Brennan, Fox Networks Group; and Kathy Weidman, TiVo

As the SCTE/ISBE Cable-Tec Expo gets rolling in Philadelphia this week, it’s apropos for Multichannel News to shine a spotlight on its annual group of women in technology-oriented roles at companies that are helping to define the industry’s next generation of products and services. This year, we recognize individuals in five categories for leading the technology charge for cable operators, programmers and key industry suppliers.

 

Get more Women of Tech coverage.

 

MVPD, National

Kim Keever

Vice President, Chief Information Security Officer, Cox Communications

 

From Beverages to Broadband

Kim Keever loved her job as chief information security officer at The Coca-Cola Co.’s bottling operation. She loved it so much that when Cox came calling in the summer of 2014, she was friendly, but insistent: It just wasn’t going to happen.

 

Now, as vice president and chief information security officer for the Atlanta-based service provider, she cringes at the memory, commending Cox as the “best employer I’ve ever had.”

 

In her role overseeing companywide security and all “cross-technology” functions (which she defines as “anything everyone has to do”), Keever deals with a much higher and more complex threat profile than with the famous beverage. There, it was more about protecting the brand from “hacktivists”; at Cox, it’s about protecting much more sensitive information, across multiple (and often shifting) platforms.

— Leslie Ellis

 

Read a longer version of this Q&A here.

 

Multichannel News: What did you want to be when you grew up?

Kim Keever: I didn’t know exactly, but I knew that scientific things interested me. I was one of those kids — I drove my mother crazy; I drive my husband and my kids crazy — I want to know how and why things work. This summer, my son was in a baseball tournament, and we’re driving by these big, smokestack reactors, and I say, “Let’s go look!” My kids were like, “OMG, Mom. Stop it.”

 

MCN: First job?

KK: My first real job was at Accenture. I had studied chemical engineering and industrial management (at Georgia Tech), but I wasn’t sure exactly what industry was right. There, I could experiment with different things. My very first job was at an ice cream store. I got fired because I wouldn’t serve hollow ice cream balls just to save money. I think of it as kind of a prelude.

 

MCN: What’s on top of your to-do list these days?

KK: At work, it’s driving the cybersecurity agenda, as well as the governance process of our cross-technology functions. At home, my to-do list is to manage all of my kids — I have a son, 16, a daughter, 15, and another daughter, 12. So, getting one to baseball, one to volleyball, one to the horse stables.

 

MCN: When and where are you happiest?

KK: This is a hard one, because as corny as it sounds, I believe that it’s everyone’s choice to be happy or not. I tell my kids this all the time: It’s your decision, whether you’re negative, or positive. I tell them: Figure out what makes you happy, and do whatever that is.

 

MCN: Most important quality for women to possess?

KK: Self-confidence. In this kind of job, I see it all — the dirty stuff, the bad stuff — and I’m often the only woman in the room. It doesn’t faze me. Also, I’m not sure if this characteristic has a name, but I realized early on that if you find something nobody else wants to do, and you do it well and you like doing it? That works regardless of gender.

 

MCN: What technology word drives you batty?

KK: “Hackathon.” It doesn’t say what it is. To me, a hack means you’re a bad person who wants to break things. What we call “hackathons” are really more like fun things for people to do. They’re not about breaking anything.

 

MCN: Best or worst advice you’ve ever received?

KK: Worst was, a woman once told me that if I wanted people to take me seriously, I had to cut my hair!

 

MCN: Favorite gadget or app?

KK: I love Waze. I’m not directionally challenged, but it gets you around all the traffic. That’s important here in Atlanta!

 

MVPD, Regional

Kalpa Subramanian

Vice President, Engineering, Comcast Cable, California

 

Born to Be an Engineer

Mathematics and technology were a perfect pairing for Kalpa Subramanian, who has been key in injecting culture and collaboration for an organization of more than 300 people at Comcast’s California operations. In addition to earlier work focused on voice, data and video traffic for residential and commercial customers in that region, she has been a primary leader and contributor in several other key tech and product areas, including the operator’s implementation of IP Multimedia Subsystems, DOCSIS 3.0/3.1, Xfinity Home, and Xfinity WiFi, to name but a few. She also invests valuable time and guidance as a mentor to others in the organization looking to learn and continue to grow.

— Jeff Baumgartner

 

Read a longer version of this Q&A here.

 

MCN: What spawned your interest in technology?

Kalpa Subramanian: My mom is a math teacher, so at dinnertime, our favorite thing to talk about around the table would be solving math problems. As an end result, I was always good at math and science. It was in my destiny to go down the engineering route. But when I did my undergrad, in India, the first few days were a little bit of a reality check with the few number of women who go into engineering school and graduate with an engineering degree.

 

Coming out of it, I was focused on the field of computing and field of technology and the field of instrumentation and networking. It was kind of organic to go into the technology space, which, in the late 1990s and the early 2000s, was the start of the boom period for technology.

 

By the time I was 25, I had already lived and worked in five different countries, so it gave me an understanding that languages might be different and cultures might be different, but humanity is the same and technology is the same. That kind of became a uniting factor.

 

MCN: How did you break into the cable industry?

KS: Out of college, one of my first jobs was at a networking-type of a company, Microtech-Tel. I’m dating myself here, but back then voice-over-IP was the newest, coolest thing. As I started getting more into the professional-type world, I found that I had a knack for leading people and organizing them toward a commonly shared goal. Comcast had this huge opportunity when we were migrating our telephone system back in Colorado. That was when I came on board.

 

Back in the day, Charlotte Field [formerly of Comcast and now with Charter Communications], who was a senior vice president in that organization, was one of the early folks who had taken me under her wing. I have had countless other folks who have supported and guided me along the way, one of the most prominent being Shane Portfolio, who leads Comcast’s West Division Engineering.

 

MCN: What’s your focus now?

KS: The highest priority is our customers — getting our customers the most reliable service that they can depend on and rely on. At the end of the day, that holistic experience is what we want to deliver. And happy customers are possible by happy employees. Employee well-being is a top-priority. I spend a lot of my [time] working on strategies for employee growth and morale.

 

In Colorado, we started a mentoring committee and group called QCII to Success [QCII is a reference to a Comcast facility in Greenwood Village]. The primary goal was to take engineers, front-line folks, who are really good at their job but need a little bit of advice and mentoring …

 

Here [in California] mentoring is still important to me … so I joined the [Women In Cable & Telecommunications] board and helped with their programs to help the newer women coming in or those who have entered the workforce that are looking for options and paths to climb up the career ladder.

 

For women, there’s a lot of competition and there’s a voice in our heads — and this happens to me as well — that questions and digs at their confidence a little bit. I help women talk through quelling that voice and getting their inner confidence out.

 

MCN: What tech term or jargon drives you nuts?

KS: Having been a coder before, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, RAD [Rapid Application Development] used to be a term that referred to the programming language. Now, when people say something is “rad,” it takes me back to the coding days, but that’s not where that acronym came from!

 

MCN: What’s your favorite gadget or app?

KS: My favorite app for the past few years is called the SBT — the Stop, Breathe & Think app. In the San Francisco area, one of the well-being movements is being self-aware and searching inside oneself. After having been through some classes and lectures, the concept of focus by reflection and meditation has really sunk in. My way of reflection is putting on some headphones and walking around the block, and the Stop, Breathe and Think app is just a cool, fun app to make you mindful … and get your brain wired to take on the day with this newfound energy and focus.

 

Programmer

Sherry Brennan

Senior Vice President, Distribution, Fox Networks Group

 

Fox’s Technology Bridge

Sherry Brennan is the first to tell you about how many women at Fox Networks are “far more technical” than she is. But as Multichannel News’s choice for Woman of Tech in the Programmer category, it’s her rare and appreciable blend of industrial memory and technology communication that sets her apart.

 

It’s perhaps not surprising that she counts the venerable and notoriously straight-to-the-point Wilt Hildenbrand (former CTO of Cablevision Systems) as the teacher who showed her how to navigate the seas of tech-talk. Along a 27-year (and counting) career, Brennan invented a way to automate royalty fees using then-new database techniques; helped launch Cablevision’s video-on-demand service; and today, negotiates beyond the “known” waters of linear licensing on deals far more technical in reach and in scope. As a frequent speaker at industry events, Brennan is consistently direct, clever, and accurate — whether the topic is headend IRD authorization, proposed FCC set-top box rules, advanced advertising or the over-the-top video scene.

— Leslie Ellis

 

MCN: What did you want to be when you grew up?

Sherry Brennan: The first female president of the United States, a surgeon, a physicist and a writer. We didn’t have a TV, so I had no idea about careers in television until after grad school.

 

MCN: First job? First job in cable?

SB: My very first job was collecting tickets and turning on and off the “kiddie rides” at my grandparents’ amusement park in Iowa City. I was 10. The liability issues make me shudder, looking back on it now … but nothing bad happened on my watch!

 

First job in cable was with Falcon Cable TV in 1989, working for the COO, Frank Intiso. I went from budget data entry to creating their first licensee-fee payment and channel-lineup databases. Somewhere in there, I helped figure out how to restructure our tiering so we didn’t take a financial hit with the Cable Act regulations in ’92 and ’93.

 

Frank set me up with a private tutor to learn how to write macros so I could try running various scenarios, and ultimately automate how the required forms were populated. We had nearly 1,000 different systems in about 40 states, and each scenario used half a box of continuous-roll paper — sometimes I’d come in at 8 a.m. to find it unspooled and out the printer room door (yes, we had whole rooms for printing back then). I dreamed in numbers and rate change structures for months!

 

MCN: What’s on top of your to-do list these days?

SB: The opportunities for taking our content, and new forms of our content, to a variety of traditional and emerging platforms. It’s so interesting to see how different companies view the business — from small startups to huge companies, there are dozens of people wanting to get into our business. When I hear people say, “TV is dead,” I just laugh. Who knew a “dead” business could generate so much activity?

 

MCN: Most important quality for women to possess?

SB: Confidence married to competence, as my friend Grace Killelea would say it (in her fabulous book, The Confidence Effect). You’ve simply got to be able to speak up, in a cheerfully confident — and accurate — way, or you’ll be relegated to the back row forever.

 

MCN: What technology word drives you batty?

SB: “Skinny bundles.” Don’t people realize that “broadcast basic” is the original “skinny bundle,” and it’s been around forever?

 

MCN: Best or worst advice you’ve ever received?

SB: My dad told me that if I worked hard, I could achieve anything. He encouraged me to be smart, to strive for my goals, and to go to college, which he hadn’t had the opportunity to do. Without that formative vote of confidence, I’m not sure any other advice would’ve mattered. Thanks, Dad!

 

MCN: Favorite gadget or app?

SB: Instacart. No more “bad mommy” moments, when I get home late and realize there’s no milk, no toilet paper, and nothing to put in my son’s lunch for the next day. Yes, I’ve been known to order milk and bread for delivery at 9 p.m.

 

Vendor/Supplier

Kathy Weidman

Senior Vice President/General Manager, Metadata, TiVo

 

Metadata Maven

Kathy Weidman loves metadata. She’s loved metadata for as long as she can remember, in fact, and almost fastidiously planned her 30-plus year career around it — including her move to Rovi (now TiVo) two years ago. It all started in the post-production landscape, working for Avid, where she saw how inextricably data is wound into production workflows. It struck her as the pipeline for content discovery.

 

These days, Weidman is mapping out TiVo’s development of what she calls “super-powered metadata,” which blends its “knowledge graph” with machine learning, to make metadata more searchable, semantic, and relevant. She’s a frequent speaker at industry events — she opened a “Metadata Madness” conference earlier this year — and says that a goal is to spend more time as an industry spokesperson on the topic of … you guessed it … metadata.

— Leslie Ellis

 

MCN: What did you want to be when you grew up?

Kathy Weidman: A psychologist, at first, and then an economist. I studied both in college, as well as English. It turned out to be great training for the world of media, which is somewhere in between.

 

MCN: First job?

KW: First jobs were babysitting and waitressing, starting when I was 15. First job in cable was RedBee (now Ericsson), in Europe. I was managing director for content discovery — I managed the content discovery business including metadata and search and recommendations.

 

MCN: What’s on top of your to-do list these days?

KW: Right now, I’m working on a five-year plan about the future of metadata. It’s not what people think it is. The world will change. We have to change, to grow. Metadata will be virtual, with machine learning concepts. That’s really high on my list.

 

MCN: Most important quality for women in tech to possess?

KW: I do think you have to be tough. By that I mean fortitude and determination and passion. I think it’s also important to understand people and what motivates them. If you have a team of people who are happy doing what they’re doing, and love coming to work, you get 120% from them. So, develop a team that’s really passionate.

 

MCN: What do you like to do when you’re not at work?

KW: You’ll laugh, but I watch TV guides. I’m always looking for new ideas and thoughts. My husband complains, “Are we ever going to actually watch anything, or just look at the guide?” I also love to read, write, walk, and spend time with family [two sons and a daughter] doing high-energy things … we are passionate about life in general, and like to be active.

 

MCN: Best or worst advice you’ve ever received?

KW: Worst was, very early on, someone told me that I should use my “womanhood” to get ahead. I ignored it. Best was from my dad, who was a big believer in having fun at work. I take it to heart. We work super-hard here, but we play, too. Someday remind me to tell you about the April Fools’ joke we pulled off this year.

 

MCN: Favorite gadget or app?

KW: Uber, hands down. It’s changed the world in so many ways.

 

Rising Star

April Smith

Technology Project Manager, Cox Communications

 

A Passion for Learning

As a participant in Cox’s LEAD program, April Smith gets an opportunity to rotate within the company to learn and contribute to a variety of initiatives in the role of project manager. That’s a great fit for an industry up-and-comer with an insatiable passion for learning and for the technologies that are driving cable forward, including TV Everywhere to the new multi-Gigabit DOCSIS 3.1 platform. She is also active with industry organizations, including the National Association of Multi-Ethnicity in Communications and Women in Cable & Telecommunications chapters in Atlanta. Smith’s ability to learn and excel in a job that requires discipline and desire and a go-get-’em attitude, while engaging with the larger industry and still living a dynamic life outside of work make her Multichannel News’s pick for Tech Woman of the Year in the Rising Star category.

— Jeff Baumgartner

 

MCN: What sparked your interest in the cable industry?

April Smith: I knew I wanted to be in the TV industry in some shape or form, I just didn’t know in what capacity. Prior to starting college, I felt there was a lack of representation of African-Americans on TV, and I wanted to be part of the conversation to encourage more diversity on screen.

 

I majored in Arts, Entertainment and Media Management with a minor in Television. My goal was to become a leader who influences key business decisions. I knew revenue would be a key driver, so I started working in advertising sales for HGTV and DIY networks.

 

MCN: What are your current priorities at Cox?

AS: I just wrapped up one of my first project rotations, working on TV Everywhere for Cox video customers. I recently launched a major enhancement to the company’s new Contour app. For the first time, Cox’s customers have the opportunity to watch linear programs outside of the home directly via the Contour app, available across Cox’s entire video subscriber base [estimated at 4 million].

 

I’ve just started a new rotation as a project manager in customer operations. I am serving on two Cox initiatives. The first is the Cox telephony initiative, which requires migrating 400,000 Cox voice customers from CS [circuit-switched] to PS [packet-switched] technology by the end of 2018; the goal is to ultimately migrate customers to an enhanced digital offering and provide a better service to our customers.

 

The second project is a network-transformation initiative, DOCSIS 3.1. I’m looking at this project from the customer operations perspective. [I’m focused] on how this transformation will impact our sales, field services, customer care and marketing divisions and how we ensure all of these groups are aligned as we move forward with this initiative.

 

MCN: Do you have any advice for women who are trying to break into this industry?

AS: Be comfortable being uncomfortable. There are so many complexities to technology. Everyone is learning at the same time. If you’re in a business or an area you know really well — say, if you’re in marketing — you know marketing in and out. But when it comes to technology, there are new devices that are coming out, new offerings, new regulations and laws. You have to continually learn and be up to speed … and be able to share [those learnings] with executives or someone on your team to help them understand it from a simplistic point of view.

 

MCN: What’s your favorite app or gizmo these days?

AS: My favorite app has to be the new Contour app … since I helped launch it. [Laughs.] There’s no other app to think about right now.

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