Women of Tech 2015: Making the Future Happen

Meet Six Executives Driving Industry Innovation
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As the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo gets rolling in New Orleans 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 six categories for leading the technology charge for cable operators, programmers and key industry suppliers. All of the honorees spoke with MCN technology analyst Leslie Ellis.

Theresa Hennesy | Master Team-Builder

Everybody multitasks. Few multitask the technological gamut that is the Engineering & Platform Services group at Comcast. As senior vice president and group technical adviser, Hennesy is a masterclass team builder, connecting the cross-departmental teams that get stuff done — and that, in part, is why the editors of Multichannel News have named her as the 2015 Woman of Technology in the MSO/national category.

One moment, she’s aligning the people in the company’s advanced advertising plan, including the many ad platform acquisitions Comcast made this year. The next, she’s connecting the workflows within Energy2020, an industry-wide sustainability target. And, as a third-year mentor to an all-girls FIRST Robotics team, the Firebirds, Hennesy is a life force when it comes to attracting more young women to roles in technology. Categorically, Hennesy is an indefatigable sponsor of women in tech, of all ages. 

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

Theresa Hennessy (pictured, top left): I thought I’d be doing something in athletics and sports. Then, when I got into it, I didn’t like it at all! I realized that what I liked about sports is working in teams.

I also loved physics — I majored in it in college. I didn’t necessarily want to be a physicist, but, I appreciated how physics explains things at a very high conceptual level. I still do. That physics background often helps me to think strategically about ecosystems, dependencies and interoperabilities.

MCN: First job in tech?

TH: Software clerk at MCI, which meant I did the programming into the voice switches that allowed calls to be processed. I knew just about every area code around — give me your phone number, I could tell you where you lived, just about.

MCN: What’s the big thing in tech for your organization in 2016?

TH: It’s the continued evolution of everything hardware to everything software. Programmable networks, programmable data feeds, programmable apps. Everything programmable.

MCN: Where and when are you happiest?

TH: At home with my family and friends, hosting a gathering.

MCN: Favorite geek-out tech term(s)?

TH: The “Firm Order Commitment.” It’s abbreviated “FOC,” and telecom people tend to say it as a word. I’ll never forget the first moment I realized that it wasn’t exactly a mainstream acronym when I said it aloud — and with gusto — in a room full of lawyers and regulatory people. “We were FOC’d!” Whoops!

MCN: What tech term drives you batty?

TH: “It’s up!” Uh, OK, the green lights are on, but is it doing what it’s supposed to be doing? Sometimes just because it’s on doesn’t mean it isn’t a roach motel — packets come in, but they don’t come out!

MCN: Most important quality for women of tech to have?

TH: Persistence and confidence, together. Persistence, to follow through on ideas you know to be the right business solutions. Confidence, for when you don’t know how exactly to do it, but you know how to get the right people together to make it happen.

MCN: Favorite book of all time?

TH: The Glass Castle. It’s the memoir of Jeannette Walls. Just an incredibly inspiring story about overcoming adversities using street smarts, creativity, and self confidence.

MCN: Best advice you ever received?

TH: Make your own choices; don’t let your business make choices for you. You always have a choice. A choice to say yes, no, stop, go. You don’t always have to stay with what you know.

Back in high school, I was one of two girls who bucked the status quo — we signed up for shop instead of home ec. We already knew how to cook and sew! We wanted to build stuff. My sister still has this crazy, three-tier, ornate shelf I made.

MCN: Favorite gadget/app?

TH: My husband and I spend a lot of windshield time driving up and down I-95, so, this is easy: The WAZE app. We use it all the time, to navigate around traffic and accidents. It’s a collection of drivers entering real time information — collaboration for the benefit of all.

Jeanie York | Spanning the Globe

It’s one thing (and a big thing, to be sure) to oversee network operations — on a national scale — for voice, video and data, and all constituent data centers and IT accoutrement. It’s quite another to do that for a company operating nationally in 12 European countries with multiple languages, vastly diverse cultures and an acquisition-accelerated patchwork of technological capabilities. That’s the work of Jeanie York, vice president of network operations for Liberty Global, and our 2015 honoree in the operator/international category. Because York’s charge is all of that — plus transforming how the company measures, and thus improves, every interaction with its customers. That’s a lotta lotta.

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

Jeanie York (pictured, top center): A doctor. A good, old-fashioned doctor, who comes to your house and takes care of you when you’re sick. I worked in a hospital and in health care before I came to telecom. Too much blood and guts!

MCN: First job in tech?

JY: I started out in construction at Qwest, in Denver. We were building out our fiber-optic backbone. I was in quality control — I traveled all over the U.S., inspecting fiber-optic installations.

MCN: What’s the big thing in tech for your organization in 2016?

JY: Cracking the nut on service monitoring and being able to truly see the customer experience.

MCN: Where and when are you happiest?

JY: On a beach or under the water, diving.

MCN. What tech term drives you batty?

JY: I have two of them: “Cloud” and “big data.” What-ever!

MCN: What’s the most important quality for women of tech to have?

JY: Having strength and conviction in who you are, and the value you bring to both the team, and the company you work for.

MCN: Favorite book of all time?

JY: I can tell you the book I read most recently — the Steve Jobs book. He was the right blend of perfectionism and innovation and I’m not sure we’ll see something of his kind again for a while.

MCN: Best advice you ever received?

JY: Don’t define who you are by your job. Define who you are with your character. We have a tendency to make extreme personal sacrifices for our careers. If you’re not careful, you lose the balance and become a “workaholic.” Your job is one part of your character. Don’t make it the only part.

MCN: If you could change one thing about the multichannel video industry, what would it be?

JY: Simplify! Simplify the architecture. Our industry is extremely complex — especially video. If I could change one thing, I’d find the people who can find the way to simplify — our designs, and how we deliver technology to consumers. That’s what I’d change.

MCN: Favorite gadget or app?

JY: I have two favorite apps: WhatsApp, and CityMapper. CityMapper — it’s an awesome tool if you travel a lot.

Angela Rinaldo | Video Software Sage

Angela Rinaldo, senior director of video operations at Charter Communications, isn’t just helping to build the company’s new super-rich media guide, “Spectrum,” including all of the back-office hooks and infrastructure details. She’s also working on a team to continuously improve the app version of Spectrum, while improving the Charter video network by building in resiliency, redundancy and scalability — “because it’s all about the customer experience.” She’s also collaborating on how to scale aspects of the company’s cloud-based DVR platform. Colleagues throughout the industry describe Rinaldo as “absolutely fantastic,” “driven” and “energetic.” We salute her as the Multichannel News Tech Woman of the Year in the MVPD/regional category.

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

Angela Rinaldo (pictured, top right): When I was young, an astronaut. In my teens, a software developer. I got a taste of writing code in high school, and I liked it.

MCN: First job in tech?

AR: It was in Denver, programing telephony switches in C/C++ for a telephony service bureau that handled 800 and 900 numbers.

MCN: What’s the big thing in tech for your organization in 2016?

AR: Cloud infrastructures to support new video services — cloud-based DVR, software-based encoding, our cloud-based guide and applications. Also IP-delivered video, guide and apps, on our legacy/non-IP set-top boxes. That’s really cool.

MCN: Where and when are you happiest?

AR: Work-wise, I’m happiest in a room with my engineers, architecting out a complex infrastructure and figuring out how we are going to scale it and build in resiliency. At home, it’s being in the mountains and camping with my boys.

MCN. Which tech term drives you batty?

AR: I have two: Static and single-threaded.

MCN. Most important quality for women of tech to have?

AR: Logic, for one. Two, the ability to be articulate — and that’s not just for women, it’s for everyone. If you can’t explain it, you’ll be discounted there and then. And lastly, collaborative.

MCN: Favorite book of all time?

AR: The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho.

MCN: Best advice you ever received?

AR: Remember to pause.

MCN: If you could change one thing about the multichannel video industry, what would it be?

AR: An endless and bountiful vat of bandwidth and spectrum!

MCN. Favorite gadget/app?

AR: I’m not so much of a gadget person, but I really enjoy our Spectrum TV app. Granted, I work on it, but I’m also a single mom with two boys — so when they’re off watching what they want to watch, I can, too.

Monica Williams | Digital Dynamo

Monica Williams, vice president of product development and strategy of NBCUniversal, and this year’s salute for Tech Woman of the Year in the Programmer/ Network category, came back to work on Oct. 1 after being out for maternity leave (baby No. 2, a boy). On that first day back, her calendar was already full and shifting. “We solve problems all day long,” Williams says of her team — or, as she puts it, “team awesome.” There’s no such thing as a typical day when it comes to getting all of NBCU’s content out, on time, in different formats, to its distribution partners — cable, satellite, and over-the-top, and whatever comes next. Pile on some (Nielsen) C3 handling, and some DAI (dynamic ad insertion) gymnastics, with a side of continuous improvement and automation, and you’re looking at a typical, atypical day for this total digital dynamo.

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

Monica Williams (pictured, bottom left): I wanted to be an ophthalmologist. An “eye surgeon,” as I used to say when I was little. I wanted to help people see the world. Clearly that didn’t work out. My parents are both doctors and trained me to want to be a doctor, I think. I rebelled and got an engineering degree instead. I really wanted to explore what else was out there besides the world of medicine.

MCN: First job in tech?

MW: Manager of digital media operations for NBCUniversal. That’s when I learned all about digital and started to shift into more of a technical role. This was in 2008, when we launched with all the EST [electronic sell-through] partners. Amazon, iTunes, Hulu. It was a crazy time but I loved it! All the file formats, transfer rates, CDNs (Content Delivery Networks), thumbnails — I fell in love with all of it.

MCN: What’s the big thing in tech for your organization in 2016?

MW: Launching and enhancing clip distribution products with various partners. And what I consider my “baby” — an effort I’m leading to enhance search and recommendation of our content via metadata.

MCN: Where and when are you happiest?

MW: I’m happiest when I’m anywhere with my family. Whether it’s snowboarding in Mammoth, traveling to new places, fighting the crowds at Disneyland, or on the couch watching football — as long as I’m with them.

MCN: Favorite geek-out tech term(s)?

MW: How about a phrase? Mine is to make metadata sexy!

MCN: What tech term drives you batty?

MW: “Metadata” — because it is just so hard!

MCN: Most important quality for women of tech to have?

MW: I don’t think this makes a difference for men or women: The willingness to learn and be OK with not knowing everything. The willingness to ask questions. Especially in tech roles, where things change so rapidly. I’m constantly learning new things, always asking a ton of questions.

MCN: Favorite book of all time?

MW: Tuesdays With Morrie. And anything by John Grisham.

MCN: Best advice you ever received?

MW: A good friend and a former boss of mine once told me “don’t run away — run to something.” I’ve been sticking to it ever since.

MCN: If you could change one thing about the multichannel video industry, what would it be?

MW: User interface. I know there’s been significant improvement in the last couple of years, but we really need to make it where my 2-year-old son can navigate without assistance. He can with YouTube and Netflix!

MCN: Favorite gadget/app?

MW: Lately, it’s been Pinterest and the Food.com app. I’m trying to learn easy and fun things to make for my family.

Tal Laufer | Geared for Growth

For Tal Laufer, director and product line manager for Arris’s line of bandwidth and capacity gear, it’s the middle of the high season for RFPs — requests for proposals. Multichannel video and broadband providers are always on the hunt for more network capacity, and especially more Internet-protocol bandwidth. Laufer works in the sweet spot of capacity-related technology, entrenched in the impressively nerdy world of CCAP (for Converged Cable Access Platform), passive optical networks (PONs), and the critically important components that will help operators worldwide deal with the sustained, 50-plus-percent per year growth in broadband service consumption. For those reasons, she’s MCN’s pick for Woman of Tech in the vendor/supplier category.

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

Tal Laufer (pictured, bottom center): Frankly, I didn’t really know what I wanted to be, which was a little bit surprising, as I normally know pretty well what I want! My attraction to technology started in high school, when I studied physics. I really enjoyed the practical work of building things in the lab.

MCN: First job in tech?

TL: During university, I started working as an intern doing chip design and verification at IBM Labs. I worked on their new generation of processors back then, and learned a lot. I came into our industry via BigBand Networks, which Arris acquired in 2011.

MCN: What’s the big thing for your organization in 2016?

TL: We’re focused on CCAP [Converged Cable Access Platform] enhancements, as video converges and DOCSIS 3.1 ramps up for our customers. We’re also dedicating a lot of time and effort into figuring out what will be the future network architecture that will fit the different cable operators around the world — centralized CCAP, distributed CCAP, PON evolution and beyond.

MCN: Favorite geek-out tech term(s)?

TL: My favorite is the first one I learned, coming into the industry: “To configure.” It sounds even weirder when you say it as a Hebrew word. I like how tech people use it for everything, from a hardware chip or router, to their chair, even their lunch!

MCN: Most important quality for women of tech to have?

TL: I think determination is very important, and also the ability to know your priorities — to differentiate between what’s important and what’s not. Those are good for men and women both, but for women, even more so.

MCN: Favorite book of all time?

TL: Atlas Shrugged at the moment, but it keeps changing!

MCN: Best advice you ever received?

TL: “You don’t always have to look at the highest peak you are trying to conquer. Sometimes it serves you better to just target the top of the nearest hill, and worry about the rest of the climb later.”

MCN: Favorite gadget/app?

TL: My phone, naturally, and my new Android watch. Though I can’t wait to see how the wearables technologies advance and provide even greater value to me.

Keely Buchanan | Creative Data Nerd

She calls herself a creative data nerd — a “square peg in a round hole” — and it’s a state that’s served her quite well in her 14 years at Time Warner Cable. Buchanan is the glue that connects the company’s various technology divisions with creative and measurable ways to communicate what they do, and why it matters: webinars, surveys, internal web sites, and data, data, data. For the Rocky Mountain chapter of WICT, she’s an indefatigable and multifaceted volunteer, cheerfully going the extra mile to get things done. For cableFIRST, the industrywide effort to encourage more industry people to mentor local FIRST Robotics teams, she’s a life force. And for those reasons, she’s our pick for Tech Woman of the year in the Rising Star category.

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

Keely Buchanan (pictured, bottom right): The voice of Disney animated musicals! But, then it got to be more about getting out of my really small town in Alaska, getting scholarships to get into a good college, and then working really hard in college to get a good job.

MCN: First job in tech?

KB: Time Warner Cable, actually. I graduated from [the University of Denver] with a degree in digital media studies, which is when I realized I’ve always gravitated to the intersection of creative and technology. I was the only person out of all of my friends who got a job right out of school, in the field they’d studied. I remember thinking “cable? boring,” but I couldn’t have been more wrong.

MCN. What’s the big thing in tech for your organization in 2016?

KB: Well, that merger with Charter is certainly top of mind. I’m really interested to see how both companies will share and grow together. Big picture, we’re doing some 1-Gig broadband enhancements next year in L.A., and we’re doing some really cool stuff with sustainability — we just committed to a 30% carbon intensity reduction by the end of ’16, which ties into the SCTE Energy2020 initiative. And I’m really excited about our “Connect a Million Minds” STEM and FIRST Robotics programs.

MCN. Where and when are you happiest?

KB: With my boys, for sure. [Arlo, 5 and Nelson, 3.] Laughing, playing on the playground, lots of reading, and doing fabulously nerdy stuff like passing on my love of board games. And libraries.

MCN: Favorite geek-out tech term(s)?

KB:Data Scientist. Who knew that would be a thing? I want to be one. With the white lab coat! Well, maybe mine would be teal.

MCN: What tech term drives you batty?

KB: It drives me bonkers when people call something an acronym, when it’s technically an initialism. If it’s an abbreviation based on the first letter of each term, and you can pronounce it, it’s an acronym. “RAM,” acronym. “DVR,” not an acronym.

MCN: Most important qualities for women of tech to have?

KB: A sense of humor. Thick skin. Determination, for sure. Having a big picture view, while still being able to get your point across quickly. None of these are specific to women, by the way.

MCN: Favorite book of all time?

KB: Modoc, the True Story of the Greatest Elephant That Ever Lived.

MCN: Best advice you ever received?

KB: It’s always better to fail than to never try; asking is free; always look at things from the other person’s point of view. And be your best self. I tell my boys that all the time: I don’t want you to be anybody else, I just want you to be your best self.

MCN: Favorite gadget/app?

KB: I’m all about the data, so for me it’s the wearables. Just by living, you can be collecting actionable data about yourself. Sleep habits and health and heart rate, all things that are non-invasive — for me, it seems like a huge value-add to your life.

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