Women of Tech 2016 | Kalpa Subramanian: Born to Be an Engineer

Comcast Cable California engineering VP brings the perspective yielded by a cross-cultural career
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As you’ll soon learn, 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 also 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.

And in addition to giving her all to Comcast’s big efforts, she also invests valuable time and guidance as a mentor to others in the organization looking to learn and continue to grow.

Subramanian’s leadership throughout the organization and her focus on the customer are among the reasons why she is our choice for Tech Woman of the Year in the MSO/Regional category.

More WoT: Subramanian is one of five execs selected for MCN's 2016 Women of Tech list; read about the others in Setting the Pace for Innovation [subscription required] and watch for a daily profile of each Sept. 26-30 at multichannel.com/WomenOfTech.

Multichannel News: 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 … We paired them up with mentors. The results were amazing. Folks in the program were blossoming and it was very fulfilling to see that progress.

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: Favorite book? 

KS: I love Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. There are portions of the book that she touches on that are so real and replicatable to so many different components of day-to-day life. Another that I’m thumbing through right now is Rising Strong by Brené Brown. She had done a TED Talk on vulnerability … so I started to look into what Brené Brown does; she’s a huge, very successful professor. When I looked into her books, Rising Strong was one that could absolutely pull anybody up through thick and thin … and leveraging strengths and focusing on the opportunities. I loved the messages she had behind it. 

MCN: Favorite movie? 

KS: I do have a guilty pleasure, and those are rom-coms. A movie that I’ve watched a few dozen times is The Notebook. That’s a movie we need a lot of tissues and bonbons for!

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. 

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