Communications: connecting a diverse global audience
“The telecommunications and technology industry is one of constant, rapid and exciting change.” – Brett Blair, CenturyLink
“When people think of IT, they automatically think of printers, e-mail and a computer. No one ever thinks that there is a much wider piece to it.”
– Boris Beaubien, Nickelodeon
By Dan Margherita
Senior Contributing Editor
Communications is a broad field with opportunities across nearly every industry. But despite its vast scope, leaders seem to be in agreement that no matter the industry, diversity of communications pros is key to success.
“The telecommunications and technology industry is one of constant, rapid and exciting change,” says Brett Blair, vice president of talent acquisition at CenturyLink (Monroe, LA). “We believe hiring people with diverse backgrounds, skills and perspectives is the best way to generate new ideas and solutions to meet our customers’ needs.”
Rockwell Collins (Cedar Rapids, IA) is known for its challenging work, says Rod Dooley, vice president of diversity and integrated talent management. “Our communications and avionics electronics solutions are very complex, and we’re always seeking highly skilled software and systems engineers to join our team.”
Still, commitment to diversity is only as good as the expertise it attracts. Ask Yunfei Xu, manager of portfolio and analytics in R&D at Bloomberg LP (New York, NY). “On the surface you can say that I fit into many dimensions of diversity: Asian, female, working mom, in the technology sector, managing a male-only group,” she says.
“But none of those things is a deciding factor in measuring how successful I am in my career. My manager, who happens to be a man, holds me to the highest standard while providing all the necessary flexibility and coaching to help me succeed.”
Companies realize that recruitment is only part of the effort. Programs have been created to nurture and mentor employees to make them want to stay. “There is an entrepreneurial spirit within our organization,” notes Raúl Valentin, vice president of talent acquisition for Comcast Cable (Philadelphia, PA). “If an employee has a passion, we will support them and give them the opportunity to work toward their goals.”
Looking for tech skills
CenturyLink is actively hiring. “Century-Link is always looking for people with strong technology and IT skills for our network services division to fill senior engineering as well as video repair and operation technician jobs,” says Blair. “In addition, we look for senior lead architects, lead IT systems analysts, IT operations technicians and software developers. Most of these positions require bachelors degrees, including computer information systems, IT and engineering. However, other technical degrees and experience are generally accepted as well.”
ORAU is also hiring. Mae Mosley is director of employee relations and diversity at ORAU (Oak Ridge Associated Universities, Oak Ridge, TN), which facilitates research projects in communications and many other technical areas. ORAU recruits in a variety of disciplines and encourages its people to pursue their individual aspirations, which, she says, will “benefit the organization and also make them contributing members of society.”
Read on about some techies who bring diversity and innovation to the communications field.
Leslie Chapman: software engineer at Comcast
When Leslie Chapman was in school, she loved video games. Like many other young people, she thought, “How cool would it be if I could get a job making video games?”
Chapman is principal software engineer currently working on the company’s new X1 cloud-based entertainment operating system. “It’s not hard to explain what I do,” she says with a smile. “Do you have cable at home? When you hit the remote, do you see those graphics that come up to tell you what’s on? That’s what I write. I’m one of the platform’s developers.”
Chapman came to the mainland from Puerto Rico when she was nine. “I always excelled at math and science in school,” she says. “I found comfort in how you could always arrive at an answer.”
She has always been fascinated with computers. “And my parents encouraged my curiosity.”
Her first computer was her parents’ old Apple IIe. “I was never allowed to touch it when it was theirs,” smiles Chapman, “because computers were fragile and very expensive. There wasn’t much you could do with it other than code in BASIC so that’s what I taught myself to do.”
Her love of video games led her to pursue her undergraduate degree in artificial intelligence from Arcadia University (Glenside, PA), which she got in 2000. “I wanted to be a game developer or make robots or anything associated with artificial intelligence,” Chapman explains.
Arcadia’s program encompassed computer science, cognitive psychology and classical philosophy. “You had to learn about the brain in order to emulate it,” she says. “Computer science taught you how to program. Cognitive psychology taught you how to understand the brain, and philosophy covered the intangible ways the brain works.”
In fact, Chapman’s interests moved toward cognitive psychology, and she accepted a Future Faculty fellowship to Temple University (Philadelphia, PA), leading to a PhD in cognitive psychology. “But after half a year I realized that was the biggest mistake of my life,” she laughs. “I really missed computers.”
Instead, she went to Penn State University (State College, PA) where she earned a 2002 masters degree in information science. While there, she worked in the computer lab. After graduation she joined Honeywell in Fort Washington, PA as a software engineer, working on embedded systems.
In 2004, she moved to Boston to take a position with Teradyne, Inc. (North Reading, MA) in a similar engineering role. “Teradyne makes semiconductor test equipment,” Chapman explains. “The consumer electronic devices that you buy are run through a gamut of tests and the software that I wrote automated that testing.”
After two years, Chapman wanted to come back to Pennsylvania. She quickly landed a job with Comcast. “I started doing pretty much what I do now but not on X1. I’ve always worked on the set-top box applications that show what’s on now and what’s available on demand.”
Her team of four was particularly busy in the runup to this February’s Winter Olympics. “We did a lot of work making all the NBC Olympics content easily available to our users using an on-demand area where users could jump right in to it,” she says. “We also created, in less than a month, a feature called Instant VOD (video on demand) that allowed users to watch programming from the beginning even if they were coming in after it started.”
Chapman belongs to both the black professional alliance (BPA) and the women’s network, two of eight employee resource groups at Comcast.
“Typically, after you reach principal engineer, your career path forks,” she explains. “It’s a big decision whether to take the next step into management or to stay on the technical side. I want to remain an engineer. I don’t see myself in a strictly management role.
“Right now, I get handed other people’s requirements and ideas, and make them come to life. For me to move forward, I need to be the innovator and come up with those ideas. My main goal for 2014 is to become a patent holder. Comcast inspires its employees to be innovative and rewards those who obtain patents for the company.”
Boris Beaubien: a broad IT charter at Nickelodeon
“When people think of IT, they automatically think of printers, e-mail and a computer,” believes Boris Beaubien. “No one ever thinks that there is a much wider piece to it.”
Based in Burbank, CA, Beaubien is vice president of television production technologies at kids’ entertainment network Nickelodeon, a unit of Viacom.
Beaubien was born in Haiti and came to Connecticut when he was ten. When it came time for college, he wanted to go to a big city. In 1995, he earned his undergraduate degree in computer science from New York University (New York, NY).
He joined the network three years later. “Nickelodeon was my second job out of college,” Beaubien says. His first was at a photography museum, school and research center in midtown Manhattan.
“NYU brought professionals into the NYU lab to teach graphics communications,” he explains. “I started working with these photographers, and after I graduated, I started teaching Photoshop to photographers. One of the classes I was teaching was called Introduction to Digital Portfolios, and one of my students was an art director at Nickelodeon.”
Beaubien had been demonstrating a photographic technique for layering backgrounds. The Nickelodeon person recognized its benefits to Blue’s Clues, a show which used a live actor interacting with animated characters using a green screen. She asked him if he would like to join the network and in 1998, he did.
“It was lots of fun. I never expected that I would have a career in television,” he remembers. “As a computer science person, I thought I’d be in a back room programming something,” Beaubien says with a smile.
Beaubien worked on Nickelodeon’s popular Dora the Explorer, then on programs for Nick Jr, Nickelodeon’s preschool digital channel.
“I’d been working with other groups trying to develop different ways of doing animation, making it more digital, using motion capture and things like that. In 2007, I got a call from our studios in Los Angeles explaining that they were starting a 3-D and computer graphics (CG) group. They needed my help.” That group became the Nicktoons channel.
Beaubien was reluctant to move across the country. “But the timing was right,” he says, “so I moved out there and started working on several shows including SpongeBob SquarePants and The Fairly OddParents.”
IT merged with other production technologies that had been operating separately. “When I came here, we had close to 300 CG stations and the IT team couldn’t quite support them all,” Beaubien says. “One of my challenges was bringing the IT team up to date. They had the IT knowledge but knew nothing about animation.”
Solving production problems before they occur
He’s working with a team whose mission is to stay ahead of program production. “In the past, when we got a production, we had to fix problems that were made prior. I’ve pitched the creation of a group that would get there before the production starts and work through the pipeline. If you can anticipate and fix problems before they occur, the production process will run more smoothly.”
Beaubien also works with third-party animation companies overseas. “I’m dealing with production pipelines, new studios being built, and third-party company evaluations in the U.S. and abroad. I also deal with our events, like the Kids’ Choice awards and the TeenNick HALO (Helping and Leading Others) awards.”
At Nickelodeon, he is a member of the Black Employee Affinity Team, whose mission is to provide a forum for African Americans and their friends across Viacom.
Beaubien believes he has been in the right place at the right time, taking opportunities when they came and capitalizing on his background and abilities to help out. Looking ahead, he wants to work on advanced technology for production and focus on making the everyday workplace easier, faster and more efficient.
“I see myself building this group into something that is relevant and can really help the company.”
Eric Crafter: senior software engineer at Rockwell Collins Satellite Communications
After he earned his undergraduate degree, Eric Crafter immediately began working on his masters degree. “One of my deans advised me to get all my academic work out of the way as soon as possible before other entanglements got in the way,” he remembers. “It was good advice.”
Crafter is a senior software engineer working at Rockwell Collins Satellite Communications Systems in Duluth, GA.
He grew up just outside Macon, GA. “My father was an engineer,” Crafter says, “and it’s something I’ve always had an interest in. Fortunately, it’s also something I was good at.”
Between his junior and senior years in high school, he attended a summer program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT, Cambridge, MA). “After that, I was hooked,” says Crafter. He earned his BS in mathematics from MIT in 1990 and followed it with a 1992 MS in applied mathematics from the Graduate School of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Virginia (UVA, Charlottesville) and his PhD in applied mathematics, also from UVA, in 1996.
For two summers during his time at MIT, Crafter interned at BellSouth Corporation in Macon. “The outside engineering department was responsible for the location and repair of utility poles. It wasn’t anything related to what I was doing in school,” he admits, “but it was my first professional work experience, and it was great.”
Before he started at UVA, he interned at the National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST, Gaithersburg, MD). “NIST was my first opportunity to do mathematical research. I was doing mathematical modeling and computer simulations. I would have loved to stay there but graduate school kicked in.”
When he got his masters degree, he had already completed two-thirds of the courses he needed for his doctorate. “I enjoyed what I was doing and the economy wasn’t great. Why wouldn’t I stay and get it done?”
By 1996, Crafter was ready to get his first fulltime job. He went to work doing software development for Bell Labs, later AT&T Bell Labs.
In 2005, Crafter joined an anti-spam e-mail software company in Alpharetta, GA. “I was a research scientist, applying research toward messaging and e-mail security. We were developing next-generation algorithms for detecting spam and other types of unwanted e-mail.”
After three years, he became a software developer for DataPath, a satellite communication company in Duluth, GA. Crafter was part of the team that developed software residing on earth terminals that point toward a satellite dish. In 2009, just a year after he got there, DataPath was acquired by Rockwell Collins.
More projects, more exposure
“There wasn’t much of a change,” he recalls. “For the first year, we were doing the same job with the same team. Eventually there was a wider array of projects to be involved in and our software work got more exposure.”
The biggest change occurred in 2010 when his team got the opportunity to work with Rockwell Collins engineers in India who were developing software features for a team project. “It was the first time anyone here in Duluth had worked with people over there.”
One project Crafter works on today is MaxView, a network management and control system that can monitor any device with an IP address, primarily those that have to do with satellite communications. “We have both government and commercial clients,” he explains. “MaxView is configurable, and that’s why it can work in both worlds.
“I have a software developer title but I do a little project management, configuration management, proposal writing and client interface,” Crafter explains.
Crafter is a member of the American Mathematical Society (Providence, RI). He teaches multiple online sections of algebra and trigonometry for ITT Technical Institute and the University of Phoenix.
“I expect to be with Rockwell Collins for the foreseeable future,” he says. “Short-term, I’ve gotten involved in some cybersecurity projects so I want to learn more about that. Long-term, I see myself moving into project management or technical program management, away from the day-to-day software.”
Armando Ramirez oversees area plant supervisors at CenturyLink
“When I graduated from high school, I didn’t have a clue about the future,” admits Armando Ramirez. “I found a job at General Telephone & Electronics (GTE) as an installation and repair technician. That job led to a thirty-year-plus career in the telecom industry.”
Today Ramirez is an area operations manager in Yakima, WA for telecommunications company CenturyLink (Monroe, LA). He oversees the daily operation of area plant supervisors who manage field technicians doing installation and maintenance on landline, DSL, designed circuit and fiber optics apps and outage repair.
“Area plant supervisors make sure our customers are getting quality business and residential installations as well as timely customer service,” he explains. “I am one of three area operation managers. I manage four supervisors and sixty-eight technicians covering eastern Washington and northeast Oregon.”
Ramirez grew up in Los Angeles, CA. He attended Valley College (Los Angeles) for general studies, but never finished a degree. He holds several telephony certifications.
He was laid off by GTE in 1994 and started as a contractor for AT&T. “In 1996, I was offered a fulltime field supervisor job with US West Communications, which merged with Qwest in 2000,” Ramirez remembers. “I was promoted to manager in 2010.” CenturyLink acquired Qwest in 2011.
Advocating for others
Ramirez is the national president of CenturyLink’s Success-Oriented Members Offering Support (SOMOS) Hispanic employee resource group, and SOMOS VP for Washington State. He’s also a supporting member of the company’s Alliance of Black Telecom Professionals; CenturyLink Women; Eagle, for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees; and the Pacific Asian American Network.
“I hope to advocate more for diversity at CenturyLink,” asserts Ramirez, “not just in ethnicity or race, but in the cultural differences employees bring to the company.”
Karl Elad is a director of network architecture at Intelsat
“Different people have different definitions of ‘hands on,’” believes Karl Elad. “I’m a participative kind of guy. I don’t disengage when I lead a team.”
Elad is a director of network architecture for IP and optical engineering at global satellite service provider Intelsat (Washington, DC). He leads a team of thirty managers and engineers and is responsible for Intelsat global network infrastructure.
He joined Intelsat in 2004 as a lead network architect and was promoted to director in 2007. In 2005, Intelsat acquired PanAmSat (Atlanta, GA), a competitor whose businesses complemented Intelsat’s. Elad served as the technical architect for the global network integration of the PanAmSat and Intelsat enterprise and service provider network.
“Our team works in three major areas,” he explains. “We support all the engineering for the satellite ground network infrastructure, interconnection of IP providers and relationships with other telecommunications companies.
“We also handle Intelsat’s telephone network. Satellite communication requires a robust ground network and a versatile telephone system that links earth stations that receive and relay signals from satellites. We have three or four stations on every continent. Finally, we oversee the global engineering infrastructure for major broadcasters worldwide.”
Developing a network
Elad is particularly proud of his team’s development of the IntelsatOne Terrestrial Network, the organization’s ground infrastructure. “Starting in 2010 and ending in 2012, we used the ground network that we built, combined with the network that we inherited from PanAmSat, to create a ‘network on steroids,’” he says with a smile.
“IntelsatOne saves us money with economies of scale. It gives Intelsat the ability to offer more services to new and existing customers, connecting them over a hybrid satellite terrestrial network.”
Elad was born in Cameroon, Africa but has been in the United States for most of his adult life and considers it home. His father and many other members of his family were doctors and at first he had similar inclinations. “I went to school in London on a medical scholarship but decided it wasn’t for me,” he remembers. “I came to the United States in the mid-nineties to visit my sister in Maryland and fell in love with the place.”
Elad wanted to work in the tech field but had no degree and no money. “I knew I had to get a job,” he says, “and I discovered that, at that time, certifications would allow you to get into the telecommunications industry without a degree. This was before the dotcom era. If you specialized and were certified, you could get an entry-level position.” Later, he earned his BS in computer information technology from the University of Maryland-College Park.
In 1998, armed with Microsoft and Novell certifications, Elad got a job at AT&T in Research Triangle Park, NC as a technical solutions consultant. “I learned a lot there,” he says. “AT&T has one of the largest laboratories in the world. I spent over six months in those labs, even my lunch and dinner time.”
In 1999, he moved to Sprint (Res-ton, VA) as a network technical engineer, responsible for performance analyses and recommendations of wide area and local area network equipment, protocols, circuits and other resources. “Sprint also had a large lab, and at that time, Cisco Systems was just coming up as a major manufacturer in the telecommunications space,” remembers Elad. “I realized that it was necessary to learn that architecture, so while I was at Sprint I earned my Cisco Certified Internet Expert certification.”
Elad wanted to move to a job where he could work with different companies and broaden his experience. He joined Thrupoint, Inc. (Arlington, VA), an IT consulting company jointly owned by Cisco Systems and investment firm Morgan Stanley. “Cisco handled the technical training while Morgan Stanley took care of the not-so-technical classes.”
One of his clients was Intelsat. “At that time, they were satellite only with no terrestrial presence, and they needed a ground network. I had experience in network building and was the lead architect on the project.”
After the two-year contract ended, Intelsat contacted Elad and offered him a fulltime position. He’s been there ten years and hopes to move into a vice president position. Intelsat is supportive and paid for half of his MBA-MOT degree from Georgia Institute of Technology, College of Management (Atlanta) in 2012.
Elad is a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE, New York, NY) and the Society of Satellite Professionals International (SSPI, New York, NY).
ORAU’s Carlos Milán does R&D on behalf of the U.S. Forest Service
When Carlos Milán was growing up in Puerto Rico, he was interested in science. His high school ambition was to study biology and go into medicine. “But by the second or third year of college, I realized that I was more interested in environmental science and I decided to follow that path,” he says.
He earned his BS in natural sciences from the University of Puerto Rico-Rio Pedras in 2008 and in 2013 got an MS in environmental health from the University of Puerto Rico’s medical sciences campus.
“I worked for the university as a research assistant while getting my masters degree,” explains Milán. “I worked on the automated remote biodiversity monitoring network (ARBIMON), a system that automatically records and analyzes environmental sound clip recordings from the field.” ARBIMON is a combination of hardware and software for automating data acquisition, data management and species identification using the audio recordings.
“After I got my masters degree, I began to apply to different organizations, including the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Research Participation program, which is administered by ORAU,” he says. “In October, they appointed me to the USFS as a research program participant.”
Getting the word out effectively
Milán works with the R&D arm of the USFS. His group has multiple responsibilities as it helps Washington, DC office staff members update and enhance web content. The group connects the USFS R&D arm with the office of communications and the CIO’s web services program. The group also supports science delivery efforts by generating marketing and outreach materials.
For the USFS deputy chief’s office, the team helps coordinate production of the annual R&D research highlights report. And they recommend ways to leverage external websites or social media channels to improve USFS connections with stakeholders. Milán analyzes visitor responses and page views using ForeSee, Google Analy-tics, and Solr search tools.
“Our work allows the website to reach people more effectively,” Milán says. “Users include the scientific community, academia and the general public, so the same information may need to be presented three different ways. It comes down to knowing your audience. Scientists may want to read a technical paper while the public may prefer a format more along the lines of a magazine article or blog.”
Milán’s technical degrees provide him with context for his communications work. “I just edited a very large manuscript,” he says. “I couldn’t have done it without my scientific background.”
He has been on appointment with the ORAU-managed program less than a year, but already knows it’s a good fit. “I’m excited about the work I’m doing here. I would like to stay here and get involved in different areas.”
NCO Kineta Hudson leads client support for the U.S. Air Force
Even when she was a little girl, Kineta Hudson knew she wanted to join the military.
“I was a military brat,” she says. “I was born in Vicenza, Italy but I call Waynesville, MO, home because that’s where I went to high school. My dad is retired Army and most of my family is in the military.”
Technical sergeant Hudson is a non-commissioned officer in charge of the client support center at Randolph Air Force Base (San Antonio, TX) where she’s been stationed since 2011. She joined the USAF in 1996 while still in high school. “I entered the delayed enlistment program and shipped out three weeks after I graduated,” she says.
She has been stationed at Patrick AFB in Cocoa Beach, FL, Dal Molin Air Base in Vicenza, Italy, Andrews AFB in Maryland and MacDill AFB in Tampa, FL. “I didn’t make the move to communications until I was at Andrews. Until then, we were known as information managers within our squadron, managing all the administrative processes and responsible for the lifecycle and control of information resources. We became client technicians as an additional duty, becoming the first line of support when it came to computer issues. We were called workgroup managers back then. If we couldn’t fix it, we would contact the helpdesk.”
Moving to the communication side
At MacDill, she was assigned a special duty with a joint communications support element. “That’s when I fully transitioned to the comm side of the house,” she explains.
“When you’re an admin, you’re a jack of all trades. Early in my career, I was groomed more as an office manager. Going to the technical side was definitely different and some people weren’t receptive to the move, but younger airmen like me liked where it was heading. I knew when my time expired in the military I would be more marketable outside.
“Now, I take all the phone calls related to any trouble with the network, computers and cell phones here. It’s like being the geek squad,” she smiles. “We support over 300 systems across the domain here at Randolph AFB. We’re the headquarters for the Air Force Recruiting Service, so we provide support to seventy-eight client service technicians at three groups and twenty-seven squadrons, and also seventeen hundred recruiters and twelve hundred field offices across the nation.”
She’s currently working on her associates degree in client systems. “My parents encouraged me to pursue something that could carry over when I get out, and I think what the Air Force has to offer suits me best.”
DIVERSITY-MINDED ORGANIZATIONS IN COMMUNICATIONS
Check websites for current openings.
|Company and location
|Bloomberg (New York, NY)
|Global business and financial news and information
|CenturyLink (Monroe, LA)
|Broadband, voice, wireless and managed services for consumers and businesses nationwide
|Comcast Corp (Philadelphia, PA)
|Media, entertainment and communications
|Intelsat (Washington, DC)
|Global satellite services
|ORAU (Oak Ridge Associated Universities,
Oak Ridge, TN)
|Scientific and technical solutions in science, health, education and national security
|Rockwell Collins (Cedar Rapids, IA)
|Communication aviation electronics and
information management solutions for
commercial and government applications
|U.S. Air Force (Randolph Air Force Base, TX)
|Ensures security of the U.S. in air, space and
|Viacom (New York, NY)
|Global mass media
|ViaSat (Carlsbad, CA)
|Satellite and wireless networking for fast, secure and high-performance communications
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