IoT is a hot topic that made its way into more than one high-profile discussion at INTX. One such talk was Imagine Park’s “Why the Internet of Things is Definitely Still a Thing” featuring Comcast Engineering Fellow Mark Francisco and ARRIS CTO Charles Cheevers. We caught up with them after their panel for some relevant insights.
Jack Birnbaum, VP of Video Control and Security
As we continue to celebrate National Engineers Week, we interviewed Jack Birnbaum, VP of Video Control and Security at Comcast about his inspiration to become an engineer. Read below for the full interview.
What inspired you to become an engineer?
- I like to solve problems and create things. I was always interested in figuring out how things worked. I had always been strong in math and science and was looking for a practical way to apply those skills. Initially, I became interested in bio-medical engineering. I was enamored with the idea that I could create solutions that would help people improve their health. When I was in college, this field was mostly research-oriented, so I moved to computer engineering.
What does a day in the life of an engineer at Comcast look like?
- The day in the life of the Comcast engineer has changed much in most recent times. These days, we work in an agile development environment. The engineers typically start their day with a 15-minute scrum, discussing activities completed, challenges encountered and commitments for the next day. They collaborate to assist one another to achieve the team goals. The engineers then move off to their development work. Many times the engineers work in team areas so there is free flow of communication and collaboration.
- On any day, an engineer may be called upon to perform demos of their work to product and business folks. They may also be engaged in planning and evaluation of new projects.
- Finally, since our teams are development- and operations-oriented, our engineers are often involved in monitoring the performance of our services with the goal of improving the customer experience. If problems occur, they are counted on to work closely with our technical field personnel to analyze and resolve system issues.
- At Comcast, we try to create an exciting environment for our engineers. We have challenging projects that solve complex problems at a large scale. We have innovation programs that challenge engineers to develop new concepts, some leading to Patent awards, some leading to new products and services. We also consciously allocate time to encourage folks to develop new ideas or learn new skills.
How do you collaborate with ARRIS engineers to solve industry challenges?
- Comcast has a long-standing partnership with ARRIS in developing solutions in the video space. We work closely together to develop new products and solutions in the ever-changing video space. As new technologies emerge, we look to our strong partners to help us determine solutions that meet the needs, are economically feasible and can deliver service with high quality. With ARRIS, we have a partner with expertise in technology, integration and services. Each of these areas is key to Comcast in delivering solutions that delight our customers.
What are the most common challenges that engineers in our industry face?
- I think the most common challenge that we face is change. The industry is changing with new and different competitors. The technology is changing with innovations in processing, storage, and networking. Our customers’ expectations are changing as well. There is a desire for more capabilities in more places. What used to be video delivered to the TV is now video delivered to many devices, some in the home and some out of home. There is a need to always be connected, which creates challenges to make sure that those connections are functional and secure. There is a need to make sure all of the video content is displayed with high quality on many new devices.
What is one piece of advice you wish someone told you when you were pursuing a career in engineering?
- The most successful engineers are flexible. In this field, an engineer must be able to work with ambiguity. Problems are not provided with all of the information needed and a path to a solution. The engineer needs to be able to work with little information, discover the real problems to solve and create solutions. When one adds the needs of the business, the engineer must be willing to change directions very quickly and continue to push toward the best solutions for our customers and our shareholders.