Stephanie Mitchko-Beale, senior vice president of video infrastructure software at Cablevision Systems Corp., may have been genetically predisposed to be an engineer.
She went to school for engineering, worked on defense systems for a spell, and ended up at Cablevision, where she’s led engineering teams that helped establish Cablevision’s high-speed data product, built support systems for video on demand, and worked on the company’s ground-breaking network DVR (nDVR) services. Many of the projects she has worked on have earned Cablevision not only a loyal subscriber base but also a series of technical Emmy Awards.
She also lectures at NYU, has volunteered to participate in the WICT mentor program, and is raising a family.
Her professional accomplishments earned her the admiration of her peers, resulting in her being named the winner earlier this year of the prestigious 2013 Women in Technology Award.
“Stephanie is a proven leader, and we are proud to recognize her with this well-deserved honor. As part of Cablevision’s senior technology team she is at the top of her field, yet she also helps create a stronger legacy of women in technology by making time to encourage and mentor others,” said Maria Brennan, president & CEO of Women in Cable Telecommunications. WICT is a co-sponsor of the award, along with the SCTE, Bright House Networks, and CableFax.
Mitchko-Beale said her aptitude and affinity for engineering is innate. “I’ve always been interested in math and science, and as early as high school I did very well in the sciences.
I had this fascination and enjoyment learning about how things work,” she said.
It may have been genetics. Her father was an engineer. Eventually she would earn the same degree as his – a BSEE, from the same school – Polytechnic University (now part of NYU). It’s probably no coincidence that two of her three children are following science & technology tracks at school.
Even so, actually becoming an engineer required a few lessons that might have been hard to learn, but have served her to this day – and which she hopes will be of some value to the next generation of engineers.
Mitchko-Beale is a guest lecturer at NYU’s Stern School, and she also participates in a program called Poly WEST – women in engineering, science and technology.
“My theme there revolves around failure. I tell a story about my experience in electrical engineering 101. I’ve got it all covered because I did great in high school, and I took a test, and I did the circuit analysis well – I solved the problem.
However…, I made a mathematical error at the end of the exam and multiplied 10 times 10 and wrote down 20. I failed that test. I also failed the course. It taught me strong lessons. In engineering you have to get the answer right. But also, failure is inevitable. It happens. You pick yourself up and move forward.
“Technology is very precise. My message,” she said, “is you have to learn how to fail. Fail fast, learn quickly what you did, and use that to take the next step. My story is I took that course over again in the summer. When you fail and you can learn something from it, that empowers you to get to the next level.”
Starting in college and for about five years after graduating, Mitchko-Beale worked for defense contractors, building test heads for ICs for B-1 bombers, developing hardware and software for shipboard defense systems.
During that time, she did some consulting.
A friend invited her to talk to Cablevision – the company was looking for some technical help to launch some a new product.
“My first reaction was that I didn’t know anything about cable, but I’m always interested in meeting new people, so I took the meeting.”
She started consulting for Cablevision, and about a year later – around 1996 – she became a full-time employee.
That product was Cablevision’s cable modem service, which went commercial in 1997.
Her experience with that product seems to have established a pattern. The engineering job doesn’t end with the specification and the manufacturing of the equipment.
“I also had a team that helped develop our online presence – so the content portal behind our cable modem service. We developed the first commerce application for delivering the modems themselves to customers. The customer didn’t have to pick up the modem, they could order it online,” she said.
From there she moved to Cablevision’s e-Media operation, responsible for digital media, web site presence, and content distribution. After that she began to work on digital set-top box deployment. Her team helped develop content management systems, specifically the video on demand back end platforms.
“Recently I’ve been very focused on our cloud DVR service,” she said.
Mitchko-Beale is clearly proud of her accomplishments, but is quick to volunteer that her success has been contingent on other people. She cites mentors who include her father, her mom (“always willing to share advice about how to do better and how to solve problems”), and longtime Cablevision technology guru Wilt Hildenbrand.
“I’ve always been lucky to have mentors, both informal in my life and formal through organizations. Mentors are people who can help you and give you the bad news about what you’re doing. They tell you what you’re doing wrong, and give you advice about moving forward. The key to mentors and mentees – you have to have a receptive relationship. The mentee has to be receptive to feedback and be willing to take action,” she said.
She also said that working with top flight colleagues has also been a great boon. “I can’t overstate how important it is to have good people on your team – people able to bring issues in a very open light, good technical people who think about complex things and implement them.”
And she’s intent on taking the help she got and paying it forward. That’s led her to lecture at NYU, hoping to provide valuable advice to both undergrad and graduate students.
“And this year I’m going to be a mentor in the WICT mentee program,” Mitchko Beale said. “I’ll be formally taking on a mentee, and I’m really excited and happy about that. It’s a great organization, and it’s important to keep highlighting young women and keep them excited about what they can do in the cable industry and the technology field.”
She said it may have been more difficult being a woman in the workplace when she started out. The students she talks to today don’t seem to have the exact same concerns, but they still have questions.
“Women in general across all industries still have challenges with life/ work – I don’t like the word ‘balance,’ I use the word ‘integration’ – they struggle with how to integrate career life with family life,” Mitchko-Beale said. “That’s not new, but we have more options today with how to deal with our family life and our home life than maybe we did 20 years ago.”
Mitchko-Beale herself seems to integrate work and home life just fine. In fact, her friends wonder where she finds the time to integrate so much, she laughed. “I love to ski, I play golf, mountain bike with my family. We like adventure travel, we do things like zip-lining and white water rafting and rappelling down rocks and things like that.”
She also refurbishes and refinishes old furniture.
And also makes glass and tile mosaic tables and mirrors. And does digital photography.
And video editing.
She concluded, “This year, the recognition from the SCTE, WICT and CableFax has been an incredible moment in my career.
The Woman in Technology Award is really an important milestone for women and I’m really excited to help promote women in technology and attract more women in to this industry.” ■
Stephanie is one of those people that you want on every initiative because she has such strong technical and strategic vision and yet she has a genuine, approachable style and a fantastic sense of humor.
– Christy Martin, iBox Systems
She is a true professional, smart, talented and gives back in so many ways to the current and next generation. Stephanie is well respected in the industry for her innovation and ability to develop critical platforms. I feel fortunate to have had the chance to get to know Stephanie and honored to call her a friend.
– Jennifer Yohe Wagner, Comcast
I am struck by how consistently true Stephanie remains to herself. As I listen to her stories, about both her work life, and her personal life, and I think this element of being both genuine to herself, particularly when it causes her to take bold steps, has been a secret ingredient to her success.
– Nomi Bergman, President, Bright House Networks
In the 10+ years I’ve known Stephanie, she has demonstrated such a passion for bringing new technology to consumers. My work with Stephanie over the past two years at Cablevision, has given me the opportunity to see her leadership as a true technologist firsthand. Having grown up in a family of engineers, Stephanie has shown a real devotion to ensuring that young people are engaged in STEM subjects in school and learning the skills that will prepare them for tomorrow. She has made valuable contributions both to Cablevision and the cable industry. On top of everything, she is a terrific, mom, colleague and friend.
– Yvette Kanouff, Executive Vice President of Corporate Engineering and Technology for Cablevision