Interview date: November 7, 2022
Interview location: Denver, Colorado
Interviewer: Stewart Schley
Collection: Cable Center Hauser Oral History Project
STEWART SCHLEY: Salud and greetings and welcome to this episode of the Cable Center’s Hauser Oral History Series. I am Stewart Schley. It’s a Monday morning in November 2022, I believe. We get to spend the next hour, our privilege, talking with an individual whose career arc has really revolved around the human voice, and the business and the craft and the engineering behind telephony which was a category that didn’t used to exist for the cable television industry and now is a big part of the business. So Kukis Moran, thank you for joining us.
KUKIS MORAN: Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.
SCHLEY: Thank you. We’ll take you through the career arc, but I have a left-field opening question for you. As a kiddo, did you ever have a rotary telephone in your life?
MORAN: I absolutely did.
SCHLEY: Tell me where was that?
MORAN: It was in our living room.
SCHLEY: For our younger audience, tell us what a rotary phone was.
MORAN: So, it had a disk and you had to dial. I grew up in Mexico and our phone numbers were five digits. So, we would make a phone call to the neighbor. I used to call my friends in elementary school. One important memory for me surrounding that phone is that not everyone had a telephone yet, when I was five, six years old. We had a neighbor who was trying to call to the United States. We let him use our phone. He came over and started the phone call in English, and that was probably the first time that I had heard English being spoken. The one phrase that just stuck with me was “wait a moment,” and he put the phone down and asked for pen and paper because he needed to write something down. That memory just stuck with me forever, and I was like, I want to speak that.
SCHLEY: And you did, and you do.
MORAN: I am right now.
SCHLEY: Do you remember the five digits? I’m just curious?
SCHLEY: Very impressive. So anyway, it doesn’t matter – we punch numbers into keypads today, but I was telling some of our friends at the Cable Center that the earlier area codes for metropolitan areas in the US – 212 for Manhattan, 213 for Los Angeles – were put into place partially because they were quick to dial on the rotary phone. You didn’t have to wait for the nine to turn around. You began your career or the modern part of your career with a company called Qwest, Denver-based, regional Bell operating company. And I was interested to see that it said Qwest Wireless on the resume. Tell us about who that company and kind of what you did and why they found you in the first place.
MORAN: So, when I started, it was US West, 14 states territory LEC, right? But I was recruited to go to the wireless side, and I started in the call center for Spanish-speaking customers. It was an exciting time. I remember celebrating 500,000 subscribers.
SCHLEY: To the wireless?
MORAN: To the wireless service. At that time, they had this one marquis product. It was called one-number service. It was basically a call-forwarding service, that if someone called you at home and you didn’t answer, it would roll to your cellphone. Because back then, 1998-ish, people were primarily using their landlines, but transitioning to – starting to transition to a mobile service, so they thought the simplicity of one number would attract more customers. This product would break a lot, and a lot of it was related to explaining how it works for customers. So, they would have to call in and we would have to turn on the one-number service. That was actually one of my first small successes in my career is that I noticed it was taking longer to fix that problem for Spanish-speaking customers because we didn’t have technicians who spoke Spanish so that communication with the customer was really tough. So I proposed that we train one of our bilingual call center employees to know how to fix this so we could cut that mean time to repair. They said, brilliant idea! Do you want to learn how to do it? And I said, sure. And that was my first venture into a more technical role within telecommunications.
SCHLEY: There’s a lot there because not only did it introduce you to the technical side of the business a little bit, but you did raise your hand. You didn’t have to volunteer that idea, right?
SCHLEY: So, what drove that?
MORAN: Empathy. It was so frustrating to see a ticket sit there for days, and they’re playing phone tag and not understanding each other. And I would sometimes get those phone calls of the customer saying well, they’ve been calling, but I don’t understand what they’re saying. So, for me, that was painful. I felt pain for them, and I thought well, we can do better. That’s what led me to raising my hand and saying, I have an idea, and it was really encouraging for me to see my idea being applied.
SCHLEY: It’s interesting that was, as you articulated, the beginning of this very steady breakdown in the presence of landline phones in this country. So, I don’t know what the numbers are today, but I think we’ve gotten to an inflection point where most people use wireless phone. What did you learn in that role talking to customers about the importance of telephony in general? What was a big deal about that in people’s lives?
MORAN: It was a lifeline for them. While they were still in that transition point of well, I don’t want to miss any of the calls at home, but I have this device, I thought a lot of them used it for business reasons, so it was understanding this is helping with generating revenue for them. If it doesn’t work that’s a big deal. Also, I thought it was important to explain how it worked: the technology, why you might not have signal sometimes. In the early days, we had gaps in coverage.
SCHLEY: Yeah, spotty.
MORAN: So just explaining the technology went a long way for customers to understand oh okay, I understand.
SCHLEY: Well, what was the appeal and the magic of technology to you?
MORAN: I was always attracted to technology. When I was really young, I took apart a radio at home because how does it work? Can I put it back together? Does it still work? I was always curious about how technology worked. When VCRs came along, I loved programming it to record the late-night show that I was interested in, because my favorite boy band was going to be on, and when I woke up the next day and I went to check the tape and it worked, it was like oh my gosh, success. So I just fell in love with technology and all the things it can do to make our lives easier.
SCHLEY: Did you end up studying technology?
MORAN: I did. As I said, I grew up in Mexico, and I went to a technical high school. So, for three years – high school is three years in Mexico – I studied electronics. Along with that came five semesters of physics, five semesters of chemistry, six semesters of math, calculus, etc. I just loved it; I fell in love with it from the get-go.
SCHLEY: That was the predisposition. I don’t have that, but kudos to you guys who are willing to immerse in this pretty difficult world.
MORAN: Yeah, what’s really wonderful for me is reflecting on one of the key concepts that stuck with me from high school were fiberoptics, and it sounded like a dream. It was like the potential of this technology, it was just wow. In my mind, I couldn’t imagine it, but I was thinking wow, when this becomes a reality, this is going to be big. Then you fast forward to me working at Comcast and running a network operation center where we’re addressing fiber cuts pretty frequently and just the impact of that interruption on people’s lives. It’s like a full circle moment for me, just to go from that moment in high school when I’m learning of reflection and refraction and all of that and then to run a center where we’re able to restore quickly and in some cases, make it seamless for the customer is just amazing.
SCHLEY: I mean, your timing was sort of beautiful in a way because I think around 2000 or leading up to 2000, the cable industry had started serious investments in fiberoptics, HFC, Hybrid Fiber Coaxial networks, and here you are and you join this company called Comcast. So how did that come about?
MORAN: Well, I joined the company called AT&T Broadband prior to the acquisition.
SCHLEY: Sorry. Good point.
MORAN: Some of my friends from Qwest Wireless were going over to AT&T Broadband, and they mentioned hey, there’s a lot of opportunity here. This team is growing. They’re investing in telephony. You might want to give it a shot. So I applied for a technician job, which was the first time I was applying for a technical job. I had a great interview. The person who hired me was Shaher Daoud, and he was so smart. I just thought man, I want to work with him. Right after that interview, I got a promotion at Qwest Wireless. So then, I had a decision to make in terms of do I take a chance and go to this technical role, or do I keep moving up in the leadership side at Qwest Wireless. I chose the technical path because I was passionate about that and because I wanted to become an expert at something technical.
SCHLEY: So, we were – we being the cable industry – we were offering wire-line telephone service at the time you joined AT&T?
MORAN: Yes, starting to. Yes. When AT&T Broadband started their telephony business, they were using AT&T core switches. So they didn’t invest in the switch, but they were leasing those switches from AT&T which I thought really great. But soon after I joined, Comcast acquired AT&T Broadband. When they did, the telephony side felt the impact of that acquisition with lots of excitement because Comcast was coming after that expertise in telephony with the plan of rolling out telephony in their footprint.
SCHLEY: Right, and here you are, here you guys are.
MORAN: And here we are. We worked out of the QC2 Building in the Denver Tech Center, Quebec Court 2, and that was a hub for telephony expertise for AT&T Broadband and then with the acquisition.
SCHLEY: The brain trust. Maybe for our audience, for the benefit of our audience, describe – it wasn’t always intuitive that the cable industry could make a play in telephony, right?
MORAN: Right, there were doubts, right? Because the traditional telephone companies had this infrastructure in place, right? So, for cable to be able to join that industry, that segment, they were going to need to invest big time. So, there were doubts about that and whether we’d be able to successfully rollout a triple play. When you compare expectations from customers back in the late ‘90s, early 2000s of what customers expect from their cable versus what they expect from their phone, they never want their phone to go down. But if the cable’s down, that’s okay for a little bit. So, I think that was part of the equation of how will this industry evolve from a service that’s not essential to a lifeline service where you’re calling 911, and I think that was part of the doubt behind it.
SCHLEY: How did we overcome that inbred consumer – this was the cable company. I don’t know if I want them in charge of my phone service. Like, what did we do to break that barrier?
MORAN: Well, we provided a great deal. Right? Now you can bundle. And let’s not forget that broadband’s happening as well, right? So now we’re not only providing their cable, but we’re providing this new service, broadband, and then you add the phone. So, it became a more attractive offer for them in terms of the bundle. I’m only paying one bill, and I get a discount, but also, I think over time, they got to experience that reliability. It wasn’t perfect day one. In the early stages, I remember struggling keeping up with the demand.
MORAN: For capacity in the network. So early on, the command, the mission was build it as big as you can as fast as you can. So that was pretty exciting in the early days of telephony.
SCHLEY: I remember early concerns – you mentioned 911 emergency calling – about powering the network in the event of a disruption to electrical power. Just one of many issues you had to wrestle with. But how did we resolve this?
MORAN: So yeah, you had a battery backup in the modem. And really that, over time, it just became a customer education issue where you’re letting them know, hey there’s a battery in your modem so in case of a power outage, you will have service for X number of hours.
SCHLEY: What was your role, what were you doing to support this mission of this product introduction?
MORAN: So early on when the telephony service started rolling out, my role – I worked in TRAC which was a tier-two, three repair center, and I was a supervisor at the time. I started as a technician, but by then, I had moved up to be a supervisor. Our role was single customer tickets. So my caller ID is not working, my call forwarding is not working. I can’t receive calls. I can’t make calls, et cetera. And that was my role – in addition, we also handled larger outages. Any service interruption or trend that we saw that was impacting multiple subscribers, then that became the work that we did in that team. Within that work, I gravitated towards the LMP expertise, which is local number portability.
SCHLEY: Oh, gosh.
MORAN: Yes, so to provide telephone service and make it seamless, you need to be really good at porting numbers, meaning moving the telephone number the customer had with the incumbent phone company, and porting it, moving it over to Comcast. Keep your same phone number. That was a pretty consistent process, but there were issues that would come up, and I became an expert with dealing with those LECs – local exchange carriers and being able to negotiate the release of those numbers because sometimes that would lead to then the customer would not be able to receive calls because the calls were going still to the LEC’s infrastructure instead of coming to the Comcast infrastructure. I got really good at that, and I think that led to me being promoted and once we were in the thick of these rollouts of telephony and different footprints, then I was presented with the opportunity to come over to engineering. The expertise that I had in local number portability played a key role in me getting that opportunity.
SCHLEY: I’m so curious about it. Were the LECs, the local exchange carriers, the old guard of the telephone users, were they – did they make it hard for you?
MORAN: Oh absolutely! They were not the friendliest, but because of the regulations around local number portability, they knew what they had to do. So it was a matter of knowing what they were supposed to be doing and then holding them accountable to do that.
SCHLEY: So, you probably had read that legislation all the way through where you were pretty familiar with the terms of the law?
MORAN: Right, I was pretty familiar with how the law applied to the process of moving that number from here to there.
SCHLEY: And when you say you were good at it? What did good mean? What skills did you bring to the task?
MORAN: There was a lot of negotiation, right? Not alienating the person on the other side of the phone call was key. I understand your role, this is my role, help me help this customer. Just appealing to people’s nature. I believe that people want to do the right thing. Always. Until proven otherwise. So I always appeal to that side of people.
SCHLEY: I love that.
MORAN: This customer, who is in pain. I think that worked pretty well for me, as well as just being firm, and just not taking no for an answer.
SCHLEY: Good life remedy.
MORAN: Just feeling confident that I was asking for what was within my right as a representative of Comcast.
SCHLEY: But how did that translate to you moving to the engineering part of the organization?
MORAN: So when we were launching this product, which for Comcast at that time was Comcast Digital Voice, CDV, we needed to grow these teams in engineering and operations, and there was an opening for a network connectivity manager. I read the description and it was very intimidating because it had a lot of the regulatory language in it as far as the interconnection agreements. I wasn’t sure that I could do it, so I reached out to the hiring manager and asked if I could have some time with him to better understand the expectations in that role. He agreed, and he met with me. He explained what the role was, and he asked me a little bit more about what I was doing and what my expertise was. I shared, I’m really good at local number portability, and he said perfect.
MORAN: Bingo. That’s the key. It’s the same concepts, but now instead of applying them to a single telephone number, you’re applying it to the network infrastructure. I was like oh, I can do that. I went through the whole interview process, and I got an offer. The decision point for me – I also had the opportunity to continue moving up within TRAC to be a manger potentially, and this network connectivity manager role did not have direct reports. So that was kind of the difference in the decision I had to make, but I decided that was the right thing for me. Even if I didn’t have direct reports, I felt like this is the role where I can become an expert at something technical.
SCHLEY: The kid in you who used to take apart radios, maybe that appealed to you a little bit, right?
MORAN: Yeah, absolutely. I took on the role. It was extremely difficult at first. The first six months were really tough because we’re under pressure. Grow it – built it as fast as you can as big as you can.
SCHLEY: Is that early 2000s?
MORAN: This is 2006 or so? By then, we had our primary markets launched with CDV, but they were – for example, a market like Seattle, we had maybe one or two switches. At the time, we needed six. So it was launch the next four as fast as you can. I was also given the option to work any division that I wanted. Comcast, at the time, was divided into, I believe, four or five different divisions, and I picked the West division. So that would include Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington. So that was exciting, and it was extremely difficult like I said because there are so many moving parts in launching telephone in a region: from the power in space in the head end to bring in a telephone switch and routers, and the switch that is associated with that footprint as well as the negotiation with the LEC because you have to interconnect with them in order for this to be a seamless transition for the customer.
SCHLEY: In order for me to call my aunt in Tulsa --
MORAN: You have to be able to connect with this --
SCHLEY: I don’t have an aunt in Tulsa.
MORAN: You have to connect them to what is called the PSTN, public switch telephone network. So learning all of that. Additionally, we were partnering with three or four key players on transport, so we needed to connect the big pipes into the PSTN, so negotiating OC-level circuits, OC-12, OC-48, with at the time, level three spreads --
SCHLEY: These are big fat pipes, right?
MORAN: Yeah, fat pipes to power that switch. To get you the interconnect that you need. So, it was a lot of pressure, but it was so exciting for me. Now I’m working with people in the local Comcast regions who know that infrastructure inside and out. They know the players around them. So, for example, when it was time to work in the Portland region, having key partners. Randy Love, Jeffrey Perkins who knew their network, knew their head end as well as they knew the LEC or LECs involved in the interconnect around them.
SCHLEY: Were these people in the engineering organization?
MORAN: Yes, they were in engineering, local engineering organization, and they became mentors. They really helped me with learning that side of the network. So with that support, I was able to move pretty quickly and be successful in launching these switches. But this was evolving very, very fast. We needed to grow our team, so I was able to be an individual contributor for a year and a half, maybe two years, before we had to be like hey we’re growing the team, do you want to lead a team? So, I said yes.
SCHLEY: So that management aspect did come to be.
MORAN: Yeah, it came back. After I had built this expertise with interconnects and then I was able to lead a team again with project managers, network planners, capacity engineers, design engineers. Over time, the strategy evolved. Because early on, we had these switches that had limited line capacities, and that’s why we needed to keep adding switches.
SCHLEY: From two to six or whatever.
MORAN: Right. Over time, we worked with those vendors to push them to say, this box should support more capacity. So, they were able to increase their capacity substantially. So, at one point, we shifted from grow the network to optimize the network. So, then we started cleaning that up. Then technology advances allowed us to do different things like moving some of our interconnects to IP-based interconnects. So that’s SIP. So, being able to move some of that traffic really helped us with cost as well. And then another flavor of interconnect was mixed band fiber meets which were these – the law allowed us to connect directly with the incumbent telephone company. The law stated you will meet midway between the two of you for free and now you have this big pipe coming into the LEC. So instead of paying Sprint or Level 3 or AT&T, now we have a free connection into the LEC. Now, the LECs did not play nice. They dragged their feet, but around the time we were rolling out SIP, we were also able to finally implement some of those interconnects. Sometimes it took us years of negotiation. Years. And what’s so crazy is that we were not even trying to get them to meet us halfway. We were at their doorstop. For example, here in Denver, by the Performing Arts Center, there’s a central --
SCHLEY: A central office?
MORAN: A central office, yeah. A pretty big one for at the time, Qwest, now CenturyLink, and I stayed on them for two years until they finally agreed. We had fiber at their doorstep, literally.
SCHLEY: There’s this whole arc I wanted to get into with you about leadership and career evolution, but before that, can you help our audience – when you talk about Comcast Digital Voice, explain a little about the technology it was delivering phone calls to my phone? Was it IP all the way, was it a hybrid network, how did you make it happen?
MORAN: Yeah, it was a hybrid network. The switches, they’re called soft switches, completely different technology from the 5V or DMS that we had with AT&T. Now we’re talking digital within this box, right? Then from there we had your routers to connect to the HFC network.
SCHLEY: My router was at the head end of the cable company?
MORAN: The head end, yes. So down from the switch at head end to the customer’s premise, we are on this digital path, right? And then the modem translated that to analog so that it works on the --
SCHLEY: Okay, so the modem that’s handling that operation is the same modem that’s delivering IP bits to my computer?
MORAN: The same one that’s delivering your broadband, yes. Now from the head end, from that soft switch out, now we’re dealing with the traditional technology so we can play with incumbents, the AT&Ts, the CenturyLink.
SCHLEY: This balancing act is intense.
MORAN: Constant, constant. A phone call would traverse digital analog on and off from end to end.
SCHLEY: And we all expect it to just work and be seamless.
MORAN: Right, right. That was the case early on. But as we introduce more SIP interconnects and later on, we migrated from the soft switches to IMS technology, IP multimedia subsystem, which has the promise of way more interactive multimedia products that you can layer on top. That was kind of the evolution.
SCHLEY: Like video-calling for instance?
MORAN: Yes, absolutely. Being able to add apps on top of your service. So quite the evolution. I spent 10 years in this engineering world, and it felt like I worked for three different companies because we kept evolving. Yes, transformation.
SCHLEY: Who were some of the technology partners you worked with that were making these soft switches and/or the progression of technology? Were they cable industry technology?
MORAN: We started with two: Cisco and Cedar Point.
SCHLEY: I remember Cedar Point.
MORAN: Early on, you know, the strategy for cable companies is don’t put all your eggs in one basket. So we played with both. They both had their pros and their cons. But eventually when we migrated to IMS, now you have more choice.
SCHLEY: Broader vendor base.
MORAN: Separate multiple layers in your stack. So, you can go with different vendors. So that was a much better setup.
SCHLEY: How did you keep up with the technology evolution while you’re running a very active, busy organization? Technology marches forward. How did you educate yourself or maintain currency?
MORAN: I always had the luxury of having experts available to me within the team. Very smart guys who were always gracious with their time and educating me to be able to continue to move the team forward while leading and negotiating with vendors, etc., so it was quite exciting to have just have access to those key, key resources within the team who are super bright and always willing to help.
SCHLEY: And you called them very smart guys. They often were guys, right?
SCHLEY: So, you’re a woman. You’re working in a field that is historically is 70, 80, 90% sometimes male. It’s a big subject, but how have you managed your career within an environment that I would not say is hostile to women, but hasn’t always been as welcoming to women as men, I think?
MORAN: Well, it was hard. For most of the time that I was in engineering, I was the only woman in the room in leadership. It was hard from the – we feel more comfortable and safer when we have people who look like us in a room, right? My experience was positive in that I felt like the guys in the room had my back, and they were supportive. But I didn’t feel like we were being intentional about changing the dynamics, right? We weren’t intentional about let’s go find --
SCHLEY: It just happened that you’re a woman and you’re good at what you do and where you are.
MORAN: Exactly, yes. That has evolved over time, but it did become pretty lonely at times with being the only woman in the room. So what I did, I built a bit of a board of directors around me of people. Men and women.
SCHLEY: Really? I love that concept.
MORAN: Yeah I heard about networking a lot early on in my career and you should network and go to events and network, and for many years that didn’t make sense to me. I wasn’t sure why I was exchanging business cards and it just felt very transactional.
SCHLEY: Clinking cocktails and nice to meet you.
MORAN: Yes, exactly. Eventually I connected the dots. Somebody, somewhere along the way said it’s not about collecting business cards. It’s about connecting with people and seeing what you have to offer that person and help them. And that spoke to me. I thought oh okay, I can do that. So, once I switched that thinking, I made so many relationships in the industry.
SCHLEY: Internally or across the industry?
MORAN: Both. So internally and externally, and one of the key places where I was able to do this was through Women in Cable Telecommunications, WICT. When I came to DU to get my master’s degree, I met a woman from Time-Warner Cable who was very involved with WICT, Keely Buchanan. Keely introduced me to WICT. I knew of WICT but I was very intimidated by it.
MORAN: I thought oof, this is where the bigwigs come. A lot of older women, older white women, and I just did not think I fit into that. Keely was persistent. She said you should come. Come to this event. I came to Tech it Out here at the Cable Center, and I kind of fell in love with it.
MORAN: From the perspective of oh, a room full of women. So that aspect felt safe. With Tech it Out, we were talking about what’s coming up in technology and here’s some pearls of wisdom and here’s some encouragement. Just connecting with different women at Comcast and outside of Comcast just felt right. I developed some deep friendships within that that allowed me then to have this board of directors. It was men and women that were helping me who I would go to them to consult with hey, I have this opportunity, should I take it, should I not? Or I’m struggling with this. Some of them were mentoring me, coaching me, and that allowed me to continue to thrive in this environment even though I was still the only woman in the room.
SCHLEY: I think there is so much utility in that board of directors concept that I want to drill into it a little bit more. How many directors does one need?
MORAN: Well, for me it was like I had this person that I would walk with every day. We’re still really good friends.
SCHLEY: The walking strategy. Yes.
MORAN: You get to sometimes vent, sometimes brainstorm any challenges. Then I had a guy who is still my friend, he pulled me aside to talk about finances. He said hey, you’re investing in your 401k right? And here’s what you have to do.
SCHLEY: Very helpful.
MORAN: He became like a big brother for me. Also, he taught me how to change my brakes and taught me how to do tile and a bunch of other things.
SCHLEY: Because why not, right?
MORAN: And then there were women who were in the same stage of their career as me, so we were comparing notes about our experience and that was very comforting to know I’m not the only one dealing with X. So, I don’t know if there’s a set number of people you need in it, but for me, it became about eight to 10 people that I was in conversation with at all times just kind of keeping them appraised, and then they would also run their things by me and I would provide my insight.
SCHLEY: It works both ways.
MORAN: Yeah, absolutely.
SCHLEY: I think you did ultimately become president of the Rocky Mountain Women in Telecommunications chapter?
MORAN: I did.
SCHLEY: Because you didn’t have enough to do, so.
MORAN: I wanted to – this organization was so pivotal to my development, to my career. I was able to go to several of their programs that were sponsored by their headquarters, so outside of Colorado, and they were super helpful to me, so I felt like I needed to pay it forward. The opportunity came and I said yes, and it was a great experience. Such an honor to lead a group of highly, highly motivated individuals. By then, we were – I was intentional about saying individuals because by then, we’re saying hey, for women to succeed, we need to bring men to the table. So, we were encouraging men to join WICT at that time. It’s great because those numbers are growing for WICT. It just became this passion project for me. People would make the comment of oh because you don’t have enough going on, I would say this is a passion project. This is a love job. If you don’t love WICT, it’s really hard to fit it in because it’s a big job right? You don’t want to let people down. It has a great reputation. It’s been very successful in helping women develop those networks, increase their skill set for leading, building confidence, and having that tribe of people that you can count on.
SCHLEY: I think in particular, this chapter, this Rocky Mountain chapter, seems to be revered within the organization. You guys have done an amazing job. You mentioned Tech it Out which looks at advanced technologies among other subjects. What do you see coming down the pipe no pun – okay maybe pun intended, in terms of voice-related technologies that this industry is involve in?
MORAN: I think really the sky’s the limit with anything voice-related. It doesn’t have to be the traditional telephone landline, right? We’re now in mobile.
SCHLEY: In a big way.
MORAN: In a huge way. You have the voice remote.
SCHLEY: Life changing.
MORAN: Life changing, couldn’t live without it. Now with all the devices at home that you see from Google, Amazon, voice-activated right? I think that’s a huge opportunity. We’re already in the home, right? So how do we leverage that to introduce another better product that can leverage voice?
SCHLEY: I’m interested to hear your opinion about humans – voice plays a different role than punching into keypads. What are exploiting or taking advantage of there when we use the voice to do things?
MORAN: Well voice is natural, right? It’s something that we learn early on. It doesn’t take a ton. It’s a lower barrier of entry for users. All you need to do is speak. I think it’s very natural, very organic, and that makes it more attractive. So, I think there’s huge opportunity in that space. I’m curious where the industry takes it.
SCHLEY: What happened with this category that was called, and perhaps still is, HD Voice? I remember hearing some demonstrations that was amazing. But it seems like that technology never quite found its place.
MORAN: It’s in place.
SCHLEY: Oh, it is in place?
MORAN: It’s in place.
SCHLEY: Am I using it now?
MORAN: We’re using it every day.
SCHLEY: Well, I take it all back then.
MORAN: Yes, and that’s kind of the beauty of it, right?
SCHLEY: Right, it’s found its way.
MORAN: It’s in our – what enabled that was going IP. Using IP-based protocols to connect conversations. So it’s there and it’s actually really very obvious to me when I take a call.
SCHLEY: You can tell the difference?
MORAN: Yes. I can.
SCHLEY: I probably do too. I just didn’t associate it with that particular technology. What else? What is this sort of yin-yang with wireless and wireline telephony has always been interesting, and it looks like wireless is clearly winning the war.
MORAN: Oh, most definitely.
MORAN: I think it’s just the simplicity of having a device and also having a device that’s personal, very personal. There’s an attachment to it. But I do also see the younger generations have this device but they hardly ever make or take a phone call.
SCHLEY: They’re not so into phone calls, right? I think that’s an interesting phenomenon.
MORAN: It is very interesting. I am curious as to how that will evolve over time and how we can make these voice products relevant again for these newer generations.
SCHLEY: Yeah, maybe it’s not a forever closed door. I don’t know. You’ve mentioned some people by name. I just want to make sure there’s an opportunity to articulate. Who would you say are two or three people who really were influential or instrumental in kind of propelling your life, not just your career, but your life forward?
MORAN: Many. Many influential people. I think two women that I want to acknowledge because they were role models are Charlotte Field and Cathy Kilstrom. I had the opportunity to work in Charlotte’s organization.
SCHLEY: With Comcast?
MORAN: Yes, AT&T Broadband and later Comcast where she was vice president in a technical organization. She was phenomenal in terms of her technical expertise and her ability to connect with people and lead people.
SCHLEY: High praise.
MORAN: Yes. She was phenomenal. She and I got to spend some time together. As I was finishing up my degree, I interviewed her for one of my papers, and that was just such a great opportunity for me to learn more about her and her path and the things that she went through to get to where she got. She’s somebody that I still talk to and admire. And then Cathy Kilstrom, even though I never worked for her, she was very active with Women in Cable and she had a very high position within Comcast here in Colorado and she was just a role model for poise and very strategic, did great things in very large organizations that she led. So, I always admire her from a distance. Additionally, there were men that were very supportive.
SCHLEY: Yeah, you’ve mentioned a few.
MORAN: Randy Burke who worked for Charlotte was very kind with his time, very much a mentor of mine. He, at one point, had some conversations with me about my future and the decisions that I was going to have to make in order to continue moving up. I thought that was amazing for him to pay attention to my path and spend time with me. That was phenomenal. Randy was a great leader in our organization to the point that my friend and I would say, when we were faced with a challenge, we would say, what would Randy do?
SCHLEY: I like it. Two questions I love to ask people because I think they’re instructive for people who are beginning their careers. In this industry, what sort of skill sets or attributes might be useful to launch into the cable telecommunications field? What do you look for when you think about hiring people or meeting people?
MORAN: Cable is still very relationship based. So being able to connect with people to work as a team. To communicate your ideas clearly. Flexibility. All of those things were things that I looked for when hiring engineers. Of course, I would talk about their technical expertise, but that was almost secondary because you can teach technology pretty easily, but teaching interpersonal skills is way more difficult. Those players who had both, those were the people I wanted on my team.
SCHLEY: My second question is sort of job and life management, you’ve attained an undergraduate and an advanced degree, you’ve been the president of a very active professional organization, and you’ve had as you said, a demanding series of jobs within AT&T Broadband and Comcast. What’s a tip or a hint to organizing your day that you have found to be successful for you?
MORAN: I think it’s a lot about being disciplined, number one. I lived by my calendar. If it wasn’t on my calendar, it didn’t happen. That was number one. But also know yourself and know what types of work charge you and what types of tasks drain you. Then try to balance it out. For me, I learned early on that people gave me energy. So I made it a point to spend time with people, to make room on my calendar to do the things that I loved --
SCHLEY: Very intentionally, right?
MORAN: Completely intentional. For me, mentoring was a key, key principle. I think it was very prevalent in the cable industry. Mentoring. So one of the things that I did because I ran with a very full plate is that I volunteered some of my time to creating and running two mentoring programs at Comcast. One was focused on frontline employees and helping them make connections with people in engineering, in operations, and different functions.
SCHLEY: People who maybe don’t always have exposure.
MORAN: Access. Yeah, absolutely. So that was one program that we built. It was called QC2Success. Started by Esther Fuentes and I was lucky enough that she tapped me and asked if I could help run it with her. And then later one, we started CLEAR which was a mentoring program for engineers. You would think engineers have it figured out. Well, they don’t. Sometimes they need help with the interpersonal skills, leadership skills, how you sell your ideas, and how do you patent your ideas, and we also built that program with Kristi De Tienne and again, I was lucky enough that Kristi tapped me and asked for my assistance with running it and both of those programs are still running at Comcast and that’s really what it’s all about. Find your passion and make sure that you’re spending time in it so that it fuels you to do the rest of the job.
SCHLEY: It’s really instructive advice. When you talk about the mentoring programs, how do they actually work? Are there meetings or events or Slack threads or what are the tools of the trade?
MORAN: So you would pair up a mentor with a mentee and then you would host events. We had a whole program which we talked about, one session we might focus on branding, the next session we might focus on resumes, we might focus on cross-functional relationships, public speaking. So all of those topics were we connected with experts within the company and sometimes outside the company to come and help instruct.
SCHLEY: I love that because of your heritage, you began on talking to customers or being engaged with customers and I think sometimes in other organizations, those are the lost employees. They don’t have a connection to the broader mothership. I think that’s a noble ambition.
MORAN: It’s about paying it forward, right? I was very fortunate to receive mentoring from people above me who saw something in me, so I thought this is the right thing to do. It’s fun and I’m passionate about it. There were some drawbacks to it. Being viewed as a party planner, but at the end of the day, I knew the impact of the work, and I stuck with it, and it was wonderful.
SCHLEY: Last subject I wanted to introduce because you mentioned it earlier is the intentionality of encouraging inclusion and diversity that is not – it’s fairly new, right, still in this industry and other organizations. What have been some of the steps you’ve seen that are successful in broadening not just our workplace composition, but our views about this pastiche of humanity that can contribute to what we all do?
MORAN: I think some of the impactful things that I saw at Comcast were ERGs, implementing Employee Resource Groups. So these are affinity groups where you organize events for specific groups like VetNet for Veterans or the Women’s Network for women or BEN for Black employees, etc. I think that was such a wonderful move in that it really helped people find similar people within the company and through that, learn about other areas of the business.
SCHLEY: Right, who might not otherwise be hip to that.
MORAN: Exactly, also it really did help people with feeling more comfortable just showing up as themselves at work.
SCHLEY: You have so many great quotes. That’s a great line. Here’s kind of a big question so answer it in any way that you’re comfortable. When you look back on your career starting with Qwest Wireless and through the engineering ranks of this modernized telephony category, what are you most proud of, would you say?
MORAN: You know I could say the network that we built because that was amazing. Looking back, we went from nothing to this wonderful voice network, but I think people and my impact on people is what I’m most proud of. Hearing from employees who worked with me, who I supported through difficult situations in their professional life as well as their personal life, that is what really I’m most proud of. I got to help people with decisions about their next job. I help prepare for that next job, for that interview. I helped people prepare for retirement, and making that big decision at the end of their careers, and that is really what matters at the end of the day is: was I there for my people? Was I supportive? Was I empathetic? Was I kind and did I help people by coaching, mentoring, providing feedback? That really is what I’m most proud of.
SCHLEY: I mean, imagine if you could map it out and you could see all these tentacles that you’ve spawned. Somebody went to college because of you. I don’t even know if you know who it is, but you know what I’m saying?
MORAN: Yes, I actually received that email a couple months ago saying thank you for pushing me, I have straight A’s and it’s just fabulous.
SCHLEY: I love it.
MORAN: Thank you.
SCHLEY: The conversation that we’ve had is so interesting because it’s sort of meshed ideas about personal growth and relationships with human beings with this amazing chronology of the telephone trade in cable which has been, by itself, an amazing story. To spend an hour with Kukis Moran and talk about this journey has been our privilege. Thank you so much for joining us this morning.
MORAN: Thank you, I appreciate it.
SCHLEY: Thank you for watching. Hope you’ve learned some things for the Cable Center and its Hauser Oral History Series. I’m Stewart Schley. We’ll see you again. Thank you.
END OF INTERVIEW