For years she was a stranger in a strange land-the one who looked, sounded and acted a little different than everyone else in the room. As one of the first female engineers in cable, Sonia Khademi spent the early part of her career as the one in the picture not quite like everyone else. Back in 1983, when she first joined Data Transmission Systems as a design engineer, she heard the jokes, felt the half-stares, and sensed the tacit air of superiority on the part of some male colleagues. She was, after all, a woman – and not just any woman, but an Iranian woman. And just to jog your memory, in 1983 this country was still licking the wounds suffered when the U.S. Embassy in Tehran was taken hostage. And if that weren’t bad enough, there was Sonia, an ambitious young woman in the most male-dominated division of an utterly most male-dominated industry. You know the story: for decades, cable was an old white boys’ network; conceived, constructed and, for the most part, owned by engineers – most of whom were born with all of the three major requirements for admission into the old white boy club. Of course, this wasn’t by design or out of malicious intent. That’s just the way things worked out. This was the engineers’ industry. Long before there were marketing, public relations and finance people, there were engineers. Even as cable matured and began to look and act like a lot of other businesses, the engineers somehow maintained their unique sense of fraternity. And any woman could enter, but if she did she’d better be someone who was not only strong willed, but talented beyond dispute. Someone like Sonia Khademi. Of course, Sonia didn’t last long in her first cable go-round, joining Cisco to develop IP products. "I just thought cable was too low-tech at the time," she told me matter-of- factly. In 1996, with interactive television percolating, Sonia left Cisco, founded a software company, CableSoft, and after cutting deals with the five largest MSOs, sold to OpenTV. She then co-founded Sumatus, which specialized in IP products, including VoIP. Now she’s back as CEO of yet another start up, Proxilliant. Sonia’s new company has developed a technology that limits ingress (or noise) on the return path of a two-way network – a critical consideration for any MSO offering VoIP. And much to Sonia’s delight, she’s found cable this time around to be an industry that in some ways is radically different, but in others, refreshingly unchanged. No longer a low tech industry, she says cable’s infrastructure is one of its major assets ("Cable is uniquely positioned, especially with respect to VoIP"). She’s also been delighted to find that cable is much the same extended family she’d known it to be. ("When I went to SCTE last month I was amazed by the fact that there were people there who knew me from my first job in cable over 20 years ago"). She also said that it was doing her due diligence, that she really discovered how well positioned cable is for tapping into a mother lode of new revenue. ("I started doing research on VoIP in cable, and I soon realized that the number represented just the tip of the iceberg.") Before I hung up I asked Sonia if that’s why she returned to cable after so many years. Partly, she said, but the bigger reason was cable’s backbone. "It’s amazing. We don’t know what will be in that pipe five years from now. We can speculate, we could say IPTV or videoconferencing, but the fact is we don’t know. That’s the beauty of cable. It’s flexibility. It can stretch and do a really good job accommodating just about any new technology that comes down the path."

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