Vicki Marts’ career in cable went from an inauspicious beginning to an auspicious perch within the industry. Along the way she coupled the work ethic and mechanical skills that were forged on the small farm where she grew up with her determination and intelligence to become this year’s Women in Technology award recipient. There are several factors that make Marts, 47, different from past Women in Technology Award winners. “I’m very honored to be chosen for this award,” she says. “In the past, recipients of this award were vice presidents and corporate executives; I’m a middle manger working in the field. I was truly shocked (on winning the award), and I think it reflects how lucky I am to be surrounded by such highly motivated people.” From installer to video director Marts’ 21-year career in cable has literally been a climb up from poles during her days as an installer to her current position as director, video engineering, for Cox Communications, the latter of which is a position that covers the states of Kansas and Arkansas. She made stops along the way as a service technician, system technician, technical supervisor, digital services supervisor and master telecommunications center manger. “What I really like about Vicki, and what I think is an inspiration to the women in the industry, is that she worked her way up through the ranks,” says Yvette Gordon-Kanouff, who is SeaChange International’s vice president of strategic planning, chairman of the SCTE Board of Directors and the 1997 Women in Technology recipient. “She’s a great example of (a woman) entering into a male-dominated industry and working your way up. She climbed poles, did installations and worked her way up to being respected industry-wide.” For Marts, gender was never an issue, unless it was finding the right fit for clothes when she first started working in 1985 for Air Capital Cablevision in Wichita, KS. “Probably the biggest challenge in the beginning was finding warm clothes that fit a female,” says Marts, who answered a want ad for an installer in a local paper after moving to Wichita in 1984 with her husband, Jeff Marts. “Most of the linesmen gear at that time was made for men, so it was hard to find boots, climbing gear and warm gear for these cold Kansas winters.” Marts grew up on a small farm in Arkansas as the only girl between an older and younger brother. Farm life necessitated developing hands-on skills for fixing things that would later serve her well in her job as an installer. “It looked like a stable job, and I wanted something that I could use my mechanical skills at,” she says. “I would be on my own working outside, and that really attracted me to the job.” Marts says she wasn’t the first female cable installer at Air Capital, “but I was the one who probably hung in there the longest.” “There weren’t really many cable installers then,” she says. “When I knocked on the door, most people were surprised to see a female, but they were very, very accommodating.” Marts learned her job by working with another installer, and while she says it might have been a little more challenging for her than a male in her position, she proved herself in short order. “Most of all, it was proving that I knew my stuff, that I was just as capable doing the job as they were, and sticking to my guns,” she says.
“I could climb a pole. I didn’t cry when it got cold. It was really fun to prove to people that I knew what I was doing.”
Long nights in Tornado Alley Living in “Tornado Alley” added to Marts’ list of challenges in the early days, and she credits her husband for supporting her during the long, freezing nights of service calls. She also gives credit to her parents, Theo and Wilma Kirkland, for instilling a strong work ethic in her. Percy Kirk, vice president and region manager in Nebraska for Cox, was Marts’ boss in those early days at Air Capital. Kirk says from the very beginning Marts stood out and that she was “very determined, very smart and very hard-working.” “There weren’t a lot of women at the time who wanted to go into some of these field roles because of the work, the hours, the weather and things like that,” he says. “Vicki jumped right in and very quickly leapfrogged past many other people because of how hard-working, smart and aggressive she was. If technicians had issues, they would go to Vicki because she could solve them. She would pitch in and do whatever it took.” Kimberly Edmunds, Cox’s regional vice president and general manager in Kansas, says coming up through the ranks helps Marts identify with her current team members at every level because “she’s walked in those shoes.” “To come up through the ranks like this, to get this kind of position (at Cox), and then to win this award is nothing short of phenomenal,” Edmunds says. “We have a pretty complex network here because we’re kind of spread out over Kansas and Arkansas, and Vicki is charge of video engineering for the area. She keeps things in excellent service and an excellent network in terms of management.” Marts says she’s never thought of any of her jobs in cable in terms of being a woman, but rather in terms of how do to the job at hand. “Drawing the line between ‘this is a male job’ and ‘this is a female job’ is just not there with her,” Gordon-Kanouff says. “You can say to Vicki, ‘You know, you’re just one of the guys,’ and that’s a compliment to her.” Mentors and role models Aside of the positive influences from her parents and husband, Marts credits Kirk with helping her learn leadership skills and enhancing her technical abilities. Richard Abraham, a recently retired Cox employee, introduced Marts to the world of headends and RF engineering, while her current Cox supervisor, Nicholas DiPonzio, has helped her understand the business side of cable. Marts says Cox helped introduce her to community projects, including the Big Brother/Big Sister organization, where she is currently a Big Sister to a 14-year old girl. “I try to help her understand that she can do whatever she wants to do,” Marts says. Career accomplishments Marts was recently elected to her third term as Region 5 Director on the SCTE Board of Directors, where she also serves as Western Vice Chair, putting her in one of the Board’s two second-in-command spots. (Region 12 Director Bob Foote serves as Eastern Vice Chair.) She joined the SCTE’s Wheat State Chapter in 1989 and has been a member of her chapter’s board for the past eight years, two of which she served as chapter president. She was first woman to certify in the SCTE’s Broadband Certified Technician program and is in CableWorld ’s list of Top 100 Most Influential Women in Cable. She is also a member of Women in Cable Telecommunications. Marts has earned a management certificate from the Barton School of Business at Wichita State University. Other coursework has included laser/fiber-optic technology at Butler Community College and basic electronics at the Wichita Area Vocational/Technical School. Marts says working for Cox is also one of her accomplishments after working for four smaller companies over the years. She’s reported to the same building in Wichita since the first day of work 21 years ago. When she’s not putting in long hours at Cox, Marts and her husband enjoy fishing, camping with their horses and riding four-wheelers, as well as spending time with two dogs, various barn cats and other farm critters, but maybe not the skunk that sprayed one of the dogs recently. Marts credits the SCTE with playing a large role in her successful career, and she’s made sure she’s given back to the organization that has helped her. “She’s well-respected, not only within Kansas/Arkansas and Cox, but within the industry,” Edmunds says. “She’s just made an impact across the board in her area, and we’re very proud of her.” Marts’ many attributes and accomplishments made her a deserving winner of this year’s Women in Technology Award, but at a very basic level, she has one other attribute that shines through. “Not only is she a consummate professional and brilliant woman, she’s also a good person, too,” Edmunds says. “She’s just a good soul as well. To have that combination of traits is unique and wonderful.” Mike Robuck is associate editor of Communications Technology . Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Women in Technology Award is presented in partnership with the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers, Women in Cable and Telecommunications and Communications Technology. CommScope sponsors the 2006 Women in Technology Award. Past winners are: 2005: Charlotte Field SVP, national communications engineering and operations, Comcast Cabl e 2004: Nomi Bergman EVP, strategy and development, Advance Newhouse Communications 2003: Marci AndersonVP, business development, Cox Communications 2002: Christy Martinchief architect, Canal+ Technologies 2001: Sabrina Calhoun director of operations engineering, Cox Communications, Western Division 2000: Margaret Gaillard director of technical operations, AT&T Broadband 1999: Sally Kinsmanprogram manager, transmission network systems, General Instrument 1998: Sheri Stinchcomb VP, new product operations, Cox Communications 1997: Yvette Gordon director of interactive technologies, SeaChange International 1996: Pam Nobles technical training curriculum developer, Jones Intercable 1995: Pam Arment director of broadband engineering, TCI Note: Names, titles, and companies are as they were at the time of the award.
Marts in Other’s Words
“She’s a great example of (a woman) entering into a male-dominated industry and working your way up. She climbed poles, did installations and worked her way up to being respected industry-wide.” Yvette Gordon-Kanouff, SeaChange International “Vicki jumped right in and very quickly leapfrogged past many other people because of how hard-working, smart and aggressive she was. If technicians had issues, they would go to Vicki because she could solve them.” Percy Kirk, Cox Communications “Not only is she a consummate professional and brilliant woman, she’s also a good person, too. She’s just a good soul, as well. To have that combination of traits is unique and wonderful.”Kimberly Edmunds, Cox Communications
- Joined Air Capital Cablevision, 1985
- First woman certified in SCTE BCT
- Master Telecommunications Center Manager, Cox Communications, 2000
- SCTE BCE certified, 2002
- Elected SCTE Region 5 Director, SCTE Board, 2002-current)
- Director, Video Engineering, Cox Communications, 2004-current
- Elected SCTE Board Secretary, 2003; Western Vice Chair, 2005