It would not be harsh to say that Aaron Ripley, director of quality and strategy at Cox Communications and the SCTE‘s Young Engineer of the Year, is a "winer." In fact, while probably preferring the term "vintner," Ripley might go along with the label.

The SCTE’s annual award, presented at last week’s Conference on Emerging Technologies in Houston, recognizes an engineering professional under age 35 who has demonstrated outstanding achievement within industry. Ripley received $1,000 and an all-expense-paid trip to ET.

Debbie Simmons, executive director of network operations with Cox, nominated Ripley, who achieved Six Sigma Black Belt certification while working at General Electric, for "educating the network operations team on key improvement skills and creating partnerships with our internal customers, the markets, (and) where our end customers are served."

Commonly linked with the ambitious manufacturing goal of 3.4 defects per million opportunities (DPMO), Six Sigma has up until now only rarely made its way into cable technology discussions. (See Tom McCarthy’s article,"Automation on a Thin Dime" from last May for one example.) But it’s an important part of what Ripley has achieved at Cox.

"Aaron personally designed a five-day Six Sigma class that was focused on making the tools real to our business (and) instructed attendees on the fundamental elements of measurements, statistical analysis, process design, customer-based metrics and more," noted Simmons.

Ripley, 31, who also has developed the Unified Network Operations (UNO) program for Cox, which is bringing each market in Cox onto a common ticketing platform with common handling procedures for network operations, used "winemaking as a metaphor for my life" in his acceptance speech.

Life, like winemaking, he said, requires a balance between art and service – between the technical aspects of selecting the right ingredients and the art of correctly balancing the ingredients. The best winemakers, he said, are "always allowing the wine to be a unique expression" of that balance between tasteful and technically correct.

"For a moment at Cox, we found that balance," Ripley said.

And in Ripley, with his metaphorical sophistication and impressive quality control expertise, the industry has yet another technical figure who flies in the face of the less attractive stereotype of cable’s technical workforce.

It is, said John Clark, president/CEO of SCTE, in presenting the award, "comforting to know that the next generation will have us in good hands in both technology and wine."

Jim Barthold and Jonathan Tombes

The Daily

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