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Tech Update

Entertainment & hospitality: fine fields for diverse techies

These industries are increasingly dependent on technology for everything from making movies to booking hotel rooms

Complex support is the lifeblood of entertainment as it continues to grow mega-technical mega-fast

Resume Drop Box

IT pro Brian Wells specializes in security and virus protection for Hilton Hotels, in the U.S. and the international Hilton Group.

Laurie Baird.

Laurie Baird prospects for new technologies Turner Broadcasting's platform R&D; can use.

The entertainment and hospitality industries can be excellent career bets for IT pros and engineers. These areas may seem a bit far-out at first, but think about it. A company in show biz, media or hospitality needs tech support as much as any other company. Sometimes it needs even more. And many companies in these industries are doing well, and keeping their tech employees very busy indeed.

Entertainment in particular is growing at a healthy clip. According to Global Entertainment and Media Outlook: 2005-2009, a 2005 report by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, U.S. revenues for these companies will rise from $525 billion in 2004 to $690 billion in 2009.

Other findings from the report, as detailed in The Hollywood Reporter: The fastest growing entertainment segments involve the Internet and video games. Greater broadband access will create new markets for filmed entertainment. Music and games access via mobile phone is growing rapidly.

Digital convergence is the entertainment mega-trend. That means consumers can create their own media and interact with other consumer/creators, as well as choosing from an unlimited supply of traditional entertainment content.

Key technical skills in short supply
Clearly the entertainment and hospitality fields are increasingly dependent on technology for everything from making movies to booking hotel rooms. And employers are definitely in the market for technical workers.

"We have a shortage of key technical skills in the SAP area," says Rayleen Cudworth, VP of IS at gaming system maker IGT (formerly International Game Technology). "Within SAP there is a data-warehousing infrastructure product, and we've been looking for two specialists in that field for months. It's a very tough skill set to find out there."

Nice work to be in
Techies who get into these fields tend to enjoy them immensely. "People understand what you're doing," says Laurie Dean Baird, director of technology partnerships in the platform R&D organization at Turner Broadcasting Systems. "It's a lot easier to say, 'Do you know TNT? Have you heard of CNN?' instead of trying to discuss silicon chip processing. It's a nice industry to talk about on the social side."

"You can relate to the end consumers because you're one of them," says Ahmad Ouri, CTO of Technicolor. "You also meet a lot of people on the job who are extremely interesting and creative, and you can learn from them."

Patton Conner, VP for guest services systems at Marriott International, feels the same way. "The thing that really excites me is that you can identify with your product. You stay at hotels yourself. You know what a guest wants because you are one."

Sandy Hooper, ops VP for Disney ABC Media Networks HR in New York City, says the entertainment industry can be a dream job. "It's very satisfying and a lot of fun to see how it all comes together and also play a part in it."

Prime time for involvement
Entertainment is a super-stimulating business from a strictly technical perspective. "There's a lot of exciting things going on. Technology is really explosive right now," says Turner's Baird.

Five years ago there were only a few ways of getting broadcast information to a consumer: cable companies, over the air and satellite. Now there's a huge range of ways to capture and deliver digital content, from HDTV all the way down to what you and your kids are getting via iPod and cell phone, she notes. "For a technologist, it's a really fun time to be involved."

Let's look into the careers of some diverse techies who are involved in entertainment and hospitality, and see what they're making of their primetime/fun-time opportunities.

Michael Amie: computer engineering VP at MGM Mirage

Michael Amie.

Michael Amie is VP of computer engineering at MGM Mirage (Las Vegas, NV). He's responsible for support of 13,000 desktops, POS equipment, printers, time clocks and "basically anything that touches our network," he says. Eighty-eight folks who report to him take care of these duties for four different hotel management systems: player tracking, retail, food and beverage and finance. They are responsible for more than 180 apps running at ten major MGM Mirage properties in Vegas.

Amie got his IT training at DeVry Institute of Technology and joined MGM Mirage in 1985. He was responsible for the single computer system Mirage Resorts Inc had at the time. "It was a fault-tolerant Tandem NonStop processing system that took care of all the major mission-critical applications," he recalls. It even made hotel-room reservations and tracked high-rollers for the Golden Nugget casino in downtown Vegas.

Later Amie became a business analyst, doing QA work for the development department. He moved on to become ops supervisor for the Mirage Hotel, then executive director of computer engineering, and now he's a VP.

A particular challenge in hotel/casinos is the need to be up and running 24/7. "That's why we have a redundant network. With computers, there are times when you definitely have to take them down for preventive maintenance," he notes. "It's challenging to make sure you have the people in place to take care of server reboots and internal repairs, not only during the day but the swing and graveyard shifts as well. Unless I'm on vacation I'm constantly on call."

"Get certified" is his advice to those who would like to follow his career path. "Microsoft application or A+ certification are ways to get started in the PC arena. Read constantly, stay on top of technology changes and surf the Net. The knowledge is out there."

Rayleen Cudworth: VP of IS for IGT

Rayleen Cudworth.

"My responsibilities cover global support for our entire IT infrastructure," says Rayleen Cudworth, VP of IS for IGT (Reno, NV). IGT is a leading supplier of microprocessor-based gaming devices, including video poker machines and slots.

Since the company's machines are in demand everywhere gaming is legal, Cudworth and her team support offices in Russia, South Africa, Latin America, Australia, Japan, China, the UK and Canada as well as the U.S.

In addition to 120 Reno staffers, "I have six people in Australia right now doing SAP implementation," Cudworth notes. Besides that flying team, each of the bigger offices has four IT people on permanent duty. Others have two IT people or, in one case, "a part-time IT guy."

Cudworth has a dual degree in IS and accounting from the University of Nevada. She joined IGT twenty years ago as a programmer/analyst.

She worked her way up "on the IT side of the development organization," except for a two-year cross-functional jump into IGT's sales group, where she served as director of order administration. She returned to IT in 2001 when the company fully deployed SAP, and became VP three years ago.

"When I came out of school, it was very important to have systems analysis and design and programming skills," she says. Certifications were also a big deal. "Today the real need is for skills in project management, understanding the business, and having a much broader perspective than just the technical focus.

"As you progress as a leader, the relationships you build and the way you work with people are really the keys to success."

Turner's Laurie Baird directs tech partnerships in platform R&D
Laurie Baird.

Laurie Baird.

Laurie Baird is director of technology partnerships in the platform R&D organization of Turner Broadcasting System, Inc (Atlanta, GA). She's a "business interface with the technologists and Turner's business units," she says. She prospects for exciting new technologies and promotes them within the company when she finds them.

Baird has a BS in physics and a BA in sociology as well as an MS in management, the equivalent of an MBA, from MIT's Sloan School of Management. This means she can talk the language, whether she's approaching tech experts or business managers. She also visits university research labs to see if they're of interest to Turner.

She's been with Turner since 2004. Before that she helped BellSouth launch its DSL broadband service, did environmental monitoring and worked as a consultant and think-tank member. "I love new technology and I've gravitated toward it," she says. "Communications is a lot more fun than some of the other industries I've been in."

Baird is active in Women in Cable Telecommunications (WICT), which she joined when she started at Turner. "I'm seeing a ton of very strong women from Turner, the Weather Channel and Cox Communications, among others," she says. "It's a very rich group, very collegial and supportive. Atlanta is really a hotbed for communications and a good place to be if you're a woman in technology.

"Initiative is very important in emerging technology areas," Baird reflects. "You really need to focus and pick a path. There's some serendipity and sweat equity that comes along with finding the right opportunity."

Hilton's Brian Wells works in hotel systems infrastructure

Brian Wells.

Brian Wells, a Memphis, TN-based computer systems engineer for Hilton Hotels Corp, describes himself as an "IT Jack of all trades." He works in Hilton's hotel systems infrastructure group, which configures servers and work stations throughout the Hilton chain.

His big job recently got bigger, as the U.S.-based Hilton acquired Hilton Group, its international counterpart. "Now we have to take into account different languages, different currencies and different tax laws in each country. It's pretty busy around here!" Wells says with a laugh.

He works on a team of thirteen. Wells himself specializes in security and anti-virus protection, while other members focus on databases, transactions, writing code and working on the company's proprietary OnQ technology. OnQ improves guest recognition at check-in and provides better, more efficient service.

Wells joined Hilton three years ago, right out of college. He interned at Hilton while earning his BSCS at Xavier University (New Orleans, LA).

He likes the hospitality industry. "Our company culture is to be friendly and help people out. And we're using new technologies all the time, so it's never boring."

In fact, it's pretty complicated. "Behind the scenes, your reservation is delivered to the hotel where people at the front desk need immediate access to it. Response times have to be instantaneous. The key card you use to get into your room is generated at check-in. When you purchase a movie on your TV it has to be posted automatically. You don't know about all this technology when you're a hotel guest."

Ahmad Ouri is head of technology at Technicolor

Ahmad Ouri.

"My role is focused on interaction with clients, mainly the studios," says Ahmad Ouri, chief technology officer for the Camarillo, CA Technicolor division of Thomson SA. The studios he works with are the big, household-name Hollywood film factories, and his job involves "understanding what issues are evolving in their world, and translating them into solutions or services we can offer," he explains.

For example, film studios today are increasingly concerned about piracy, especially illegal copying of DVDs and the looming threat of illegal downloads from the Internet.

"We look at the various release windows and provide solutions and services to protect that content if need be," he says. "What I do day to day ranges from dealing with older technologies like film, to digital cinema, to high-def and Blue Ray, the new emerging DVD format. Its pretty diverse and it's not the same on any given day."

Ouri oversees technology for all of Technicolor's business units: entertainment services, the company's ninety-year-old film and film distribution business; content services, which covers digital production, post-production and more; network services like corporate and retail network management; and broadcast layout services for other companies.

He began at Technicolor as VP of advanced technology, went on to CTO and launched the company's digital cinema business before taking on his current job. Before Technicolor he worked for Phillips, at one point heading up a business unit that dealt with electronic content distribution over the Internet.

Born in Beirut, Lebanon, Ouri came to the U.S. to attend the University of Utah. He earned BS degrees in math and EE, an MS in instrumentation and an MBA.

"The sense of ambition and competitiveness is in the air here in the U.S.," he notes.

"One thing that's been key for me is being surrounded with the right mentors and bosses. You also have to love what you do, and that's not hard in entertainment. I've known people who gave up higher paying jobs to get into the business."

At Scripps Networks, Sandy Sexton is IT VP and more

Sandy Sexton.

Sandy Sexton says her job as VP for IT business and quality services at Scripps Networks (Knoxville, TN) is "kind of a mixed bag." Her primary responsibility is for financial and revenue apps on the IT side. She oversees a group of project managers who deal with the IT aspects of the company's financials and do business analysis, and another group in QA who test software and work on process improvement.

Sexton wasn't always in show biz. She spent nine years at the Tennessee Valley Authority where she "fell in love" with software development methodology. While earning her BSCS at the University of Tennessee she worked for the Knoxville, TN police department. She also did contract work before joining Scripps Networks about six years ago as a systems analyst.

She was moved into her current job last February, partly because she'd made it clear this was the kind of job she wanted.

"If you just sit back and hope somebody is going to notice you someday, that's not really going to work," she declares.

Sandy Hooper is an ops VP for HR at Disney ABC Media Networks

Sandy Hooper.

Sandy Hooper.

As VP of ops in New York City, Sandy Hooper oversees HR IS for the Disney ABC TV group, ABC-owned TV station and ABC radio. The work includes maintaining data integrity for SAP and peripheral HR systems, and identifying, prioritizing and implementing system enhancements.

Hooper's team of eighteen is also responsible for external government and union reporting, internal management reporting and HR policy and compliance. "I'm also the HR rep for our crisis management team, and on the board of our largest union pension fund," she notes.

Her SAP familiarity comes "entirely from on-the-job training," she says. She has a degree in business from West Virginia Wesleyan College and a masters in accounting from Virginia Tech, and worked for PriceWaterhouse for three years.

Disney was one of her clients there. She spent several interesting months of each year auditing Walt Disney World, "which gave me an opportunity to see the company inside and out."

She joined the company in 1988, first as an accounting manager for Euro Disney and later as finance manager for labor-related initiatives and director of workforce planning for Disney Cruise Line. She moved to the media segment about three years ago.

"All my roles could be described as very business-oriented technology," she says. "I know a high degree of technology acumen is essential, but I enjoy the business and people aspects of what I do as well as the technical aspect.

"I think a basic knowledge and appreciation of technology are essential in any field."

Sandra Gonzalez: reliability manager at Disneyland Resorts

Sandra Gonzalez.

For Sandra Gonzales, working in Disney's Magic Kingdom is a childhood dream come true. As a reliability manager for Disneyland (Anaheim, CA), she coordinates upkeep on all the buildings and facades, including mill-shop work and dealing with concrete, fiberglass and paint.

Her department, known as the Staff Shop, employs 175 people. It is also involved in new construction at the Kingdom, as well as Disney's adjacent California Adventure and Disneyland Resort.

Gonzales has been in her position for only a few months, but she came with important related experience. "I did aircraft maintenance on the B-52s when I was in the military," she says. "It's the same logistical concept: you have to get a broad technical feel for whatever you're working in.

"In the military I had to learn about everything from electronic countermeasures to hydraulics. Here I have specialists to go to, but you have to have the general scope to know who to contact."

Between the military and the Magic Kingdom, Gonzalez spent a year and a half at Frito-Lay. "That's another great company to work for," she says. "But there's a little more of 'creating the magic' here. You can see it on little kids' faces, and it's rewarding to know that you're part of it.

"It's amazing what goes on behind the scenes to keep the park in show quality," she says. "I have childhood memories of coming here with my family, but who ever thought how technical Disney could be!"

Marriott's Patton Conner holds down two IT VP jobs

Patton Conner.

Patton Conner has two jobs, VP for guest services systems at Marriott International (Washington, DC), and regional VP for information resources for Marriott's hotels in Canada. The jobs are complimentary, she explains, "But they tend to involve entirely different skill sets and entirely different responsibilities and accountabilities on a day-to-day basis.

"For example, in one role I'm developing global property management systems for our hotels. In the other I'm responsible for how those apps run in the Canadian properties."

She joined Marriot eleven years ago for the first implementation of an information warehouse. "After that I did one of our first intranets, and then I took over development teams and ran projects. It all involved reporting up through different chains of command, going sideways and broadening my skills."

Conner has her BSCS from the University of Virginia School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

"My role has changed over time," she says. "Today, I'm in the position of having a lot of technical people reporting to me. Yet I'm also interfacing and talking to a lot of higher-up people who need high-level summaries rather than details.

"This job needs communication skills, translation skills, patience and listening: all the skills of a manager."

Li Yu Lo is an MIS pro at Intercontinental Hotels

Li Yu Lo.

Li Yu Lo, senior software engineer, supports all the revenue channels for Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG, Atlanta, GA). "That includes revenue management, online systems and anything that contributes to the revenue stream," she says. The programs are proprietary, and Lo has to make sure they're running 24/7, 365 days a year.

The company has several dozen IT departments, and hundreds of IT employees around the world. "I talk to every team for support purposes," Lo reports. "I maintain code and do code walk-throughs, making sure they are all set up with acceptable standards and talk compliancy."

Lo has been with IHG IT for five years, and started her current job three years ago. "Before, I was a programmer/analyst," she says. "I was at the beginning of the development life cycle. Now I'm transitioning toward the end of it, the monitoring and feedback portion."

Lo grew up in S�o Paulo, Brazil, the child of Taiwanese parents. She came to the U.S. to attend the University of Georgia, where she earned a BS in MIS. She recently completed an MBA there.

IHG offered her a work visa when she finished college and sponsored her green card. "They've really helped me become an American citizen through this process," she says.

The hospitality industry, Lo thinks, is "a lot of fun. We're customer-service oriented, and there's a lot of satisfaction in helping a hotel increase revenue. Using technology to meet business goals is very satisfying."


Michael Gates is a writer and editor in Jersey City, NJ.

Check the latest openings at these diversity-minded companies.

Company and location Business area
Disney ABC Media Networks HR
(Burbank, CA)
Television, radio, cable, syndication, distribution and publishing
Disneyland Resorts
(Anaheim, CA)
Theme parks
(Bristol, CT)
Multimedia sports entertainment
Hilton Hotels Corp
(Beverly Hills, CA; Memphis, TN) enet.hilton.com/jobs
Hospitality technology solutions, customer support, network ops for hotels and resorts in eighty countries
Intercontinental Hotels Group
(Atlanta, GA)
(Reno, NV)
Slot machines, video gaming, player tracking and accounting systems
Marriott International, Inc
(Washington, DC)
MGM Mirage
(Las Vegas, NV)
Hotels, casinos, gaming
Nielsen Media Research
(New York, NY)
Television information services
Scripps Networks, Inc
(Knoxville, TN)
Lifestyle cable television networks
Technicolor Inc
(Camarillo, CA)
Film processing, special effects, sound services, DVD and CD replication and distribution,electronic distribution, digital cinema
Time Warner Cable
(Charlotte, NC)
Video, high speed data and phone services
Turner Broadcasting System, Inc
(Atlanta, GA)
Cable television networks

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