By Libby Slate
Special to TelevisionWeek
When Leslie Ellis was majoring in business and minoring in computer science at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania, her fellow students teased her, she said, because she was so bad at writing computer code.
In the years since, Ms. Ellis has managed to carve out a different sort of technical writing niche: interpreting the complex concepts of cable television, interactive television and broadband for nonscientific-minded readers.
“I really like taking something like MQAM [multilevel quadrature amplitude modulation, used for modems] and explaining, ‘Why does that matter? Why is it something relevant?’ to someone who has much less of a natural interest in technology,” said Ms. Ellis, whose upbeat manner translates into a dynamic writing style.
Particularly relevant topics these days include the coming transition to all-digital networks, interactive TV, and cable operators’ efforts to entice subscribers with newly offered voice services.
Based in Denver, Ms. Ellis contributes technology analysis to Communications Engineering & Design magazine, provides research to Bear Stearns & Co., writes a biweekly column for Multichannel News and, as senior technology advisor for CTAM, serves as a liaison between marketers and engineers. She has written one book on her own, “Definitive Broadband,” for nontechnical readers, and co-authored two others, “The Field Guide to Broadband” and “Planet Broadband.”
She is being honored with a Vanguard Award for associates and affiliates.
“I didn’t have a grand plan; I kind of fell into this,” Ms. Ellis said of her career. Her first job post-college, writing a computer manual for a company that made commercial insertion equipment for cable, led to a meeting with Roger Brown of Communications Engineering & Design. Mr. Brown later invited her to Denver to interview for the managing editor position. She was hired and moved West in 1990. She went out on her own five years ago.
To learn as much as possible about the issues she covers, Ms. Ellis said she reads technical books, consults engineers and other experts and takes scrupulous notes at conferences. “I need to know practically everything about what I’m writing about so that I’ll know enough to translate it,” she said. “Learning everything and staying on top of everything takes a lot of work.”
One reliable source, she said, is her husband, Doug Semon, who helped develop early cable modem technology and is now a Time Warner Cable executive.
Said another of her sources, Charlie Kennamer, Comcast VP of engineering standards and industry affairs, “Leslie does an outstanding job representing and explaining things that are important to the cable industry to a larger audience that may not know anything about them. She’s very thorough about checking facts. She’s a good friend to the cable industry.”
For CTAM, Ms. Ellis does “oral translation work,” as she puts it, moderating panels and helping to plan conferences. She also bridges the technological gap at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
“Leslie has this phenomenal radar to seek out the issues,” said Seth Morrison, CTAM senior VP and general manager of corporate initiatives. “Cable companies weren’t going to the Consumer Electronics Show. Leslie came up with the idea of a guided tour [of relevant exhibitors] and talks to our attendees about trends.”
Ms. Ellis, who said she enjoys gardening and hanging out with her retriever/poodle mix puppy Big Stella, plans to continue her work for the foreseeable future.
“A lot of people, especially women, think they have to keep moving up,” she said. “If you’re good at something, you should keep doing it. I’m going to keep translating as long as [the industry] needs translating.”
Just the Facts
Title: Independent technology analyst, consultant and author
How long in current position: Five years as an independent, 19 years in industry
Year of birth: 1965
Place of birth: Monroe, Mich.; raised in Doylestown, Pa.
Who knew? She likes to sing karaoke-especially Patsy Cline, k.d. lang and the occasional Aretha Franklin.