When Sree Kotay left AOL in 2007 he told himself he didn’t want to move to another big company. The former senior vice president of technology had AIM (AOL Instant Messenger), web publishing, search and mail all under his purview, which led to a wealth of new knowledge. However, AOL’s corporate culture left him burnt out. He wanted to return to his startup roots.
Enter an unlikely savior: Comcast Cable Executive Vice President and Chief Network Officer John Schanz. Schanz had once worked at AOL and offered Kotay a promising pitch: Philadelphia has the startup vibe you are looking for.
Plus, Schanz told him, Comcast was evolving. “If today, we’re a networking and hardware company,” Kotay recalled Schanz saying, “in five to 10 years, we want to become a media and technology company with software at the heart of it.”
The pitch worked. Kotay has been with the company for nearly a decade, and now serves as executive vice president and chief technology officer of Comcast Cable. While he first thought he might only stay a year or two in Philly (with AOL, Kotay was based in the D.C. area), this has become his longest tenured position to date.
“My lifestyle has been fantastic when I look back at the last nine years,” said the father of two. “I walk to work, and my kids walk to school. It feels more neighborhoody than living in the suburbs ever did. There’s such an eclectic mix of people from all backgrounds, demographics and incomes. There’s a whole different vibe.”
Compared to his foot-on-the-gas startup days, Kotay says he gets to enjoy downtime more frequently now. (Kotay’s Viewpoint Corp. was acquired by AOL in 2003. He also cofounded another startup before that.)
“One of the benefits of big-company life is that it turns out the machinery will keep cranking for a good bit even if you do take time off, so it’s afforded me opportunities to be more present for my kids and family, and especially to travel,” Kotay said.
He also stays active with the tech community outside of Comcast. Look for him in places like StackExchange, GitHub and Reddit’s r/programming, where he may be seen espousing the virtues of the Philly tech scene.
As Schanz once did to him, Kotay has made a similar hard sell on Comcast to others. Some of the first hires that worked on X1 — Comcast’s flagship video product — were friends of Kotay’s from New York City and Virginia who made the move. They, too, saw the unique technical opportunities the company presented. Being in Philadelphia, Kotay says, is itself an opportunity.
“You go to Silicon Valley at one of the big companies, or even a startup and you’re slipstreaming into this massive pool of churn,” he said. “All this stuff is happening. Philly is a relatively small technology community, and you have the opportunity to define it. You’re not just a cog or Engineer No. 3,724 working on some feature.”
This means breaking down tech stereotypes and sticking up for Philly’s strengths. Something we’ve heard before.
“We shouldn’t brag or chest thump, but we can be more open and vocal about what we’re doing,” stressed Kotay. “There’s such a pent-up demand for talented, passionate and creative engineers and technologists. What’s nice about the both Comcast and Philly with regard to the tech scene is that it’s strong and vibrant but still nascent. You have lots of opportunities to shape, define and lead.”
It all starts with a gig. And Comcast has 170 open dev positions right now.-30-