Johor Bahru, Malaysia, isn’t the first place anyone thinks of when they go searching for a cable technology engineer.
That’s why Pragash Pillai—recipient of B&C’s 2007 Engineering Next Generation Leadership Award—left his home country, came to America when he was 22, and enrolled in the electrical engineering program at the University of Missouri.
“I was informed that it was a good school in a good town,” Pillai says, “and it got good ratings for engineering.”
He acclimated to his new life in the United States quickly, landing a job as a staff engineer at Charter Communications in St. Louis. He was a vice president before he hit 30.
“I sometimes sit down with the guys in my company and guide them through their career development,” says Pillai, now 34. “They...say, 'How can you get through this? How did you get there so fast?’ I tell them, 'First of all, you need to work 16 hours a day.’”
He’s quick to assert that he’s joking, but Pillai has put in his hours. He’s also practiced what he preaches, which is “to constantly develop yourself.” While at Charter, he began working toward his master’s degree at St. Louis’ Washington University. When the company switched its headquarters to Denver, he finished up at the University of Denver in April 2006, securing his degree in applied sciences, with a concentration in telecommunications management and policy.
That same year, he and 29 other cable up-and-comers attended the National Association for Multi-Ethnicity in Communications’ (NAMIC) executive leadership development program at the University of California at Los Angeles.
“It was a good time to take some time off from work and deal with the reality of all the other things involved in this business,” especially meeting others in different fields and networking with his peers, he says.
Throughout his career, Pillai has made it a point to work closely with his multi-ethnic colleagues, giving them career advice and helping them move forward. That’s one reason NAMIC honored him as a Next Generation Leader.
In July 2006 Pillai departed Charter to take on new challenges, moving his wife, Laura, and sons, Deven and Josh, to Purchase, N.Y. There, he’s the vice president for strategic engineering at Bresnan Communications, the nation’s 13th largest cable operator, with nearly 300,000 subscribers.
At Bresnan, he gets to focus on planning for the company’s future, including services such as broadband Internet, video-on-demand, high definition and digital video recorders.
Pillai also keeps a close eye on new technologies such as place-shifting—a technology pioneered by Sling Media, Inc.’s Slingbox—in case that becomes a service Bresnan would like to introduce.
He also sits on the advisory boards of several of Bresnan’s vendors, such as RGB Networks and Broadcom Corp.
While all of cable’s technologies and services are growing rapidly, Pillai says the toughest part is keeping customer service apace with new service offerings.
“It’s a big challenge to make changes in the network, while still providing satisfactory service,” Pillai says. “For example, we are delivering voice on a completely new platform, but our customers don’t care about that. They just want everything to work.”