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Women of Tech 2015: Monica Williams

Monica Williams, vice president of product development and strategy of NBCUniversal, and this year’s salute for Tech Woman of the Year in the Programmer/Network category, came back to work on Oct. 1 after being out for maternity leave (baby No. 2, a boy). On that first day back, her calendar was already full and shifting. “We solve problems all day long,” Williams says of her team — or, as she puts it, “team awesome.” There’s no such thing as a typical day when it comes to getting all of NBCU’s content out, on time, in different formats, to its distribution partners — cable, satellite, and over-the-top, and whatever comes next. Pile on some (Nielsen) C3 handling, and some DAI (dynamic ad insertion) gymnastics, with a side of continuous improvement and automation, and you’re looking at a typical, atypical day for this total digital dynamo.

MCN: What did you want to be when you grew up?

Monica Williams: I wanted to be an ophthalmologist. An “eye surgeon,” as I used to say when I was little. I wanted to help people see the world. Clearly that didn’t work out. My parents are both doctors and trained me to want to be a doctor, I think. I rebelled and got an engineering degree instead. I really wanted to explore what else was out there besides the world of medicine.

MCN: First job in tech?

MW: Manager of digital media operations for NBCUniversal. That’s when I learned all about digital and started to shift into more of a technical role. This was in 2008, when we launched with all the EST [electronic sell-through] partners. Amazon, iTunes, Hulu. It was a crazy time but I loved it! All the file formats, transfer rates, CDNs (Content Delivery Networks), thumbnails — I fell in love with all of it.

MCN: What’s the big thing in tech for your organization in 2016?

MW: Launching and enhancing clip distribution products with various partners. And what I consider my “baby” — an effort I’m leading to enhance search and recommendation of our content via metadata.

MCN: Where and when are you happiest?

MW: I’m happiest when I’m anywhere with my family. Whether it’s snowboarding in Mammoth, traveling to new places, fighting the crowds at Disneyland, or on the couch watching football — as long as I’m with them.

MCN: Favorite geek-out tech term(s)?

MW: How about a phrase? Mine is to make metadata sexy!

MCN: What tech term drives you batty?

MW: “Metadata” — because it is just so hard!

MCN: Most important quality for women of tech to have?

MW: I don’t think this makes a difference for men or women: The willingness to learn and be OK with not knowing everything. The willingness to ask questions. Especially in tech roles, where things change so rapidly. I’m constantly learning new things, always asking a ton of questions.

MCN: Favorite book of all time?

MW: Tuesdays With Morrie. And anything by John Grisham.

MCN: Best advice you ever received?

MW: A good friend and a former boss of mine once told me “don’t run away — run to something.” I’ve been sticking to it ever since.

MCN: If you could change one thing about the multichannel video industry, what would it be?

MW: User interface. I know there’s been significant improvement in the last couple of years, but we really need to make it where my 2-year-old son can navigate without assistance. He can with YouTube and Netflix!

MCN: Favorite gadget/app?

MW: Lately, it’s been Pinterest and the app. I’m trying to learn easy and fun things to make for my family.