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Meet the super collaborators

We talk with two media innovators from AWS and CBS Interactive working to unite the disciplines of broadcast and cloud

In 2019, Sarah Nagata, senior consultant cloud architect at AWS (pictured above right), and Krystal Mejia, software engineer at CBS Interactive (pictured above left), helped deliver the landmark livestream of Super Bowl LIII. We talk to them about the synergies that happen when technical ability is allowed to thrive in an environment of collaboration and knowledge sharing.

Thanks for joining us. Could you tell us about your backgrounds?

Sarah Nagata: I’ve worked in the broadcast industry for more than 15 years. Three years ago, I moved to AWS to get hands-on experience with the cloud. I recognised that this would be the next step in the evolution of the media and entertainment Industry.

Krystal Mejia: I have been working as a professional software engineer for around three years. I had internships in college where I worked mostly on front-end development and before my graduation I landed an internship at CBS Sports Digital. They offered me a full-time role on the Video and OTT team and, later, I transitioned to the Video Technology Group at CBS Interactive. We focus broadly on providing technology and services to all of the brands that make up CBS Interactive.

The social network Sarah Nagata believes networking should never be underestimated when forging your career

How did you come together to work on the 2019 Super Bowl?

SN: As a solutions architect, I was assigned to the CBS Interactive account when the 2019 Super Bowl planning sessions began. I felt it was important to understand the project’s requirements. I observed there were others in the room listening to the different ideas being discussed, too. After the meeting, I had some questions, so I pinged Krystal and Flavio Ribeiro, the director of Engineering from the Video Technology Group at CBS Interactive. They also had questions and our collaborative partnership began.

KM: For Flavio and I, this project was an opportunity to share our blend of developer and broadcast knowledge with Sarah’s expertise in those areas. For us, it was: ‘How can we come together from both sides to finalise these workflows and solutions?’

I’ve had so many wonderful people in my  corner pushing me, trusting me, empowering me, telling me to speak up in meetings

What was educating each other like?

SN: There was one ad tracking problem that CBS Interactive Sports asked AWS to solve. Someone recommended we do it a certain way, but when Krystal and I looked, it wasn’t that simple. Krystal needed to write code.

KM: I was working on a test application. I reached out to Sarah and said, ‘I need some perspective about how you have handled this in the past’. She sent me some docs and I tried to build out the application.

SN: Whenever you asked a question, I would send you information; some you found on your own, and sometimes we reviewed it together and I tried to explain how these standards applied to ad tracking in broadcast workflows. I didn’t know how to write the code or develop the application, but I did know how the end solution needed to function and how it needed to be tested.

Is there still a communications gap between these two worlds?

SN: Experienced broadcasters have a deep understanding of fundamentals and they know the reason why standards and protocols evolved to where they are today. They were there for the analogue to digital to HD to IP transitions. They should be looked at as sources of useful information.

The new generation of video developers understand the latest tools and tech, and know how to apply them. Additionally, they are always thinking about how to streamline processes. By combining both, they are able to solve problems and  create new solutions together faster  and more efficiently.

There are lessons we’ve learned from the past about things that worked or didn’t in traditional broadcast workflows. We need to share that information with developer teams, so we can make things better.

KM: Whereas my focus has always been in digital and streaming, so I’m not as familiar with all those differences.

The Super Bowl 2019 project was such a collaborative process, where we worked hand-in-hand with the broadcast team for the OTT delivery of the broadcast.

I see a lot of that moving forward now, with more collaboration in that environment.

How are cloud technologies changing what you do?

KM: I’ve been working in the cloud since I started. Cloud forces me to think of my infrastructure as code. It takes my focus from being solely on the application layer. The flexibility and scaleability that you get with the cloud makes so much sense for anything I do. And it doesn’t have to be just media technology. I’m constantly writing code using container services.

SN: When you have infrastructure as a code, you’re not tied to specific machines or set-ups. It’s easier to be able to replace those items when they break. And if you want a third or fourth or fifth, or you want to move it to a different region, it’s easier to do that in the cloud.

KM: And you can scale on demand  most of the time and pay only for what
you are using.

How does working in the cloud change how teams collaborate?

SN: It is easier for teams to experiment with new technologies in minutes instead of days or weeks. For example, we’re able to try new things and figure out quickly what works and what doesn’t. We’re able to fail faster, so that we learn from mistakes and create better solutions.

KM: It allows for all the experimenting that we do. We’re able to finalise how we see our infrastructure being built and deployed in the cloud. My day-to-day is a lot of collaborating with different divisions within CBS Interactive to get us out of the data centre. The data centre is hard to manage. It’s easier to run containers in the cloud.

SN: It’s also easier to share and work collaboratively in the cloud, especially if you’re using a DevOps type of mentality.

Magnificent mentoring Krystal Mejia of CBS Interactive has always seen Nagata as a mentor, reaching out to her every time she needed advice

Can you tell us about using DevOps in the broadcast world?

KM: We actually have to architect our own systems and how we’re going to distribute them in the cloud. I’ve been forced to be my own DevOps engineer. When I was in college, I never thought DevOps was something I would be doing, but it’s exciting to understand how you’re containerising and distributing your systems.

SN: I also remember you and Flavio would be working on different portions of the code – you would be checking things in and out of GitHub and then performing reviews on each other’s code. And you were able to roll back faster or make changes.

I learned you cannot do everything yourself. You need to identify each team member’s talent

KM: There’s a lot of overlap when you think of the projects my team works on – one is in the live environment and one is in the VOD environment, so we need to collaborate and communicate with each other quickly. We’re all on the same team, but we’re all hyper-focused on our own code base. With the cloud, you have GitHub or Version Control, which allows you to collaborate more quickly.

SN: I also liked how you guys releveraged your video solutions across different business units within CBS Interactive, because we weren’t just working on the Super Bowl.

KM: It’s great to be able to collaborate and learn from each other. Sharing our experiences and learning from our failures is what makes us successful.

SN: The other thing to note is that all of us were working remotely from many locations. CBS used online meeting tools, such as Zoom, which enabled us to feel like we were working together in the same room, when in reality we spent very little time physically together until the live event.

How was it doing that much live remote collaboration?

SN: We use similar tools at AWS, but with CBS Interactive, Krystal, Flavio and I conducted open mic working sessions that enabled us to work on our individual tasks and perform testing while having the ability to pop-up and raise questions as needed and get a quick response – similar to working in the same room together. For example, if Krystal encountered an error, she would open a screen-sharing session where we could review her code together and discuss possible solutions.

KM: Even today with the new team I’m on, everyone that works on delivery in the video technology group is based in San Francisco and the video processing team is in New York. A lot of what we do is in Zoom and Slack. That’s how we share and collaborate.

What has been your experience as women working in the media and entertainment industry?

SN: Krystal and I are in places of privilege where we feel included and recognised at our companies. We don’t differentiate or label ourselves, we are just part of a team and we happen to be women. It is important to create a diverse and inclusive environment in order to promote collaboration and generate the best outcomes.

KM: I’ve been incredibly blessed at CBS Interactive, because of how many women there are in leadership positions. I don’t think too much about the gender roles. I really did just go in there and do my job.

SN: In particular, Stephanie Lone from CBS Sports Digital and Liz Carrasco at CBS Interactive both took the time to acknowledge and recognise our work. They served as strong role models that motivated and inspired us to voice and share our ideas and opinions.

KM: Those two have been a huge part of my success, too. They’ve been super supportive of my entire career and make me feel seen.

SN: AWS and CBS Interactive have well-developed diversity and inclusion programmes.

KM: When I got to CBS Interactive, the culture I felt was very inclusive. I hadn’t seen that in the previous internships. Even as an intern, it stuck out to me.

What is the most important thing you’ve learned in your careers?

KM: For me, it is the importance of good mentors. If I look back at my first year, I remember feeling nervous, with a lot of imposter syndrome, thinking ‘I’m not good enough. Why are they giving me these projects? This is too much’. But I’ve had so many wonderful people in my corner pushing me, trusting me, empowering me, telling me to speak up in meetings, telling me to take the lead. That has been the biggest change for me.

When I need help with anything outside of my realm of expertise, Sarah is my first phone call

SN: I learned you cannot do everything yourself. You need to identify each team member’s talent and put them in a position to be successful. That’s how teams win.

Finally, what does each of you value most about the other?

KM: Again, it’s the importance of good mentors. Sarah has always felt like a mentor to me. She’ll always say, ‘No, we’re friends. We’re colleagues’. She refuses to say she’s a mentor, but seeing Sarah speaking up in meetings is what got me to speak up. Every time I needed advice in my career, when I was trying to transition from my old team to my new team, I reached out to Sarah for advice. Having her in my corner has always been great. She pushes me, which is important.

Friends in the making Nagata and Mejia have grown from work colleagues to friends, pushing and supporting each other throughout

SN: It’s funny as I was going to say the same thing. Krystal is my friend, so I value our friendship first, but I also look to her to learn things. She’s always been there to teach me about coding, development cycles and other new technologies. Often, when I have ideas for a project design, I’ll use Krystal as a sounding board. She is able to see the things I’m  not seeing – she has a different skill set. It helps to fill the gaps and make the solution complete.

KM: That’s our relationship in a nutshell because, when I need any help with anything outside of my realm of expertise, Sarah is my first phone call. I feel like I developed so many great friendships out of that project.

SN: The project team was quite large and we worked very collaboratively together. When things went wrong in the middle of the night or on the weekend, everybody was there to stay late and support one another to solve those issues. Projects are successful when three key elements are present: a team that checks its egos at the door, a team that is focused on achieving the same goal and a team where everyone recognises that each individual brings their own expertise.