“Be confident” With Tyler Gallagher & Michele Beck

Working in STEM and the space sector doesn’t mean that you are a geek! I think that’s what many young girls and young women think. I also love the arts, fashion, design, travel, history, food and sports. I had the pleasure of interviewing Michele Beck, Telesat’s Vice President of North American Sales responsible for both […]

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Working in STEM and the space sector doesn’t mean that you are a geek! I think that’s what many young girls and young women think. I also love the arts, fashion, design, travel, history, food and sports.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Michele Beck, Telesat’s Vice President of North American Sales responsible for both Enterprise and Broadcast sales in Canada. Ms. Beck joined Telesat in 1987 where she began her career in engineering developing new products in digital video compression, HDTV and direct-to-home satellite services. She was then hired by the Canadian Cable Telecommunications Association serving as their Vice President Technology.

In 2006, Ms. Beck returned to Telesat as Director, Engineering responsible for all satellite service offerings including R&D, enterprise, broadband and broadcast. She soon was appointed Director, North American Enterprise and Government Sales where she built an impressive record enabling Telesat customers to achieve operational efficiencies and meet other business goals by applying her expertise in technical, commercial and regulatory matters.

Promoted to her current position in 2013, Ms. Beck holds a BA Sc., Electrical Engineering from the University of Ottawa.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

Igrew up in the Canadian province of Quebec, 10 minutes from downtown Ottawa but on an acre lot that backed into national park land. I also grew up bilingual and attended a French school, transitioning to English for University studies in electrical engineering.

I come from a family of five, with a twin sister — my best friend growing up — and younger brother; we spent a lot of time outside playing in the forest, building forts, and riding our bikes around the neighborhood along with a lot of downhill and cross-country skiing. Some of my favorite memories were during our annual month-long summer trips to faraway places where we toured cultural sites, which were some of my best life learning experiences. I have since done the same with my children, who embrace travel and learning about different cultures.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Most of my daily reading is focused on industry and technology developments, but when I have a chance to read a book I tend to read novels for entertainment and pure pleasure. A couple of recent books that I enjoyed and couldn’t put down were Where the Crawdads Sing and The Winemaker’s Wife.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

In French, « Les mots écrits restent, les paroles s’envolent », which translates to: “the written word persists, the spoken word can be quickly forgotten.” In business, this is a reminder to be very careful what gets communicated — diplomacy and professionalism is everything.

Is there a particular story that inspired you to pursue a career in the space industry? We’d love to hear it.

A very faint memory of the moon landing…I was four years old and was always intrigued. At one point in my youth I thought about becoming an astronaut, but as I grew older the thought of the vast emptiness of space seemed a bit too scary. Working in the space sector with satellites is just as exciting!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this fascinating career?

The opportunity to work on the development of ground-breaking technologies and services all along my career has been fascinating, from the development of digital satellite transmission (DVC), high-definition television (HDTV), Direct to Home broadcast television (DTH), and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) to the more recent High Throughput Satellite (HTS) GEO and Low Earth Orbit (LEO). I could not have dreamt that I would be so lucky to have been at the forefront in the development of all of these amazing applications.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

It wasn’t funny at the time, but when you think back, it was. Back in the late 80s, we built a HDTV mobile production and theatre system to demonstrate delivery of HD electronic cinema applications over satellite. We aired a Quebec-based film converted to HDTV, which was premiering at the Montreal film festival. We had to block off a section in the theatre to accommodate the HD electronic projector. I had prepared an accurate drawing reflecting the rows that were affected but didn’t draw the rest of the theatre to scale.

Unfortunately, the drawing reflected more seats than were actually available. I had noted on the drawing that it was not to scale, but the film promoter sold to the exact number of seats that was represented on my drawing. I assumed they would know the exact capacity of the theatre (minus the seats that I had blocked), but that was not the case. I got an earful that night as three customers found themselves without a seat. Lesson learned: always be precise.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I spent 12 years at the Canadian Cable Television Association as VP of Regulatory Engineering. When I think back to those days, the CEO was influential in how I now think about strategic and tactical planning. We would have senior staff meetings every Monday morning where we came together to discuss strategic and tactical plans, and the CEO led the discussion passionately with great ideas flowing from the weekend where he took a step back to consider the issues from all angles. It is an approach that I have adopted with great success.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Yes!!! I’m working on a project to provide broadband connectivity using Telesat’s new, innovative Low Earth Orbit (LEO) constellation of satellites to deliver fiber-like services to remote, northern and rural communities. One of my goals is seeing Northern Canadian communities, which historically have struggled with reliable, strong broadband service, connected with the best broadband service that’s comparable to what’s received in major urban centers.

Recently, Telesat launched Telstar 19V (T19V), a High Throughput Satellite (HTS), with beams focused on the far northern territory of Nunavut in Canada, which delivered 20x more capacity to these 25 satellite-reliant communities. This satellite tripled internet speeds, supported the deployment of wireless LTE services, and provided needed bandwidth for healthcare, digital learning, and cloud connectivity.

T19V was just a stepping-stone — Telesat LEO will deliver universal broadband throughout Canada and the world, offering all of the applications and services needed to improve quality of life and promote strong economic growth. The impact that this will have across Canada and the world cannot be overstated, and playing a part in the development and eventual delivery of such a transformative service is meaningful and exciting.

Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The space industry, as it is today, is such an exciting arena. What are the 3 things that most excite you about the space industry? Can you explain?

  1. Constant and rapid change — The pace of change seems to be accelerating and we are continually learning, which has in recent years led to the use of optical laser links on satellites, beam forming technologies for antennas in space and on the ground, and 3D printing for driving high-volume manufacturing of satellites and satellite components.
  2. Having an impact — The opportunity to make a difference is both exciting and humbling, especially as we continue developing and deploying innovative broadband services that have such a significant impact on northern, remote and rural communities.
  3. Growing diversity — The space industry is no longer only comprised of middle-aged men, but now includes incredible cultural diversity, with a greater number of women at all levels of management.

What are the 3 things that concern you about the space industry? Can you explain? What can be done to address those concerns?

  1. Keeping up with change — With the rapid pace of change, future-proofing networks and building in flexibility is a key challenge.
  2. A crowded market — There is stress around the fact of multiple satellite providers all building out broadband capacity at the same time, resulting in an over-abundance of capacity and potentially driving down market prices.
  3. Ensuring the sustainability of space — I, like many others in the industry, am concerned about tens of thousands of satellites orbiting the earth. I’m thankful to be working for an organization that has 50 years of history and experience in the sector and takes a responsible approach to launching and operating a constellation of satellites.

Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

I have seen an improvement in the number of women in STEM overall, but from what I hear from universities, this is not the case across all disciplines. I believe that the promotion of a career in the STEM field needs to begin early for young women. We need to encourage and educate that science, technology, engineering and mathematics can be interesting and involve real-life applications that are tangible and exciting. STEM-based careers can be lucrative and lead to opportunities for young women to be strong and independent. We have made good strides, but more can be done.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in the space industry that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?

While I am grateful to not have personally struggled tremendously with this over my career, there is definitely a shortage of women in STEM across industries, with women making up only 28% of the STEM workforce. However, changes are definitely happening, and it’s exciting to be a part of a team that is leading the way. When I started at Telesat in 1987, I was the first female field engineer at the company. Fast forward to today, where we’ve seen at least 15 women with engineering backgrounds brought into the company just in the past two years alone — with major companies like Telesat helping to set a new industry standard, this should only increase over the coming years. I am a big believer in the power of mentorship, so I encourage all women in STEM to seek out women starting their careers and offer to be their mentor. Not only are you paying it forward, but you’re helping create real change through individual action.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech, or the space industry. Can you explain what you mean?

Working in STEM and the space sector doesn’t mean that you are a geek! I think that’s what many young girls and young women think. I also love the arts, fashion, design, travel, history, food and sports.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Have an open door policy and great communication: I have an open-door policy with my team and colleagues where they can drop by to consult on various aspects of work. It creates good working relationships and supports new ideas and constructive dialogue.
  2. Look at the big picture: Engineers are known to be pinpoint-focused, but success requires taking a step back to look at the big picture and bridge technical details with business/economic, legal and regulatory aspects. To advance in an organization you must have a broad understanding of the business and implications of engineering decisions for the company.
  3. Learn from your and others’ mistakes: Make the process of addressing a mistake a constructive one. Understand why it happened, fix it so it never happens again, and don’t lay blame.
  4. Be confident: Have confidence in your experience and abilities, and be assertive when it comes to ideas, projects, and sharing your point of view.
  5. Lean into your intuition: For women, use your natural skill to work with people to understand their personality and traits in order to adapt and work well with everyone.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Inspiring more focus on mentorship — at all points of the career path — is critical. Mentorship throughout a career can help women to learn tactical skills and manage relationships.

Here is what works for me: Volunteer your time and encourage young women to be independent in every sense of the world — including financially independent, self-sufficient, and strong.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

Michelle Obama, because she is intelligent, influential, caring and leads with grace. She deals with adversity by channeling the negative energy into something positive and aims for success.

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