Industry figures look at how far we’ve come

Professionals honored for their contributions reflect on how the industry has evolved.

Several of the professionals whom we’ve recognized for their positive contributions to the industry have been in this trade for a long time. They’ve seen it evolve, and in some cases have helped to shape that evolution.

While we were gathering information from these individuals, a couple took the opportunity to reflect on the course they’ve seen our industry take over the past two-decades-plus.

“Like many in this industry, in the 1980s I cut my teeth on various proprietary transmission protocols,” recalls Glenn Sexton, president and chief executive officer of Northwest Information Services (NIS), “not so much hands-on, but managing technical staffs that were the wizards of the asynchronous and bisynchronous environments. I left corporate America (big bank) in 1990 and came to NIS, a telecommunications consulting company.

“The first project I managed at NIS was for a large utility company that was struggling with a Token Ring architecture using Type 1 cable. My rather radical suggestion was to ditch the Token Ring and Type 1 and put together a plan for a fiber-optic backbone and Ethernet using unshielded twisted-pair station cabling. Needless to say there were some raised eyebrows, but fortunately the senior management of the utility embraced the idea and, well, we all know what happened to Token Ring.”

Reflecting on the general timeframe in which Cabling Installation & Maintenance was launched, Sexton says, “The telecommunications industry of the early- to mid-1990s was in transition and it seemed that all of the big computing companies were jockeying for their cabling schemes to be installed as a ‘de facto’ standard, but not everyone was buying into that. I saw great promised in twisted-pair cable and was one of the first to embrace ‘a-jack-is-a-jack-is-a-jack’ and preached the merits of universal cabling long before we knew it as ‘structured cabling.’”

As a university professor in the 1990s, Sexton says, “It was always rewarding to see the light come on as people began to grasp the very practical aspect of wiring everything to an 8-pin modular jack on both ends and crossconnecting to the appropriate resource.

“I remember reading ‘Ask Donna’ in Cabling Installation & Maintenance magazine, and thinking, ‘She’s right on!’ What a pleasure it was to then meet Donna Ballast as part of TIA and to this day consider her among my professional and personal friends.”

The 8-pin modular interface indeed has been through more than a few trials and tribulations, in the 1990s and since. Another of our positive-contributor honorees, Valerie Maguire, global sales engineer with The Siemon Company, could tell many stories accordingly.

In the 1990s, as Valerie was honing her laboratory transmission data collection and circuit design capabilities, she and a handful of other industry experts identified subpar patch-cord performance as the “weak link” in what were the then-emerging Category 5e cabling systems. “This finding led to an intense investigation of modular plug performance and the creation of the first patch-cord test method called ‘de-embedding,’” Maguire recalls.

“Ensuring the proper performance of patch cords in the structured cabling plant went a long way in cementing balanced twisted-pair cabling as a robust and capable media in the early days of high-speed Ethernet,” she adds. The experience also launched Val’s interest in standardizing performance for the betterment of the IT industry. Back in those days, Val could often be found in the lab surrounded by a virtual army of modular test plugs—which helped earn her the nickname of “Patch Cord Queen” within the Siemon organization.

Once the patch-cord issue was resolved, she began exploring the fundamental operation of screened and shielded cabling. As she explains, “These systems were commonly found in some European markets and held promise for superior performance in U.S. environments where emissions was a concern, but

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