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Everyday Heroes of Cisco Empowered Women’s Network: Sharon Sputz

This article was written by Anuja Singh.

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Carpe diem – Seize the day! Inspiration from everyday heroes of Cisco Empowered Women’s Network

Welcome to our second edition of  Cisco Empowered Women’s Network (CiscoEWN) Everyday Heroes. We all make resolutions and set goals to improve ourselves– but somewhere along the way, life interrupts our plans, we find ourselves juggling different priorities and invariably things get dropped. What you will find in this segment is inspiration from ordinary people who have achieved extraordinary results. Everyone featured in this series has faced challenges and opportunities that the rest of us can identify with; let’s draw inspiration from the choices they made and aspire to the outcomes they created.

We are honored to feature this month Sharon Sputz!

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Sharon has combined experience in business strategy and technical research and after reinventing herself many times through her career; she now is doing some fascinating work in Data Sciences at Columbia University. Find out more about Sharon here.

CiscoEWN: You have held various positions in your career, but technology has been a common theme; how old were you when you discovered your passion for the field?

Sharon: I was always fond of Math and Science. When I was in middle school, I wanted to ensure that I went into 8th grade in the highest honors math track. Unfortunately, I did not do well in the placement test and was told that I couldn’t join that track. My parents knew how much it meant to me and spoke to the school to let me take the test again – but I still didn’t do well. I could have given up but I was so driven that my parents and I got the school to agree (at my own risk) to let me sit in the class. My math teacher was a formidable lady who ended up believing in my persistence – her faith in me made me strive harder and I ended up going to college for medicine.

 

Cisco EWN: Medicine? Did I miss that in your bio?
Sharon: We all choose a path but sometimes things change – how we accept those changes and make what we can out of them determines our tenacity and character. I lost my way a little in freshman year of a pre-med program – there were some health issues, some peer pressure issues and I ended up thinking that I wasn’t good enough to continue down the medical path. But thankfully, I had a very strong foundation from high school and I was doing very well in the physics courses I was taking. I am grateful again to have professors who cared enough to call if one didn’t show up for class and I thrived in the rigor of Quantum physics. That’s when I knew that I loved physics and research and would rather pursue that field. That decision gave me the foundation for how life turned out.

 

 

CiscoEWN: What would you write in a letter to your younger self?

Sharon: Life is a journey, it’s not about getting from point A to point B. Have patience and don’t rush. You can make each day more fulfilling by increasing the balance in your life. When we are young we tend to think that we are entitled to success – but only hard work and persistence enable us to remove each rock from our way. Success doesn’t come instantly so don’t give up.

 

CiscoEWN: You spent 13 years in Bell labs as a research scientist with world-renowned physicists; produced revolutionary patents; went to school at night to get your Masters; and had two children. How did you do it?

Sharon: (Laughing) I don’t really know. I just did what needed to be done and looking back I don’t really know where the energy came from. Those were also challenging years because there were hardly any women or minorities working in research but I never felt conscious and never let that impact me. Instead I saw tremendous opportunity and worked hard and didn’t let the difficult environment stand in my way. Juggling everything was hard and I am fortunate I had my family, husband, community of working women and friends who supported each other and me.

 

CiscoEWN: And then, when you were at the top of your game, you quit and joined Lucent in a marketing job. Did you have any marketing skills?

Sharon: No, and I didn’t think about it either. It was a huge change but I was joining a field (Telecom) that was booming and would make me grow in ways that I couldn’t have grown had I kept doing only research. I also got a confidence boost when I saw that if you were willing to work hard and learn and problem solve then people are willing to take their chances on you and train you. I rolled up my sleeves, read a lot, learned from mentors on the job and because it was a technical marketing job, I was able to leverage my scientific training and differentiate myself.

“Life is a journey. Celebrate each moment. Don’t be in a rush to get from Point A to Point B.”

-Sharon Sputz

 

CiscoEWN: Since then, you have taken the risk of reinventing yourself twice more – first as a defense contractor working on DOD projects, and now at Columbia University as an educator. Do you have any self-doubt as you set about proving yourself anew each time?

Sharon: Everyday – I think about how I can do my job better, how can I push myself harder? I wouldn’t call it self-doubt, but I always question if I am doing all I can. And when I am given the opportunity to reinvent myself, I am so grateful that someone took a chance on me, gave me the chance to learn and grow, that I work harder to live up to their faith in me.

I was 51 when Columbia University approached me; my first reaction was to decline the opportunity. But education and my teachers have had such a huge impact on my life, I felt this was my opportunity to impact other people and give back. While I have never felt that being a woman has held me back, I enjoy the opportunity to enable other women coming into an academic environment and encourage them to pursue any opportunity without impediments.

 

CiscoEWN: Leave us with your favorite Carpe diem statement.

Sharon: Life doesn’t always go the way you think it’s going to go. While it’s important to persist and believe in yourself and go after your dreams, it’s also ok for those dreams to change. Celebrate each dream and make the most out of it.

 

Thank you Sharon!

 

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Everyday Heroes of Cisco Empowered Women’s Network: Denise Donohue

This post was written by Anuja Singh and Emily Griffin.

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Carpe diem – Seize the day! Inspiration from everyday heroes of Cisco Empowered Women’s Network

What better way to start the New Year than with a monthly Cisco Empowered Women’s Network series about role models in the technology industry? We all make resolutions and set goals to improve ourselves– but somewhere along the way, life interrupts our plans, we find ourselves juggling different priorities and invariably things get dropped. What you will find in this segment is inspiration from ordinary people who have achieved extraordinary results. Everyone featured in this series has faced challenges and opportunities that the rest of us can identify with; let’s draw inspiration from the choices they made and aspire to the outcomes they created.

 

Welcome to ‘Carpe diem – Seize the day! Inspiration from everyday heroes of CiscoEWN’

To kick off our first post of the monthly series, we have an incredible guest – Denise Donohue.

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Denise has worked with information systems since the mid-1990s and her expertise spans most technologies. She has authored numerous Cisco Press books and frequently shares her knowledge in webinars and seminars. Find out more about Denise.

 

Cisco Empowered Women’s Network (CiscoEWN): You started your career as an economist with government agencies and here you are now – a senior network architect with some of the most difficult industry certifications under your belt. What happened along the way?

Denise: Life and kids happened! I quit my full time job to be a full time mom to my three kids. But along the way I started tinkering a little with home computers and found it interesting. I also have a background in education so I started working from home and franchised a business that brought computers to daycares and schools. When my husband lost his job and I had to go back to full time work, I considered returning to my comfort zone of economics and government. But that wasn’t where my heart lay – by then, I had grown to love computers.

 

CiscoEWN: What were some of your headwinds and tailwinds during this difficult transition?

Denise: I’m not sure I would advise anyone to juggle that many balls at the same time (smiles)– but if you have to do something, the only way is to jump in with both feet and do it. My headwinds at the time were intense – I was very guilty about leaving the kids; I was the weird person among the neighborhood stay-at-home moms peer group; the field I had chosen was very difficult and drained me physically and mentally – there were many days that I cried because I was exhausted and I missed the kids so much. But what kept me going was that despite the challenges I really enjoyed what I was doing and felt deep down that this is where I was supposed to be. I loved the technology, the new learning and meeting new people. Following my passion and trusting my gut were my mantras during that phase.

 

CiscoEWN: Following your passion is a great advice – but don’t you need a support system or some motivation to actually do it?

Denise: Absolutely! My family understood that it was finally my time to do what I had to do – and they shared responsibilities around housework and cooking dinners etc. Of course, there was a fair share of whining also – especially when I came down on Christmas day just for the gift-opening and then went right back to studying. So, for all of us, despite some basic support, you have to continue to motivate yourself and keep in sight why are you are doing something. Competition also helps. I had a colleague who got his CCNA and CCIE (Cisco certifications) before I did and he was gloating about it. That really lit a fire under me and my goal was to get my own certifications within a year after his.

 

CiscoEWN: You are the author of not one, not two – but twelve books! How did you persevere?

“…if you have an interest, a goal that you want badly enough – you can get it. And sometimes not knowing exactly what it takes to get there helps. Then you can focus on each step.”-Denise Donohue

Denise: (Laughing) I suffer from total amnesia about how hard it is. I guess that’s why I keep going back and doing it. Some of the books took six months; some took as many as a couple of years. I considered dropping the effort many times, but then I knew I had things I wanted to say and felt this was my way to give back to my community. It was my labor of love. I find that if you have an interest, a goal that you want badly enough – you can get it. And sometimes not knowing exactly what it takes to get there helps. Then you can focus on each step.

 

CiscoEWN: What would you write in a letter to your younger self?

Denise: It took me a long time to understand that I should have faith in my judgment and myself. If I could speak to my younger self, I would tell her that she is good enough and smart enough and she should do what she needs to do with self-confidence. Also, I would tell her not to let resentment overcome her. At the time, I resented my husband’s job loss because it forced me out of my comfort zone. But time and my achievements have given me faith that there is a reason for the way things happen.

When CiscoEWN contacted me and asked if I was willing to be the first person featured in this series, I hesitated because I felt I didn’t have much to say that was out of the ordinary. I felt I was just doing what I do and it’s not all that special. But then my daughter said ‘Mom, you should do this. You have been my inspiration’. And that just meant so much to me – it gave me pause to look back and see how far I have come. I would tell my younger self that too.

 

CiscoEWN: Leave us with your favorite Carpe diem statement.

Denise: For people who are wondering what to do with their life, or are stuck, don’t be afraid to take a step. Chances are you can always step back if you need to. ‘You can only do what you can do – don’t feel bad about what you can’t do.’

Thank you Denise!

 

 

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Celebrating Girls in Technology – The Power of Mentorship

Today is International Girls in ICT Day and Cisco has been celebrating all month long by hosting fun and instructive mentoring events that have been designed to help to educate young women about careers in information and communications technology (ICT).  With over 70 events taking place globally from Belarus to Boxborough, one thing is clear – girls love technology!  Let’s work together to keep it that way.

As the world transforms into a more connected network of people, processes, data and things, there are unprecedented opportunities for countries, businesses and individuals, as well as for society at large. However, for the Internet of Everything to become a reality, we need a highly trained and ICT-skilled workforce of the future. Read More »

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