During the pandemic, many people took the challenging steps of joining new jobs virtually. New hires at Cisco were no exception. However, joining a new company and understanding the company culture can be daunting.

Adrian Saunders and Rushda Balabaskaran are two of seven IT interns based in the United Kingdom. They joined Cisco at the start of July 2020, several months into the pandemic when the UK was still in full lockdown.

I asked them to share a few of their struggles and how they overcame them. Here’s how they integrated into the team and how Cisco IT made seamless their transition from university students to full-time interns.

1. They met often

When our interns joined, they had to find ways of integrating into Cisco culture, but also meeting new people and developing meaningful relationships with them.

Rushda: “We worried a bit, we were anxious and unsure of what to expect. We couldn’t have impromptu conversations in the hallways with colleagues and pre-arranged meetings instead. We assumed that it was an inconvenience to the attendees. We also struggled to be productive whilst we sat by ourselves in our rooms. I didn’t truly feel like I worked for Cisco until I got the opportunity to visit the office once and collect my badge. However, we used these experiences as something to bond over and decided to have daily optional lunch time calls. These calls slowly turned into our space to share our thoughts and just have that bit of social interaction we were craving.”

The interns during a daily catch up.

2. They built a brand

This has been our first and (hopefully will be our only) cohort of interns who will start and spend their whole internship virtually, which in a lot of ways makes them stand out. We sparked the idea of them creating a brand out of their experience.

Adrian: “I came up with the ‘Quaranterns’ term (derived from Interns in quarantine). We then designed a logo and elevated this brand further by starting a ‘Be Our Guest Series’. Rushda invited different individuals from across the IT organisation to speak with the Interns about career journeys and share career advice. The ‘Quaranterns’ are now known across the IT organisation.”

3. They attended company meetings

Cisco hosts several company-wide Check-In meetings each quarter – from the company’s growth that quarter, to social justice and activism movements around the world such as Black Lives Matter and Asian American hate crimes. These were some of the first meetings Adrian and Rushda attended.

Adrian: “These meetings felt incredibly personal, and Cisco didn’t see talking about proximity as a chore, but something genuine. They aren’t conversations to be shied away from. Our executive leadership team offered everyone ways to contribute to solving issues by donating or offering employees paid leave to volunteer.”

Rushda: “Sometimes it felt like we could just ping Jacqui (Guichelaar) for advice despite her being the Group CIO of Cisco. These company meetings made us want to meet more Senior Leaders, so we decided to expand our ‘Be Our Guest Series’ to the ‘Early in Career: Guest Speaker Series’.”

4. They stepped outside their comfort zones

The interns wanted to start a new meeting series that focused on connecting with people all around Cisco. They invited the graduates as well. They wanted to learn from members of the senior leadership team and have conversations with them.

Rushda: “We initially thought seniority might hinder our attempts, but soon realised that senior members at Cisco are genuinely interested in how Cisco is perceived by the next generation. I started sending emails to members of the senior team and was met with enthusiastic responses. Setting up meetings turned out to be a simple email chain to find availability and a 5 minute follow up meeting to discuss expectations for the meeting.”

Since April, the Quaranterns have had memorable conversations with several senior leaders at Cisco, whether that be through their Speaker Series, or the All Hands. Here are some snippets from a few of those conversations:

  • Jacqui Guichelaar, Cisco SVP and Group CIO, said, “Every employee should have the same experience, regardless of the level you are.”
  • Wendy Mars, Cisco SVP and President of EMEAR, advised, “Build a personal network, meet new people, and do not regret the things you might have done in the past.”
  • Alistair Wildman, Cisco SVP and General Manager of CX EMEAR, advised, “Do not to stay in a position or role you’re not good at for too long, as the job you’re doing right now, you’re not going to be doing forever, so you have to take a level of risk with it.”

I hope these experiences help future employees who are starting virtually to settle into their companies. We are already welcoming our latest group of interns and graduates and look forward to building on what Adrian and Rushda have achieved during their time at Cisco.