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This blog comes from Mayada Abdelrahman, the product lead for Cisco’s Webex Assistant, the first-of-its-kind enterprise digital meeting assistant. Mayada is focused on leveraging AI to transform the meeting experience and revolutionize the way we work. Mayada has a computer science degree from the American University in Cairo and an MBA from Duke University. In 2011, she was selected as an emerging women leader in the technology industry in MENA as part of Cisco’s Women in Technology program. Mayada will present at Cisco’s Women Rock-IT event on September 15. Click here to pre-register for and watch this event.

As a young student, I was passionate about math and science. I later realized it is not just maths I am passionate about, but more broadly, problem solving and leveraging technology to solve societal challenges. This discovery drove me to pursue Computer Science for my undergrad degree. Working with my teammates to solve complex problems drove home the importance of leadership and the immense impact of effectively driving a team towards achieving a common goal. Soon after that, I was motivated to lead my college’s student association’s “Anti-Cancer Team,” where we worked tirelessly for two years to establish the first breast cancer detection unit in Banha, Egypt. This medical unit provides better access to breast cancer screening and support by partnering with over 30 area sponsors to collect needed funds to ensure women are screened. This center currently serves over two million women every year.

Seeing the impact driven by our student-led team, I was inspired to leverage that kind of social impact on a larger scale. So, I co-founded the CSR department of my first employer, where we delivered various community service and development projects, such as blood donation, food supply, and go green campaigns.

Leading while learning a cutting-edge technology

During my 13-year career in software and hardware, I have guided teams to solve problems spanning multiple industries, from business process automation for governments and more efficient clean energy resources and sustainable consumer products, to, most recently, leveraging AI to revolutionize the workplace.

AI is one of the fastest-growing tech sectors, with great potential to solve societal problems. My field of expertise centers on the role of voice technology in re-shaping our lives. The whole world is moving towards a voice-first strategy. You can see it everywhere around you – Alexa, Siri, Google Home, Bixby.

One year ago, voice technology was used primarily because our lives were on-the-go. Moving fast and being hands-free enabled us to be productive and get things done while multi-tasking. Today, voice technology is becoming even more prominent. As we adapt to the new normal, being hands-free and using less touch is deemed less risky, safer, and is almost a requirement. Voice technology opens the door to enabling a wide breadth of use cases for accessibility and users with special needs.

As a product lead for Voicea, now part of Cisco, I work with my team to leverage voice technology to transform the meeting experience and revolutionize the way we work – through developing Webex Assistant, the first digital enterprise meeting assistant in the market. Think Siri or Alexa for the workplace. Our mission is to “turn talk into action.” Instead of spending hours taking meeting notes and assigning action items to team members, we want meeting attendees to focus on the conversation and lean on Webex Assistant to do the heavy lifting.

As we continue to get more customer feedback, I am personally thrilled to find that there is major interest and a strong value proposition for users who are visually and hearing impaired, as well as in the education sector. This makes me hopeful that we can leverage AI to solve real world problems and drive positive change.

How to build a revolutionary leader

Along the way, I learned some lessons that I hope you find useful to becoming a leader in your own right:

 

  1. Cut the noise and get things done. Be the doer. The world needs more productive people. There are so many ideas everywhere, but there aren’t enough people who are willing to make the jump, do the hard work, and get it done.
  1. With enough hustle, you can learn and do anything. There is nothing that you can’t do or can’t learn if you put enough effort forth. This could show up in a multitude of ways – educating yourself on a subject, getting your hands dirty with a side hustle, or tapping into your network to help you navigate an aspirational career path.
  1. Fail fast, take note, and restart stronger than before. “Good is better than perfect.” It is important to launch a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), get feedback, improve, and restart. Failing is just another way of learning. And the MVP concept not only applies to the technology industry but to other aspects of our lives too. if you are not sure whether you should choose a career in one industry or the other, do an MVP – take a class, talk to people, research. Small steps will take you a long way.
  1. Work smarter not harder. I learned this the hard way. Putting in so many hours to achieve an objective is not linear to how successful you will be. If you can get there faster by working smarter, you get that time back to achieve personal or other career objectives. Think of the 80/20 rule. What are the core actions you need to take that will give you the biggest bang of your buck?
  2. Adopt a “whatever it takes” mindset to achieve your goal. Achieving a challenging goal is not a smooth paved road, there is no room for picking and choosing. The most successful people I’ve met are willing to roll up their sleeves to get the job done. They will identify areas of improvement and take them on!