The average tenure for tech workers in Silicon Valley is three to five years, according to a survey by Inc. Magazine. Yet here I am still working at Cisco, 16 years after I joined the company. I’ve stayed because I’ve had the opportunity to work on groundbreaking technologies, to have my voice and ideas heard by superiors, to advance my career from individual contributor to manager, and to witness the evolution of Cisco into a close-knit family.
From Shakespeare to Switching
I came to California from India 25 years ago, which, among the large number of transplants, makes me almost a native. At university I studied English literature. Then I dabbled in programming mainframes.
My initial stint at Cisco was as a technical writer contractor in 1999. The company’s humble beginnings at Stanford in 1984―by two grad students who pioneered the first LAN and the first router that served multiple protocols―had by then catapulted Cisco to the Fortune 500. Under CEO John Chambers, Cisco was busy acquiring other companies, getting into switch, VoIP, and other networking industry niches.
My first boss was very thorough; a great conversationalist, and an experienced manager who handled people and conflicts with sophistication and grace. Nevertheless, I was lured to a startup and left after six months.
Stint at Startups and Return to Cisco
The memory of my experience as a tech writer at Cisco remained as I worked for several startups. I had been looking for my next Cisco but discovered that the startup environment wasn’t what I was looking for. So, in 2005 I returned, and I’ve been here ever since.
In 2007, I became a manager of in technical communications in Data Center Engineering. Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to work on great new products. I’ve seen tremendous technology innovation in data center networking.
I remember when Cisco announced the first soft switch, the Cisco Nexus 1000V. It was entirely new to the industry and there was so much excitement. The engineers worked incredibly hard. Different functions, like product marketing and product management, aligned to make the product a huge success.
Kudos to The Small Team Approach
New products at Cisco start out supported by a small team that is very focused on what they want to achieve. That focus is Cisco’s secret sauce for success.
The Nexus 1000v switch was our first step in the direction of virtualization. I also remember the launch of the Nexus 7000 switch for mission critical enterprise and service provider data centers. It was a mammoth switch at the time. I was involved in the day to day management of the documentation and messaging. It gave me a broader view of the different moving parts within the greater organization as we determined what to write and what to exclude from the documentation.
Then came software-defined networking, containers, AI, and machine learning. I meet people outside of Cisco who are surprised to find out we’re creating product portfolios in these areas. But for me it’s another reason that I haven’t had to go to work elsewhere to learn new things. At Cisco I’ve always felt that I’m working on technology that is ahead of the curve.
Moving Forward After the Pandemic
Cisco used to be very tactical. It was all about ‘Let’s get this release out. Let’s get this done.’ Success was measured in what we collectively achieved. While that hasn’t changed, now, especially since the pandemic, there’s a lot more warmth and care from the top down. We have technologists and technology pioneers, yes, but the leadership has struck a balance between passion towards technology and passion for people. I’ve seen more heart in how people are managing teams.
We have to acknowledge that every employee has gone above and beyond to deliver during this difficult period, with kids being at home, everyone living and learning and working together. As a manager I try to strike a healthy balance between showing care for my team and making sure we’re staying focused on the goals. Cisco is aware of the global political and socioeconomic issues and impacts over the past year. Executives have done a good job of communicated about how they impact our company.
Advocating for Best Practices in Technical Documentation
Tech writers might think that they’re at the bottom of the food chain, that people don’t think about user documentation until the end. But that’s changing. At Cisco I heavily promote getting the writers involved from the beginning of a development effort. My goal is to educate the stakeholders; to have them understand the value we bring.
If a writer doesn’t understand the technology, how well is she going to write about it? Being involved in new product development from the beginning helps us understand each product better and stay on the same page as features change and evolve.
Initially, all our products were once CLI based. Now we have GUIs with industry standards. So technical writers are now helping with UX writing, providing oversight and consistency.
Cisco documentation sets the industry standard in many ways. As one of the first networking device companies, we were among the first companies to decide how to structure a user manual or a configuration guide.
One thing we lack is a universal governance model for all product-elated content. It’s now in different silos for product management, product marketing, and tech writing. We release a product and systems engineers look at Sales Connect content, outside technologists get info on Cisco.com, and network operators to the technical documentation.
We always see an uptick of emails after our First Customer Ship (FCS) date, when the image is posted to Cisco.com. Sometimes one set of content is at odds with another set. We need to create better governance and more consistency across all product content.
What People Don’t Know About Cisco
When I talk to other people about Cisco, I don’t have to prove that we have the cream of the crop. It’s expected. What people don’t know is that there’s a lot of heart here.
At Cisco, whenever I’ve spoken about an issue with my management, no one has said “No, you’re wrong” or “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” They’ve always been empathetic enough to hear me out and to understand what the issue is. I’ve always felt that this openness is there.
We’ve all gotten closer since the pandemic. Working from home, we’ve gotten to know what people’s living rooms look like, along with their spouses, kids, dogs, and cats. For us, it has really cemented a closeness on our team of 22. If someone has to publish documentation at midnight, I can assure you that someone on the team will be available to help. My team has become like family to me. In WebEx meetings, we’ve discussed everything under the sun.
These are some of the reasons why I’ve stayed at Cisco and continue to promote this company as a great place to work and pursue a career.