Our customers are the heart and soul of everything we do at Cisco and each one of them has an interesting story to tell! Our Q&A series allows us to shine a spotlight on some of our most passionate customer advocates as we learn more about their stories and backgrounds.

Cisco’s advocacy community, Cisco Insider Advocates, brings our customers together and provides a way for them to make powerful connections, expand their professional and personal networks, and learn from top experts in their field. One of our goals with our advocacy community is to deepen our relationships with our customers and today, we have one of the friendliest faces in the community joining us for a chat. I’m excited to welcome Simon Watkins from Prosperity 24/7.

Welcome, Simon! Let’s kick things off by talking about what you wanted to be when you were 16 years old?

I live on an Island called Jersey, a place where many people outside of the UK are unaware of its existence. At Cisco Live Las Vegas this past June, I met so many great people and when chatting with them, we’d end up discussing home and interests. I would introduce myself, saying: “Hi, I’m Simon and I’m from Jersey.” There would often be a pause, with the common reply: “New Jersey, right? But your accent is all wrong!” Google Maps was used many times during the conference! So to clear things up, Jersey is an island located between northern France and the UK in the English Channel.

The island has a large offshore financial services industry, so there is often an expectation that one might have a career in that sector someday. However, I was never attracted to that industry. At 16, I really didn’t know what I’d be doing in the future. I enjoyed IT, but didn’t study it at 16 and I drifted towards the sciences instead.

I can see how a lot of people from across the pond can get Jersey mixed up! And, that’s interesting that you didn’t start your IT career early on. When you finally did get into IT, where did you start and what professional decision or opportunity helped lead you to your current role?

After University, where I obtained a BSc (Honours) degree in Biological Sciences, I decided with my partner, Kersten, to go travelling. Our intention was to do that for a year, but we ended up travelling and working overseas for almost three years. We had so many adventures and looking back we made some amazing memories. But, at that time in 1995 when we left Jersey, the world was already changing. I remember arriving in New Delhi and having to communicate back home either by landline telephone or by sending faxes. We also actually wrote letters! We didn’t remember seeing at the time Internet Cafés, but roll forward two years and walking through the same streets of New Delhi and Kathmandu suddenly the “new normal” was Internet Cafés, AOL, Yahoo, and search engines that don’t even exist anymore. Suddenly it was time to retire the pen and obtain an email address.

After returning to Jersey, it was also time to get a job and consider my career path. I applied for a junior role at a local IT company. They must have seen something in me as I was immediately fast-tracked onto their graduate scheme, where I rotated in various departments that included sales, marketing, helpdesk, and technical services.  At the time, there was one chap working in networking and security who was the most engaging individual. He talked a million miles an hour about subjects that sounded quite interesting, but I didn’t have a clue about any of it. To make a long story short, networking seemed to be something “cool” to get into and having a great tutor who was super enthusiastic about the subject really helped me on the journey.

I recently moved to Prosperity 24/7 with my colleague and friend Robert Taylor, as there was an appetite within the organization to invest and build a network team that would close the loop in terms of services provided to their clients. When I started my role, I was very surprised by the welcome post on the Prosperity 24/7 LinkedIn page. Check it out, especially if you’re a Star Wars fan!

Prosperity 24/7 has just become the newest Cisco Premier Integrator partner on Jersey island. Our clients have been very welcoming and grateful to have an independent, non telco, locally based team who can service their needs. It’s an exciting time and I’d like to thank Chris Clark and the directors at Prosperity24/7 for their invaluable support. They have the vision and confidence in our ability to develop a compelling business proposition.

That picture you painted of how rapid the transformation and adoption of IT was during your time in India really helps detail the incredible speed and innovation in the tech industry we see all the time. How has partnering with Cisco helped you in your role?

Cisco is an innovator and market leader in many verticals. I feel aligning myself with a company like Cisco makes absolute career sense. Cisco is not afraid to invest in technology and acquire other businesses with innovative products and services. Look at some of the acquisitions over the years, such as Meraki and Umbrella and how they have become integral in Cisco’s overall product portfolio.

When starting my career, I followed the normal CCNA/CCNP R&S tracks. CCNP R&S is now CCNP Enterprise and incorporates several different options such as SDAFND and ENTEIT to complete the certification. I also appreciate Cisco’s support offerings. If you have an issue you need to solve, it is likely that someone at Cisco or a member within one of the user groups has the answer.

If I was to summarize this into three words, I think it would be Innovation, Support, and Progression. One of the best bits of advice I was given was: “Understand the technology and read the docs.” I think this advice still stands today!

I’m happy you chose three strong, positive words to describe what we do at Cisco. What’s been your biggest challenge in your company recently, and how did you overcome it?

Recently, I’ve become a logistics and supply chain guru! It’s no secret that there are component shortages for many manufacturers, which has led to supply chain issues. Where I would particularly specify certain devices for certain roles, I’m now working with suppliers to see what equipment is available in the project timeframes to successfully deliver a project.

Having up-to-date information on lead times really helps and I think the Cisco Meraki team is leading the way with information available on their partner portal. Ultimately, we’ve had to adapt to the new world situation, and having information at your fingertips certainly helps you set appropriate expectations.

Thanks for sharing your insights into dealing with supply chain issues. Disruptions due to the pandemic have been a huge challenge for the industry as a whole. Let’s move on to our customer advocacy community. How would you describe it to those aren’t familiar with it?

Cisco Insider Advocates is a community of individuals from diverse backgrounds and experiences. Everyone has something to bring to the table and it’s a great platform for education and sharing ideas. I don’t usually have time to research the latest information, and this is one area where the Insider platform excels. It has neatly packaged articles that keep you abreast of what’s happening in the Cisco world. And now, when I go to a Cisco Live event, I meet people I know from the community, or I get to meet new faces while I’m there.

By the way, congratulations on becoming a “Rockstar” this summer, Simon! What made you want to join, and how has being part of this community impacted you both professionally and personally?

I joined in late 2018. I soon took advantage of sharing articles I found within the community through my own LinkedIn and Twitter accounts, which helped me build my professional profile without having to spend hours creating content myself. I’m no social media expert, so having packaged content I can share is a great help!

I was also invited to help with the creation of a short film series. Called “Faces of the Gateway” the video series reaches beyond the hardware and software use cases—revealing the people and stories behind the technology. This was a great opportunity for me, and I was really nervous as it’s something I wouldn’t normally do, but I was so happy with the finished video! Here’s my segment. If community members have the chance to do something like this, I would say embrace it. It’s a painless experience and it’s a great opportunity to build your professional profile.

Finally, the recognition of reaching the top tier of the program is amazing. I levelled up at Cisco Live Vegas this year and it was a great personal achievement for me.

It’s great to see all the community initiatives that you’ve taken part in over the years and the value you’ve gotten from them. We would love to know more about your experience at Cisco Live Vegas. On a scale of 1-5 (5 being the highest), how would you describe your overall experience this year?

Looking back, the number one aspect of the Cisco Live US conference was the hospitality and how well we were looked after by the Cisco Insider Advocates team – they definitely got a 5/5! From an amazing breakfast on the first morning where we got to meet other Rockstars and reconnect with the Global Advocacy team, some of whom I’d met before at Cisco Live Barcelona, to being able to meet the US team. There is nothing like meeting people in person. We shared great stories and made new memories that we’ll be laughing about in years to come!

I’m happy for you Simon, it sounds like you had a memorable experience at Cisco Live this year. We’re almost at the end of the interview and we’d love to finish with three things you can’t live without?

  1. Family
  2. Health
  3. Supportive colleagues

Supportive colleagues make all the difference! It’s been a pleasure to chat with you Simon, thank you again for joining us!

You are welcome, Rashik!

Read more advocate interviews

You might enjoy this interview with Jeremy Shupick.  

Join us!

For our customers who have already joined our Cisco Insider Advocates community, say  hello to Simon if you haven’t met each other yet. And for those Cisco customers who haven’t yet joined, consider doing so. You’ll be able to:

  • Connect with peers in a gamified, online community
  • Have an opportunity to meet with Cisco’s executives
  • Share your feedback, questions, and best practices
  • Get access to ‘insider’ content and resources
  • Grow your professional and personal brand
  • Amplify your company’s success story with Cisco technology

Ready to get started?

Head over to the Cisco Insider Advocates Community and say hello!

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Rashik Rahman

Global Advocacy Specialist

Global Advocacy - UK