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From Shark Tank to Cisco – My Journey to Being a Woman in Tech

- April 17, 2018 - 18 Comments

I feel like the happiest Cisco employee on the planet, and I know I’m not alone. When I drive to work each morning and see that “Cisco” logo all lit up as I enter the parking lot, it’s hard not to smile and realize how much I love my life. But, I didn’t start out as a woman in tech. In fact, my career began in fashion – yes, fashion. And you may even recognize me from ABC’s Shark Tank!

Growing up, I was never one of those students that was “wishy-washy” on what I wanted to become. I knew I wanted to be in fashion. And, in a weird twist of fate, where I put off going to my dream fashion school in California – I ended up at North Carolina State University surrounded by Wolfpack football and sororities.

I didn’t join a sorority right away. I was worried that this would mean I had “paid for my friends” – instead, I was surprised to learn that this wasn’t the case at all. I truly loved these girls, and I connected with the fact that all shapes, sizes, and styles were welcome. It didn’t take me long to realize how expensive sorority life can be though, especially during recruiting season – which is capped off by five days of hair, nails, makeup, jewelry, shoes, and – of course – the expensive, ill-fitting dresses!

Are you ready to #LoveWhereYouWork? We’re hiring! Apply now.

Suddenly, a lightbulb went off! What if I could create custom, one-of-a-kind dresses for sororities that were affordable?  There were millions of sorority women in the same position with no one to cater to them. Essentially, a billion dollar industry was left with a door wide open.

Around the same time, I was enduring a really rough fashion internship experience, and this is where I met Kate. As young minds tend to do – we dreamed of doing something better. We left the internship together, and kept in touch. We talked a lot about the idea I had, but I was scared of starting my own business. There are so many unknowns!

Yet, the idea wouldn’t leave us, and one month later we took a leap of faith. In January of 2012, I sent Kate $250 to help register our company – Frill, and after that I was down to my last $100. I didn’t tell anyone what we had just done for six months, because I was terrified of failure.

What started out as a hobby, grew pretty quickly. And that’s when one of our images went viral on social media – keep in mind that in 2013, “viral” wasn’t just a catch word — it was truly an organic craze of activity! This resulted in Frill dressing sororities and bridesmaids all across the world.

Eventually, our $500 investment became a six figure company during our second year of business, but we didn’t stop there. As I was watching Shark Tank one night on T.V. I thought, “We should be on that show!” and I promised myself when I graduated college – we’d apply.

So we did, and we got on!  Six months later, we were in front of The Sharks, and we got a deal with two of them – a secret we had to keep for nearly 9 months! From struggling young ethnic women in business (who many turned away due to our age) it was validating to have experienced sharks believe in us!

A couple of years later, and after five years of being in business, we sold Frill as it felt like the right time to move on to new challenges. And this is how I came to Cisco. Yep, I left entrepreneurship for life at Cisco.

It took three years of applying, but here I am – a woman in tech! Cisco caught my eye because my brother, who was a part of the first SAP cohort, is now a High Touch Operations Manager here. We both grew up with a passion for technology – and always stayed up to date on tech-news and the latest devices. Cisco seemed like a place where my career could come full circle.

It didn’t come easy, and it was a lot of hard work – coming from the fashion industry and owning my own business doesn’t totally scream, “Technology!” But, I went back and added technology elements to my resume by learning to code and SQL. Through the various skillsets I had, I was able to make my dream come true.

I truly feel that loving where you work, starts from within. I know being able to say that I’m a woman in tech at Cisco has been one of the highlights of my career so far. To me, it’s important to wake up every day doing what you love. That’s why I made the switch to technology.

 

What do I love most about working at Cisco?

  1. It’s a genuine place! Just take a look at our Careers Site – if you can’t tell, those are REAL employees, and it made me feel like this was the place for me. I loved how one of the employees had pink hair on the cover and it was completely acceptable. As I was applying to Cisco over a course of three years, I saw the change in how the company showed up and showcased their dynamic culture. It’s impossible not to realize how special that is, and I’m so excited to finally be a part of it.
  2. Our Leadership is Amazing! After I left Frill, I worked at other places prior to Cisco – from real estate to behind the scenes on reality television shows, and the leaders at Cisco are by far the BEST! They truly care who you are as a person. On my very first day I was told by a Director, “Push the envelope here. I want you to be innovative, bring all your ideas to the table.” Cisco operates with encouragement and so much support, and it’s impossible for that not to be infectious.
  3. The opportunities are Endless. I love that my organization gives career opportunities to new college graduates, military veterans, the disabled, and moms who have been out of work. It’s inspiring and encouraging to me that we give opportunities to those who don’t have technical backgrounds – you can come to us as you are, and we’ll train you to be the amazing Cisconians we know you can be.

For me, Cisco lives up to what it says it is, it’s incredible that my role uses every single “side hustle” talent of mine and it has been entirely worth the wait.

 

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18 Comments

  1. I would be interested to hear what department you work in at Cisco or a little more about your job function.

  2. Such a fantastic blog. I'm so proud to call you my friend, Sharon!

  3. Awe-inspiring blog! Thank you for sharing your story.

  4. Go Sharon!! Awesome reading about your journey from fashion > tech.

    Wow , such a sweet journey from Fashion to technology ! Its never too late to experience our passions in life :) Really Inspiring story Sharon .

  5. I am 61 year old and experience in retailing to tech business. For many years I am working mom at home. I always work in our business but under circumstances I am home for many years. As I am home doing house work of shoffer,, chef, housekeeper, mother and wife there is no pay or appreciation but in return roof over head and food on a table.i will appreciate if somebody can give me job and ready to learn and I do have technical mind. I will appreciate anything any kind of job.! Please understand me. Thanks

    Sharon, a truly inspiring, exciting, enlightening story to read. You should be so very proud of yourself for knowing what you want(ed) and following your dreams. So happy you are here with us at Cisco!

  6. Your creativity is inspirational, and we are really lucky to have you on our team! Your background and experiences bring such color and perspective to the amazing projects we deliver at Cisco :)

    it was a good read. Thank you Sharon.

  7. Great blog and an inspiring career journey with bold moves!! thanks for sharing, Sharon.

  8. I absolutely love this Sharon!! You rocked the fashion world and you're definitely doing it again here at Cisco! As a woman in technology, it's so awesome to see you leading the way and doing so many influential things here!

  9. You rock and have demonstrated grit and tenacity creating possibilities for you and folks who with you. Well done! enjoy working with you Sharon

  10. For those we have the opportunity to work with you, we know how driven you are towards innovative thinking and success. You definitely make an impact on the team you work with!

  11. Sharon, I love your blog. So exciting to learn more about your journey. We love having you part of the team and love the positive energy and ideas you bring to the group each and every day. Thank you!

      Thank you, everyone, for your kind words and support. I am so happy to be at Cisco! Nicole- I love being on your team. Thank you for driving me to innovate and be the best version of myself each and every day! My Director quote was what you told me on my first day. :)

  12. Proud of you! Great post!

  13. Great great story Sharon. LOVE IT! Welcome to #WeAreCisco

    • Thank you, Mark!!