We know that technical skills are essential for site reliability and software engineering positions. However, hiring managers take note when candidates display soft skills or qualities that are necessary for collaboration and innovation. Jaya Sistla, a site reliability engineering (SRE) manager, uses three words to describe the qualities she seeks in candidates and colleagues regardless of title or level: humble, hungry and skilled.

To ascertain these qualities, Sistla wants to know, “Are you a person who gets along with others in the team? Are you hungry to learn? Are you hungry to teach? Are you hungry to grow our business? Given a task, are you able to learn and perform?” she said. “Tech is always rapidly changing and growing, so if you have these three things in your character, then you will be able to catch up with technology.”

Read on to learn the top soft skills that site reliability and software engineering hiring managers seek out at Cisco — and if you’re humble, hungry and skilled, visit our open roles.

1. Openness to differences of opinion.

Discussing not only what work is being done, but also how, is an important part of being an engineer in cybersecurity. That’s why, “it’s helpful to have a willingness to see other perspectives,” said Hanna Fernandez, a software engineer.

“It’s nice to be able to have a dialogue on other options… Luckily I feel like most of the people I work with are always super willing to engage with you in, ‘Well, this is where we’re coming from, this is what we were thinking of.’ And also, if you do propose an alternative, it’s going to have to meet these considerations,” she said.

Site Reliability Engineering Manager Stacey Young looks for people, “who are willing to have real discussions and people who like to learn. If you assume that you know all that there is to know about yourself, about the world in general, about the job that you do, you’re going to miss out on a lot,” she said.

2. A love of learning, especially from others.

Learning is required to excel as an engineer in cybersecurity. While textbooks and courses provide excellent information and education, learning beyond the books stands out to hiring managers. “Throughout your career, it will always be an advantage to make sure that you are up to date and that you are always learning something new,” Guillaume Dury, an SRE manager, said.

“If you’re not willing to learn, you are not going to grow and the people around you aren’t going to grow either.” – Stacey Young

One way that Young has learned throughout her career is through relationships. “I love getting to know people, allowing them to get to know me, and being willing to learn in those relationships. If you’re not willing to learn, you are not going to grow and the people around you aren’t going to grow either,” she said.

For Mario Lopez, a senior software engineer, continuously learning is a vital part of the field. “You can’t know everything, and you don’t want to have learned everything. You want to constantly be improving and learning. There are so many different aspects to this field. It’s not just knowing how to program or code one specific aspect,” he said.

Learning doesn’t end with you. “It’s not just you learn yourself, but helping other folks and lifting them and learning and understanding and then collaborating is very important. A lot of the things that I’m looking for when I’m interviewing is, it’s not what you know, but what you will eventually learn and know and help others learn, too,” Lopez said.

3. Responsibility and accountability.

When people take responsibility for and hold themselves accountable to previous work and processes, they stand out to hiring managers. David Rines, a senior engineering leader, wants people who are comforting using ‘we’ a lot when talking about their team and steer away from blame.

Blake Ellingham, an SRE manager, shared that sentiment. Aside from the technical requirements that we have, it’s accountability and being able to take responsibility for things that go well and for things that don’t go well,” he said.

SRE Nick Aspinall explained that a resume is all about one’s successes, while an interview affords an important opportunity to talk about when things went wrong, how you’ve grown, and what you’ve learned from the experience. “I always like when people show that if they made a mistake, they’ve not only been able to take ownership of that mistake, but [also] been able to see how it occurred and how they can prevent that kind of thing from happening in the future,” he said. “A lot of the times I like to talk about people’s successes, but the failures are where people are defined, and that’s where you learn more about people than the successes.”

4. Working collaboratively to overcome challenges.

Challenges are a common part of any meaningful work, and how you handle them matters most. “We are always going to have issues that come up — that could be interpersonal, it could be technical, there’s going to be challenges —and how you work with team members through conflict and through challenges is really important,” shared Ellingham.

Customer Data Experience Engineering Leader Amy Vazquez explained that part of working through challenges is combining kindness and honesty. “Folks who can be empathetic and sympathetic and kind, and care about others, and who can figure out how to deliver difficult feedback, or have a challenging conversation — those are good skills to have,” she said.

That capacity to approach challenges thoughtfully extends to asking questions when you need support. Lopez explained that the team is very open about sharing resources and knowledge. “Please don’t suffer in silence. Ask that question. Someone else may know the answer and will be happy to help you,” he said. “If they don’t know, other folks will jump in and say, ‘Let’s tackle this together.’ You don’t just spin your wheels trying to figure out something that you know shouldn’t try to be figuring out by yourself.”

5. Not a cultural fit, but a cultural add.

Contributing to our workplace culture matters a lot to hiring managers. “Whoever I’m hiring is going to impact team dynamics. They’re going to add to our team culture. It’s important to be aware of that and think about that,” said Vazquez.

Sharing your perspectives and experiences in an interview lets hiring managers see you more fully. “We look for people who are going to add to our culture, who have unique diversities that they can bring,” Ellingham said. “So, bring your full self. I’d love to hear more about what you can contribute to the culture and what your joys and what your passions are.”

Lopez put it this way: “It’s important to have those different perspectives and experiences, because when we all have those, we’re all learning from each other and we’re all growing together.”

6. Being humble.

Learning together, without ego, leads to healthy, growing, innovative teams. Vazquez explains: “The focus has to be on the work, understanding the problem that we’re trying to solve, and finding the right solution for that initiative,” she said. “Anything that’s not that is just really distracting.”

Of his experience at Cisco, Dury said, “All my colleagues are very humble and very curious about things. Whenever we work together, it’s not about who’s the smartest in the room; it’s about how we can solve technical problems all together, and also how we can learn together while maintaining a very high quality of engineering for the organization.”

7. Having curiosity.

Given the nature of engineering and evolving demands for cybersecurity, being curious about the field and process is vital. Senior SRE Bernard Ting explained: “SRE is what happens after you create the application. How do you get it into the hands of your customers? How do you make sure that it’s reliable? How do you make sure it’s secure? How do you make sure that you can roll things out quickly? All of those questions are what defines SRE, so those are the kind of things that I would encourage you to be curious about.”

Ting says that if you’re working on an application and are concerned it can fail in certain ways, “be curious and dig into it to see how you can improve it. What are other people doing out there? That will help you build up that technical expertise and also that mindset of always thinking what could go wrong and how could I make it better.”

8. Communicating effectively.

In remote and hybrid work environments, communicating across channels and while collaborating is especially important. “Having a more concise way of communicating can help prevent those 45-minute meetings from becoming hour-and-a-half meetings,” Fernandez said.

In terms of coding, while it’s a necessary skill, “being able to explain your decisions and to look at something and question why it was done in that way and possibly find better options” is also essential, Fernandez said.

9. Recognizing the impact you’ve had and the impact you want to have.

Being mission-driven is also important to hiring managers. One way they determine that is by looking for individuals who “understand what they’ve accomplished and how those translate into other things,” Rines said.

In interviews, Rines looks for “examples where they can translate what they did and the impact it made somewhere else, because that’s the type of person that’s going to be really jazzed to work on Duo because with how we focus on users, they’re going to see that impact, they’re going to know that impact, they’re going to be able to redirect their work to improve that impact and optimize that impact. That’s the type of person we want,” he said.

10. Adeptly adapting to ambiguity and navigating change.

Given the changing nature of our world, having the capacity to adjust to change and accept ambiguity has become increasingly important. “The past couple years have shown us that having a tolerance for ambiguity is a good skill to develop. Folks who are adaptable and can figure out how to navigate change successfully is a really great skill,” said Vazquez.

A final piece of advice from a hiring manager?

“I think that the last one would be: Come work with us,” said Dury.

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Mary Kate Schmermund

Employer Brand Content Specialist

Cisco Secure