Completing my first year at Cisco provided the chance to consider how I’ve been able to thrive in a non-technical job in tech. Here are the top five things that made this year one of growth, creativity and connection. If you’re interested in a tech job, please join us.

1. Creativity cultivates collaboration

Creativity simply makes life better.  At Cisco, that includes being able to chat about astrology with my manager, Whitney Tellache, and compare notes about being only children who were also born on January 4th! It’s about swapping playlists with fellow writers to increase both focus and good vibes. It’s about offering Reiki at a local school as part of our Time2Give benefit.

As a dancer, choreographer and writer , creativity is the throughline of my interests and pursuits. I didn’t realize how creative I’d get to be at Cisco. Within my first year I’ve been able to interview folks for videos and blog posts, channeling my childhood dream of becoming the next Oprah. When interviewing DJ Graffiti, I got to dive into his creative process and celebrate how his sets connect us.

I’ve also gotten to expand my creative repertoire by writing scripts, collaborating on visual assets and talking with colleagues about my first novel, which is an ode to creativity and pursuing your dreams. I’ve continuously felt encouraged, supported and connected to others who value thinking outside the box and following the creative muse. This valuing of creativity has fulfilled me while making our content more engaging and collaborative.

2. Pursuing passion is possible

As an employer brand content specialist, what I do most of the time is write. The pandemic afforded me the time to reflect and recognize writing as my forefront passion, and now getting to do that for a living is a literal dream come true.

Seeking out and offering skill development is highly encouraged at Cisco, and as a result I’ve connected with multiple people who consistently share their time and insights on effective storytelling. I look forward to these conversations as they connect me with whole spheres of training and expertise from journalism to project management.

My writing mentors  at Cisco have helped me become more succinct and focused while finding ways to creatively weave in the details that highlight what’s unique about people’s experiences and our company culture. Getting to hone my craft every day is a gift I am deeply grateful for.

3. You don’t have to be a tech expert to tell tech stories

Telling good stories comes from being an active listener. With my training in clinical social work, I am good at helping people feel comfortable and heard when I interview them. Building this rapport leads to trust and therefore vulnerability, which allows for new and more complete perspectives.

Before working at Cisco, I was intimidated by the prospect of writing about technical topics and careers. Cisco’s culture of kindness, openness and learning together has empowered me to connect with folks across the organization, including senior leaders and people who work on things I’d not known about before.

Four weeks into my position, I got to interview Senior Software Engineer Aaron McConnell about his work on Duo’s Universal Prompt. While I learned about engineering through that conversation, I also learned that open dialogue and asking questions is celebrated here. McConnell’s enthusiasm for his work and emphasis on collaboration led me to interview Senior Product Designer Sierre Wolfkostin about the role of user experience (UX) accessibility in developing the Universal Prompt, furthering my knowledge and passion for understanding the nuances involved in our innovation.

4. Sharing excitement opens doors

Since I get to meet people doing extremely interesting things that they are passionate about, I feel invited to share my passions for storytelling, writing, art, dance and community engagement. By connecting with my colleagues as fellow humans, I have formed friendships while also finding ways to collaborate on projects that excite me.

As a result, I’ve been able to contribute to security.design and in the process learn about the intersections of art, design, user experience and engineering. I’ve also gotten to contribute to stories about doxxing and women in STEM. Being empowered to follow what energizes me helps me feel engaged while expanding my skills.

5. Mentorship matters

Within my first few months of joining Cisco, I was invited to participate in an official mentorship program. At first I wondered if it was too early for me to participate, but with my manager’s encouragement I signed up.

The program offered a helpful framework and community meetings to make the most of the mentorship. Being given the tools and expectations of setting meeting agendas, designing goals and asking relevant questions helped me learn how to learn from someone whose experiences and skillset complement my own.

My mentor, Jaclyn Freeman, a senior technical program manager, is generous, kind and insightful. I’ve learned so much from her in terms of how to recognize and celebrate the work that is most meaningful to me, counter imposter syndrome and design my time in a way that helps me feel creative and efficient.

Interested in a non-technical job in tech? Cisco Can Benefit from Your Contributions

I encourage you to consider a field or role outside of your comfort zone. By learning from folks in your network about opportunities that may feel like a stretch, you never know what dream job could be waiting for you.

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Mary Kate Schmermund

Employer Brand Content Specialist

Cisco Secure