I’ve never had the intention to join the technology industry, in fact, I had never even heard of Cisco up until a couple of months before I joined the company, and now it’s been 27 years since I first started! In the multiple career development sessions that I have been a part of at Cisco, there were some recurrent questions and themes addressed, this is how I would summarize them.

Waiter, chef, commercial gym owner, professional guitar builder, and gardener… What do these jobs have in common?

It is seemingly nothing, but there is a big common thread because these were all careers that I tried out when I left university and started looking for something to spend my life doing. I tried so many things and I learned something valuable from each of those experiences. I had – and still have no career plan at all…. And that’s perfectly okay! Knowing what I’m going to do in three years’ time would be a demotivator for me because I like change and variety; I enjoy exploring new things and learning. That’s why I’ve been able to stay at Cisco for all of these years because I’ve tried many roles as well.

How do you know it’s time for change?

I tend to be really good at things that I find interesting, spending unlimited time getting better at them. The flip side of that coin is… I’m terrible at things that bore me! So, when I become bored with what I am doing, if I know how to do it in my sleep and I am not learning anything anymore… That’s when I look for another opportunity to make an impact, learn new things, and extend my skillset.

I have learned the most when things go wrong. I call them the missteps: when something didn’t work out, or you weren’t as successful as you thought you were going to be, you didn’t learn as much as you thought you were going to. Those are really valuable lessons. Don’t be afraid to try something new, especially as Cisco is a company where there are multiple options for future roles.

How do we make sure these opportunities arise?

It’s nothing ground-breaking, but absolutely essential… Work on your network! Those connections are important for being successful in your current role, and vital for getting your new job! We are all human, and we tend to put our trust in and take risks on people we know. As you are creating your network, don’t be afraid to ask people – especially leaders, for time. Ask them for 20 minutes – I want to just introduce myself, I want to tell you what I’m good at, I want to tell you what my career aspirations are for my next role and I want to ask you what you’re interested in those conversations – I spend probably 30% of my time at any given week talking to people who’ve reached out, listening to what they do, sharing our experiences or ideas! Networks work both ways, and I am just as interested in meeting people as they are interested in meeting me. I’m looking for people who’ll do my next challenge and help me.

Other than making sure what you do ignites passion in you, and nurturing connections… What are some other lessons I’ve learned on my career journey?

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to a successful, fulfilling career. We all need to find it out for ourselves. If you are not spending time understanding yourself, you will never be successful. You must understand – What are you good at? What do you enjoy? What are you most likely to be successful at? – You can only do that through self-awareness, and paying attention to what makes you happy. If you enjoy your job, you will do it well.

And, when the opportunity comes, have the courage to jump in. Be ready to accept the new challenge when it comes.

Cisco is one company with many careers and many approaches to managing that career.

Your career is figuring out how to get paid for doing the things you love.


Phil Wolfenden

Vice President

CX Centres EMEA