Hei fra Norge! or “Hello from Norway!” I’m a Product Manager focused on the Webex Certification Program. I specifically work in the Webex Devices Business Unit based in Oslo, Norway where all our Webex video endpoints are created. Since 2019, I’ve been an expat, and I’d love to share how I landed this role and what I’ve learned – all thanks to Cisco!
The expat package at Cisco has two tiers. The first is the Cisco Talent Development Assignment (TDA) program. This is a one-year rotational assignment to develop talent, leadership skills, provide expanded visibility, and networking opportunities. Cisco was paying for my Norwegian taxes and other expenses such as my VISA, Ernst and Young tax consulting fees, one round trip flight back home a year, immigration services, relocation vendor fees, and more. The cost of living in Norway is 46.76% higher than in the United States! Rent, utilities, food, and transportation was, of course, out of pocket.
In the second year, I migrated over to the Long-Term International Assignment (LTIA) since TDA is a one-year-only program and most projects take about 18 months to come into completion. The bonus of LTIA is that it was subsidizing my housing by $650 a month.
Overall, the expat program was not easy to get as an individual contributor. So how does one get accepted? It all starts by building a business case that ties to the growth of the product or service. Below are three initiatives that helped me secure the expat package.
1. Add value. Acquire skills that will separate you from your peers and adds value to the business. The CCIE Voice exam was tough but going through a real-world MBA (aka having my own startup) was the most difficult job I had in my life. I bootstrapped Liberwave, the world’s first peer to peer notes and textbook trading app, at the cost of a 2-year MBA program. I worked from 5pm to midnight on weekdays and 25+ hour weekends for two straight years and I loved every moment of it. At our peak, we had up to 45,000 users and 10 people working for me and we even turned down the final round to appear on Shark Tank! With that skill set, I started to think agile and understood how to prioritize since it was my own money. I brought tools forward to the business unit, such as the AHA road mapping; order fulfillment ordering programs, and marketing hacks just to name a few.
2. Create impactful programs.This is where my startup experience of understanding a two-sided marketplace helped the growth of Webex. For example, by first creating Webex Ambassadors, as an evangelization group to identify developers to create bots for Webex to quickly seed the Webex Apphub to jump-start our Daily Active Users.
3. Identify stakeholders. You need to have executive sponsorship to help with funding. That required three executives to “tin cup” or split the costs of the program. Finally, create a 10-slide pitch deck of past wins and also break down projects you will work on that aligns with their priorities.
After two years in Oslo, I can now say this was a lifetime opportunity, and worth the effort. Four personal learnings of the program I had are shared below.
1. Communicate. Invest as much time in storytelling as you do in execution. Great execution with poor communication limits your impact over time. You could be doing great work, but without great communication it won’t receive the attention that it deserves. You need to embrace that communication is an important skill.
2. Leadership. Leadership skills break down into communication, influence, execution, and strategic thinking. At the end of the day, you are responsible for pushing yourself while also helping others along the way.
3. Teamwork. As an individual contributor, you are responsible for influencing your peers on your direct team, but you also must indirectly influence people you don’t manage. The methods of building high performance product teams, managing up, down, across, and creating a cross-functional influence. Also, Keith Ferrazzi has a great book called, “Never Eat Alone.” I made it a rule when I first moved to Oslo to have lunch with someone new every day to help me understand the business gaps and roles. It was also a great way to make friends along the way.
4. Culture. Leave behind a culture and tradition where you came from. Creating hackathons was a great way to bring together different teams. After helping support TechCrunch Disrupt and Devposts howcasing Webex APIs, I spearheaded student and cross-business unit and partner hackathons into Oslo and Richardson.
After two years under the expat program, I decided to not return to Austin, Texas, and to fully transition as an employee under Cisco Norway.
In closing, to translate the Norwegian saying, “tusen takk” or a thousand thanks; without the expat program, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet my fiancé! I feel blessed to work for such a great company with amazing people creating products that help connect the world. Thank you, Cisco!
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