This post was written by Cisco Intern Charlie Helms Jr. Charlie smiles in front of a sign advertising a Cisco Hackathon.

What I love most about working at Cisco is the feeling that I truly matter. Being an African-American student in computer science has many challenges, and one of them is seeing longevity in your field when you do not see many people that look like you there. As a result of this problem, I suffered from impostor syndrome and always doubted my ability to do well in a technical role. But Cisco is dedicated to diversity and ensuring we all have a voice in the wonderful world of technology and making the world a better place.

If you asked me a year ago about being an intern at Cisco, I would’ve told you that I didn’t think I was qualified enough to do so – but sometimes what we don’t see in ourselves is a fire lit by those who can see it.

As a rising junior at UNC Chapel Hill I co-founded an organization called Black in Technology to inspire students in college to pursue a computer science major and career pathway. The organization holds events with different companies so students can learn more about their technical roles. One event that I arranged was with Cisco’s Employee Resource Organization (ERO) – the Connected Black Professional group. 

I wanted my fellow classmates to attend the event so that they could apply for internships, and while I thought it would be a good networking and educational experience for me – I never saw myself applying. When I was about to leave, a Cisco employee told me I would be a good fit for a Software Engineer role. I couldn’t have been more surprised – “Me, why me?” I thought.  

But they saw something in me that I did not yet see in myself, and they knew that Cisco could help that flicker grow into a flame. They also knew that not only could Cisco help me to grow, but that I could also help Cisco as well – interns aren’t just interns at Cisco, we’re seen as an integral part of the team and encouraged to add our insight and knowledge to help make things better 

Charlie and a peer stand on either side of a projection screen showing the Black in Technology logo.

When I obtained my internship, I made it a personal mission of mine to not only do the work of a Software Engineer but also go the extra mile to see how much of an impact I could have in the company.  

Here are the 3 ways I feel I made the most impact during my internship: 

1. My Main Internship Project: For my main project on the Release Management team I had to self-teach myself PEGA, which is a software that helps with customer relationship management, digital process automation, and business process management. I was the first employee in the US on my team utilizing this software. Once I completed self-paced lessons, I was then connected with a team of PEGA developers in India to answer my questions about designing the module. I then met with stakeholders to understand the requirements, which was crucial because the module will be utilized by the team for years, and there could not be any errors. Due to the success of this layout, my team will use my process as the blueprint when they bring on new interns and hires in the future.

2. Networking: You hear this one a lot, but you hear it because it’s so important as an intern to take advantage of the networking available to you at Cisco. And, so, I did my very best to meet with as many different leaders and co-workers as possible to create lasting bonds. One of the highlights of my internship was meeting Cisco’s CEO Chuck Robbins and the CEO of Global Citizen Hugh Evans after our all employee monthly meeting, The Cisco Beat. I pitched them the idea about having a Global Citizen chapter at UNC Chapel Hill, and they both loved the idea. They put me in contact with people to meet and I am pleased to say that we have made a lot of progress in executing my vision. That all stems from networking!

3. Stepping Outside My Comfort Zone: Another great aspect of my internship was the ability to work on a marketing project. I proposed the idea of making a video that showcases what IT is all about to candidates and new hires to the IT University director, because there is not a lot of information about this division. They fully supported the idea and gave me a list of people to meet with so that I could share my ideas and collect stories on what IT means to those who work in this field. The experience allowed me to meet even more Cisco employees around the globe and gave me the chance to complete a marketing project which is something I always wanted to do. At Cisco, there’s really no boundaries on what you can accomplish!

Charlie standing with peers in business clothes for Connected Black Professionals.

My Cisco internship was transformative. I now feel more confident in my ability to work in a technical role and have an extensive network inside and outside of Cisco. Not to mention, I now have work experience in a completely new field! In a short amount of time, I can’t believe how much I have grown, and I’m excited to see what the future holds. Not only can I not wait to come back, but I can’t wait to tell others at UNC Chapel Hill and beyond how I loved working at Cisco – and why I think they should too! 

Ready to become a Cisco intern? We’re hiring. Apply now.