Working allows me to provide for my family, and like for most of us, working isn’t a choice. But where I work and how I engage is my choice. Cisco chose me and I chose Cisco.
I started my career with college summer internships as a programmer for the biggest and most well-known computer company. I enjoyed the team and the work, but felt far removed from the business. I couldn’t connect my work, my department’s work, or even my entire sites’ efforts to business impact.
After three internships, I vowed never to work for a large company. Eight startups and 25+ years later, I joined Cisco in 2015, a company with 70,000+ employees and $47B in revenue.
Never say never.
In 2015 (and today as well), staying relevant meant reinventing myself – stepping outside my comfort zone and getting comfortable with the uncomfortable. As strange as this may sound, I found comfort working in the Silicon Valley startup culture of early adopters, uncertainty, nonexistent markets, and limited (and at times no) funding. I perceived the large company would limit my ability to impact the customer and influence product direction.
Additionally, I thought everyone at a large company managed processes and politics, as opposed to creating results. We know what we know. Clearly, not all large companies are the same.
What Makes Cisco Different? Culture.
I would like to share my experiences, fully immersed in our culture, through some of our recent #hashtags.
On May 4th, we welcomed Boeing’s executive leadership to San Jose, CA. The meeting’s objective focused on sharing how Cisco managed it’s digital, cultural, and operational transformations by converging operational technology (OT) with information technology (IT).
When we finalized the date, my Boeing counterpart, said, “Neil, you know, we’ve just agreed to meet on May 4th, as in May the 4th be with you – Star Wars Day.” Without missing a beat, I replied “Kellie, we’re a tech company, May the 4th is a big deal!” I figured we had two months to find a fun and simple way to engage Boeing in a #WeAreCisco #MayThe4th experience.
As the customer experience center visit drew closer, I learned Cisco’s Talent Brand team was already hard at work implementing May the 4th plans for our @WeAreCisco channels. It was exciting to learn our leadership had heard during a Cisco Beat (our all employee monthly meeting) teams around Cisco wanted to celebrate Star Wars Day, and @WeAreCisco was also listening. A partnership with NASDAQ led to an Instagram contest and Facebook Live broadcast – from Times Square! – for employees along with Star Wars photo ops and themed foods in the cafes. Fueled by The Force, this day was!
For our meeting with Boeing, I thought we could add to the experience and really wow our guests. So, our team transformed our Napa Valley executive board room into a complete May the 4th Star Wars experience. We showed the agenda just like the movie’s opening credits (with theme music), took photos with a Storm Trooper, used light sabers as pointers, wore Chewbacca masks, had a BB8 cake, and submitted photos to the @WeAreCisco Instagram competition.
We all had some fun, and Boeing learned first-hand how Cisco employees create an exciting and productive work environment.
Shortly after I joined Cisco, John Chambers announced Chuck Robbins would become our CEO. Wow, my first impact: regime change. As part of the transition, we celebrated John and welcomed Chuck into his new role with exciting performances at Levi’s Stadium.
My then 18-year-old daughter Eva joined me at the concert. To me, this wasn’t just a concert; this was an awesome learning moment for Eva to experience a company at its best, bringing people together in celebration. People who work hard, play hard; as a result, they can choose to celebrate together. Since Eva would begin her college education a few weeks later, I hoped she recognized working hard matters and creates opportunities.
Being part of the sales organization, I attended 2015 GSX in Las Vegas. The theme: #ALLin. It was my first GSX and I was blown away. The experience began at the San Francisco airport ticket counter, where the digital signage displayed “GSX ALL IN.” It only got better from there, continuing with John’s welcome address, attending the training sessions, and culminating with another incredible concert in the largest tent ever.
I was beyond impressed with Cisco’s commitment to me and my colleagues. I left the event with a feeling of purpose, value and direction. Just before heading home from Las Vegas, I continued the opportunity to get comfortable with being uncomfortable by riding the X-Treme thrill ride dangling 300 meters over the edge of the Stratosphere hotel.
Each year, Cisco employees receive five days to give back to their communities. Motivated to impact the at-risk diabetes community, I used my 2016 volunteer hours as a swim angel with PATHSTAR (www.pathstar.org), a nonprofit committed to inspiring and revitalizing sustainable health and wellbeing practices within Native American communities. The experience culminated with a swim from Alcatraz to San Francisco.
Once again, I was blown away with how Cisco supported my choice of when and where I would volunteer and how I could impact organizations important to me and my family.
Cisco published a blog about the experience here: http://weare.cisco.com/c/r/weare/amazing-stories/real-deal/neil-heller.html
I work and play #ALLin. Showing up at work isn’t enough for me. I hope you join me in bringing your passion to work and play as well.
I would choose Cisco again.
Do you want to choose Cisco? We’re hiring!