The initial human reaction to yet another meeting on our calendars might just be a light eye roll.  We’ve all had meetings about meetings, meetings that spawned more meetings, and – of course – the dreaded meeting you didn’t even need to be a part of.  So, this year, when I added another series to my team’s calendar – I wanted to make sure it would be a moment that mattered.

In August 2018, while in Las Vegas for the Cisco Global Sales Meeting, one of the engineers on my team and I were trying to find the conference room for our next session when he suddenly pulled me in another direction.  His face lit up, and his voice filled with excitement, said, “Did you see him? He’s my hero!”

A screen grab of Burcu's team meeting with Chuck Robbins over Webex.
Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins (top row, second image) meets with the team.

It was our security rock star Mike Storm.

And it was in this moment that I was inspired.  If simply passing Mike Storm could excite someone on my team so much – what if I could create the opportunity for them to actually meet with him?

I am the leader of an amazing team of security engineers here at Cisco who are working remotely across the globe.  Working in a virtual environment shouldn’t be a barrier for the feeling of being on a real team, as such we’ve created many different rituals to help us support each other.  We laugh together, celebrate together, and we also get inspired together.

With all these thoughts brewing in my mind, I decided to start a meeting series called “Get Inspired” and invite our heroes within the company to come and meet with my team.  I wanted these incredible security engineers to have the opportunity to spend some time with those people that they thought were perhaps “unreachable”.  I formulated the series around a fireside chat where our heroes could share their career journey, advice for early in career, vision on the industry, and perhaps share their stories that go beyond regularly scheduled company meetings.

I wasn’t even sure if they would respond to my request, but I thought I would take the risk of rejection for my team.

So, I sent an email to Mike and he responded quickly with, “Sound likes fun. When?” We spent a great hour with Mike where he gave advice around career certifications, his projections around security treats and even did a mini coaching for a project that we were working on at that time.  He even generously offered his time to attend our customer meetings – wow!  This is a true example of how Cisco is one big team within a very large company where people take action to help their fellow co-workers to succeed.

Gerri Elliott's tweet with a screengrab of her meeting with Burcu's team of SE's.
Gerri Elliott (top row, first image) tweets about meeting with the team.

Afterwards I asked my team how they enjoyed the session.  They were so inspired that they thought having Gerri Elliott, Cisco’s EVP and Chief of Sales and Marketing Officer, as our next guest would be awesome.

Challenge Accepted!

You may think sending an email to an EVP within a company as large as Cisco could be daunting.  Our culture, however, says otherwise.  We asked for 30 minutes of Gerri’s time, and she not only arrived 10 minutes early – but also stayed an additional 10 minutes at the end.  She recognized our team, name by name, for our achievements and contributions, took a virtual selfie – and, she even tweeted it out!

Can you imagine any other recognition or inspiration for your team that can beat this one? I can’t!

The team has continued to be inspired, and so we have continued to hold this meeting once a month.  Here are a few of our other guests so far and some special moments we have shared with them:

John Maynard's introductory slide for the team.
John Maynard’s introductory slide for the team.

John Maynard, VP of Global Security Sales Organization: John is a VP whose vision is to have the “Best Security Specialist Team on the Planet” – pretty inspiring, right?  Wait till you hear how he was prepared to meet with us!  While he was busy transforming our business, he spent time preparing a couple of slides for our meeting with pictures of his kids, notes about him, his background, and he even made book suggestions to us.  All things we know he didn’t have to do, but gladly took the extra time to really share who he is with us.

Matt Watchinski, Head of our Talos organization: Matt talked about what they are seeing in Talos these days, gave us great ideas on what to watch out for in the upcoming months, and even shared how he’s securing his home.

A screen grab of Burcu's team meeting with Gee Rittenhouse over Webex.
Gee Rittenhouse (top row, second from left) meets with the team.

Gee Rittenhouse, SVP and GM, Security Business Group: Gee is a real modern time hero – an engineer and a scientist!  We engineers always get inspired by fellow engineers who are doing amazing things and Gee certainly fits that bill.

Edwin Paalvast, SVP of Global Specialist Organization: Edwin talked about his childhood, how his personal experiences shaped his career, his vision on our technology and people, and his passion for giving back.

A screen grab of Burcu's team meeting with Edwin Paalvast over Webex.
Edwin Paalvast (top row, second from left) meets with the team.

But we weren’t done yet…

The end of July is the fiscal year end for Cisco, and so it was the perfect time to have an incredible ‘season finale’ for this amazing series.  It was time to try and convince our CEO Chuck Robbins to have a fireside chat with our team during the very last week of the fiscal year – I knew it would be difficult, but I knew I had to try.

I still can’t believe it happened, but – again— this is proof to Cisco’s culture and how it starts from the very top.

Chuck Robbins accepted the invitation and dedicated time to spend with us during, easily, one of the most important times of year for our company that is, no doubt, filled with many meetings for him.  He answered our questions, gave great career advice (like be yourself, be kind, don’t over-complicate things, and never compromise on the quality of the team), and lots of food for thought!

This has been such a great experience for us – not only to bond as a team, but to also learn from our incredible Cisco leaders.  We feel so lucky to have such inspiring leadership in this space – not only on the stage, not only on the execution of our business, but also as humans.

We have a great culture at Cisco, led by these amazing people who care about their employees and our environments.  Who knows how we will be inspired next in Cisco Security!

Want to join our incredible teams?  We’re hiring.  Apply now.


Burcu Isiktas

Systems Engineering Manager

Security GVSE