As the daughter of an excellent railway engineer, I had never imagined myself to be an engineer. But then, during my last semester of graduate school, my plan changed when I learned about a company called Cisco.

Prior to this moment, I had been dreaming of working for the United Nations. With my new dream, however, I ended up graduating with a job offer from Cisco TAC. And now, I can’t imagine not being a network engineer and looking into routers and servers’ logs, and helping our customers throughout the day.

And while my dream was altered, my mind and passions would never change – I longed to change education for children.

Born as an ethnic minority, I am proud of my own culture. At the same time, others’ lifestyles were also attractive to me, which inspired me to go to a unique university that gathered students from all of the 56 ethnic groups in China. While talking with friends from various backgrounds, I realized that education facts in their hometowns are quite different from mine. For instance, boarding schools only exist at Senior High level in my hometown. At the same time, in rural areas, in order to get access to education, some of them have to start boarding lives even from the first day of kindergarten.

With huge curiosity, I joined a 1-month volunteer teacher program for ethnic minorities that aimed to improve the local education quality in the Tibetan area. To help achieve this task, four other volunteers and I went to a rural school in Qinghai Province, which is located on the Tibetan plateau at over 3,400 meters.

Academic performance in this village was not very good. Through history, there was only one person who had been admitted to a university. Thinking about the reason and possible solution, we believed the situation could be easily changed by introducing some new methods of teaching.

With about 120 students ranging in age from Kindergarten to Grade 9, we realized that they did love coming to school, however, the reason was not the creative lessons, but more about just being with us. They arrived at around 5am (to wake us up 😀) and stayed until they had to leave to go to bed. Those days were exhausting, but exciting and it made me begin to wonder how we could do a better job of improving their academic performance.

I believe that motivating our students to study matters more than how we teach them, even. The reason is that when we mentioned “life in the big cities” and informed our students that studying hard can lead them to careers in the larger cities – their eyes lit up and they started to concentrate more in classes. Studying became very important to them.

As I got to know them more, I could see their desire for getting out of the village. I would like to, and feel I have to, do something to help them. Yes, even after the program ended – I knew I was forever passionate about furthering education.

Soon after the program, I came to Japan and started my study of International Educational Development at Waseda University. At the time my dream was still to work for the UN organizations. I saw this career path, along with the public sector, as a direct way to help change and improve education for so many. I applied and got a chance to intern at UNESCO  (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Bangkok, Asia and Pacific Regional Bureau for Education.

During the 6-month internship at UNESCO Bangkok, my responsibility was to help organize the ‘Asia Education Summit on Flexible Learning Strategies for Out-of-School Children (OOSC).’ In order to find speakers for our summit who were the best match, my team did a large number of case studies, and the most exciting thing happened – Cisco’s Networking Academy was one of the cases!

That was my first introduction to Cisco, but Networking Academy opened my eyes to a new world – Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in educational development.

I saw how CSR is changing the lives of schools and students, and this impressed me greatly. I was moved to tears several times when watching the videos from Cisco’s Networking Academy, especially when I saw people who joined Cisco’s Networking Academy and eventually became Cisco employees because of the powerful, impactful work they were doing.

When I returned to school for my Masters program, I decided to write my thesis on CSR in the educational development field.While preparing for my thesis, I read more than 200 CSR reports from Fortune 500 Companies. The more I researched, the more my respect for Cisco grew. I realized that Cisco was invested in social innovation, and changing people’s lives through technology and education – and that Cisco might be able to help my dream come true of improving education for ethnic minorities. By utilizing Cisco’s collaboration tools, we could help develop remote education! The possibilities are truly endless.

This is when I knew I had to become a Cisco employee too. And now, I am as a Customer Support Engineer on Japan TAC Collaboration Team.

So far, I am still studying and learning about Cisco technologies and every day brings a new finding. My hope is that in the near future, I can help children all around the world to learn about life in the big cities and beyond their villages through Cisco Webex and Webex for Teams. I hope by inviting them into our offices and homes through Telepresence, they become motivated to study hard and educate themselves as much as possible – so that one day perhaps they can fulfill their dreams of moving to the “big city” – or maybe even joining us here at Cisco.

Want to work for a company that fuels your passions? We’re hiring. Apply now.


Wantao Zhao

Customer Support Engineer

Japan TAC / Cisco Citizen Network