It’s taken me a lifetime of inventing and reinventing myself to become a patent-pending inventor at Cisco. A lifetime of starting over, of trying new things, of failing forward.
I was born in Vietnam. My father was a special intelligence officer for the Republic of Vietnam Navy, a branch of the South Vietnamese military. My mother was a nurse.
Like many who were forced to flee to other parts of the world after the Fall of Saigon, my dual identity as a Vietnamese American is a lasting reminder of what my parents gave up for me to not only survive but also thrive.
I grew up in a small two-bedroom duplex apartment after our family reunited. My father immigrated to California separately out of fear of being persecuted or killed for his involvement with the American troops during the Vietnam conflict. As a kid, I was humbled by the kindness of others, their hand-me-downs, and our monthly allocation of food stamps.
My parents eventually purchased a single-family home when I was a sophomore in high school, but that no-frills duplex, our first ‘home’ together, is where my story really began. It is where I first learned to dream big and developed my inventor/creator mindset.
There were no shortages of art and science projects, dance classes, or piano lessons. I did them all, and sometimes, I even won a few ribbons and trophies. My parents, particularly my mother, fostered strong work ethics in me even at a very young age. They saw education as a path forward to a better life. I saw it as my ticket to financial independence and a way to become whoever I wanted to be most in life.
Fast forward to October 2020. In the middle of a global pandemic, the patent team kicked off the first-ever Women’s Inventor Network (WIN++) program to close the gaps in patent filings by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) and female inventors.
This one-of-a-kind mentorship program was sponsored by Liz Centoni, EVP, Chief Strategy Officer, and General Manager for Applications, and Dan Lang, VP of Legal & Deputy General Counsel. Participants were matched with three fellow mentees and one mentor and were asked to research, develop, and submit a patent application through Cisco’s Patent Online (CPOL) portal.
Over a two-month period, 140 mentees (62 of which were first-time women inventors) worked to identify and solve several user problems, while simultaneously learning the basics about patents and how to write an effective one. We all committed at least 2 hours per week to our projects and submitted our progress bi-weekly. The program, which runs quarterly, concluded with a 5-minute Shark Tank-styled presentation to the patent committee.
My fellow inventors included Sofia Karygianni, a Data Scientist for the Enterprise Networking and Cloud (ENC) team; Vaishnavi Rao, a Software Engineer for the Mass Infrastructure Group (MIG) Routing XR team; Eloisa Guevara, a Security Consulting Engineer for CX Centers Americas; and David White, a Distinguished Engineer for CPX and our mentor during the program.
After several design thinking sessions, our team decided to address the gaps in virtual and remote learning experiences for primary-aged students. We successfully submitted two patent ideas that would make virtual learning 10X better than in-person learning. One of these ideas resulted in a formal patent filing in July 2021, while the other resulted in a small cash reward for a well-written CPOL submission.
I could not be prouder of the results we achieved together or more grateful for the opportunity that Cisco has provided me through diversity and inclusion programs such as this one and others like Women of Cisco’s annual Executive Shadow Program, Women in Science & Engineering (WiSE) monthly Tech Talks, and Cisco Women in Cyber Security (CWiCS) Lunch & Learn meetups. These programs within Cisco’s Inclusive Communities have transformed my experience as a woman in tech and my point of view as a design strategist and inventor. It has also empowered me to embrace the art of possible in my current role with the Experience Design & Incubation (XDi) team.
With my first patent filing underway, I hope to contribute many more to Cisco’s patent portfolio as I continue to help the XDi and CPX team explore new design strategies, user experiences, and information architectures for CX Cloud and PX Cloud. I also plan to leverage my prior product management experiences to identify new business opportunities, product features, and capabilities that can easily be integrated into other digital platforms and interfaces to deliver even more interconnected customer and partner experiences.
My first tenure at Cisco was short-lived. My second, however, has been one hell of a ride thus far. I’ve been gifted with the opportunity to shadow three amazing executives and to co-lead the executive recruiting for Women of Cisco’s Executive Shadow Program; to travel to Shanghai on a global give back trip for Cisco’s Connected Asian Affinity Network (CAAN), and to become a first-time inventor with the WIN++ mentorship program.
The opportunities here at Cisco are boundless if you have the courage, passion, and tenacity to pursue everything on your bucket list. To dream big and become whoever you want to be most in life, all it takes is a leap of faith … in yourself and those around you.
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