I often get asked how I got to work at the largest networking company without having any background in networking. In fact, I never thought I would work for Cisco because I didn’t think that they specialized in areas that interested me – particularly Programming, Neuroscience, and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Well, it turned out that was not entirely true…

I am currently a proud Cisco Systems Engineer focusing on our Security portfolio, with a slight preference for Cloud Security. I am programming almost every week, to provide samples for customers or other purposes, and I am also actively involved with some of the Security activities from DevNet, which is Cisco’s developer network. I constantly feel invigorated and excited by our global community.

But how did I get here? It all started with a risk.

During my studies, I was asked to interview for an Associate Systems Engineer role in the Cisco Traineeship. To prepare for these interviews, I forced myself to do a crash course in Computer Networking on YouTube, since I did not have a background in this.

What I did have was a Major in Neurosciences with a Minor in Computer Science. I then received my Master’s in Information Sciences. During my Master Thesis I created an algorithm that can automatically summarize texts, which had almost nothing to do with computer networking. My passion for programming started at a very early age when my Grandfather (who was a researcher at MIT Lincoln Laboratories) introduced me NetLogo (a graphical agent-based programming framework). My father was also a programmer, which fueled my interest even further.

Throughout my education, I came across the words “Switch” and “Router” from time to time, but this was not part of any exam I had ever taken previously. My passion was the Human Brain (associating brain processes with behavior) and Programming (Data Science and AI) – and I just didn’t think Cisco was a company that shared those same passions.

But, still. I thought it would be a good idea to get to know Cisco further – so, I interviewed.

The interview process for a traineeship at Cisco was tough but I was pleasantly surprised when the interviewers asked me questions about Programming, AI, and Neuroscience! This is where my view on Cisco changed forever as I was told that Cisco is not just a networking hardware company – but that the company heavily focuses on Software, AI, and Machine Learning too!

The interviews went well, and I couldn’t have been more excited to accept the Cisco Traineeship at the Amsterdam office when the call finally came. During my traineeship I was able to quickly ramp up my Networking skills through the CCNA and CCNP certifications, while still focusing on other topics like Programming as well. Cisco encouraged me to pursue my interests and develop my career in a way that excited me as an employee.

Now that I look back, I can say that I am very happy that I took the risk and leap of faith to join a company from which I initially thought differently. It was intense and exciting to do these interviews, but it feels very rewarding to know that I made the right decision back then, and that I continue to excel in my career now.

What I have learned is that you can mold your job at Cisco to whatever you want it to be. There are many paths here at Cisco, and the company really wants you to find your strengths and own them.

For example, it does not state in my contract that I have to do any programming with our Security products. It also does not sate that I have to provide sample code to customers. I am given the flexibility to do so, and I very much enjoy accomplishing these tasks.

I think that effort creates very diverse teams at Cisco, where everyone can use their own background to work towards a common goal. If I look at my team, I can definitely see that in action on any given day.

Through this experience, I have learned that you should always explore the opportunities outside of your comfort zone. By doing so you force yourself into learning something new. Four years ago, I would never have expected myself to be a Systems Engineer focusing on Cyber Security – but here I am, and it all started with a little bit of risk and taking a chance to get to know the real Cisco.

Interested in Security, Cloud, Collaboration, and Software? We are too! Apply now.


Christopher Van Der Made

Product Management Leader

Cisco XDR