Portrait of Karen McDonald smiling. When I entered the workforce, Cisco was never on my radar. I was complacent at the company I worked for and had every intention of retiring from that company. I felt I had everything I could want.

One day, while taking my son to a birthday party, I had a conversation with another woman who worked for Cisco. As we exchanged dialogue, she invited me to explore her role and encouraged me to apply for an open High Touch Operations Manager (HTOM) position. I had no intentions of leaving the company I was working for, but I decided to at least apply for the role to sharpen my interviewing skills. Little did I know, this unexpected conversation would lead to a fantastic career journey.

When I went through the interview process, there was something different about Cisco. Maybe it was the warm greeting from the lobby ambassador or the joy I felt watching engineers from the technical assistance center (TAC) playing in the game room to let off steam. Or maybe it was the nap pods I witnessed, which allowed employees to take a nap to recharge their brains. Whatever it was, everything about the culture of the company excited me. I gladly accepted the offer because I wanted Cisco to be my new home. Almost 15 years later, I’m still here and loving it.

Although I started as a High Touch Operations Manager, I had the opportunity to move into various roles within the company, including service delivery roles. I was serving as a Services Operational Leader, supporting one of our sales territories, when I decided to take a leap of faith and accepted a position totally out of my comfort zone. I was promoted to Director and moved into a role supporting a team responsible for the go-to-market strategy for a few of our Cisco Managed Services. It was exciting and scary all at the same time, but I was up for the challenge. I had a phenomenal team of high performers. All my immediate direct reports were in the UK, and it was an excellent opportunity to expand my global leadership capabilities while also learning and stretching myself.

Then one day, a rebalance occurred, and the team was dismantled. It was an unexpected turn of events for our team, but it allowed me an opportunity to move into the role I am in today.

Now, I am the Community Leader for more than three thousand managers across the globe as part of one of our larger business units, combining Operations and Customer Experience. In this role, I work with our enablement teams and People and Communities (HR) to ensure our managers have everything they need to succeed. I also act as the community’s voice back to our senior leadership. Another great thing about the opportunity is working with a fantastic team of other global community leaders.

Creating a sense of community for managers has been my sweet spot. I never imagined having an opportunity where I could utilize my passion for helping others while also creating opportunities to focus on leadership development, well-being, etc. If you had told me five years ago that I would have this type of role, I probably would not have believed it.

Karen McDonald stands and addresses a group of people.

I love the culture of the company. Not only do Cisco employees have the ability to find roles that meet our strengths, but we also have the opportunity to serve in stretch assignments that align with our passion. I was the Global Co-Leader for Our Connected Black Professionals Inclusive Community for many years. I now serve as the Global Wellbeing Leader for the community. Why does this stretch assignment excite me? Outside of Cisco, I have a passion for health and wellness. This stretch assignment has given me the ability to take my passion to the workplace. I created a global well-being strategy for the community, including physical, emotional/mental, financial, and social well-being. I now have a team working and developing strategic programs specifically for our Inclusive Community as it relates to these focus areas. As if that’s not fun enough, I also work with our Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) Social Justice team, serving as an Executive Sponsor for two HBCUs. The ability to balance my daily work activities with these stretch assignments gives me a satisfaction that I never expected in Corporate America.

I previously felt I had everything I could want at work, but now I know how exciting it is when you can work and have a passion for it. It’s said you have the opportunity to have many careers at this company. I have lived that through my Cisco journey. I would never have imagined that an unexpected conversation and turn of events would allow me to still be at Cisco in a role impacting many people, while also doing stretch assignments that are so fulfilling. I love what I do, and I’m excited to see where this journey will take me in the future. I suspect this, by far, is not the end of the journey.

That’s one of the reasons why Cisco is truly a great place to work.

Are you ready to start your Cisco career journey? Find an opportunity now.


Karen McDonald

Director, ONEx Community Leadership

EX Communities