This post was authored by Faith Olayinka Omolere, a Product Manager Cisco intern on our Data Center Networking team.
Going into my Cisco internship as a Product Manager, I was excited. Yes, even during unprecedented times, after the loss of a dear friend at home in Nigeria, and with those taking to the street to demand change for racial injustice around the globe – I was sad, but resolute. Still, I wondered, “Do people like me – a Black, international student – have a fair chance to thrive in Silicon Valley?”
This is my experience, and answer to that very question.
1. Cisco talks the talk and walks the walk: My first few days at Cisco were, of course, unusual. Instead of being in office, I started work alone in my bedroom. With our internship being entirely virtual, I wondered if I’d be able to form bonds with my fellow interns and network with colleagues. Typically, those interactions would amplify my enthusiasm and sense of belonging.
I’m happy to report that Cisco – through their tech and culture – found a way to boost my spirits and I was able to build these bonds. My laptop was also the most powerful one an employer had issued to me, and I had freedom to run intensive engineering tools!
One week after I joined, I started seeing signs of Cisco’s values in action.
This was now early June, and I received a company-wide email from our CEO Chuck Robbins denouncing racial inequality and outlining Cisco’s promise to an inclusive culture and taking a stand on important issues. This wasn’t just talk either, I saw proof of this in action as Cisco was an often-public voice and leader on this issue. Their reaction and action made me feel that Cisco’s “Conscious Culture” was the real thing and that they provided a safe and welcoming environment for all.
It made me incredibly proud to work at Cisco, too.
2. Access to Cisco Executives: As my internship progressed, my work focused on multi-cloud solutions, a pricing exercise, and market analyses. My manager also developed a list of projects I would focus on that incorporated my learning goals for the summer.
As I learned more about public clouds and Cisco’s core business of making switches and routers that have powered private datacenters, I became curious about Cisco’s strategy going forward and I kept coming back to one question: “If existing and potential customers consider public clouds as complements, or substitutes to running their own data centers – and buying switches and routers – what new, exciting products will power Cisco’s future?”
You won’t believe who answered this but see for yourself!
Cisco’s CEO, Chuck Robbins responded to my question at the annual global intern event! First, he joked, “That’s pretty deep…” – but he transitioned flawlessly and explained, in detail, how Cisco’s broad capabilities will give customers optionality in deploying and accessing applications. We’ll also support public cloud providers with next-generation technology.
On the same call, Francine Katsoudas, Chief People Officer, discussed her varied career journey at Cisco and trends related to remote work. I was intrigued as I had been researching remote work’s implications since my university, UC Berkeley, transitioned to remote learning the previous semester. One of the hardest parts of a remote world for me, personally, was missing watercooler interactions with colleagues. It seems I’m not alone in this either.
3. The Conversations Continue: Cisco doesn’t just start a conversation; they keep it going. After our global intern event, I had even more conversations on Cisco’s strategy, remote work, and our dedication to empowering an inclusive future for all. I was blown away by how many others (from team members to senior leaders) reached out to provide their insights on these topics and engaged genuinely – even encouraging me to challenge ideas and present counterpoints.
I have seen Cisco’s commitment to inclusion and diversity in action, and I expect that commitment to drive meaningful work and progress over time. According to Reuters, Cisco is one of the most diverse places to work in America and Silicon Valley. Still, they realize that there is much more work that needs to be done – as of 2019, only 3.8% of Cisco’s employees and 1.8% above the VP level are Black. Which begs the question, when Black employees at Cisco need mentors or sponsors – a significant benefit for career development – how many people with similar lived experiences will they be able to call on?
Even that being said, it seems to me that Cisco is well-placed to lead the way for those changes until there is no question that equitable diversity for all is being attained and sustained.
So, does someone like me have a fair chance to thrive at Cisco and in Silicon Valley? My experiences suggest the answer is yes. This is a pivotal moment as Cisco undergoes massive transformation across the business, not to mention a pivotal moment in our history, and I am very fascinated to see what comes next.
My internship was an incredible opportunity that enabled me to experience Cisco’s culture and see how it is a truly open and agile environment to explore ideas.
Ready to empower and inclusive future for all? Apply now.