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Do you remember your first love? I’m not talking Kelly Kapowski from Saved by The Bell or Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing. I’m talking about the first experience you ever fell in love with. Will you ever forget turning on your Atari or Nintendo for the first time? Can you name the first song you learned on the piano or guitar? Do you still have that first robot, computer, website or car you built?

Justin and colleagues pose for a photo.

For me, that first love was Cisco. After graduating from San Jose State University (SJSU), and a couple of quick stints in clothing retail management and a DIY home security startup, it’s where I kicked off my real career. It is also where I ‘grew up’ these past seven years. Cisco is where I transformed from early in career to professional, learning valuable lessons along the way and being supported while consistently challenged to evolve.

I started at Cisco in December of 2012, as a contracted communications manager. My classmate from SJSU, Anne Rigor, was on the team and referred me to the role – I had no idea what was ahead of me or that it would lead to a near picture perfect start to my career. To stand out, I purposely wore a bow tie on my first day of work (the only bow tie I owned at the time). I got a handful of compliments, so I decided to wear that same bow tie on my second day, which just happened to be the semi-annual company meeting. My co-worker Sarah saved me a seat in the middle row, dead center.

Two minutes before the event starts, our CEO at the time, John Chambers comes up to me and says, “Young man, I love the bow tie!”

To which I aptly responded, “Thanks John! I spent two hours on YouTube last night, blood, sweat and tears, learning how to tie it just for you!”

From then on, I never looked back, eventually I became known as “The Bow Tie Guy.” I still wear a bow tie to work every day, even during these unprecedented times – bow tie, button up, and pajama pants is the new trend!

I am so thankful to have had jobs that my younger self never would’ve guessed existed. From creating executive communications for Cisco’s C-level leaders and presenting Cisco’s strategy and technology to our top customers at our headquarters, to being the ‘Cupid of Cisco’ for our annual #WeAreCisco #LoveWhereYouWork contest and connecting our executives to customer executives – because of Cisco I experienced so many incredible opportunities.

Justin Riray and Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins.

Yet, after seven amazing years with Cisco, I will be leaving the company.

Wait. What? Time out.

Why would you leave a company where you are surrounded by nothing but love and support?

Should you leave the company you love?

Taking the advice of my mentors who have been through this multiple times in their careers, I’ve learned that, at some point, that answer might be, ‘Yes.’ Employees leave companies for many reasons, for me – as I’m still relatively ‘new’ in the professional world – I looked at this time, decision, and next opportunity as a ‘phoenix stage’ in my career. It’s an opportunity to continue my growth, gain further experience, and explore beyond my comfort zone – where I will rise again.

Here are three things I considered before taking this next step:

  1. Complacency is undetectable failure.
  2. Embrace your history to build a better future.
  3. You can always come back later.

Complacency is undetectable failure. Serial founder Elon Musk is the opposite of complacent. He’s always on to the next goal as soon as he feels comfortable – but not everyone has to be an innovative genius. For most of us, it’s not that the grass is always greener somewhere else, but the terrain, the scenery, and the journey will be different. I knew I owed it to myself to find new challenges, grow and thrive in a different environment; to achieve new success. Plus, I knew that in diversifying my professional experience I could deepen my value in the job market.

Justin wears a heart suit and a "#1 foam finger" to celebrate Cisco's #1 World's Best Workplace.

Embrace your history to build a better future. I’ll never forget how proud I felt as John Chambers passed the reigns of Cisco over to our very different, but equally charismatic current CEO, Chuck Robbins. We bought out Levi’s Stadium for the big Cisco Rocks event. Chuck’s keynote speech ended with, “Today we’re celebrating our success. And we’re celebrating John for the last 20 years. But I truly believe that we can make the next decade even better.”

I knew that I wanted to take the momentum I’ve built and the skills I’ve developed into a new, exciting, next phase of my career and felt strongly that it was my duty to use that experience to invest in my future – no matter where that might lead me.

You can always come back later. Something I learned since joining Cisco is that in building a network and reputation – there will always be leaders that will welcome your return. Many leaders and employees at Cisco are ‘boomerangs’ who build their knowledge and leadership skills by working at multiple other companies before coming back as a Director, Vice President, or even CXO. There is no secret that Cisco is a great place to work – you don’t get named the #1 World’s Best Workplace without a dynamic culture – and ‘boomerang’ employees are a testament to that very culture and focus on growth that Cisco has. The We Are Cisco blog will even be featuring a story of a ‘boomerang’ employee in the next few weeks! So, with that in mind, keeping in touch with my Cisco friends, colleagues and mentors is a given – because of Cisco, I know how valuable staying connected can be and is.

Cisco has been the best place I could’ve spent the first leg of my career. But I am excited to make all my Cisco friends proud by taking what they’ve taught me and succeeding at the next part of my journey. It’s not an easy decision or a comfortable one – it comes with many unknowns and uneasiness. But, I also know that living outside my comfort zone will only make me a stronger, more well-rounded employee in the future.

They say there is no love quite like your first love – and I can attest to that. I will never forget what Cisco has taught me.

 

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