I’m not a techie.
I cannot stress enough how little I understand the phrase “secure, agile network.” “End-to-end security”? Forget about it. But still, somehow, I have found a home for myself at Cisco. I will never be able to write code for a high-functioning OS, but if Cisco’s purpose is to “Power an Inclusive Future for All,” I certainly have talents that can help do that. And little did I know how listening to boring conference calls as a child when my dad, Logan Wilkins, a tech-nerd Baby Boomer, found his Cisco dream job in early 2000 would lead me, an eco-nerd Millennial, to find mine 23 years later.
My father’s first day working at Cisco was March 23rd of 2000 when I was seven years old, and he’s still here as a manager for Information Security Engineering. Logan was just like any other lame dad, except that he knew things about computers which, in 2000, was actually really cool. I was probably the first child in my entire elementary school to have an email address, and he always made the church luncheon PowerPoints with music and funny animations.
More importantly, thanks to the birth of telepresence, my father was physically present for most of my and my brother’s childhood. Working from home, he packed us lunch and picked us up between meetings. He took conference calls in the champagne-colored VW Cabriolet and on a Bluetooth headset at the sidelines of soccer games. He used phrases such as “B2B standards” and “fiscal year planning,” which made no sense and were absolutely hilarious to me.
All I knew about Cisco was that John Chambers, then CEO, was akin to a Hollywood celebrity and that business trips to San Jose meant airport gifts and full-size candy bars. Aside from these moments, my memories of the early 2000s are ones of sweet, innocent childhood. I was reading Holes by Lois Sachar, religiously watching Disney Channel, and trying to make full-blown honey from the honeysuckle in the vacant lot next door. I was far too busy to be bothered with Internet Protocol, GSR Routers, or whatever the heck B2B was.
All the while, I was watching my father closely. When he stood up to yell at the TV during UNC basketball games, I did the same. When he treated friends and neighbors with gentle Southern kindness, I did the same.
There were some important differences between myself and my father, though. His afterschool math lessons didn’t resonate, and I certainly didn’t care specifically how our VHS system synced up with the speakers. I was busy running through Duke Forest and learning everything I could about animals. After falling in love with the dogwoods at Wake Forest University, I majored in Biological Anthropology. I chased howler monkeys in Nicaragua, ran PCRs in Duke’s genetics lab, and glued together 26-million-year-old fossils. This time of rigorous adventure and deep learning laid the foundation for my own career trajectory.
This whole time, my parents — a software engineer and a CPA — never said anything except, “Go for it,” so I did. I received a scholarship to attend The Ohio State University (Go Bucks!) to study primate behavior and ecology à la Jane Goodall. I conducted research in the Taï Forest of Côte d’Ivoire and presented at conferences.
I used my degree as a springboard into nonprofit management and leadership. But I never lost that important sense of eco-stewardship. I loved working with clients, building teams, and implementing processes, but I missed dedicating my time to the natural world. So, 12 months ago, when my partner and I made a bold (truly, terrifying) move to the West Coast, I started looking for roles that would let me do just that.
I looked toward traditional NGOs and private foundations that combined conservation with corporate relations. Because of my Dear Old Dad, Cisco’s postings were always on my radar, but I didn’t fancy myself much of a software engineer, so I only casually browsed until I saw:
“Cisco Foundation is looking for an experienced and energetic Climate Impact Grants Associate who is interested in both a challenge and the satisfaction of making a difference in our shared climate future.”
Wait … That actually sounds like me.
And now, here I am writing this in the beautiful café on Cisco’s San Jose campus as Climate Impact & Regeneration Portfolio Grants Associate.
I am in a role that exists at the perfect nexus between my early ecological pursuits and my professional experience in partner management. My father’s Cisco career followed the exploding trajectory of the internet boom and early technological innovation. Mine will follow another important cultural arc: climate change and ecological resilience. It’s incredibly important work, and it’s an honor to help steward the Cisco Foundation’s Climate Commitment mission. It’s also great to be able to Webex chat with my dad throughout the day.
So, my advice to readers? 1) Don’t make too much fun of your parents’ jobs because 20 years down the road, you might find yourself in white New Balances mowing that exact same lawn. 2) If you DO work at Cisco with a family member, don’t search for “Dad” in the Directory. It won’t work.
But with all sincerity, if Cisco is for a monkey-chasing, tree-hugging, data security nightmare such as myself, it is also for you. To all hopeful jobseekers, earth-lovers, uplifting fathers, and adoring daughters alike, I hope you know that Cisco has a space for all that is you.
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