“I want you to consider taking on a new role.” Years ago, these were the words I heard from my leader. Immediately, my thoughts went into if I was doing a good job (I was), if the team was functioning well (we were), or if there were any issues I needed to work on (there weren’t). So, then – why a new role?
This is something Cisco does and does well. We’re not just encouraged to grow, we’re empowered to do so – and when our leaders see someone who’s ready to leave the shore and explore new waters and take on new responsibilities, they help you with the journey. And that was the case here, “You’ve been in your current role for years, Keith. You successfully developed your team from infancy to being nationally recognized for their excellence. I’d like you to consider moving to another part of the business as part of a job rotation.”
I started out my career at Cisco as a System Engineer (SE) doing pre-sales work. As an SE I was asked to be responsible for the technical architecture that we were selling to our customers. At that time, there were a couple of “usual” career paths for an SE. The first was to stay an SE and get more and more technical. This was like getting your bachelor’s degree, then progressing on to a Masters, and eventually possibly a PhD in our products. The second choice was to go into management.
I chose the second path. During a conversation with my SE Director, he asked for at least four times “Are you sure?”. He wanted me to understand making a career change from an individual contributor to a leader of people was not to be undertaken lightly. I made the switch and became a System Engineering Manager, and eventually a Senior Systems Engineering Manager.
I had successfully changed jobs three times and so far, so good.
I didn’t appreciate the mentoring at the time but being asked to join our Customer Experience (CX) team was the best thing I could have done! As a Customer Solutions Manager, I was able to thrive and learn a new part of the Cisco business while also bringing a unique perspective to my new team. It turned out to be a win/win for both CX and me.
Job change number four – success.
I eventually left CX and worked in jobs that were post sales focused. There’s an old saying in sales, “Never confuse selling with delivery.” I can tell you with 100% certainty that saying isn’t funny. Learning the craft as a post sales / Delivery Engineering Manager allowed me to be responsible for our customers in a completely different way.
My new metrics were not sales focused, but rather working with project managers and customers ensuring that the dream and vision they purchased, was implemented correctly, on time and within budget. This job change occurred quite easily, and I knew I was exploring another facet of the Cisco world. I would study and learn this part of the craft for close to five years.
Job change number five – completed!
Next up, I took a role as a Business Development Manager for almost a year. Many of the SE ‘s I’ve worked with have considered (however briefly) going into sales. I gave a great deal of thought before I leapt into the sales machine. It is much harder than it looks, and I got more “no” answers or zero response from some of my customers than I did when I was a freshman at my first high school dance. J But I walked in the sales shoes, and again, I learned a great deal about myself, and about a side of Cisco I had not been immersed in previously.
Job change number six was unlocked.
As I considered my next career move, I knew my days in sales were numbered as I enjoyed other areas of the business more, and by now there was no hesitancy in doing another job rotation – I was learning so much about Cisco through these experiences! So, I sought out a role as a Business Operations Manager and worked to understand how we build our products. Working within a Business Unit like Collaboration provided me with the opportunity to work with other Cisco teams too like Marketing, Sales, Engineering, and our Technical Assistance Center (TAC).
This new career at Cisco (number seven, if you’re still counting) gave me insight as to how we go to market to make products, how we support products, and how we license products.
The word rotation implies a circle, and that brings me to where I am now. I’m back in the field, as an SE Manager supporting the State, Local, and Education space within Public Sector, and I am doing what I love.
Welcome to career number eight – and I am still learning a new and interesting market space that I had not previously covered at Cisco!
Though I didn’t know it at the time when I began the journey within Cisco, going off into those uncharted waters was the best thing I could have done. I’ve learned more about selling, installation / delivery, marketing, product development, and channels than I could have ever dreamed of had I stayed in my safe harbor of that first role.
Cisco encouraged me to explore completely different jobs within the company, and I would encourage anyone considering a change in careers to do the same. Grab your compass, make your plans, and don’t be afraid of leaving your own safe harbor to explore uncharted waters.
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