I’ve been at Cisco for a quarter-century! I’m very grateful for the opportunity that I was given in the spring of 1991 to become an employee of a small company focused on something called the “Internet.” I struggle to see the big deal of 25 years, but people keep telling me it’s a big deal so maybe it is. In those years, I’ve seen a lot of change here at Cisco. Although there were some occasional “down” periods, my experience has mostly been “up.” Here are some of the lessons on “up” that I’ve experienced and want to pass along to the whole Cisco Learning Network community today. I’m hoping my lessons learned are applicable to many of you working in IT.
1. Brush UP
Be prepared. Learn new things. IT companies are places of constant change, especially nowadays. If you don’t change with developments, you will be left behind and that’s a hard lesson to learn. I used to be the guy on the team who knew Token Ring and AppleTalk the best. That knowledge has no value today; technology is a constantly changing beast. Have a plan to always be expanding your capabilities and knowledge. Learn fast. Learn often.
2. Show UP
Be on time. Be where you’re supposed to be. Be prepared. When I’m presenting to others, I make sure to be early, and well prepared so I’m not wasting people’s time. Don’t be the guy who’s late to meetings; that’s rude. Do the things you are supposed to do and get them done when you’re supposed to. Hold yourself accountable. Hold others accountable for their responsibilities as well.
3. Think UP
Dare to change the status quo and think up new ways of doing things. Cisco is a place of innovation, but that depends on continually training one’s thoughts and imagination on new ways to solve problems and creating the opportunities for success for our teams, partners, and customers. Think “stuff” up. Get “stuff” done.
4. Don't Be Afraid to Mess UP
Accidents happen, but if you prepare and focus on your responsibilities and honestly monitor your status and progress, you can avoid mess-ups or at least limit their impact. If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not taking enough risk. Even when I’ve failed, I’ve learned how to do better the next time. You want to learn from those mistakes and never repeat them, but you should NOT be afraid to make them. Ask me about that time I rerouted all the Cisco lab traffic through my testbed in Menlo Park!
If you do mess up, clean up. Be honest and responsible for your failures. Make things right. This is especially important when dealing with your customers. They are the folks who pay the money for your products and services. We need to constantly sharpen our skills when it comes to listening and addressing our customer pain points. Being able to resolve customer issues and putting the customer on the right path are key. “Are you doing the things the customer needs? If so, you’ll be all right.” Cisco Services Senior Vice President Joe Pinto once told employees that, and it’s served me well.
6. Listen UP
We need to listen to and understand our partners, customers, and each other. If someone is taking the time to say or write something, it’s important to them, so be respectful of that. Listen and understand the impact and action needed for a given message. When I’m talking to people, I try to make a point of taking notes, even if it’s just one thing that I should take away from the conversation. So, my notebook may have a date, a name, and an action or item I need to remember. Along the same lines, when you think you know everything about something, you need to make sure you still listen to differing opinions or viewpoints. Those conversations, which can be difficult at times, are important to progress and solid solutions.
7. Speak UP/Hush UP
Knowing when to speak up and when to hush up are key to making things happen. We advertise open communication here at Cisco. However, no matter where you work, you need to know when to apply that. Open communication doesn’t mean run your mouth off and waste my time. It does mean being confident enough to have the difficult conversations that are needed from time to time to make things better. Don’t be afraid of constructive conflict. I’m not saying arguing and being competitive is the best way, but we shouldn’t shy away from getting issues on the table and working toward solutions and compromises that benefit all.
8. Team UP
Nothing gets accomplished in most IT organizations by a single individual working alone. It takes a team, sometimes an army. There are no truly successful “cowboy” folks here at Cisco. Even if there are people who are a bit “cowboy” in their approach to getting things done, they won’t go as far by themselves. I’ve encountered some amazing people at Cisco. I don’t see them as competitors; I see them as collaborators, and work together to go farther faster. In 25 years at Cisco, I’ve made many incredible friends and encountered incredible peers. Wherever I’ve gone at Cisco, I’ve sought out those individuals who I thought were the excellent people. I’ve been able to identify the people who knew what was going on and how to get things done on the team. This networking has helped me be productive and contribute positively in the shortest amount of time. Many of my fellow team mates have helped me understand Cisco’s business, and I sincerely thank them for that. It’s people, along with plans, who get projects done. It’s not individuals who make it happen. It’s the team. It’s always the team. The team.
9. Free UP
And maybe you’re in a situation where people seek you out for guidance. If so, free up time to provide that information someone else needs. Provide honest feedback and cheer on their successes. Some of my most enjoyable moments at Cisco have involved mentoring folks to stretch their limits and grow to new capabilities. Sharing knowledge is a requirement. It’s not optional. There’s no need to keep score of the help you give. It’s not about payback; it’s about paying it forward, and should be done with a generous heart and open spirit. You can even mentor folks outside of your IT world. I’ve mentored high school and college students who have gone on to great careers, one even at NASA (I’m jealous of that guy at times). Make time for this type of activity. It’s important. You’ll get more out of it than you might expect.
10. Follow UP
One thing that I struggle with from time to time is follow-up. I have a note on the wall in my office that says “F.U.” to remind myself to follow up on things. You need to go back and check a solution to ensure it is still working. Maybe the situation or business parameters have changed slightly. By following up, you can gain new insight and prevent larger issues in the future. Data is only as accurate as when you collect it. I focus on monthly metrics to see trends and understand how changes to the process affect things as well as identify cyclical or seasonal changes. Making business decisions on bad or outdated data is a good plan for failure.
11. Look UP
I said previously to team up (find people to grow with). Sometimes you’ll find yourself in a situation where you’re completely clueless; I have been there. Some of you might say I’m still there! If you find yourself lost or to ensure forward progress personally and professionally, find a mentor. Find yourself a mentor with similar values, create your goals and tasks, and be accountable to your mentor.
12. Never Give UP
I know at times, things are not going to go to plan. Don’t just give up. We have a mission in IT. There’s a purpose why we come to work every day and it shouldn’t just be about money and technology. It’s about getting better each day. When needed, adjust your plan to align for success. I’ve been on projects where it seems nothing went right, and in the end the goals weren’t met. But if I honestly look back at what happened, there was actual learning and there was skill development as well as the development of new technologies and solutions that were applied in future projects. If we’d given up, we would have had zero success and just continued a cycle of failure.
13. Pay UP
Finally, in this series of ups and downs, mostly up, you need to pay up. There are 7 billion people in the world. We ALL have a responsibility to others. That responsibility is not just to your own jobs, teams, customers, and shareholders, but to those in need whether they carry your company badge or not. Give back. Not just time and money but knowledge and experience. Sometimes all you can give is a smile, a good thought, or a prayer. If that’s all you can give, then give that. Some twenty-four and a half years ago, once a week, I would jump a fence to Costaño Elementary School in East Palo Alto to tutor students in math. I still tutor in math, and I find it just as rewarding now as then. Give back. Pay up. We all have valuable skills, knowledge, and experience. Use them for the greater good. Don’t be selfish. Inspire others. Act with integrity. Build trust. Have fun. Be great, every day. Ready? Begin.
Now that you've read Ray's quarter-century of counsel to IT workers, are there any UPlifting pieces of advice that you would add to his list? Let's hear 'em in the Comments below.
Learning@Cisco Senior Manager of Technical Labs and Support Raymond Viscaina is currently responsible for the definition, operation, support, and delivery of virtual Cisco Learning Labs. With 25 years of experience at Cisco, he has served in many capacities, including development test engineer, system test engineer, software development manager, and technical leader for many of Cisco’s top technologies.