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Know Thyself: 10 Ways to Discover Your Work Environment Needs and What It’s Really Like to Work at Cisco

Self-awareness goes a long way in determining your next professional steps. While job searching, it’s critical to identify how to leverage your transferable skills and network, while also evaluating what environmental factors of work and work culture matter to you most. Learn what it’s like to work at Cisco and the top 10 ways to suss out a workplace that suits your needs from leaders at Cisco Secure, Cisco Talos and Duo Security.

1. Beyond a ping-pong table: Discerning a company’s culture

First things first. Emily Reid, the newly appointed director of employee experience at Cisco Secure who came from Duo Security, advises, “Do your own research to see how the company and their employees describe the culture publicly — on the company’s website and through other sites, articles and resources. For tech companies specifically I always think, “What else do you have beyond the ping-pong table?”’

The interview process is the next key opportunity to find out what culture is like beyond amenities. To gain multiple perspectives, Reid recommends asking about company culture in every interview you have.

The question at the top of Reid’s list: Do you have programs and resources to support the development and success of your employees? “I want to know how a company will be investing in my career growth and if I will feel welcome and included as part of the team. Seeing what a company chooses to center and highlight when describing their culture is usually very telling,” she said.

Interning at a company is another way to get firsthand knowledge and can lead to full-time employment.  “several former interns are now people leaders managing their own teams — and their own interns — coming full circle,” Reid said.

2. Can you bring your whole self to work?

Knowing that there is safety and support in bringing your whole self to work is vital. What policies, programs and initiatives are in place that demonstrate an organization’s commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging?

Cisco’s ongoing commitments to social justice and pay parity include twelve action steps as part of Cisco’s Social Justice Blueprint. Cultivating a conscious culture includes on-going dialogue, programs and events meant to increase equality. Employee Resource Organizations and mentorship programs provide more opportunities to build community and share knowledge, resources and advocacy.

3. Remote, in person, or hybrid?

What environment allows you to do your best work? Also consider what perks and processes an employer offers to enhance flexibility and adaptability. During the pandemic, Duo and Cisco transitioned  all global events, training and professional development workshops to fully virtual. As in person options resumed following the pandemic, all events are designed to ensure an inclusive experience no matter where you’re joining from.

“We don’t want to go back to a world where people not based in an office feel like they are getting a lesser experience,” Reid said.

Considering how to make programs and information accessible to employees regardless of where they work is also important to Sammi Seaman, team lead of employee experience at Cisco Talos. She’s currently spearheading a new hire program that is “more inclusive of folks whether they’re office based, remote or somewhere across the world.”

4. A work-life balance that works for you

It’s essential to consider how you want your life and work to intersect, particularly as hybrid work becomes more popular. How important is paid time off, flexible work options or a consistent structure?

Cisco Secure offers “Days for Me,” days off for employees to decompress and do something to fill their cups. Monthly “Focus Days” are days without meetings, so employees can prioritize the projects that need attention.

Curran recalls one candidate who, despite multiple offers from competitors, chose Cisco Secure because of the flexible work environment: “This person has a young child and felt that the “Days for Me” and flexibility to work from home in a hybrid situation would work best for his career long-term.”

As Reid’s team helps lead the transition to hybrid work, the book Out of Office: The Big Problem and Bigger Promise of Working From Home by Charlie Warzel and Anne Helen Petersen has been inspiring. The book “does an amazing job of sharing a vision for an inclusive future that empowers employees to be successful and have a ‘work/life balance’ that truly works,” Reid said.

5. Supporting accessibility as the workplace evolves

Currently Cisco Secure offers a hybrid model while many employees still work remotely. In terms of maintaining accessibility through this transition, Marketing Specialist Julie Kramer advocated for more accessibility and saw changes at Cisco as a result.

“Webex pre-COVID didn’t have any closed captioning. So, another deaf person and I reached out and closed captioning and the transcript option got added,” Kramer shared.

Kramer prefers to have high-quality and frequently the same interpreters who “know the terminology for my job, marketing and technology. In business, the security and marketing industry can really talk fast, so you need a high-quality interpreter that can keep up and one that is qualified and certified,” she said.

6. Is a fast-paced environment your speed?

Consider what pace of your specific role and within an industry is needed for you to feel engaged without overwhelmed. While different roles within the same organization and industry may run at different paces, it’s important to tune into what might be expected on your potential new team.

Seaman finds that the fast pace of cybersecurity can be “delightful and challenging. There’s a lot of fast-paced pivoting that happens, which makes for an interesting workplace because two days are never the same,” she said.

7. What structures and opportunities for collaboration motivate you?

Do you prefer a hierarchical structure, or one that is more flat? Are you most effective and fulfilled riding solo, or while consistently connecting with coworkers? Does contributing your ideas make you feel empowered?

At Cisco Secure, there is space to join conversations. “No matter where you sit in the company, you have a voice and can speak up and collaborate and self-organize on a project. It feels like a bunch of really hard working, humble, smart people who are trying to solve problems together,” said Manager of Duo’s Global Knowledge and Communities Team Kelly Davenport.

To enhance communication and knowledge among distributed teams, Seaman started a dialogue series called “The More You Know.” Questions include: What do you do? How do you do it? How can that help other parts of Cisco Talos? The conversations lead to future collaboration and resource sharing.

8. Does teaching and learning energize you?

Do you want to grow professionally and increase your skills and knowledge? A culture of teaching and learning within an organization can help hone and expand your skills and connections.

Lead of Strategic Business Intelligence Ashlee Benge finds the security world “very dynamic. You really can never stop learning. Within Cisco Talos, the people around me are such smart, dedicated people that there’s really a lot that you can gain from just being involved in the group as a whole.”

For Seaman, who didn’t come from a technical background, Cisco Talos offered opportunities to expand her technical knowledge, including from colleagues. “Coming into Cisco Talos, people are like, “Here, let me teach you. You can totally do this. Just because you didn’t know how to do it doesn’t mean you can’t learn. Let’s go,” Seaman shared. Seaman’s colleagues have also learned from her expertise in information and knowledge management given her background as a librarian.


More formally, the Learning and Development team recently launched a comprehensive talent development program with enablement resources and support for people leaders. Aspects include: “really thoughtful templates for employees to use with their manager to talk through career goals, development areas, and to define an actionable investment plan. These resources are fueling great career conversations, strong alignment, and thoughtful development plans,” Reid said.

9. Are you driven to evolve through variety and internal mobility?

Do you want to refine your skills within your wheelhouse? Or are you driven to try new tasks and potentially change roles within your next organization?

Benge, whose background is in computational astrophysics, has found her interests shift from technical security research to business strategy and data science. At Cisco Talos, she’s been involved in everything from detection research and threat hunting, to community outreach, conference talks and traveling to support sales engagements. Currently, she’s helping to lead threat hunting in Ukraine.

“My leaders have always made it very clear that if there’s an interest, it’s okay to pursue it and it doesn’t have to necessarily be within the scope of my role. Having that freedom to pursue interests within the industry has been really engaging,” Benge said.

10. Recognize your role in shaping culture

In addition to company values and mission statements, leaders and employees contribute to an organization’s culture every day. If you want to enhance your company’s culture, participate.

“Feedback on what employees want to see is crucial,” Reid said. “The easiest way to contribute to developing culture and a positive employee experience in your workplace is to add to what’s already happening! Culture takes participation and ownership from all employees.”

Reid shared that in performance reviews at Cisco, “‘Team Impact” is equally as important as “Results.” Contributing positively to company culture should contribute to performance reviews and promotion justification,” she said.

Join us

To learn more about Cisco’s company culture and how you can contribute to it, check out our open roles.

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