Despite attending a technology school beginning in the sixth grade, Amanda Nash set her sights on becoming a marriage and family therapist. That is, until a director encouraged her to apply for a student internship as a junior network administrator in the 10th grade. “I remember being surprised that she thought I was capable of that job, since I wasn’t the smartest or most skilled with computers,” Nash recalls.
It turns out, she was really good with computers. After high school, she worked in various IT roles—including help desk support, system administrator, project manager, business systems analyst—before leading an IT department for a small engineering firm. “As an IT manager, I was tasked with presenting a roadmap that would upgrade the current infrastructure, which is where I was introduced to Cisco Meraki,” she says. “I spent a week geeking out over the Meraki website.”
Nash was so excited about Cisco Meraki that she applied for a more junior role, but didn’t get it. Instead, she was encouraged to get her CCNA [an IT certification] and apply again. “I ended up passing the CCNA exam at seven months pregnant,” she says. “I also joined a Cisco Gold Partner to get more networking experience. After having my kid, my goal was still to work for Meraki.” Today, she’s a senior manager in network support at her dream company.
Here, Nash shares what she loves about Cisco Meraki, how the company helps working parents succeed, and why it’s important for women to believe in themselves.
What attracted you to work at Cisco Meraki?
First and foremost, the product. I had been in that small IT group managing an enterprise network with sites all over California. I had zero visibility into my network, which was a hodge-podge of ASAs and switches, all of which had expired service contracts and out-of-date firmware. Meraki was the answer to all of that. At the time, I knew enough about networking to be dangerous, and Meraki made it so simple.
I could also tell that Meraki would be different culturally. Before Cisco Meraki, I’d been working in the traditional corporate America environment—think politics, cubicles, offices. I worked with all men and was frequently challenged by coworkers to prove my knowledge or skills. I had a manager once tell me that one day I would have to choose between being a mom or having a career. I was conditioned to believe that I wasn’t as good and wouldn’t be in this world forever. I wanted to be in an environment that was different, where I was in love with the mission or product, where I knew that I was appreciated. I was ready for a change and everything I read about Meraki told me that this is where I belonged.
What are you responsible for in your role?
I look after teams of network engineers in the U.S. My job is to make sure that the individuals on my team have the tools and resources they need to be successful and that they have the support from their leaders to continue to grow in their career. I am also responsible for ensuring that our teams continue to deliver world-class support to our customers.
We understand you were one of very few parents on your team when you started at Cisco Meraki. How did you work with company leaders to help level the playing field with colleagues who didn’t have children?
When I joined Meraki, my son was six months old and I lived 35 miles from the office, which was a one- to two-hour commute each way. My eight-hour workdays had an additional four hours of travel. I wasn’t the only parent, but I was certainly the only mother, one of four women. My responsibilities outside of work were much more demanding than most of my single male colleagues.
When I joined Meraki, I was motivated to become more than a network support engineer, and quickly. However, when I asked around about how to get to a manager role, there was really only one path: Be the best. The best meant closing 100-plus cases over the expectation each month, being an expert in every technology that we covered, and reading every email about every new feature and new bug that came out—and all that meant overtime. As you can imagine, as a new mom, being away from my son for even longer than the already committed 12 hours was heart wrenching. So, I stood up in my first all-hands with the GM of Meraki and the Head of Support and asked, “How can I be successful and grow in my career if I am competing against colleagues who can dedicate four hours of overtime while I have to commute and be a mom at the end of my day?”
I started meeting with leaders trying to come up with ways to help new network support engineers get up to speed faster so that they could become more efficient in the role and require less overtime to be the best. I’ll be honest: My motivation to change the culture was a little selfish. I wanted to be successful. As I have grown in my career here, and as I have seen the path that I was able to forge, I have been able to help women, parents, the underrepresented—anyone who had some circumstance that made them different. I’ve been able to get them the resources and support they need to be successful.
Tell us about the parent employee resource network at Cisco Meraki, and your involvement with it.
Before I joined Cisco, Pare[email protected] consisted of emails asking for recommendations on books or what to do when the person was expecting to be a new dad. I started attending events hosted by a women’s ERG, and as much as I love that organization, I still felt something was missing. Often, the teams would have after-hours events. I wanted to attend and get to know my colleagues, but it was at the expense of spending time with my son. When I did have opportunities to spend time with my team, I always felt weird being the only one talking about my kid. I wanted to hang out with other parents, preferably with my son, and still have the ability to get to know my colleagues.
In 2017, I organized a trip to Oakland’s Children’s Fairyland. I blasted it out to the entire Meraki mailer and asked if anyone would be interested. I have to give kudos to my manager, Peter Dallas, for being the first and only other parent to show up that day. It was so much fun to see my son play with Pete’s son and be able to get to know him and his wife. We ended up having several more events and it’s evolved from there. My goal was simply to talk about poop and diapers with my colleagues during a time that I could also spend with my son.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced since working at Cisco Meraki and how did you overcome it?
After years of working with companies and managers that didn’t see my potential or didn’t believe I was capable of the growth that I have been able to accomplish, I would say my biggest challenge was relearning how to believe in myself and go after the impossible. I picked up tools over the last few years from therapists and women-focused conferences. Hearing others talk about their struggles has helped me when I doubt myself. Perfect example: I heard about a study that found that when a man sees a job description and satisfies three of the 10 requirements, he’ll apply. If a woman sees a job description and she does not satisfy three of the 10 requirements, she will not apply. Twice, when I’ve thought, “Oh, I can’t do this job,” I’ve reminded myself that my male colleagues wouldn’t hesitate. I got the role both times.
You’ve been promoted twice in 4.5 years. In what ways has Cisco Meraki supported your career growth?
It helped that when I joined Meraki, I was very clear about where I wanted to go within the organization. I knew that I wanted to be in leadership and my managers have all understood and found opportunities for me to demonstrate my ability to do so. They made it clear that if I worked hard, they would champion me. And they have.
What do you like best about the company culture?
I work with the most fun, caring, and passionate people I have ever met. We work together to resolve customer issues or to innovate new ways to accomplish our business goals and we do it in a way where no one person is better than the other. The fact that I can chat with the GM in one of the kitchenettes about a customer retention strategy tells you how corporate ladder structure and politics don’t drive the way we do things at Meraki. It’s an environment that allows me to be creative and challenge the status quo without repercussions or retaliation for talking to someone’s boss’ boss.
What has been the secret to your success in your career?
It’s amazing how far you can go when you have someone who believes in your success. When I was in 10th grade, my first manager said to me, “Amanda, one day I will work for you.” It’s that kind of belief that has empowered me to believe that one day, I just might have my first manager on my team. It’s more than that though. He told me something that I hadn’t yet believed in myself. I worked for another manager who reiterated that belief by promoting me to supervisor without any prior experience. When you work for real leaders who see your potential, it gives you the superpower to overcome challenges. It’s helped me overcome every time I was told I couldn’t do something without a degree or that I couldn’t have a career and be a mother, too. Anytime I have doubted my ability, I remember moments where those two individuals believed in me before I believed in myself.
What’s the best career advice you’ve received?
This one came from a good friend and mentor. We worked together and during our yearly review period, she helped me with the self-evaluation piece. She said to me, “Look at your job description and everything you do that is expected of you. Think about all the projects and work that you do that aren’t listed in the job description—that’s you exceeding expectations.” I talk about this moment with the people on my team often. It’s so important that you do your current role as expected, but it’s more important that you look for opportunities outside of your role in order to stand out.