12 tech leaders’ resolutions for 2012

Advocate for women in tech

By Padmasree Warrior, CTO, Cisco (As told to Stacey Higginbotham)

Padmasree Warrior joined Cisco in 2007 as Chief Technology Officer, and is also Senior Vice President and General Manager of Cisco’s Enterprise, Commercial and Small Business group. Prior to Cisco she was the Chief Technology Officer of Motorola. We asked Warrior for her reflections on 2011 and her New Year’s resolutions for 2012 because she is a tech thought leader that has also championed for women and technology.

For me personally and also for Cisco, 2011 was a year of realignment. My own role changed twice at least. In the beginning of this year I took over as the enterprise leader for Cisco and then in April of 2011, I took over as the co-leader of all of engineering. I was the CTO first when I joined Cisco four years ago. The biggest challenge for me is that along with the expansion of my role came all of the changes we needed to make internally to re-energize the group, to realign and to refocus back on the architecture and the core priorities of the company.

From a personal point of view, I have a weird brain as I call it. I have both a strong left and a strong right brain. You probably see that from my tweets as well. I write haiku, I paint, and I am an engineer. I speak on the behalf of women both in technology as well as in the industry — that’s a big passion of mine. So what i think that was challenging for me personally was really trying to find the right way to partition my energy between all of these things.

Because of all the things that are going on at work and my own role in the transformation of Cisco, which is extremely important, I didn’t have as much energy and time as I would like to have had on doing these other things — painting more, or writing poetry more or encouraging women. I think that’s something that I want back to do more in 2012, both within Cisco and within the industry. I believe women should play a strong role in technology and I want to get management focused on that again.

Leadership is about putting personal energy into it. I truly believe that leadership is something that you have to be involved with in terms of the details as well as the strategy. I don’t subscribe to the model that someone is either a strategist or an operational person. I don’t actually believe that. At this level you have to have strength in both and the ability to do both and have the ability to go from one end of the spectrum of really thinking through the disruptions in the industry, the changes in the architecture, back to the details of how many engineers are working on which project and will the project be delivered on time or not.

So I think the current role and the expansion of the role has allowed me to do that. That part I really enjoy and I think the results speak for the company. I think as we have gone through the transformation very well as a company.

For next year I think that the big challenge for the industry, not just for Cisco, is how the big trends, cloud, mobile or social, are changing the scope of what companies do and how to make that transformation. Previously you could be an IT infrastructure company alone, and that was okay. But now as applications move to cloud, you really have to figure out how to deliver applications from the cloud. Even imaging companies are tyring to figure out where they’re going in the future. And that’s what exciting about the industry. We believe that the IT industry, applications and mobile are all blending together and so companies have to figure out their transformation; what their strengths are; and how they leverage that strength.

Cisco’s strength is network and networking itself is changing architecturally. I believe it’s going to play a huge role going forward. So that’s the opportunity. The challenge is transitioning ourselves to meet that opportunity.

One of the things I’d like to do next year, is to continue to be more of an advocate for women in technology at all levels. I think women tend to be more hesitant to making the changes that they need to make especially in entering the harder fields like technology and science and I want to make sure I use my energy to make sure we don’t lose the progress and momentum that women have made in technology. That goes for Cisco as well as the whole industry. I would like to see more women leaders get engaged with mentoring and helping others. It’s not even mentoring, it’s more just about helping others and sharing your experiences.