By Jie Xue | VP, Supply Chain Operations | Cisco Systems
When I began my engineering studies at Tsinghua University, only 15% of my class were women. As I started my career in the semiconductor industry, I was often the only female in the room. Over the past two decades—and while raising two kids—I’ve seen so much progress in the fight for diversity in the workplace. And yet, the number of women, not only pursuing, but advancing in STEM careers, continues to be a challenge on a global scale.
It’s a complex issue. But one thing is very simple: we must shatter the myth that it is difficult to hire and develop diverse talents in highly technical fields. I have personally witnessed that diversity around the table and an inclusive culture are key factors to the collective success of teams, including my own team.
In addition to diverse hiring, it’s critical to elevate strong, technical women along their leadership journey. I sat down with three of them on my team: Zoe Conroy, Principal Engineer in ASIC Test Design/Development; CJ Lee, Technical Leader in Next Gen Optics; and Aparna Prasad, Technical Leader in Silicon Photonics, in this (virtual) fireside chat to hear their thoughts and experiences.
What attracted you to join Cisco?
Aparna: Cisco is the #1 company to work for! Its inclusive and collaborative culture makes it one of the most sought-after companies. Cisco offers wonderful opportunities to creatively innovate, especially in strategic areas like Silicon Photonics.
What has been your greatest accomplishment or innovation during your time here?
CJ: The most exciting innovation is always the one that I am currently working on! For past projects, I am very proud of the CRS-3 VE and CRS-X system releases. These two major releases paved our road to utilize on-board-optics for high bandwidth and high channel count routing systems. We were at least 5 to 8 years ahead of the industry.
Zoe: As my greatest accomplishment, I led the development of a more efficient way to do product testing and introduced a new process for all of Cisco hardware manufacturing. The team I worked with was amazing, we brainstormed a lot and had fun along the way!
What is it about Cisco and our organization that motivates you?
Zoe: There is always innovation going on and new technology to learn. We get to see across all Cisco products—how they are designed, built, and ultimately deployed for the customer. I really enjoy having that visibility.
CJ: For me, it is both the breadth and depth of the challenging projects we get to work on and the extremely knowledgeable, industry-leading colleagues we get to work with. Because of Cisco’s business structure and renowned supply chain, we are afforded a very unique view to examine industry direction and leading technologies. This is difficult to find elsewhere.
What has been the biggest challenge for you as a female or otherwise? During the pandemic?
CJ: As a female and a racial minority, I feel very blessed that my personal experience at Cisco has been very positive. There are still challenges. For example, sometimes I’m the only female in a large business meeting representing Cisco’s technical voice. Some people may assign me administrative type work due to the fact I am the female.
Zoe: Another challenge has been wanting to progress my career and get that next promotion or level of training, and companies, previous to Cisco, not providing those opportunities.
Aparna: During the pandemic, balancing work and home schooling young kids has been very overwhelming! Having leaders who acknowledge the mental health of employees and providing thoughtful workaround plans has been a blessing.
What are some ways you can effectively influence new technology development in your industry? What can your leaders do to get your voice heard, both internally and externally?
Zoe: Leaders can help by delegating speaking opportunities. I had a DME (Distinguished Manufacturing Engineer) tap me for such an opportunity, and I now get invited to many industry events. Influencing new technology development can begin with joining industry working groups. They are great opportunities to meet with people from other companies to discuss future technology and industry standards.
What would you tell a student that is interested in exploring a technical career in supply chain?
CJ: I was a research scientist in my previous life and had the misunderstanding that great technical issues only exist in the R&D or engineering departments. How wrong I was! After I joined Technology & Quality in Cisco’s supply chain, I learned we cover so many diverse challenges, lead the most cutting-edge development, and solve practical supply chain dynamics as well. The current global chip shortage is a supply chain issue rooted in a technological nature. Supply chain has more opportunities than one can imagine just from the name “supply chain”!
As I reflect on my conversation with Zoe, CJ, and Aparna, I appreciate not only their candor about the challenges they’ve faced throughout their technical careers, but also their enthusiasm for their work. Collectively, they are leading the technology innovation at Cisco and making a tremendous impact to our industry. I have often heard that it is hard to find women technical leaders in the technology space. We must work together to change this perception.
As leaders, we have a pivotal opportunity to encourage and support women in our industry. I look forward to even more diverse voices joining and leading our technology breakthroughs.
About Jie Xue
Jie Xue leads Cisco’s Technology and Quality organization, a global team in Cisco’s supply chain responsible for anticipating, developing, and executing technology innovations to deliver exceptional customer experience. The team drives a competitive advantage for Cisco by ensuring breakthrough innovation and excellence in manufacturing technology, test and component engineering, advanced technology development, closed-loop quality management, and product compliance.
Prior to joining Cisco, Jie held several management and engineering positions at Motorola, Inc., working on R&D and product development. Jie was selected by Connected World magazine for its 2017 “Women of Machine to Machine (M2M)” technology list, received the 2017 Women of Color STEM Conference Special Recognition Award. She received Electronics Manufacturing Technology Award, and David Feldman Outstanding Contribution Award from International Electrical and Electronics Society (IEEE)-EPS in 2019 and 2016 respectively, and the YWCA 31st Annual Tribute to Women (TWIN) Awards in 2015. As an advocate for Women leadership development in the STEM field globally, she was the Board Committee Member for IEEE-Woman in Engineering in 2016, and Organization Committee for Women in Engineering International Leadership Conference in 2016.
Jie is an IMAPS Fellow, IEEE Fellow, President of IEEE – Electronics Packaging Society (EPS) 2014-2015, and IEEE-EPS Distinguished Lecturer. She also has published more than 90 technical papers, holds 15 patents, and has given keynote talks at many international conferences. Jie holds a Bachelor of Science from Tsinghua University in Beijing, China and a Master of Science and PhD from Cornell University.