The importance of networking for women in IT

Rhiannon Gillespie
Service Desk Advisor
Cardiff University

CISCO Live 2018, Orlando

Preparing for CISCO Live

As a UCISA bursary award winner for 2018, I had the opportunity to visit CISCO Live in Orlando, Florida.  CISCO Live is CISCO’s annual customer and partner conference with sessions, hands-on training and an exhibition. With just three weeks to prepare before setting off, I registered for the conference and got to work choosing which sessions I’d attend. There were hundreds to choose from, so I stuck to one area: the ‘Leadership and Equality’ track. I had to register on the sessions before arriving and some I wanted to attend such as the ‘CISCO Live orientation’ were unfortunately fully booked.
I downloaded the CISCO Live app, which held my schedule, helpful information like meals and shuttle times, and general information about the conference. This was very useful while at the conference to keep on top of where I was supposed to be.
I arrived early to allow myself to acclimatize before the conference started.  The conference was just a shuttle ride away, so on the Saturday before the conference I got the shuttle so I could find where the stop was for when the conference started and went to pick up my badge to beat the Monday morning queues.  On the Monday morning I got to the conference early to take advantage of breakfast. I could tell how big the conference was just by how long it took to walk from the shuttle stop to the dining area!
I attended two or three sessions a day and spent the rest of the time wandering around what CISCO dub the ‘World of Solutions’.  This was an area with various technical labs, ‘DevNet’ developer area and a trade show type floor where CISCO partners conduct talks and demos of their products.

CISCO Empowered Women’s Network

The track of talks I attended used to be a four-hour session called CISCO Empowered Women’s Network or ‘CEWN’ on the Sunday before the main conference. This was the first year they had spread it over multiple sessions over multiple days. A newbie to networks and the only female in the IT Service Desk team, I sometimes lack confidence. There were more technical sessions, which matched all levels of technical ability but owing to my lack of confidence I didn’t attend any of these.  The CEWN sessions, however, really helped with my confidence. They discussed varying diversity issues and how to overcome them, and some sessions were presented by women who work in different areas of CISCO discussing their roles. They also discussed how to create more diverse teams and the benefits this can have, this included a talk from the main person behind ‘CISCO men for inclusion group.
My favourite talk was about ‘Women on the Front line of Disaster Response’ which consisted of three managers from separate teams (one a different company, NetHope) discussing how they approach disaster response and help bring back networks to disaster areas. This included man-made disasters, natural disasters and refugee camps (pictured the CISCO van and inflatable satellite they take to disaster areas).
It was interesting learning how they managed this as well as the results from completing the work.  For example, one of them discussed how when speaking to some refugee children, it transpired that they had learnt how to speak English by watching videos on the Wi-Fi.
If anyone is ever thinking of attending CISCO Live, I highly recommend it. If you are a woman thinking of attending, definitely go for it. Only 8% of attendees this year were women, but this was up from 6% last year – we need to keep pushing that number up! The conference really did help with my confidence and it was just generally really good fun (especially the party they held at Universal Studios!).

 Interested in applying for a UCISA bursary? Then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

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