For those of us who want to make an impact on the world through our careers, finding work within non-profit organizations may seem like the most logical path. But for Sherry Xu, a San Jose, California-based software engineer, her idea of what making an impact could look like came to take on a slightly different form.
“I stumbled upon computer science when a friend of mine showed me a hackathon project of a bracelet that could potentially detect seizures and alert emergency medical services,” Xu recalled. “I thought it was amazing, and was absolutely floored that someone could bring something new to life like that, which could potentially benefit a lot of people, in just a couple of days with some code.”
It was shortly after this that Xu became completely “immersed” in computer science, a path that ultimately led her to working Cisco, a worldwide leader in IT, networking, and cybersecurity solutions.
As a founding signer of the White House Equal Pay Pledge, Cisco has routinely made a point of positioning advocacy at its forefront, and its executive leadership team continues to be one of the industry’s most diverse. Thanks to the company’s emphasis on corporate social responsibility and advancing young women in STEM, it didn’t take long for Xu to realize her desire to merge technology with her deep-seated drive to help others was mirrored here.
Recently, Xu shared with Fairygodboss what the day-to-day of life pursuing this mission looks like, as well as her No. 1 piece of career advice to women who want an impact-driven career like here.
What is your title and department?
I’m a software engineer within the Internet of Things here at Cisco.
Can you walk us through how you came to the role, and to this line of work broadly?
I’ve always loved challenges and creating things from the ground up. Growing up, I wanted to be a doctor so that I could help improve the lives of others. I wound up working the graveyard shift as an emergency medical services responder in ambulances while studying at university. It was very rewarding helping people, but it wasn’t a career path that allowed me a lot of freedom to innovate and be creative. I stumbled upon computer science when a friend of mine showed me a hackathon project of a bracelet that could potentially detect seizures and alert emergency medical services based on the detected movements. I thought it was amazing and was absolutely floored that someone could bring something new to life like that which could potentially benefit a lot of people in just a couple of days with some code.
After that, I became immersed in computer science. I later went on to hold several leadership positions in the oldest and most prominent computer science organization at university and served as a student voice to the computer science department. I planned and hosted numerous hackathons, tech talks, and got involved in many developer communities. I also worked with an amazing group of peers to launch the first of many iterations of the world’s largest collegiate hackathon, CalHacks.
I now work as a software engineer at a wonderful company that gives me ample opportunity to be creative in not only my work projects, but also outside of my day to day work. I often build side projects to display at conferences and have been able to demo and speak about my work in front of different audiences. I’m thankful of the many opportunities that I have been given up to this point in my career and look forward to what’s ahead!
What is an accomplishment that you are proud of?
I’m proud of starting new organizations and stepping up to leadership roles in existing organizations! Being a cofounder of multiple organizations that flourished in my university and helping bring people with similar passions together has been such a rewarding and unique experience. As a child I was quite introverted and quiet, I never thought I would actively enjoy speaking in front of crowds or doing presentations!
What is a challenge that you've faced and overcome?
A big challenge that I’ve struggled with and am still working on improving on is taking risks. I’ve always been afraid of failure and that has caused me to miss out on fantastic opportunities both in my personal life and my career. Thanks to wonderful mentors and inspiring colleagues that I’ve met throughout my college and professional life, I’ve slowly been more comfortable challenging myself to do things that are a stretch for me.
What is the #1 career tip you'd like to share with other women who want to have successful careers like you?
I would encourage other women to not be afraid to attempt things that they may perceive outside of their abilities or are uncomfortable doing! It sounds cliché but I do feel like a lot of the time I see many talented women unwilling to try for opportunities due to uncertainty or fear of failure. Advocating for myself and really taking advantage of the opportunities that came up helped me greatly to get where I am today. I want to encourage women to really advocate for themselves more and not pass up opportunities due to fear or uncertainty of their abilities.
Why do you love where you work?
I love my job because of both the cutting-edge technology stack that we are using and because of the people. During my time at Cisco, I’ve met many amazing people that I have been blessed to learn from and work with. I’ve been thankful for the ample opportunities to represent the company at conferences, school, and talks. My colleagues have inspired me to try different hobbies and have definitely encouraged me to grow by doing things outside of my comfort zone. I’ve made incredible friends and have inspiring mentors; I am truly grateful for all the kindness and encouragement that my colleagues have given me!
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