From Helping Students Pursue STEM Careers to Volunteering: How I Give Back With My Company’s Support

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Revathi Sreedar

Photo courtesy of Cisco.

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April 16, 2024 at 10:12AM UTC

When Revathi Sreedar set out on her professional journey, she had no idea just how fulfilling studying mathematics in undergrad and, ultimately, obtaining a master’s degree in computer science, would be for her later in life.

Originally wanting to become a college professor in mathematics, Sreedar reluctantly chose computer science in 1992 and graduated in 1995. Right after college, she was recruited as a Customer Service Engineer for a startup in Chennai, India. “I was the only woman on the entire team,” recalls Sreedar. “At the time, people were impressed and surprised that a woman could be in a technical role. Coming from a conservative society, women were shunned from these kinds of roles.”

This was the beginning of Sreedar’s impressive career growth. Roles as a customer support engineer and far-reaching office manager built up her skills and resulted in her being noticed for her work ethic. Due to this, she was referred to Cisco and joined the company as an administrative assistant. And she grew quickly in this role, too! Today, Sreedar serves as an engineer project manager in the Data Center Networking organization at Cisco. 

And professional growth is only one aspect of Sreedar’s story — helping others has always been an important part of her life. For example, Sreedar is a global lead in ICON: Indians Connecting Network, an Inclusive Community at Cisco. One key element of her work here is through the High School STEM Job Shadow Program (CHSSP), an active partner of ICON.

“The program is specifically designed for students who want to learn more about STEM fields and have not had the opportunity to explore this in their schools and communities, or who might be intimidated by these fields,” Sreedar explains. “We hope to inspire these students to delve into their interests further and pursue their goals. CHSSP provides relevant and real-world exposure to important math, science, technology, and engineering concepts, while also preparing kids for the future technological needs of our society.”

Programs like this are a way for Sreedar to give others what she feels “lucky” to have had herself — “incredible sponsors” who have always provided her with support, feedback, advice, and inspiration. Early in her own career, Sreedar thought that hard work alone would get her noticed and promoted. However, over the course of her career journey, she learned that “each one of us needs a sponsor who actively advocates for us.” 

And that’s not all! Sreedar is an active member of her community through volunteering and utilizes Cisco’s Time2Give benefit, which empowers employees to make a difference in their communities with up to 10 paid days each year to volunteer. She also regularly donates to causes that are important to her, like the California Tamil Academy (CTA), and Cisco matches her contributions through the Bright Fund charitable giving platform.

“I am grateful that Cisco actively supports and encourages employees to give back,” she tells Fairygodboss. “My pride in working for this company has never been stronger.”

Here, Sreedar tells us more about her career and becoming a global lead with ICON to help others like her.

To begin, you are also a Global Lead in ICON: Indians Connecting Network. In your own words, could you describe the goal(s) of this group?

Cisco is an ardent supporter of Employee Resource Organizations, called Inclusive Communities at Cisco, and I am lucky to be leading one. ICON’s vision is to create an inclusive culture by providing a platform that is Engaging, Empowering, and Elevating for all. We also strive to create an inclusive community that inspires people to connect and celebrate our common values and diverse cultures, grow personally and professionally, and support our community. Our key focus areas are giving back, personal and professional development, and cultural awareness. We have conducted various programs for Cisconians using our virtual platform Webex.

For example, we have had motivational speakers like Sister Shivani; Professional talks with Payal Nanjiani who provides leadership training and executive coaching; Dr. Saundarya Rajesh, CEO of Avatar who spoke about Inclusion and Diversity; and The Art of Coaching with Dr. Sheena Iyengar. We recently conducted a virtual 5K marathon where we raised over $5,000 for a nonprofit organization. During our Festival of Lights event, which takes place every October, we raised close to $10k for various organizations like Akashya Patra, and Cisco matched our contributions dollar for dollar.

That’s so impressive!  Can you tell us why you joined ICON, and what you are most proud about regarding ICON’s achievements?

In 2015, my then leader was the executive sponsor for ICON, and I got pulled into it naturally. My love for volunteering was a big motivation to be a part of this community. From a very young age, I saw my parents giving back to our community, which inspired me to continue in their footsteps.

Our biggest achievement at ICON was during the pandemic in India. Our team rallied to form groups in India to provide 24/7 support during the second wave of COVID-19 in India. We helped identify suppliers for O2 concentrators who could ship directly to people in need. ICON also helped find critical supplies for hospitals and created chatbots and dashboards to identify various vendors to help the people in need. Our team has participated in various volunteering and fundraising events, contributed to the disaster relief programs for the Indian states of Assam and Chennai, donated to programs that feed underprivileged children, and raised funds during the COVID-19 pandemic for families in need.

Next, we’d love to hear more about Cisco’s High School STEM Job Shadow Program (CHSSP). Could you tell us about the program’s purpose and your involvement in it?

The program is designed to promote Cisco's Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) initiative in communities with limited exposure and to help build Cisco’s early-in-career talent pipeline. Every year, Cisco hosts students to promote the company’s technology initiatives. Along with this, the participating high school students get a unique opportunity to learn about the work environment and culture of Cisco. Although the focus is on STEM roles, we also expose students to the array of non-tech roles that are available at a tech company like Cisco.

After about one year of being involved in CHSSP, its leader at the time was ready to move on, and I was happy and excited to take on this leadership role. In 2020, I was able to merge the program under ICON as part of our Community Outreach and Mentoring pillar.

Do you have any stories or insights from your participation in CHSSP that you’d like to share?

This year, we had a student from a rural community with a 4.3 GPA and a strong love for Computer Science. Due to his location, he had not been exposed to many STEM opportunities. He had spent all his school summers working in a winery with his parents. One of our team members sent me his resume, and we immediately started the process to admit him into the program. This is the kind of student whose journey we would like to focus on to help foster his talent, interests, and his knowledge of the types of roles he could pursue in the future. 

Moving on to your own professional journey, how has Cisco supported you?

Cisco has provided me with many learning opportunities through various leadership programs and conferences that have helped develop me personally and professionally.

Over the last 10 years, I’ve also had many opportunities to meet various people from all levels at Cisco, including executives and peers across different business functions. I am glad for the cross-functional exposure and networking because, without my colleagues, I would not be where I am today. Cisco has also supported my journey and overall health by providing excellent benefits packages.  

What would be your top pieces of advice for other women looking to advance their careers in tech?

Be bold and authentic. Believe in yourself and don’t believe anyone who says you can’t or shouldn’t pursue your goals and dreams.

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