May 11, 2023

An Interview With Cisco’s Naomi Colon: We Deserve To Be Heard, Have Success, And Be Happy While Doing It

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Meet Naomi Colon – a woman who embodies the definition of a modern-day superhero. Juggling the demands of motherhood, community service, and a thriving career as a project specialist at Cisco, it’s no surprise that Naomi’s story has caught the attention of many.

POCIT sat down with Naomi to find out more about how she does it.

Tell me about your career trajectory and your journey to Cisco. 

I started my career in healthcare right out of high school, and pretty much stuck around until I had children. Once they were old enough to start preschool, I started volunteering as a parent mentor in a Chicago public school. After volunteering for three years, I started a paid position in a neighboring school. Budget cuts led to me leaving Chicago Public Schools. I soon found myself working in the cannabis industry as well as working a part-time job at a retail store and doing food deliveries to supplement my income. All that led me to where I am today. 

A conversation with my older brother guided me to look into a career in tech. I always thought that you had to have this huge tech background, but there are so many different opportunities. Once I did a few interviews and I realized how I could possibly do what I love, meeting new people, and everything team culture, I started working at Cisco. 

“I also have visible tattoos, I wear fancy nails with rhinestones and things like that, [but] I’ve never felt othered, and people know me for what I do and not what I look like.”

I’ve now been working at Cisco for almost a year, and I assist with onboarding as part of the culture team that we have in our CPX (Customer and Partner Experience) Chief of Staff Office. Along with my team, we introduce new hires to the company and host live virtual events for them to learn more about Cisco, and our organization. 

I also host community volunteer events. Most recently, I held four simultaneous events in four different states, as well as a virtual event. These events aim to address issues like food scarcity in the US by helping the community. Some of the events were food banks, another  was packing and sorting fresh produce. Our virtual event was making positive note cards for a local charity, Blessings in a Backpack, that gives them out to children in schools who are receiving food from their organization on the weekend. I host networking events with virtual speed connections, 1:1 coffee chats, and I assist with our Emerging Talent program. One of the best things about Cisco is that they really care about you and where you want to be in your career.

What’s your experience in being a person of color in tech and at Cisco? 

I feel very fortunate to be working at Cisco. On my team, 3 out of 5 people are people of color. Since day one, I’ve not only seen the initiatives Cisco has for a more diverse and inclusive future, but I feel it in the community I’ve become a part of here. I also have visible tattoos, I wear fancy nails with rhinestones and things like that.  People may not think that I work for a company like Cisco, but I’ve never felt that here. I’ve never felt othered, and people know me for what I do and not what I look like. I feel respected, and seen.

“Be confident. We deserve to have our voices heard, to have success, and to be happy while doing it.”

What kind of support did you find valuable in advancing your career? 

My daughters and my brothers have been my cheerleaders, and I truly feel my team at Cisco has been a huge support network. If I  need to ask for help, they are always ready to assist. Although we work in a hybrid world where we’ve never met in person, and they live in different states, I always know that they have my back. It’s a new experience for me as I’m used to healthcare and schools where you can’t take a sick day. But now, with my team, if I’m not feeling my best, I know they will understand.

What are your tips for POC getting into the tech industry? 

Network with people who are working in tech already, or in any career that you want to be in. Use social media as a tool, and don’t just stop at LinkedIn. You can even go on TikTok and communicate with people in the industry. Also, look into internships and different programs. We have Cisco High Externship virtually run at Cisco, where we recruit students for our summer program. I truly believe networking really is key. I wouldn’t be where I am had I not had that conversation with my brother. And most importantly, be confident. We deserve to have our voices heard, to have success, and to be happy while doing it.

Is there anything else you’d like us to know about you or Cisco? 

There’s a lot that Cisco does for the community, and employees. I have time off to volunteer, and more importantly, I’m encouraged to use the time. As employees, we have our birthday off paid, as well as a few days off a year, just to unwind, no PTO needed. I feel like that’s why I’m so connected with Cisco because their values are the same as mine. 

I really live and breathe giving back. I gave back without having; now that I have a little, I can just do more. Volunteering is fun to me. Outside of that I also like to go to a lot of concerts by myself. The next person that I am going to see is Snoop Dogg! 

Ruvimbo Gumbochuma

Ruvimbo is a British-Zimbabwean writer and artist. Her work was longlisted for The Netflix Screenwriters' Fellowship 2021 and has featured on the BBC, Complex UK, GUAP, and TRENCH. Her literary work has also been commissioned by Apples & Snakes, Arts Council England, The Poetry Society, and Beatfreaks and primarily explores themes of culture, identity, religion, love, and loss.