Ever wonder how you can build a social network, when you do not live near the people with similar interests or need to do it all virtually?
Pursuing your dreams is something many of us are encouraged to do, but how do you do that when part of that pursuit requires a social network that you do not have?
One of our former Cisco Networking Academy students, Tiffany London, shares just how she used Twitter to find herself a mentor, build a support network, and ultimately how it helped her get a job at Cisco.
“If you do not ask, you will not be any better off. You will not lose anything by asking, but you might just gain something.”
Building a Network
Her first introduction to working with technology was when she was enlisted. She worked to put computers together. Her role evolved and she was tasked with writing manuals for her comrades to be able to reference so when they were deployed to Iraq it did not require her to visit each site personally.
About 12 years after getting out of the military, she started off studying in the Information Technology program and took the mindset, “I can do this,” as she feels you must be your own strongest advocate. Though she soon found herself in need of extra support outside of the classroom. Being a full-time mom, wife, and student made it a challenge to use the club or other groups that met outside of school. Tiffany figured she would take her search to Twitter. “I used the search bar to look for key terms that I was currently studying in school. Somewhere deep down I believed that I was not the only person looking for an IT community.”
Like all search results, you need to go through and discern what the valuable results are and what would be most useful to you. Tiffany came across, Du’An Lightfoot’s (@labeveryday) Twitter page, which had links to YouTube videos that were filled with valuable information. She took a chance and reached out directly to him. To her surprise, he responded and even setup meetings with her to explain networking concepts. One of her key life philosophies is that, “If you do not ask, you will not be any better off. You will not lose anything by asking, but you might just gain something.”
Realizing that there was a strong following of the hashtag #LabEveryDay, that was created by Du’An Lightfoot, she began using that on Twitter to post questions. Soon she found complete strangers, and newfound friends, going out of their way to respond with helpful answers as well as explanations. Gaining support, virtually was a huge help to her, allowing her to confidently continue her studies. She had created her own support network and there was always someone around, willing to offer help.
One of the key aspects of Twitter is that you follow folks and they follow you back, growing your social network and sphere of contacts. You also gain traction with the tweets you post and interact with.
Tiffany strongly believes in making something of opportunities presented to you. One of these opportunities was when she tweeted, “I will work at @Cisco one day... watch me work”. She received a variety of responses to this tweet, but one of them was from a stranger who later turned into her mentor. Tiffany had never met Pete before, did not know who he was or his background – but knew that she appreciated his encouragement to go for her ultimate dream. They continued to discuss IT related questions, eventually they progressed to career aspirations, and inquiring about pathway options. He offered encouragement for each of her milestones – school and certifications.
Tiffany had created a strong support network using Twitter, but she still found herself doubtful of her career prospects—given her lack of experience in the field. She had told her friend she was going to go back to nursing school because the classes were too challenging.
Give Yourself a Chance
Around that same time, through her mentor, she was made aware of an opportunity with the Cisco Talent Bridge Dream Team. She applied to be part of the experience despite feeling some hesitation. Another one of her life philosophies is that, “no matter how I feel about myself, how I view myself at that moment, I’m going to still do it. And let the other person tell me I’m not qualified.” She had very low expectations on whether she would be selected but had applied regardless.
To her delight, she was chosen to participate as a member of the Dream Team project. She had the opportunity to help set up the network for the 74th U.S. Women’s Open, which was hosted in South Carolina. This experience allowed her to gain valuable practical experience as well as an opportunity to network with professionals who trained while working on the project. “I was taught how to make fiber optic cable. I was able to get 100% pass through rate. The guy that showed me how to do it said that he had never seen anyone with no experience (not even himself) make a fiber optic cable like that on the first try. There was lightening that hit a tree, causing a nearby switch going out. I was there helping troubleshoot the switch and replacing it.”
Not everything about her Dream Team experience was noteworthy. Tiffany shared how there were a few moments that did not sit well with her. What she took away from that part was that, “people assume you do not know things based on how you look. You can either let that get you down or move forward. Take the positive in the experience and do not get bogged down by the negative aspects.”
Her participation in the Dream Team role ultimately opened the door to job opportunities. Shortly after returning home, she was informed that Cisco was hiring. She spent days applying to positions, not knowing if any would result in an interview. Though she did get to interview with Cisco that summer, she was not offered any of those positions. The silver lining was that she gained valuable interviewing experience which prepared her for the next set of interviews. Through this process she discovered the new graduate programs that she could apply to, and she was able to land interviews and offers with both:
“I chose the new grad program, CX Academy, and started in January 2020. CXA was 13 weeks of learning everything Cisco and I have enjoyed every minute of it. I still cannot believe that I work for Cisco. While in the academy I shadowed several teams and I was fortunate to be placed on my number one team pick, Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI).”
Tiffany was able to make her dream come true, a year and a half after she posted her Tweet that she will work at Cisco one day. Using what she knew and the resources at her fingertips, she created her own support network which opened doors that were unseen before.