Kindness by Design: How Good Company Culture Shapes Work
Customer Data Experience Engineering Leader Amy Vazquez’s cybersecurity career path began with photography. From there, Vazquez has sought out companies whose professional values align with her own — including autonomy and psychological safety — particularly as a woman in technology.
Read on to learn Vazquez’s advice for identifying good company culture and how she’s grown as a leader. If you’re interested in learning more about our culture, check out our open opportunities.
How did you develop a passion for engineering?
Amy Vazquez: How I initially got into coding was I actually dropped out of college the first time around and had gotten into doing some photography with friends. This was a long time ago, so there was no social media and the web was still relatively new to most people. But we wanted to create a website for our photography and so I just went to a local college and took an evening class on web development. That was my first experience finding something creative that I could turn into a career that I enjoyed.
What do you like most about working at Cisco on Duo?
Amy Vazquez: For me, what separates Duo and Cisco is really the culture. There’s a really great alignment with some of my own professional values, such as autonomy. I like being able to determine what I do with my time and own my schedule, and to be able to make decisions. Part of it is being someone who likes to take initiative and carve out my own path.
It’s also a culture where it feels like a safe space. I think a lot of the teams have a pretty high degree of psychological safety and trust. Leaders are very intentional about growing the skills on their teams. I’ve seen quite a few people get promoted and have a lot of success in their roles. As a lifelong learner, I also love learning new things and being able to evolve and help others evolve in their careers as well.
What distinguishes your experience on this team, at this company, doing this work compared to other places that you've worked?
Amy Vazquez: What's really such a good fit for me with this team, and even a previous team that I worked with, is everybody is kind — and not just when it’s easy to do so. That really speaks to a shared value, that it’s just organic on the team.
Everybody is a helper and everyone’s very genuine in that desire to help other people out. Everyone is also a lifelong learner and excited to grow their skills. Folks have an idea of where they want to go, and we talk about those areas where folks might want more development. There also seems to be a lot of self-reflection going on.
I’m kind of stunned at my luck of joining a team like this. That’s a lot of who I am as well. I’m a helper. I like to be behind the scenes and support other people and watch other people have success, and help guide them towards that, whether I’m reflecting back to them their strengths and maybe skill gaps. Part of what distinguishes Duo as being different is creating a space for folks to grow their skills and realize their career aspirations.
How do you grow as a leader?
Amy Vazquez: For my career, I’ve always been focused on trying to do my job well. So initially it was coding and advancing with those skills. But as a leader, it’s studying that as a discipline, reading about it and trying to evolve those skills and figure out how to become the best leader for the team I’m leading.
It took me a long time to understand that being a high performer is great, and that can definitely get you far, but relationships are also super important. It’s not enough to just be good at what you do. You also need to – people always say “network,” and I don’t like that - but you have to build relationships. One thing I try to think of in the beginning of a project is, what relationships need to be in place for this work to be successful, or what relationships do we need to nurture?
How do you find a company with good culture?
For people whose identities are underrepresented in tech and cybersecurity, what advice do you have for entering the field?
Amy Vazquez: Everyone is different, so I’m not sure that I have advice that’s going to apply to everyone. But for folks who are underrepresented in tech and in the infosec industry, I think it’s important to learn to prioritize company values and culture. A company’s culture and values are going to affect your experience there. It’ll also impact what the company sees as valuable.
“What I’ve learned in my experience as a woman and someone who is neurodivergent is that an organization’s culture and values impact pretty much every aspect of how that company operates.” – Amy Vazquez
What I’ve learned in my experience as a woman and someone who is neurodivergent is that an organization’s culture and values impact pretty much every aspect of how that company operates. Gravitate towards those companies whose values align with your own professional values, or at least there’s some overlap there. You might not find alignment in all the things, but if you know what your professional values are and you know which ones are really important to you, try to find companies that share those values as well.
How do you find companies whose values align with your own as a woman in technology?
Amy Vazquez: Figure out what companies are actually seeking and celebrating differences in their teammates. At Cisco, I think the way that we grow and build our teams reflects our values of lifelong learning, and also seeking out and celebrating the diversity in our teams. When you really know yourself, and what type of environment and culture you can thrive in, that’s what you’re trying to find.
How do you determine your professional values and company culture needs?
Amy Vazquez: It’s definitely self-reflection and being able to look at your past experiences. Look at a past success and consider what else was going on there in that environment. How was I able to have this success?
You also learn by experience. Reflecting on past companies that you’ve worked for ask: What did you like about that company? What didn’t you like? What felt off? Was there something about the company or how it was run that gave you anxiety?
Pay attention to what your experiences are, and keep note of that. It’s kind of hard to sit down and examine what it was like working at those places over the last several years. It’s easier if you keep tabs on that from time to time as it’s happening.
Also, be as true to yourself as you can. I know that that’s not maybe an option for everybody 100%, but I think that’s where success comes from. It’s having an interest in your work. And for me, I like being around people who are good to work with and do good work.
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