Feature Story

What's on your desk, Jyoti Sarin?

The IT leader shares her passion for innovation and for bringing a new generation into STEM.

The things on a person's desk can say a lot about them. What's On Your Desk is The Network's Q&A series that interviews Cisco's innovators and explores their favorite work objects.

Stephanie: What's your name and your title?

Jyoti: My name is Jyoti Sarin and I'm a senior manager in global architecture and technology services I.T. organization.

Stephanie: What do you do in your role right now?

Jyoti: I am part of Cisco IT and my team is responsible for Innovation, Technology Business Management and building a DevSecOps platform that allows our IT teams to build secure digital capabilities for Cisco Enterprise. As Cisco transitions into a software and subscription company that allows for fast adoption of new business models and customer experiences, there is a need for more sophisticated web-scale digital capabilities supporting our customer and partner lifecycles. The ease of doing business with Cisco (for our customers and partners) drives more adoption, trust and has a direct impact to our top-line. As a part of Cisco Operations, we are working on building world class digital operations that enables Cisco’s growth.

Stephanie: Jyoti, a lot of people know you for being an innovator at Cisco. What does innovation mean to you?

Jyoti: Yes, a lot of people recognize me from HackIT, which is Cisco's largest global hackathon. I call it more like a festival of innovation, where we invite people from all across the company, not just the engineers, to get an opportunity to sit with your colleagues and co-workers and dream up the next big thing that Cisco needs to build.

A lot of that innovation is not just in building the next generation of products, some of that innovation is around the big problem statements, cracking the code for enabling the next set of business models. It requires us to really dig into those age-old business processes and completely turn them on their heads. There are so many possibilities in delighting our customers and in helping them see the possibility of technology.

Innovation is the lifeblood of this company and to me, it’s the new way of working. It's not something that you do specially, it's something that you do as part of your day job. It’s about challenging the status quo and dreaming up the “What ifs”.

Stephanie: Have there been any projects that have come out of HackIT that are really special to you?

Jyoti: There have been a lot of projects that have come out of our hackathon and have gone on to graduate into things the company is looking into. For example, one of the projects that came out was around this whole concept of bringing virtual reality and augmented intelligence into our collaboration products. And that went on to become EVAR (Enterprise Virtual and Augmented Reality) which was then inherited by the Innovate Everywhere Challenge, and we're furthering that. It's a multi-year journey to realizing that vision because the technology is maturing and how we bring that technology into driving the next generation of collaboration products is evolving. It was humbly started by a group of five engineers in London. As I recall, none of those engineers had met each other before the hackathon. That’s the power of HackIT, connecting the unconnected.

More than specific ideas, I am extremely proud of the side effect of people taking the time to think differently. The innovation doesn't stop when they leave HackIT. They take those ideas and the training on how to innovate back to their day jobs. So, I would say that we are not just building ideas through HackIT, we are building Cisco’s innovation muscle.

Stephanie: You're also involved with a lot of Women in Tech programs. Tell me about your passion for STEM and girls in tech.

Jyoti: Thank you for mentioning that, because I think the movement of women in tech over the years has really received a lot of support over many different channels. Everybody is doing their part in making that happen. I am a mother of two girls. One is a senior ready to pursue a college degree in data science. Another is a 10-year-old who is quite wide eyed and doesn't know what she's going to expect from the world. Her ambition changes on a daily basis. One day she wants to be an astrophysicist. The next day she wants to be a writer. I believe that many girls go through the same decision process and evolution.

My effort has been building, not just the pipeline, but building confidence in every girl—whether she takes a non-technical or a technical career that they know they can have a foundation of technology.
The more I talk to girls, the more I learn that they are inherently inclined towards tech. However, what prevents them from taking it as a career or even as an education route is that they don't see others like them. They get intimidated by the fact that they're probably the only girl in the class. I think that's where we need to start. My effort has been building, not just the pipeline, but building confidence in every girl—whether she takes a non-technical or a technical career that they know they can have a foundation of technology.


I think there are also unique challenges for technical women in the workforce and we need to address them. Companies that want to harness the potential of diversity need to re-think how to create more opportunities for technical women to have a holistic life. I hope my daughters will have a very different world when they grow up, and that they are able to be more successful than I am in my own career, without having to sacrifice any part of who they choose to be.

Stephanie: What’s on your desk?

We Are Cisco book

One of the things that I have on my desk is this book. It was published by Cisco’s employee communications group called We Are Cisco. It’s a very beautifully done collection of things from our employees that celebrates inclusion, diversity, innovation, fun and bringing your whole self to work. And what was very wonderful for me personally when I actually looked at this book— I found several examples of the work that my team has done.

HackIT and Innovate Everywhere Challenge were mentioned as some of the core programs impacting Cisco’s Culture and Brand. Another example of the work my team has driven is the Talent Marketplace, which started as a small idea and then became an integral part of our talent management program. I feel proud that my team has been impacting Cisco’s culture and ability to be a great place to work. This is a book I'm going to keep by my side all along my life. It keeps reminding me that what we do on a daily basis is helping our company grow. I feel very passionate on a daily basis bringing myself to work and driving my purpose.

Women of Impact conference

I got an opportunity to speak at Cisco’s Women of Impact conference and the topic that I picked was how we're using unconventional methods to get women thinking about tech. I gave a talk on how we're using hackathons as a way to get more women interested in learning technology. What we are trying to do through our HackIT program is attract people from all over—men and women—from all walks of life, to come in and be a part of that festival of innovation.

So that was the war cry—don't be afraid of taking that next step and finding out what new opportunities can be unlocked by these unconventional methods. It was very encouraging to see that women walk up to me after my talk and vowing to take the time to think differently.


One of the side jobs I have is being an IT advisor for Caterpillar. As part of the Cisco on Cisco initiative, IT leaders are paired with a Cisco customer and they work very closely with the customer account team to drive engagement. Right now, I am sharing a lot of lessons learned with Caterpillar from our own IT transformation journey. I had an opportunity to go and speak to their leadership team about how we have used Cisco technology to get us to the next evolution in IT. As a token of their appreciation, they gave me this Caterpillar replica of the mining truck—which is awesome because I love what caterpillar does. And, Cisco is right at the heart of that transformation.

Star Wars

We have a lot of fun. IT organizations are usually considered to be boring places, but we're super fun. We just had our Star Wars day yesterday, where I got a chance to build a very cool Storm Troopers Lego piece. In addition to that, we had a light saber battle and a drone flying competition. We have something called the Sunshine Committee, a revolving responsibility of people who use creative ways of bringing fun and sunshine to work. We try to get people engaged in sharing who they are and part of sharing who they are is also part of sharing each other's culture. So, we celebrate all holidays from Chinese New Year's to Halloween to Diwali— we celebrate everything. And that means we eat a lot of sweets. That's part of loving where you work and not be afraid to sharing your whole identity – your heritage, your traditions and your talents.


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