From Kyrgyzstan to Silicon Valley: My Journey to Paying It Forward

Kani Omurzakova shares her career shift into tech and how she uplifts women in her community and beyond.
From Kyrgyzstan to Silicon Valley: My Journey to Paying It Forward
Mar 14, 2024

By Kani Omurzakova · Global Automation Lead · United States

4 Minute Read · 6 Minute Listen

In honor of Women’s History Month during March, I’d like to share my story with you.

Eight years ago, I moved from Kyrgyzstan to the United States with my husband and newborn after my husband was accepted into an MBA program. I didn’t realize it then, but immigrating would become one of the most defining moments in my life.

Back in my country, I was a financial consultant. But in the United States, this field did not offer the same opportunities, so I decided to learn something new.

I joined the Code the Dream boot camp to learn to code and reinvent myself.

Kani smiling in front of a step and repeat banner, wearing glasses and a lilac coat.
Kani at the Femigrants Annual Forum in Sunnyvale, California, on January 26, 2024.

Later, I applied to Cisco’s Talent Incubation Program, where I was selected from a pool of hundreds of applicants. It was a very intense program where mentors from Cisco taught us everything about networking technologies and prepared us for the Cisco Certified Network Associate exam.

The Cisco Networking Academy curriculum covered everything at the Associate level. And it culminated in taking the actual exams and getting an official CCNA Routing and Switching certificate. Upon completing the program, I was offered a full-time job in CX Labs (formerly Cisco Advanced Lab Operations).

There, my job was to recreate Cisco customers' setups in their network, troubleshoot various networking issues, and provide the best customer experience. I got to work on all the devices from Cisco’s broad product portfolio, from small office switches to firewalls, compute systems, and gigantic carrier-grade routers.

Today, I am a Global Automation Lead for one of the largest retailers in the United States. I’m also excited about integrating automation and AI into day-to-day activities. There is so much that can make our jobs easier, and I look forward to improving customer experience with the latest technology!

Empowering other women immigrants

As an immigrant myself, I am especially passionate about helping other women immigrants grow personally and professionally.

One day, I reached out to the founder of the Femigrants Foundation to volunteer. Femigrants is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting women immigrants in their careers, so it spoke to me.

Four presenters smiling as they sit on stage at the Femigrants Annual Forum.
Kani (far right) with Femigrants board members Azar Aghasiyev and Kanika Sabharwal, and founder Aytakin Alieva at the Femigrants Annual Forum in January 2024.

In return, she invited me to speak as the keynote for a networking event. And in July 2023, she invited me to join their board.

When Michelle Obama spoke at Cisco’s Illuminate event in 2023, I paid close attention. One of the things I remember the former First Lady said was to never be afraid to reach out to those who may be of help to your journey.

I contacted former Cisco Chief Operating Officer Maria Martinez to explore ways to support the Femigrants Foundation. This planted the seed for and eventually made Cisco’s donation possible that helped fund Femigrants’ Annual Forum in early 2024, where more than 150 women gathered from around the world.

As a part of the Central Asian community in the Bay Area, I knew a lot of women were seeking mentors and advice on how to get into tech or prepare for interviews. My friends from Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan and I wanted to have an organization that helps women from our region since there was no such organization.

So, in December 2023, I co-founded the Central Asian Ladies Initiative (CALI). There, I work to foster an inclusive, supportive environment for women in technology to help them find work both within and outside of tech.

I remain passionate about gathering communities, making connections, and giving back. This means staying involved with the causes I care most about and sharing what I’ve learned with other women immigrants.

Four co-founders smiling as they stand together at a CALI networking event.
Kani (far right) with CALI co-founders Aknur Abdikarim, Amina Tushakova, and Togzhan Ibrayeva at a CALI networking event in Palo Alto in February 2024.

Education is not enough

When I watched the World Economic Forum in Davos, I saw a panel discussion with women who mentioned that they used to think education was what would help take them to the top of their careers.

But now, education alone is not enough.

We need to shine the spotlight on women leaders so other women will see the moves they’re making and become inspired too. Seeing women in these positions helps other women believe they can get there.

That is what motivates me each day.

I’ll leave you with three pieces of advice I’ve learned throughout my career from inspiring women I’ve met along the way:

  1. Gain those technical skills because knowledge is power.
  2. Once you have those skills, show the world you have them.
  3. Skills on their own are not enough. Reach out to others and network. This includes going to the office if you can, meeting new colleagues, and getting together for coffee.

I urge women to get out of their comfort zone and tell others about their roles and contributions.

If there is someone you have worked with who you are proud of, share about your experience with them because others need to know.

Employee resources

Related links