Feature Story

Inspiring the innovators of tomorrow

Inspiring the innovators of tomorrow

See how Cisco is supporting the next generation of engineers through the Tech Challenge at San Jose's Tech Museum of Innovation.

Guest post by: Julia Chen

One of the most wonderful parts of working at Cisco is the ability to give back to the community and support causes that are personally meaningful. For me, that means getting involved in events and opportunities that encourage young people – and especially females – to pursue careers in technology and engineering. So I'm thrilled that Cisco is once again supporting the Tech Challenge at San Jose's Tech Museum of Innovation. This annual event creates an opportunity for kids in the community to learn an important skill: how to bang your head against a seemingly intractable problem, such as moving a load from the bottom of a hill to the top of a hill with no batteries, over many months with a team of peers and an advisor for a little extra wisdom or encouragement. In other words, they learn what it's like to be an engineer!

As part of the Challenge, each team wrestles with a particular problem and has the opportunity to imagine, try, fail and succeed. Engineering is not just knowledge, it's persistence. I count myself lucky to be able to witness these magical moments when students bring their creative designs to life to grapple with the laws of physics. It's hard not to be caught up in the suspense and excitement. Whether it does or doesn't work, the seeds of an engineer have been planted.

"We need a diversity of thinking when solving the world's big problems – and I am proud to be a part of an organization like Cisco that fosters an environment of inclusivity and diversity."

Julia Chen

And what's even more important to me on a personal level is that of more than 600 total teams (grades 4-12) from all over Silicon Valley, more than 40 percent of participants are girls and the same percentage are from Title 1 schools. As a woman in tech, I can attest to the additional burden of being the only girl in the class / lab / meeting / conference. In Emily Chang's Brotopia, she cites that Google's technical staff is only 30 percent women and only 2 percent of VC funding goes to women-led start-ups. We need a diversity of thinking when solving the world's big problems – and I am proud to be a part of an organization like Cisco that not only supports these types of events, but also fosters an environment of inclusivity and diversity every day at our offices around the world.

See also: Celebrating STEM education on PI day

For this year's Tech Challenge, which will be held April 28-29, Cisco also provided our collaboration video solutions to enable teams to participate fully in the Challenge remotely. I'm so excited that we can use our technology to truly impact the way these students learn! And even better, more than 70 amazing Cisco employees have volunteered their time at the event.

This is not our first rodeo, however. Last year, in addition to volunteering, mentoring and speaking at the awards ceremony, we also hosted four winning teams at the Cisco Customer Experience Center in Building 10, where the students experienced cutting-edge technology and even built an IoT device in the Board Room. This is the true meaning of #WeAreCisco.

I hope you will join me and Cisco in supporting and growing the reach of this amazing program to launch our next generation of innovators. Volunteering just a few hours as a judge or mentor is hugely appreciated. For more information, check out the 2017 highlights video; go to the Tech Challenge website; or ping me to chat!

And I'll leave you with these inspiring words from one of the Founding Fathers of engineering, Thomas Edison: "I did not fail 1,000 times. I just found 1,000 ways that don't work." The opportunity to create, try, fail, research, regroup, try, fail, rebuild, try and SUCCEED is far rarer than it used to be. But that is a necessary ingredient for making a successful engineer.

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