From an early age Cisco Distinguished Engineer Judy Priest has always loved a challenge. When her AP physics teacher told her she'd never be an engineer, she set out to prove him wrong. Now, 30 years later, she's done more than that. Much more.
Business Insider recently named Priest one of the top female engineers of 2018. While she's honored by the recognition, it surprised her. "I'm so humbled," Priest said. "I know several other women on the list and I'm very happy to be mentioned in the same breath as some of the amazing people in our industry."
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Priest never thought she'd be working in blockchain technology. When she came to Cisco 15 years ago, she focused on data centers. Eventually, Priest moved into the Chief Technology and Architecture Office. "That was where I started to look less on the product design and more on the technology side," Priest recalled.
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Priest spends a lot of time mentoring early in career engineers and she doesn't advise they make the leap to reinvent themselves when they're just starting out. "I think their job should be to establish themselves," Priest explained. "You don't reinvent yourself until you already have a self. You need to first develop your expertise and your own foundational knowledge."
That self-awareness served her well, even before she joined the workforce. "When I was interviewing for colleges, I got quite a lot of interview questions like ‘Why do you want to be an engineer when you could marry one?' I felt like at every single step there was someone telling me this is the wrong thing for me, but I'm the type of person that when you tell me I can't do it, it just makes me want to do it more."
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Priest has no doubt worked hard to get where she's at today, but to become a Distinguished Engineer, you need to get testimonials inside and outside of Cisco, as well as from academia. It's a rigorous process, and once again, Priest was up for the challenge. She spent her entire career gaining the respect of her peers, and the title is a validation of that. "If you can feel the impact that your career has made, that was kind of the reward itself," Priest said.
Priest sees herself as an avid learner looking for the next design challenge, which is why even though she has taken opportunities to move into management roles, she's an engineer to her core. "I started technical and I've stayed technical. When I came to Cisco, my boss told me ‘just go make things work'. That's been my favorite job description."