Onai Gwachiwa grew up in Zimbabwe. The first time she left the country was to fly to the United Kingdom to attend the University of Gloucestershire. “I had no clue what I was getting into,” she recalls. “I majored in English and enjoyed it. However, it didn’t answer the question of what to do with my life.” After a college career counselor encouraged her to look into the British Army, she signed up, hoping to make a positive difference in the world.
She served as an adult education officer, improving British soldiers’ math and English, and a female engagement officer, building relations with locals in Afghanistan.
So when Gwachiwa decided to transition to civilian life, she looked for a place that emphasized people and had a strong sense of teamwork. As part of a program to help veterans pivot into tech, she toured the offices of cloud-managed IT company Cisco Meraki. “I can honestly say I’ve found both of these attributes in spades in Cisco Meraki,” she says. “I was worried that I would feel disconnected after my transition into civilian life and that I wouldn’t have the same support system and team spirit I was used to. I’m very happy to have found my fit!”
Gwachiwa shares her path from military to tech, and what makes the culture at Cisco Meraki so welcoming.
Tell us about your military background and career journey, and what led you to your job at Cisco Meraki.
I commissioned into the Education and Training Services branch and spent ten years in a variety of roles that ranged from training delivery to linguist. I did the BreakLine programme, which aims to introduce veterans to the tech industry, a few months before leaving the Army. It was there that I first visited the Cisco Meraki offices in San Francisco and came across the Customer Success Manager role.
What attracted you to work at Cisco Meraki after being in the military?
I wanted to work for a company that cared for its people and had values that were relatable. The people and the culture made Cisco Meraki the obvious choice for me. Everyone was so open and welcoming when I first visited the San Francisco offices with BreakLine, and I was doubly sure after attending the onsite interview in the London office and seeing how much of a family it really was.
What are you responsible for as a customer success manager at Cisco Meraki?
As a Customer Success Manager, I am responsible for the post-sales relationship with the Tier 1 customers, acting as a trusted advisor and a point of contact for them. This involves collaborating with external stakeholders but more importantly, with internal teams, building relationships and working with them to find the best solution for the customers.
Please list some notable wins at Cisco Meraki. How did your team accomplish them?
One of our biggest accomplishments this year has been growing our Europe, Middle East, Africa, and Russia (EMEAR) team. We not only have a new manager but once the quarantine lockdown ends, we will go back to work with double the team we had when we started. We’ve had to be flexible with the hiring process, but we did it. We’re very excited to have our new team members on board and achieving great things together!
What does a normal day in your job look like?
There is no typical day. But the majority of my time is spent speaking with people. For example, I may be with customers updating them on their cases, or discussing ways to maximize the value of their Cisco Meraki solution. Or I may be working with internal teams on how to move forward a priority case, or discussing a training path for the customers.
What do you love most about your job?
The CSM team and the camaraderie we have is easily the best part of the job, from the initial warm welcome to the support they provide. We refer to ourselves as being more of a family. We bounce ideas off each other and will often get together to chat about the day and how everything is going. It’s something we’ve maintained even during the quarantine period. They are easily more than teammates. They are also friends I can count on.
What employee benefits help set Cisco Meraki apart from other companies?
I’d say that our team “happiness budget” stands out. We’ve used this for a road trip to the Cotswolds and to try out the best pizzeria in London! It really allows us to go out as a team and try out new activities (or old, beloved ones) outside of work.
We also have a range of employee experience events that enable us to get to know better those from other teams and offices. These vary from painting classes to escape rooms in the office and lunches where we go out and specifically meet those from other offices.
What are you working on right now that excites or inspires you?
There are quite a few things I’m excited about at the moment, from building a virtual onboarding and mentoring our newest team members to taking part in virtual events. We’ve managed to make the most of our happiness budget in this quarter, using half for a virtual happy hour, with delivered meals, and the other half to buy aid packages for a charity.
There have also been several volunteering opportunities from both Cisco and Cisco Meraki which I’ve managed to participate in, and which have allowed me to contribute during these hard times.
What do you like best about the company culture at Cisco Meraki?
In the military, there was a lot of focus on the people and teamwork. I can honestly say I’ve found both of these in spades in Cisco Meraki. I was worried that I would feel disconnected after my transition into civilian life and that I wouldn’t have the same support system and team spirit I was used to. I’m very happy to have been proved wrong and to have found my fit!
You’ve mentioned that you appreciate Cisco Meraki’s diversity and inclusion initiatives—what’s special about them?
We have a variety of Employee Resource Organisations (EROs), all of which are quite active. What I love about Cisco Meraki is that they don’t just talk about diversity and inclusion, they live it—and it’s a part of the conversations we have, not only at events and as part of the EROs, but at lunch, coffee and more. The best example I can give is a panel event hosted last year by the Mosaic group, one of the company’s EROs, at one of our London offices. We had some amazing speakers and great attendance from the teams, but what really stood out to me was how the discussion casually continued the next day during lunch, as we all shared our insights.
What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?
A history teacher in school told me that I should find what matters most to me in life, and then go after it. I still remember it to this day. It was what led me to the military and what I kept in mind when searching for the next role afterward.