Trina Alexson recalls when Cisco was only 4,000 employees, and she took a chance moving her family to California to take a job with the company. Now nearing in on 75,000 employees, and known globally as the world’s largest networking company, it’s safe to say it was a smart move. As head of Advanced Services for the Service Provider Segment at Cisco Canada, Trina hasn’t just climbed the ranks at Cisco—she’s co-authored a book, Bit by Bit, she mentors those starting careers in tech, and is a genuine advocate for young people getting into the industry. On top of it all, Trina is a wife and mother of two, has a Bachelor of Engineering Degree, a Masters Degree in Business, and writes regularly for Cisco’s blog. We asked her about some of her boldest moves and biggest successes, and why she thinks it’s important for young people to go into tech.
My first job ever was…anything that could be done in my neighbourhood for 50 to 75 cents per hour. I did a lot of babysitting but I also shovelled driveways and walked dogs. I made enough money to buy my own dog and train her for dog shows. After I became good at that I made money as an assistant handler for other dog owners. The summer before university I got a job delivering the Globe and Mail to businesses.
I would tell my 20-year-old self… life is a marathon, not a sprint! Don’t get so focused on the next step that you lose sight of the long term.
I got into tech because… of my dad. He first convinced me to get into engineering because I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to be and he said engineering was a good, broad degree with a lot of career options. Then when I got an opportunity to work in Telecom for my first full time job, he encouraged me and said ‘people will always need to talk to each other on the phone.’ Who knew that a communication revolution was coming and I’d be there for the birth of the internet?
My proudest accomplishment was… getting my Engineering degree. It was a really tough program and I had to work very hard to get through. Besides the education, I learned so much going through that program—how to study, how to work with people, how to stick with a long-term goal.
That’s my proudest personal accomplishment, but I have to say what makes me proud every day is my family. My husband and I have raised two very fascinating kids (you should be writing this article about them).
My boldest move to date was… moving to California in 1996 to work for Cisco. At the time I was really happy with my job but this was a chance for an adventure and to try something new. When I started, Cisco was about 4,000 employees—I had no idea what Cisco would become and I got a chance to work on incredibly cool projects.
I surprise people when I tell them… I am an engineer. There still aren’t too many women in engineering and people usually assume I’m not technical. I like surprising them.
I balance work and life by… scheduling everything at work and at home. It’s also important to have boundaries—my main one is that I have dinner with my family every night with limited exceptions. If I am not traveling, I am home for dinner. It is our core family time together when we all catch up.
My biggest passion is… helping others.
My best advice to young people starting out in tech is… develop your people skills. A lot of time people think that working in technology is about working on “things”. But nothing could be further from the truth. Unless you are a mad scientist alone in a lab you need to collaborate with others to get things done.
Engaging young women in STEM is important because… women are still underrepresented. Technology companies still need great talent, and a woman’s point of view can maximize their success. And tech careers are fantastic for women! Great pay and often a flexible work environment.
Cisco Women Entrepreneurs’ Circle is… a great resource for female entrepreneurs. It can connect you with training, technology, and people to help make your digital strategy a reality.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that I love to laugh and have fun, even at work. Laughing is great stress relief!
I stay inspired by… getting to know the people around me—everyone has their own story.
The future excites me because… there are still a lot of cool things that can happen with technology. It’s not about speeds and feeds anymore—we are moving into a phase where it is all about connecting things. We can achieve great things for society like reducing energy consumption and increasing safety in dangerous occupations like mining. My sister shared with me a great farming example. A farmer near Ottawa trained his cows to come in to automatic milking machines. Then he set it up so their collars would send a tweet when they came in. If they didn’t tweet at the expected time, he knew to go out looking for them to see if they were sick or injured. How cool is that?