8 things Cisco CTSO Padmasree Warrior has to say to Chicago tech leaders

by Carlin Sack
June 25, 2014

Cisco Chief Technology & Strategy Officer Padmasree Warrior joined Cisco as CTO in 2008, leaving Chicago and her role as CTO of Motorola. After spending time overseeing all of Cisco’s enterprise products, Warrior morphed her role to focus more on M&A investments. Now, she spends 70 percent of her time finding young companies around the world that fall into Cisco’s investment themes (for example, Cisco has a $250 million fund dedicated to the Internet of Things).

Today, 1871 welcomed Warrior to share the lessons she learned as an immigrant from India, a female CTO and as an expert technologist and engineer. Here’s what she wants to tell Chicago:



1) You've chosen your path. Now it's up to you to make your journey interesting.

Women always second guess ourselves because we tend to evaluate things more. Once you make the decision, go for it. I tell women: don't hesitate. My advice is more universal than just women though: when a door opens, go through it.


2) As leaders we need to deal with ambiguity and uncertainty.

Defining the path is important as well. The IT model is getting totally disrupted by mobile and cloud - that's going to change leadership skills in the future.


3) Build complex systems, but hide them in simplicity.

As engineers we are trained to add more complexity. But what we need to do now is hide that complexity in simple UIs. I always say it’s not just STEM, but it’s STEAM: what's missing is the implications of the technology. We need some arts sensibility back in the space as well.


4) Take a risk.

There is a lot of opportunity in Chicago. There are great schools here, great access to capital as a cushion and great companies. It has the raw ingredients. One thing I would like to see more here is a can-do attitude with acquisitions. We have made over 170 acquisitions throughout Cisco’s history. We know a third of them won't work out.


5) Get a support system.

At the Indian Institute of Technology, I was 1 of 5 female engineers out of a cohort of 150. We really stuck together and created a support system. It's important to give back. Being with smart people really makes you smarter.


6) Immigration reform is especially relevant for the tech industry.

To compete on a global basis, we should have access to the best talent. We need to take that message to Washington.


7) Try everything you can do to stay relevant and competitive.

At Cisco we really embrace disruption. When things change you have to have the ability to see around the corner and turn. Sometimes we do “spin-ins” at Cisco. We tell our best engineers to leave the company and build a company. And if they hit the milestones, we buy them back. We do everything to make sure we won't get redundant.


8) Take a step back.

Technology allows you to work all the time. At first, I was counting how many decisions I made rather than being making really thoughtful decisions. When I emailed constantly on the weekends, I really realized my behavior as a leader was creating burnout. Now, my Saturday digital detox helps me be much calmer when I go back.


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