How do you Become an Accomplished Tech Leader?

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BYP Network spoke to Cisco’s Alistair Antoine, an accomplished technology leader with 20+ years of experience in HR Talent Management, IT, Retail, and Healthcare. A passionate advocate for diversity and inclusion, he drives transformative change and fosters innovation. A strategic thinker with a focus on talent development and architecture roadmaps, Alistair is committed to creating an equitable and inclusive future. Alistair Antoine shared his career advice and personal experiences exclusive with BYP.

What advice would you give to someone dealing with imposter syndrome?

“If someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you’re not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later.” – Richard Branson

In the last few years of my career I have become more comfortable being uncomfortable and saying “Yes” to opportunities, even if I may feel intimidated by them. This approach has opened up even more opportunities that I would otherwise not have come across. For instance – someone in my network approached me asking if I would be interested in delivering a presentation on the live stage, as part of the IT Leadership Program at Cisco Live in Amsterdam. Cisco Live is the premier destination for Cisco customers and partners to gain knowledge and to build community.

I said “yes”, chose a topic that was current for the IT Leadership audience – a topic I was passionate about and had done a lot of work on, at Cisco. I set about writing my story and presentation, however I was dealing with imposter syndrome as I had never presented on a live stage in front of potentially 900 IT Leaders. I ensured that my story was relatable  and one that would leave the audience with food for thought. I put in a lot of practice, getting feedback along the way and tweaking the presentation with each iteration.

When the day came to get up on stage, I was nervous, excited, and scared all at once, however when I started delivering the presentation, I enjoyed the process and it was very well received. It was awesome to receive positive feedback afterwards, but more importantly, to hear that it had provoked thought for many of the audience in attendance. I was relieved but also experienced this rush of adrenaline on realising that I had just done something which I had never done before and it was a success!

The success of this opportunity offered me an invitation to deliver the same presentation at the Cisco Live US event in Las Vegas in June. This time, with a potential audience of 1,300 people. Again, there was a lot of preparation and many of the same feelings from the February event. This was even more successful and has in turn earned me an opportunity to deliver the presentation At Cisco Live in Melbourne later this year.

So, to summarise, saying “yes” to that one opportunity, has opened up several other opportunities and these have helped me grow and develop personally, gain confidence in my abilities to present in front of a live audience, globally and has offered my the opportunity to expand my network through the amazing people I have met and interacted with in each of those settings.

Are you a part of any volunteering or mentoring schemes?

At Cisco, I volunteer in one of our Inclusive Communities – Connected Black Professionals (CBP) – I am the regional EMEA Lead for this community and have spearheaded the growth of the EMEA community, fostering cultural awareness and positioning Cisco as a preferred employer for Black talent. Through strategic alignment of community initiatives, we have achieved significant expansion, boasting five active chapters and over 300 members and allies. I am also working to extend inclusivity and social justice in collaboration with the Inclusive Futures Office and Cisco EMEA president, expanding the Social Justice Action Office to EMEA.

How important is Black role model visibility within the workplace?

Alistair Antoine

It is vital if we want Cisco to be perceived as the preferred employer for Black talent support the opinion that “you cannot be, what you cannot see”, and so having Black representation and role model visibility within the workplace is fundamental.

Outside of the workplace, I volunteer as an Enterprise Careers Advisor in Buckinghamshire, and support The Royal Grammar School – High Wycombe (RGSHW). As a volunteer Careers Enterprise Advisor, I aim to deepen my understanding of the education sector and the challenges it faces, and to empower and motivate young people to succeed in the dynamic world of work. I collaborate closely with the headteacher and Senior Leadership Team of Royal Grammar School High Wycombe (RGSHW) to offer strategic support and guidance.

By utilising my professional background and network, I support the leadership team to design and execute a comprehensive careers strategy that prioritises real-world opportunities with local employers and integrates these into the students’ education. I leverage my experience and expertise in supporting RGSHW in providing excellent career guidance to its students, equipping them with the skills and confidence they need to succeed in a rapidly evolving job market. I also strive to build strong relationships with RGSHW and share my own knowledge and experience of my organisation, industry, and local job opportunities.  It is my hope that I can be an example for the next generation, someone they “see”, someone they can “be”, and more!

Upskilling is a key component in anyone’s career, what are some of the measures you have taken to enhance your skills?

I am naturally curious and constantly learning. I enjoy listening to podcasts, reading personal development and Business books and more importantly, networking and speaking to peers, mentors, sponsors, colleagues – both in the company and also externally in industry.

I am also very active on Linkedin as I believe it is important to build your brand in the industry that you operate in, demonstrate thought leadership and also learn from others in the field.

Are there any books that have inspired you  regarding self-development that you would recommend to our network members?

One book which was recently recommended to me is: The On-Purpose Person by Kevin W. McCarthy – aimed at “discovering who you are, where you are headed, what you should do, and what’s most important to you! That’s being on-purpose!” This is a book I wish I had known about earlier in my career. That said, it is never too late and so I will be leveraging the frameworks discussed to help me be on-purpose!

The other book I would recommend is : Rejection Proof by Jia Jang – helps you view rejection as nothing to be afraid of – really helped me think differently about what I can accomplish.

What are some of the strategies in place to further representation within senior spaces in your establishment?

We are actively focused on encouraging our workforce across UK&I to self Identify. This is foundational to enable us to measure current representation levels and ensure that we hold ourselves and our leaders accountable for moving the needle. Without this, the measurement is anecdotal and cannot be accurately relied on.

In parallel, we are focusing on providing career development, support and actively building a pipeline of talent that is ready to progress to the next level in their respective careers. We also have a number of programs which we provide as part of the Inclusive Community offerings, which includes:-

  1. Early-in-Career cohorts – designed to provide intimate, small group environments where newly hired employees can build meaningful and lasting relationships.
  2. Elevate Webinar series – where we welcome internal and external speakers to address issues that we face as people of colour in corporate environments across the globe.
  3. LIFT Executive mentoring – aimed at bridging the gap of racial and ethnic divides through courageous, conscious conversations between executives and Senior-level black professionals.
  4. Mentoring Circles – which nurture the personal growth and professional development of mid-career participants through peer-to-peer and multi-level relationships.
  5. Financial Wellbeing programs – provide tips & resources to grow your financial acumen, including Money Talk Monthly, Quarterly Dividends and Finance Fridays.

The world is changing as we know it, people no longer need to take traditional routes into certain career paths. What route did you take and would you do it differently?

This is certainly the case for me – growing up in Malawi, Southern Africa, I always wanted to become a veterinarian,  however due to limited career advice at the time, I never had the subjects needed to pursue this career and decided to attend the University of Cape Town, South Africa to pursue a Commerce degree and majored in Information Systems. I was recruited out of university to join a software firm in Johannesburg but quickly realised, coding was not something that energised me. I followed the traditional analyst route into Project and later Programme management and worked in Retail and healthcare industries before joining Cisco, where I have been for the past 14 years.

The first 9 years in Cisco were within the IT organisation, where I carried out several roles and it was not until 5 years ago, when I pivoted my career into the HR domain. This really opened my eyes and made me focus on what transferable skills I offered. It also made me more intentional when looking for new opportunities, that I do not tick all the boxes. I need to ensure that there are opportunities for or me to grow and develop in the new role too, otherwise there is little incentive for me to move.

I don’t know that I would take a different route if I had to do it again, as I believe the learnings, both positive and negative, have been a valuable part of carving out my current route. Perhaps one thing I would be more intentional about, is to change roles every few years and not become too comfortable in a role for too long. This was the case for me earlier in my career. Something which our Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer at Cisco – Gloria Goins, said recently, which really resonated with me is “Comfort is the enemy of your destiny!”

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