Lena Hickman-Miott of Cisco Systems is a market lead and more
Capping a professional life of enterprise and service, she heads a group doing operational support for most areas of the federal government
'I was the only woman in my EE class in college," says Lena Hickman-Miott. Today she's civilian and system integrator market lead at networking and business solutions provider Cisco Systems (San Jose, CA).
Working in the company's Herndon, VA office she's on the federal side, providing professional services support for agencies in all areas of the federal government except intelligence and the Department of Defense. Most of her time is spent with healthcare, homeland security and systems integration operations.
Professional services & solutions
"My team provides professional services and solutions," she explains. "For example, if an agency is deciding to support telecommuting and needs a way to do it securely, we come in and get that set up. We provide any necessary training in addition to the technical solutions necessary to enhance their network."
Hickman-Miott's civilian advanced services team is comprised of network engineers, program and ops managers. She manages four operations with a total of about sixty people; all sixty report to her directly. "I'm always trying to help my people find approaches that are best practices and innovative," she notes.
Hickman-Miott joined Cisco in 2000 on the enterprise and service provider side of the business, which provides similar professional services for a different customer set. She started as a manager but has since moved to the director level.
Before Cisco, Hickman-Miott was a director at HCI Technology, a small data integrator. She set up the company's data network division.
"It was very different from the large, Fortune 500 type of company," she says. "It was a real soup-to-nuts experience. You found the business, you sold the business, you developed the business, and you delivered the business. I was actually a Cisco customer while I was there."
Before HCI she had worked at Nortel, Honeywell and General Electric. The move to HCI "was a way to expand my business knowledge and reach," she says. "I got to start up a division as they expanded from telecom to data networking."
Hickman-Miott grew up in rural Salem County, NJ, which she calls "the garden part of the Garden State." She liked the idea of being a math teacher but in high school she also thought about medicine and law. It was a history teacher who asked her if she knew anything about engineering.
"I didn't, but I did some research and decided I liked the idea, and that EE would be the most math-oriented." She was recruited by the University of Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh, PA) where she completed a BSEE in 1977.
"One of the attractive things at Pitt was the minority engineering program, where a couple of professors and a small staff helped students transition into engineering. They were very invested in getting incoming students to be successful in the field."
She was the only EE candidate in the program. "I didn't have any partners on the double-E side," she says. "When I graduated there was an article in the newspaper with the headline 'She's the only one!' I still have it in my yearbook."
East, west and back again
After graduation Hickman-Miott went to work for General Electric's space division in Florida, in a group doing digital engineering design. Then she moved to Honeywell's marine division (Seattle, WA), involved in defense contracting.
After several years at Honeywell Hickman-Miott got married and moved back East, working for Nortel (Mississauga, ON, Canada), then HCI and now Cisco. "I spent a good part of my career at Nortel," she explains, "working my way up from test engineer to director." She was director of federal business ops, senior manager of new product introduction and manager of technology, at locations in Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.
She also went back to school for a 1987 MBA from Meredith College (Raleigh, NC). And she did an advanced management program at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University (Durham, NC). "The MBA helped round me out as I got into the management side of things," she says. "Having a solid professional background helped me in school, too. When you can contribute more to the classroom discussions, you take away more as well."
ERGs and other community service
Hickman-Miott is involved in several employee resource groups at Cisco: the Cisco Black Employee Network, the Women's Action Committee and Veterans Enablement and Troop Support (VETS). "I have not personally been in the military, but my spouse served and I am part of a military family, so I participate and contribute where I can with VETS. On the Cisco federal team many co-workers, employees and managers as well as customers serve or served in the military so it's my way to connect and give back."
Outside Cisco she's a member of the Information Technology Senior Management Forum (ITSMF) and Black Data Processing Associates (BDPA). She's also an active member of her college sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, the oldest Greek-letter organization established by African American college-educated women.
Hickman-Miott helped start the Loudoun County, VA chapter of Jack and Jill of America Inc (Washington, DC), designed to bring children together and raise funds to improve the quality of life of African American children.
She's also involved with the Homeless Transitional Shelters program in Leesburg, VA. "I'm really big into community service," she affirms. "I try to tie everything I do back to that."
On the job at Cisco she's passionate about mentoring and helping others develop. "I do it through employee groups and through the community activities and professional organizations in which I'm involved."
Still more to do
Hickman-Miott is optimistic about the next generation of technical people, but "There's still a lot we need to do," she says. "For a number of years I've tutored calculus. I focus on people who have a fear of math.
"I've encountered a number of girls and young women who have a strong science aptitude but shy away from the math. I try to present calculus in terms of what it means to them on a day-to-day basis, show them how to apply it and work through some of the false stereotypes.
"It lets them see that it can be done; it can be achieved!"
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