People Behind CSR at Cisco: Empowering Learners Through Technology and Education
By Raquel Aguilar
This blog is part of our series that focuses on the people behind Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) at Cisco. Each blog highlights a different Cisco employee whose work makes a positive impact on people, communities, or the planet.
Cisco Networking Academy is one of the world’s largest and longest-standing purpose-driven IT skills-to-jobs programs, impacting the lives of more than 3 million learners annually (17.5 million since inception) in 190 countries. 95 percent of learners attribute their participation in the program to helping them obtain a job or educational opportunity.
On October 18, 2022, Networking Academy celebrated its 25-year anniversary and announced an ambitious goal to offer digital and cybersecurity skills training to 25 million learners over the next ten years to prepare them for in-demand jobs. Networking Academy is aligned with Cisco’s purpose to power an inclusive future for all, one learner at a time.
As an instructor teaching Networking Academy courses to community college students in Rhode Island during the early days of the program in 1999, to her current role as its Director of Business Operations—Lynn Bloomer’s service and commitment to empowering learners through technology and education is profound. Recently, I met with Lynn to learn more about her story.
Can you share some of your early background with me? Who/what were your greatest influences?
Lynn: I grew up in a small coastal town located in southern Rhode Island. Tourists would travel to my town to visit and vacation, but there weren’t many residents who lived there year-round. I went to kindergarten with the same group of kids who I graduated high school with. It was the kind of town where everybody knew everybody.
My immediate family is small, consisting of my dad, mom, sister, and I. Growing up, I really looked up to my big sister, who is four years older than me and very protective. My parents have always been supportive of me. I have a large extended family—my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins also offered a strong support system. My family has significantly influenced the decisions I made and the direction I took in life.
What piqued your interest in technology?
Lynn: I left Rhode Island to attend college at Villanova University in Pennsylvania, where I completed my BS in Electrical Engineering. I followed in my family’s footsteps—my dad was an electrical engineer, and my sister also received her BS in Electrical Engineering at Villanova. My first job out of college was as a litigation consultant in New York. Most of the work I was doing wasn’t related to my educational background.
The company I worked for in New York had six offices throughout the U.S., and this was before we had email. It was during the time when the Internet was just starting to take off. If my office in New York was working on a case and we needed help from somebody in another office location, we’d have to save the file on a floppy disk and FedEx it to them so they could make changes.
When I began thinking about pursuing my masters, I was really interested in how we could use technology to connect all these offices through a network to enable people to collaborate more effectively regardless of their physical locations. I returned to Villanova University and decided to complete my MS in Computer Engineering.
How did you become involved with Networking Academy?
Lynn: While I was getting my masters, I had an opportunity to teach a review course for an engineer and training exam. It went really well, and I loved it. So, my chairman invited me to teach a full senior-level Electrical Engineering class. My day job as a graduate student was maintaining the labs at the university and my night job was teaching students as an adjunct instructor.
Eventually, my husband and I decided to move back to Rhode Island after about ten years of being away. It was my husband who encouraged me to apply for full-time teaching positions as he had observed how excited I would get about my night job back at Villanova. Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI) was the perfect fit.
While I was teaching at CCRI, Cisco came to pitch their new Networking Academy program to us. The curriculum was shared with us on a floppy disk so we could evaluate it and determine if we wanted to participate. We decided to move forward with the program. CCRI became the first academy in Rhode Island. I taught my first Networking Academy class in 1999.
Tell me how your role with Networking Academy has changed and evolved throughout your career.
Lynn: Given that the Networking Academy program was just getting started, Cisco would pull in a lot of its instructors for help. I was still teaching full-time at CCRI when I was invited to intern at Cisco for a few hours a week to write assessment questions. The program was growing quickly, and I was recruited for a full-time role with Cisco in 2000 as a CCNA/CCNP Product Manager.
I took nearly a month to decide whether I wanted to leave teaching because I loved working with students and planned to retire in that role. But the opportunity at Cisco seemed unique. I loved having an impact in the classroom but being a part of the greater Networking Academy team was enticing as it would enable me to broaden my scope and increase my impact. Additionally, I was able to remain at CCRI as an adjunct instructor. Even though I was working full-time at Cisco, I continued teaching at CCRI for over 15 years.
I later transitioned into the role of Business Architect & Process Manager for Networking Academy, which allowed me to represent what the instructors needed and what the business needed, before taking a few years off from working to stay home with my young daughter. In 2008, I returned to Cisco as part of a different team. In 2012, I received a call from a colleague who invited me to interview for the role of Strategy and Planning Project Manager for Corporate Affairs.
By 2014, I made my return to Networking Academy. In a sense, it felt as though I was returning home. I currently serve as the Director of Business Operations. I drive strategy and lead a team responsible for the delivery of multiple Networking Academy services. Other key responsibilities include providing customer support, legal support, student career services and business transformation. Annual planning, budget management, talent management and forecasting are also part of my scope.
Has being a female in the technology space impacted your experience? How so?
Lynn: When I was in college, there weren’t many Electrical Engineering majors who were women. Out of 55 to 60 students, there were probably 4 or 5 of us. My school was very supportive, and the instructors didn’t treat us differently nor did our peers. I never felt out of place. I think a big part of this is going back to my early influences—my parents instilled a lot of confidence in my sister and me. While I recognize that I’ve been part of the minority as a female in the technology space, I never felt as though anything was beyond my reach.
My advice for young women who are interested in pursuing careers in technology is to recognize that you can do anything you put your mind to. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If you work hard, if you are determined and committed—you’re going to be successful.