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Cisco CEO Says College Degree Isn't Necessary For Success In Tech

David Meads, the current CEO of Cisco's UK and Ireland operations, took an unconventional path to reach his current position. According to Fortune, Meads credits his success not to his qualifications, but to his work ethic and positive attitude. He learned about the tech industry through his work experience in a small tech business, where he observed the sales teams during his lunch breaks.

“I got to understand a little bit of what they do and I figured: ‘That sounds a lot more interesting than what I do and not that difficult,’” he said. “I took a conscious grip on my career at the age of 17.”

From there, Meads found his footing and began to make progress in his career. He joined Siemens as a top sales representative, where he found himself competing with his future employer for a client. He ultimately lost the deal, but this experience led to an opportunity at Cisco, where he was hired as a sales manager four months later.

While Meads is proud of his success without a degree, he still encouraged his children to pursue higher education. He acknowledges that his success may have been a fluke, and he wanted to make sure his children had all the opportunities available to them.

However, with the increasing number of apprenticeship programs available today, Meads now believes that skipping further education in favor of entering the workforce directly can be a viable path to success."

"In university, you come out with whatever degree you may get, but it's almost certainly saddled with debt," he says. "Is that better than on-the-job experience where you're rotating through different parts of our organization, living the reality, and not just the theory?"

In the past few years, several major technology companies, including Google, Microsoft, and Apple, have eliminated the necessity for degrees in their job listings, acknowledging that these requirements can hinder individuals from diverse backgrounds.

This change reflects a broader trend toward skill-based hiring, where recruiters prioritize a candidate's skills and abilities over their educational qualifications.

“I see no difference in terms of the capability and the talent coming from our apprenticeship programs than I do the graduates coming into our graduate programs,” Meads said, adding he believes apprenticeships will outweigh university degrees in the next decade.

One of the keys to being a successful employee at a large company is to find a niche and fill it well, says Meads. Focusing on a particular specialty and becoming a subject matter expert (SME) in that area will make you indispensable to your team.

It's also important to have a healthy relationship with one's manager, ensuring that expectations are clear and that there is ongoing feedback and communication.

Finally, Meads recommends being a team player and building relationships with colleagues to create a supportive and collaborative work environment.

Opportunities will arise, he adds, when senior staff speak highly of you even when you're not present: "You can't purchase sponsorship; you can only genuinely earn it by excelling in your work."

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