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Head of Product Growth at Cisco Systems’ Cloud Security Group discusses impactful leadership and work culture

28 Jun 2021 1:05 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Houda began her journey at AUB with a Bachelor's degree in Engineering, followed by a Master’s degree in Telecommunications Engineering at Telecom Paris in France. She later went on to complete an Executive Program on Influence and Negotiation Strategies at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business.

When Houda Soubra started her tech journey, she was surprised when she was told aggressive and selfish behaviors were the only means to become a respected leader and advance her career. She believed that her character along with her skills and expertise would make her a successful leader and endeavored to prove that true. After a few years working in Paris, she moved to the bay area and then joined Cisco Systems as a technical marketing engineer. Soubra later became unhappy with the toxic work culture and decided to look for a new position and a more inclusive team culture.

“My biggest challenge was when I ended up in a non-collaborative team that focused on individual gains. The culture was toxic and I was miserable. I dreaded going to work.” said Soubra “The challenge of being a woman in tech is exacerbated by the leadership and the team culture. Earlier in my career I was told I was too nice and I needed to be aggressive to succeed. It took me a while to figure out that I could be successful without pushing people around. I could succeed by building trust and establishing relationships that are critical for my success.

When she joined Cisco Systems in 1998, she was able to have many different roles and growth opportunities and received several promotions as the years went on. Her current position is the Head of Product Growth at OpenDNS, a cloud security enterprise that was acquired by Cisco Systems.

Witnessing the shift from hardware to software to SaaS

Joining Cisco Systems was a life-altering experience for Soubra. She witnessed first-hand the company’s shift from building hardware to becoming a software provider to selling software as a service.

“I had so many different careers [at Cisco Systems]. I started as a technical marketing engineer, then I was managing software development teams, then I went into hardware product management, then to network security and now I'm in cloud security,” she said. “I am always making sure that my role is challenging and that it is providing me opportunities to grow and learn”.

Her current role is focused on product growth, partnering closely with the sales and marketing teams to get a better understanding of the market trends and customer needs and finding opportunities to grow the product revenue.

The project she is working on right now focuses on helping customers build their security stack in the cloud, as more and more of the applications move to the cloud and employees access them from everywhere. “When you work remotely, you would typically establish a Virtual Private Network or VPN, to encrypt your data and protect it. Your data will go to your company’s data centers and from there it will go to the internet. What’s been happening over the past few years is that more work applications moved into the cloud and more people are working remotely,” explained Soubra. “You have more and more branches connecting directly to the internet and so many customers are now considering reducing the load on their on-prem security stack by building a security stack in the cloud and allowing branches and remote workers to go directly and safely to the Internet.. There’s an industry term for this architecture called ‘Secure Access Service Edge (SASE)’. It’s interesting because it’s adapting to the way we work.”

Soubra considers herself lucky to be involved in producing new technologies that will make people’s information safe. “Security is an area that will continue to evolve and have its own challenges and that’s what keeps me happy: knowing that there is a problem that I will figure out how to solve and learn along the way.”

The Challenge of Being A Woman in Tech

Many women in the tech field face unique issues ranging from bias in the workplace to difficulties receiving fair compensation. “Unfortunately bias is a reality in the workplace today and more specifically in the tech world. However, things are starting to shift, with companies like Cisco Systems taking active steps towards enabling a more inclusive work environment and improving pay equity. Tech companies have come to realize that fostering an inclusive culture increases employee engagement and grows productivity and innovation, “ she said.

Soubra believes the challenge of being a woman in tech highly depends on the work environment and to what extent it allows you to flourish. “My advice to young women starting in the tech field is to find a work environment that encourages different points of views and builds inclusive teams.” She gives the example of the women in engineering groups at Cisco Systems, Women of Impact and Women In Science and Engineering, that help women engineers grow their network and learn from each other’s experiences.

She advises early career professionals in her field to observe and identify the stress factors at their workplace and channel their energies towards roles that work for them and can help advance their careers.

After moving up in the corporate ladder, Soubra still believes that passion, teamwork and leading by example are key to advancing and prospering. She was fortunate enough to realize that early on and take the necessary steps to improve her career. Her future plan is to continue to focus on her passion which is to understand customers' needs, and help them grow their business securely. “Secure Access Service Edge (or SASE as defined by Gartner) is a promising architecture that can help customers move securely to the cloud. I'm excited about the opportunity to help customers on their journey to SASE, a trend that will continue to grow over the next few years.”

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