The day I met John Chambers…. and quit

Chris Romeo, John Chambers, Marty Loy

The day was November 5, 2015, and the place was San Jose, California. I was hosting Cisco SecCon 2015. SecCon is the yearly Cisco internal security conference where the power players gather together. I’ve directed a team of volunteers that deliver the conference for the past two years. Our keynote speaker for the day was John Chambers, Executive Chairman of Cisco Systems, and Chief Executive Officer for 20+ years.

Prior to the official start of the day, I found myself in a room with John and the emcee. I was quiet for most of the 30 minutes, listening and a bit in awe of Mr. Chambers. I learned that he is just a regular guy. While I thought he would be very reserved, I was mistaken. He was cracking jokes and having a good time. Don’t get me wrong, he was very focused on his preparation process, as he studied through his dossier, occasionally asking a question to help him better understand the audience.

Chambers took the stage following his introduction, and delivered an exceptional keynote, roaming the room and interacting with the audience. This was my first time watching him live, and his ability to own the room was worth the price of admission for an aspiring speaker like myself. After he concluded his Q+A, he stuck around, handing out annual security awards. I was sitting in the front row as the event organizer, just taking in the entire scene and congratulating the winners as they returned to their seats in the front row.

After the prepared awards, the Director began to announce another award. This award described an individual who had contributed greatly to moving security forward within the walls of Cisco. The Director went as far as calling this person “the face of security inside of Cisco”. Then he called my name. I was in shock for a second. I managed to stand and accept the award. I was flattered to receive a standing ovation in front of 500+ people.

As I was standing center stage for the picture, Chambers leaned over and whispered “Enjoy this moment. Enjoy the recognition your peers are giving you right now.” I will never forget that guidance as long as I live. It is so important to stop every now and then and enjoy the positive moments we have in our careers. They may not always be on a stage in front of five hundred people, but that is okay. Enjoy the good moments.

You’re probably wondering where the “quit” part of the story comes in. After receiving the award and lunch at the conference, I asked my Director if he and I could sit down for a few minutes. I told him it was time for me to go. I did not quit as a result of anything that happened that day.

I quit Cisco because it was time for me to move on in order to grow my career. I love Cisco, but I had outgrown it. I’ve entered the world of the startup. The world of challenge and potential hardship, but I did it because I believe in the ideas that I have. I believe that organizations want and need to build secure products and services. I believe that application security awareness is the answer and that Security Journey is the right company, based on my experience at Cisco, to make application security awareness a reality.

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