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No Limits: Meet the Visionary Behind the Cat8K Launch
BY MARK IVEY AND LAURENCE CRUZ
If you ask Archana Khetan, change is nothing to be afraid of.
Born in a small town in Northern India, she moved to the southern metropolis of Hyderabad at the tender age of nine.
Though difficult, the transition prepared her for a life of learning and adventure that lay ahead — breaking barriers along the way.
After earning her bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering in India, Archana moved to the U.S. to pursue further studies — always with the intention of moving back.
But life had other plans for her, including cross-country moves between the East Coast and West Coast while navigating a 25-year career spanning network, product management, and strategic marketing roles.
Today, Archana is Cisco’s head of products, Enterprise Routing. Her role finds her at the crossroads of the past and the future — both at Cisco, where she recently led the launch of our newproducts, and within her industry at large, as a pioneering female engineer now welcoming new engineers into the field.
“When I first started in the industry as an engineer, there were very few women in the networking field. It was a similar situation as I transitioned into product management,” Archana says.
“But I never felt disadvantaged or conscious about my gender because, frankly, with the type of work we do, gender has little bearing on the outcome. As workplaces become more diverse, I expect that the stereotypes and hidden biases will go away.”
More importantly, as Archana adds, we’re witnessing this shift at Cisco.
“If you look at diversity from a gender perspective, it’s definitely changing,” she observes. “We had three fresh college graduate hires this year who joined during the pandemic. It just so happens that all three are women — and not out of any targeted diversity initiatives but simply because they were the best in the pool.
When hiring, I aim to select candidates that are the best fit for the role and who also bring diversity to the team — diversity of thought, diversity of skills, and now diversity in age because you want a mix of experience and fresh new perspectives.”
Read on to learn more about Archana’s journey, mentorship, and role in introducing the Cat8K to the world.
CEC: How did you get started in engineering and eventually rise to product management and strategic marketing jobs?
Archana: I come from a family background where women have historically been homemakers.
I was very lucky to have parents who were supportive of further education. I broke ground on multiple fronts in my family — both by pursuing and attaining a professional career and by coming to the U.S. at a time when no one else in the family was doing that.
Sometimes we’re limited by our mindset, but I grew up believing there are no limitations for any gender. My mother did not get the opportunity to pursue her studies, so she always encouraged my desire for learning from a very early age.
Academically I was strong. I loved math. In India, math is often bundled with physics and chemistry. So what I was interested in eventually became my degree, and that eventually branched its way into my product management career.
CEC: Did you have any influential mentors along your journey?
Archana: Experience is probably my best mentor.
You learn from the behaviors of people you admire and from your own and others’ mistakes. If I were to have looked for a mentor, maybe I would have focused on finding one who was my opposite in every aspect, providing me a diversity of inputs and thoughts — assuming we clicked, of course.
CEC: What is your current role in the Intent-Based Networking Group today?
Archana: I lead product management for Enterprise Routing, SD-WAN infrastructure, and cloud delivery teams. I am responsible for business and product strategy for the portfolio. I have a diverse, geographically distributed team of product managers in my organization.
CEC: When did you start on the Cat8K project?
Archana: When I rejoined Cisco last year [after first joining in 2012], the Cat8K was well underway into its development. So I can’t take a lot of credit for shaping the product definition and am very proud of the work done by the team here.
Much of my focus has been on getting the product out the door to launch, pricing, making sure we have a compelling value prop that aligns with the market needs, media and analyst briefings, go to market enablement, etc.
CEC: What sort of innovation does the Cat8K represent?
Archana: The networks of tomorrow will need agility, intelligence, and performance along with business-risk mitigation. People also want flexibility. If customers make an investment today, it needs to be able to meet the needs of today but also the needs of tomorrow.
The Cat8K is a best-in-class box that provides secure SD-WAN, SASE, and future 5G connectivity. It’s a solution that’s designed to meet customers’ needs for today while being flexible for the emerging needs of tomorrow.
CEC: What keeps you motivated?
Archana: It’s all about being able to make an impact while having fun and learning new things. Work is not a job; it’s something I truly enjoy doing and find a sense of purpose in.
When I am constantly learning or doing something new, it keeps me motivated. And the impact you can make on the business is enormous. If I feel that my motivation level is going down, then it’s probably time to find a new job!
My family at home and my team at work keep me grounded.
CEC: Looking ahead, you just moved to New York a few years ago, and now you’re moving back to California in 2021. Any final thoughts on that change?
Archana: When we talked about moving to New York in 2014, all our friends thought we were kidding. Even my kids did. Who moves from California to New York?!
It was a big move for the family. But when I made that move to Hyderabad early in life, I developed an appreciation for all the learning, insights, and opportunities that come with change. And I’m always someone open to change and seeking new experiences. And now we’re moving back to California…
It’s the same for my daughters. It’s important that they experience two different cultures — East Coast and West Coast — and have diversity in terms of their friend groups and their educational experiences. I do think this positions them to handle different things in life and to embrace change through resiliency.
Connect everything. Innovate everywhere. Benefit everyone.