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Some people never seem to lose their energy and optimism, and Michelle Ragusa-McBain sits at the top of that list among channel professionals. Whether in her role as Chair of CompTIA's Advancing Women in Technology (AWIT) Community, Customer and Partner Experience Operations Manager for Cisco, student, mom or wife; her exhilaration level never seems to diminish. She appears to have mastered that focus and balance that many of us struggle to find.
Fortunately for the tech industry, Ragusa-McBain puts those talents to use advocating for career training and recruitment tools and encouraging women, girls, and others to pursue opportunities in the field. That passion started at an early age. Raised in a single parent household, she often relied on after-school activities to keep her busy while her mom was finishing work. "We had a computer lab where were able to go in and wait, and I would often code and play games. Being around technology was exciting, and I even won a computer award at my elementary school."
She majored in global business and marketing in college and accepted a stock broker trainee position on Wall Street after graduation. But it didn't take her long to realize a career in tech would be more rewarding. "When I asked my boss what would happen if I lost all my clients investments, he told me ‘well, it's not your money.' I couldn't sleep at night after that since I really did want to make a positive difference in their lives."
She just didn't know how. But the answer came soon after when, at a college alumni event, she introduced herself to several people, and one turned out to be a senior vice president at Cisco. Not sure if a tech career would be a good fit, he asked if she knew what a router was. "No, but if you teach me, I'll learn" was the answer he was looking for, showing she had not only interest in Cisco, but a strong desire to learn.
New and Broader Horizons
Ragusa-McBain applied for and got accepted into the company's highly-competitive Global Academy ASR/E (Associate Sales Representative and Engineers) program. She points out that 800 people from around the world were competing for every training slot, so the process was quite daunting. After a year of sales and technology training, successful trainees get the option to pursue more engineering-oriented roles or positions in account management.
She went with her heart. "Even though I completed all the required Cisco certifications and engineering courses, I decided to be sales account manager. That was my first actual job in technology. I'm approaching my 13th anniversary with Cisco, with a number of those years in sales, but I was young and wanted to diversify my experience. So, I went into the customer and partner experience and operations side of the house supporting telco service providers and then moved into distribution as the global lead for Ingram Micro."
With her recent move to public sectors, State Local and Education (SLED), she now supports the area vice president, three operations directors and hundreds of account managers in the United States. "Every business unit is a little bit different in what their people want and how they operate, and the goals they are trying to accomplish. The great thing about larger companies like Cisco is that there's a lot of different parts to the business. If you'd like to pursue opportunities in marketing or other divisions, you can enjoy a more diverse experience and grow as a professional."
Ragusa-McBain balances all the responsibilities of her day job with an active home life; taking a very active role raising two toddlers while working on her MBA and juggling calendars with her similarly burdened husband. How the family manages to find time to travel to exotic locales across the world each year is mystifying.
"It's about balance, about having a company that empowers you and trusts your work ethic. I also prioritize and plan out my days, weeks, and months to ensure my responsibilities are taken care of, including my classwork. When those things are complete, we get to travel the world with the two weeks we take off every year. That break is rejuvenating and ensures I take time off for my family."
Balance is crucial. "I like to refer to it as work-life integration. With mobility, I can throw in a load of laundry and put dinner in the crockpot while performing work activities ‒ but one doesn't end where the other begins. Sometimes you have to go with your gut feeling. Some ask me why I'm pursuing my MBA now, with two toddlers, but I know life is only going to get busier as they get older between homework, hobbies, and extracurricular activities. I was the first in my family to go to college and education is extremely important to me. My goal is to be a mentor to my girls and other young women who grew up like me, and I want them to know they can do it all, and accomplish whatever they set their minds to."
Driving Advocacy and Mentoring
As if balancing her schedule wasn't difficult enough, Ragusa-McBain gives a considerable amount of her time to the AWIT Community. Six-years ago she joined her first meeting as an event attendee and then started got actively involved in several crucial group initiatives. Today she chairs the community that inspires girls and women to choose careers in technology ‒ a passionate advocate of the group's mission.
"Our first meeting was a packed house, and everyone was excited, and I wanted to be a part of it. The energy was different than anything I had done before, so I got involved. We created and conducted webinars and seminars that encourage women to pursue their career options in technology, and evolved to include Facebook and LinkedIn groups and a Twitter presence."
She emphasizes the importance of diversity with technology permeating virtually every part of our lives. "It comes so naturally to my two step-daughters and two younger girls who grew up with it. One of our AWIT goals is to let young women and girls know there's a place for them in our industry and to show them all the amazing things they can do as a part of our community. There's a real ROI of having a diverse candidate pool. Not just men and women and those of color, but people from different socio-economic backgrounds and belief systems."
Girls and women face many hurdles building tech careers, and if Ragusa-McBain has her way, those obstacles will fall quickly. But that will require big changes. "They need leaders from an early age. When you ask women and young girls if they know someone in technology, only 30% say they do. Those who might not understand all the perks and benefits. They can be lucrative careers, make good money, travel the world, help others, and build life-long relationships."