Page last updated at 10:23 GMT, Thursday, 2 October 2008 11:23 UK

Valley Girls: Padma Warrior

By Maggie Shiels
Technology Reporter, BBC News, Silicon Valley

cisco cto padma warrior
"If you are not having fun, it's not worth doing " said Padma Warrior

In the first of a regular series of features profiling influential women in Silicon Valley, Maggie Shiels talks to Padmasree Warrior - technology boss at networking giant Cisco.

As a self confessed geek, Padmasree Warrior defies the stereotype of the badly dressed bumbling nerd.

Dressed in killer heels and a sharp suit, she is eloquent, confident and at the top of her profession.

As the chief technology officer for networking giant Cisco, she commands a position in the industry more usually held by a man.

Her gender is a matter of fact much like her geekiness. Nothing else.

A pink mug inscribed: "Women make the best businessmen" sums up the dichotomy of her situation.

"Someone gave it to me who thought this was something I should have because it spoke a lot of who I am.

"I am a woman and I am a business person."

She makes no excuses for either. And as a woman with influence, she said she is prepared to use it if it encourages other females to enter a world she loves.

"I would like to see a lot more women in the technology industry, especially at the top.

"I have come to accept that if in getting noticed I can provide the role of being a mentor and a role model to other women, to other people that are of ethnic minorities, I would love to do that."

'Global opportunities'

Ms Warrior's climb to the top has been a slow and steady one, though she admitted there was no grand plan.

"I came to the US (from India) with $100 and a one-way ticket. I was coming to do my PhD at Cornell.

"I never finished it because I got a job and started working and decided to stay in the US because I felt the US was really a platform to have access to multiple global opportunities."

Most of her working life has been spent at Motorola. Ms Warrior joined in 1984 as one of a handful of women at its Arizona facility and finished as its technology boss leading a team of 26,000 technologists.

While under her leadership the company won the US National Medal of Technology which recognised its years of innovation in radio and wireless.

Precursors

Less than a year ago the diminutive Ms Warrior moved to Silicon Valley and Cisco, a company synonymous with network hardware and the internet.

Unsexy as it sounds, she is trying to shift that focus to what she calls "precursors".

"If you look at trends that means someone else is already doing that. We need to be a trend setter not a follower in the industry."

She illustrated her approach with a couple of examples.

"One of the things we are looking at as a precursor is what happens when you combine some aspects of social networking with video. It leads to a more collaborative way of doing things and we are just beginning to see that."

Cisco phone
Cisco makes phones and switches that direct internet traffic

This has led Cisco to work on unified communications that combine a virtual meeting place via TV, web conferencing and instant messaging. This unified communications sector is said to be worth $34bn (19bn) and a key strategy for Cisco's future.

"The other thing we see is the consumerisation of enterprise," said Ms Warrior.

"The internet started as a business tool but it has now flipped the other way."

One demonstration of this was evident at a recent company meeting where she asked how many people were using Macs instead of company PCs.

While the number was not overwhelming, Ms Warrior said it underlined the demand by workers to use their own devices and to be able to plug into a network with the minimum of fuss.

Globalisation was also likely to throw up more precursors, she said.

"We are looking at new verticals that can get created out of India and the Middle East which we call connected real estate."

Smart buildings of the future will not just be connected with broadband and wi-fi or wimax but can also monitor the use of utilities, greenhouse gas emissions and energy use.

It has been estimated that real estate contributes 10% to the worldwide GDP and employs more than 100m people.

'Eyes in the sky'

A career in engineering for Padma Warrior seemed almost inevitable given that her father was a scientist, her mum a maths major and her brother and sister a physics major and chemistry major respectively.

Despite this her mother worried about her decision at the age of 17 to attend the highly regarded Indian Institute of Technology far from home in New Delhi.

padma
The virtual meeting place is all about keeping in touch the high tech way

"There were only five women students in a class of 300 or so. It was a rare sight if you saw a female student.

"I think that was a little bit hard for my mom to accept. Not necessarily because I was pursuing engineering but she felt I was going into a very hostile environment where there were not very many female students."

But she went armed with some sage advice from her father, which she said still holds true today.

"He always taught me to look at the big picture and encouraged me to be who I am.

"He always used to say 'Have your eyes in the sky and your feet on the ground'. Basically, have really high goals but always know who you are and be realistic about the world around you."

Ms Warrior said her dad also taught her to enjoy what she did or the effort was wasted.

"I push my team and myself very hard and I also have fun on the way. I play practical jokes on my staff and kid around. Ultimately you have got to enjoy life."

Changing the world

Ms Warrior's lifelong passion for technology has led to a conviction that it is capable of changing the world.

"To me technology in its abstract is not interesting," she said. "To me, what is interesting is what can you do with that technology and how can you change what we as human beings are interested in.

"Cisco has an opportunity with the technology that we develop to not just connect people but to enable collaboration between groups. And to me collaboration is what we as human beings instinctively want to do.

padma warrior
"I feel a responsibility to drive the industry to innovate on a global basis."

"Oftentimes we lack the means to do it and especially as the world becomes more global and ideas get more quickly distributed, we need technology to bring us all back together. That is what excites me."

She said watching her teenage son's outlook on technology inspires her vision.

"I have a 15-year-old son and if you ask him what is central to his internet experience he will say it is communities.

"The future is really about communities we create on the internet and that requires the network to play a strong role and obviously mobile devices."

One community Ms Warrior would like to help out is that of the much maligned geek.

"I aim to change the myth around what is a geek and what isn't.

"I think to me a geek is someone who is passionate about technology, who really cares about innovation and how to drive innovation and refine society," she said. "That's how I define myself as a geek."

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