UCL Careers


Transcript: Future Talk – John Manville, Former Senior Vice President of Cisco IT

John Manville is a former Senior Vice President of Cisco IT Global Infrastructure Service and UCL alumni. He joins Future Talk to discuss about his career which has spanned both Europe and America as well as the financial and technology sector, why he found his time at UCL to be valuable in helping inform his career decisions, the passion he feels for supporting future engineers, and how best to get started when thinking about potential career options.


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Amy Lourenco, John Manville

Amy Lourenco  00:04

Hi everyone, this is UCL careers podcast Future Talk. My name is Amy Lourenco, Senior Careers Consultant at UCL. On this podcast which is powered by UCL Minds, we will be talking with professionals in different sectors about their career journeys and insights in relation to employability topics. This series is packed with guests who are change makers and innovators in their respective industries, and was created by the engineering careers team to help our students and graduates find out more about various professional experiences. Each episode will have a guest who will share their professional insights and provide valuable information relating to careers. The episodes will be available on Spotify, Apple podcast, and SoundCloud on a weekly basis.  On today's episode, I'm so pleased to be able to introduce our guest John Manville. John is a UCL electronic and electrical engineering alumni. He has worked across different industries such as communication, finance and technology, with his most recent role being Senior Vice President of the it global infrastructure services team at Cisco. We are so pleased to have him join us today to share his valuable insights and experience. Welcome to the podcast, John, and thank you for joining us today.

John Manville  01:18

Well, it's a pleasure to be here. And thank you for inviting me.

Amy Lourenco  01:22

 Fantastic, really excited to talk to you today. Our first question we get right into it is you studied Electronic and Electrical Engineering at UCL from 1977 to 1980. Then you went to work for a communications company in Manhattan after working in London for a couple of years first. So what helped inform your choice to begin your career in America? And how did you find that transition from an academic environment to a professional work environment?

John Manville  01:53

So to answer that, the specific question, I didn't have a clue actually how companies worked. When I left university, it was...I'd worked in a couple of internships but not really got into technology companies or, or anything to do with it. So to be honest with you, I didn't really understand that. So the first company that I joined after I left UCL was a company called cane wireless in Holborn square, and in the middle of London. And that was a great company, I joined them because they gave me six months training course. And they pay pretty well. So obviously that's a incentive. But I, the reason why I left them was because I felt that I was in a bit of a rut there. After a couple of years or so I wasn't learning as much as I wanted to. And so I managed to get through an h1 b visa, a job in in New York City.

Amy Lourenco  03:07

Amazing. And then how is that visa to get? Because I understand it's quite difficult to sort of work in America. Is that? Was that the case back then? And is it still the case now?

John Manville  03:18

I think you have to have a degree from from university in the UK, which I had. I had to find out what a notary public was because I had to have which is a an American lawyer type thing that had to sign yes, this is a valid person. And then I think there is a cap of about 100,000 or so h1 b visas. But I was lucky enough to get one of those. And animistic to come to New York, obviously. I can tell you that I only made to come for two years. But that was as you very kindly said what year I graduated in, Amy, you can tell that that was quite a long time ago.

Amy Lourenco  04:04

Sorry about that didn't mean to highlight that. So are you still living in New York now?

John Manville  04:13

No now. So I stayed at that. Again, pretty small company. It was called ftcc, who worked was about...I was working at about one block from from wall street that was right in the middle of downtown. And again after  a couple of years, maybe this is something that I like to pass on. I really believe that the people in the company and specifically the manager you work for, especially when you're early in your career. Yes, you owe the company to give your best effort to be you know, really a great employee but also they owe you as well. The growth and different types The types of projects to work on and to keep you interested. And so after a couple of years, I wasn't getting that from this company. So I decided to apply for some other jobs transfer my h1 b to a different company, and I ended up working for a company, again in their IT department, which was in which was in the financial services company, area, which is called Bankers Trust. And eventually Bankers Trust got got bought by Deutsche Bank, but I stayed there for a long time, 13 years, I think.

Amy Lourenco  05:40

Fabulous, and I guess from there, you eventually made your way to Cisco.

John Manville 05:46

So, okay, let me tell you how that happened. So I would like to add, actually, that while it was it, Bankers Trust I, I did something called the Executive MBA. And I found that maybe other people don't need this. But I found that really valuable as I became a manager and had to work with budgets and things like that. And that and I believe that many, many decisions you make in, in even in technology companies have some some financial implication, I found that, that degree, very, very valuable. And so I personally found that I think that being technical, or reasonably technical, of course, my children are not technical, but technical. And then having us sort of finance and management degree as well was a was a great sweet spot for me. Anyway, I stayed at Bankers Trust until again, after after 13 years, I was promoted various places. Until I found that I wasn't growing, I wasn't getting the type of work that I was really interested in. Otherwise working with some great people. And I left there and joined another financial services company called Lehman Brothers, again, in in, right in the heart of downtown Manhattan. And you may have heard of them, but they were one of the companies that obviously caused a lot of issues in the around 2007 2008. Luckily, I left them before that. Because I wanted to, again, I felt as though I wanted to work for a company that I felt was trying to do good in the world. And I, I sent my resume into the president of Cisco, who I met through some various user group meetings, and eventually I got a job, great job. And I think they did try to do a lot of good in the world. And are still trying to buy that.

Amy Lourenco  08:14

Fantastic. So how, how fortuitous that you left Lehman before the big crash.

John Manville  08:20

It was wasn't it? A lot of my friends didn't unfortunately, but they they all managed to find, you know, good roles and everything.

Amy Lourenco  08:29

That's good. Good to hear. And it sounds like the MBA really accelerated your your career would you say?

John Manville 08:38

I think it definitely helped definitely helped, I think, eventually, I, especially at Cisco, I became responsible for quite large budgets of $800 million or so. and managing that and deciding what what what the priorities are given what what where Cisco wanted to go and where and where technology was going. And all the all the different aspects of managing that I found it really useful. These the some background in, in, in finance, not that I'm the expert in any way, but at least I could talk to people who are in the finance team up How about that?

Amy Lourenco  09:27

Absolutely. So as well as that sort of financial knowledge and the management skills that you gain from the MBA, would you say there are any other skills or knowledge in particular that you gain through your studies, whether that be at UCL or later during the MBA, that you were able to sort of transfer to the different roles you had during your career?

John Manville  09:49

Well, I did manage to get into UCL which time very grateful to the people who let me tend to end and graduate. And I think I definitely learned a whole load of things. But x 20x 25, for example, which is a forerunner of IP, TCP IP, I was lucky enough to be taught by Peter Kirstein who I think recently. Well, anyway. And he, and and so that that specific class was, was a great class. And it helped me get into the, into the roles in in Manhattan and to, actually to Bankers Trust as well. And what I'd like to say is that I think, a piece of advice that somebody gave me when I was really starting out was, when you're starting out trying to become an expert in some aspect or whatever role you're, you're working in. I tried to do that, and it was around x 25, which is a communications protocol. Back then it was the, one of the few around I think that not that you'll use that for the rest of your career, but it does, does sort of get a get you noticed a little bit and oh, this, you know, this person here really knows what they're talking about in this area. And I think that that at least gets your name. Now. I also think that part of what UCL engineering department, I think maybe their mission is to change the world, which I think is is obviously a great thing. I'd also say, taking the opportunity to take opportunities, you know, when I didn't really plan my career out at all, various times I got bored, so I thought I have to do something new. Maybe my manager wasn't giving me the right the right direction. And I felt that, you know, at some point, you have to decide, hey, I need to still be interested in what I'm doing. Not that every second of every job is gonna be fun and interesting. Obviously, it's not. But when you when whenever the balance is for you gets slightly out of whack between mundane work and interesting work. I think we're at least in my case, I decided to make a move.

Amy Lourenco  12:42

That's such great advice. And I love what you said there about kind of finding your area of specialism, your sort of niche being that sort of go to person for that particular area. I think that's, that's such great advice. really sort of make yourself stand out in the business. Yes. Fantastic. And so you've had a career spanning North America and Europe, what have you seen as being some of the benefits that you found working with such a global team?

John Manville  13:13

I personally, really love working with the global team, you get different perspectives, especially if you go and visit the people and and talk to them about what what issues they're seeing what what may be, you know, in in India, maybe there's different issues than there are in what they definitely are then North America, or maybe in Belgium, there's different issues in there are in in the UK sometimes. And so I I found it really interesting, I think the companies I work for, got benefits from having global teams, and also the staff did because the people in Belgium as an example or in India, they were working on global projects, as opposed to just doing something just that was in inside their country or, or their region, they had this impact that was was global. And that even though there are issues with with time zones, I regularly asked these people in in different time zones, you know, would you rather just have regional roles, so you wouldn't have to have to stay up late or get up early and every single time that they said no, they'd rather have a global impact and be involved in global projects. So I'm a wholehearted supporter of global roles, global teams, as long as you specifically take notice of local issues as well, when you're designing whatever the tech the technology is for the global team.

Amy Lourenco  14:47

Fantastic. And you mentioned there, it's always great when you can go and see people in the globe, which of course we've not been able to recently and say what challenges have you sort of encountered professionally due to us or COVID-19 And in your previous role at Cisco.

John Manville  15:05

So I, as you said, I left Cisco just before COVID. But I've stayed in touch with the people there. And video, in the case of Cisco and many other companies, WebEx is used a lot. We're using zoom now. So the conferencing is, is a big, big deal to help to stand touch with people. Personally, I think there's going to be a real choice about how people work, I think, and the people who are remote, I still kind of have to make an extra effort to stay relevant, stay in touch with people stay connected. It's not fair. I agree that but I think still, even if you come in the office two or three days in a week, that extra time of being seen there and be able to speak and connect with people I think is really important. And if I was still working at Cisco, I would go back to two or three or four weeks, two or three, four days a week in the office, I think.

Amy Lourenco  16:17

Yeah, it'll be really interesting to see how it all pans out. And this new new ways of working. But yeah, definitely important to, to keep connected and see your colleagues and who are missing or my colleagues have not seen them for like, over a year. It's crazy. And so my next question is about sort of the internship program that you pioneered. And this was the Cisco international internship program and exclusive program that was offered to select universities. How important was it for you to provide future engineers with these opportunities to gain industry insights?

John Manville  16:55

So one of the first questions was about, you know, how did I know what a working environment was? Like? When I left? UCL? The answer was, I had no clue what this internship gave to these, the students that they were between a second or third year they they came as men here at Cisco, it gave them that we threw them into exactly what they would be working on if they were a full time, you know, permanent employee. And so they really got to see how how a large company works, what how you have to act, what type of trade offs there are, what type of work there is. And so I think it was, I think is really, really valuable to those people. Having said that, I got Cisco obviously got got a load of benefits from having them. I personally did because the students, most were very good, some were unbelievable. And they I'm, I'm really positive about about the future because of how good some of these students were. They were they were they they took took initiative. One of them went and gave a TED talk back in Morocco. Other ones one local hackathons here in Palo Alto as an example. They, many of them did really important things. Like I like to call out one of the professors who was a liaison with them, who I think he also had a big role in their lives. And he pushed for this internship as well, which is is that if you know is that but he was? He is a big procurement proponent of this, and I think without him, this wouldn't have happened.

Amy Lourenco  18:56

Amazing Oh, credit to him as well, then. And yeah, it sounds like it was really beneficial. I think it was beneficial. On both sides. Yes. Great. So what do you think students and recent graduates can be doing now at a time where the job market is so challenging?

John Manville  19:18

So I can only talk to the area that I'm in here, physical area, which is around sort of San Francisco Silicon Valley, and for the types of roles that engineering students from UCL would be looking for. People who are still crying out for them. I know many young young engineers who who are coming many job offers I know managers who can't find qualified people. So personally, I think, I think low COVID has obviously had a devastating impact on many people. I think engineering students are one of the areas that will be least impacted. And anyway, that's it.

Amy Lourenco  20:12

Well, that is positive news. So what is it that the managers are really struggling to find? What are sort of the key skills that are really necessary to succeed in the technology industry? What what are they crying out for specifically?

John Manville 20:28

There? I would say things like, yes, you know, anybody who graduates from from UCL and engineering degrees is going to be smart. So let's assume they're smart. They have to be easy to work with, they have to be this is going to sound a little bit, you know, what, why should this be one of the things but they have to be reasonably fun to be around as well not not have have a personality, especially new graduates, they aren't going to know everything about the job that they that they're going to go into they, they probably, so it's not so what you know, now about a specific job. It's Do you have the basic capability of being smart and learning things and being in a technical environment? But also what? What's your aptitude? Are you going to, you know, take advice, feedback from people. And most of the, I'd say almost all the graduates that I was involved in from UCL fitted that there were a couple who did not take that they had issues around attitude and various things like that, but almost all of them were, were really good. I, I will say that I think it is important to be pragmatic about in your career, that there are going to be setbacks, even for, you know, star performers, there are going to be some times setback. So be a bit pragmatic about it. They'll take something that doesn't always go your way as being as being devastating. You're good enough to get over it. And most of the time, you're going to, you're going to be wildly successful.

Amy Lourenco  22:30

That whole piece about being resilient as well.

John Manville  22:35

Yeah, I suppose I suppose that's a much better way of putting it. Thanks, Amy.

Amy Lourenco  22:42

Absolutely, no, that's really great advice. Thank you so much, john, would there be any other final tips that you would give to our students who were kind of looking to start their careers in 2021 and beyond?

John Manville  22:57

I think you have an amazing opportunity. There are so many issues, technology issues to solve and work on. I want my car to drive myself. I want to be you know, make sure that nobody is able to, from a security point of view break into eight and other things in my house. There's so many areas that that that still have to be solved and I met it's a wonderful opportunity to be a UCL engineering graduate be entering the workforce.

Amy Lourenco  23:27

What a fantastic note to end on. Thank you so much, john, I really appreciate you offering all your advice and tips today. And big thank you to our audience for listening to this episode. Keep an eye out for more episodes, which will be released weekly on audio platforms such as Spotify, Apple podcast and SoundCloud. Thank you, John. Enjoy the rest of your day.