Exclusive: Cisco’s Approach to Acquiring and Retaining Mexico’s Engineering Talent

Nearshore Americas paid a visit to Cisco's Global Services Center in Mexico City to find out how the tech giant is utilizing the Mexican talent pool to serve a global customer case.

There have long been fears that Mexico will face a severe bottleneck in human talent across many of its industrial sectors as the country continues to grow, but networking technology giant Cisco is contradicting this trend at its Global Services Center (GSC) in Mexico City.

Inaugurated in February 2015, the GSC is home to Cisco’s Technical Services and Advanced Services arms, which provide global remote support and local on-site deployment and optimization services, respectively. The original investment for the GSC was US$26 million over a three-year period, but due to the quality of work that has been conducted there, the company is now looking at investing even more. According to Ullie Versavel, Director, Technical Services at Cisco Systems in Mexico City, most of that investment has been directed into training courses, new facilities and employee onboarding. Today, the staff headcount in the building is 470, up from the original capacity of 360, and it is showing no signs of slowing.

The entrance to Cisco's sprawling Global Services Center in Mexico City
The entrance to Cisco’s sprawling Global Services Center in Mexico City

Why choose Mexico?

Mexico City’s 22-million-strong population is complimented by a large amount of universities, so the availability of well-educated, English-speaking talent is high: two highly valued requirements in the GSC. Cisco sources new hires from the nearby Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education (ITESM), the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and the National Polytechnic Institute (IPN), but the company has also branched out into Monterrey and Puebla to reach more potential engineering talent in the region. “Our workforce at the GSC is easily a little more than 80% Mexican,” Versavel told Nearshore Americas. “We also have around five or ten people from Costa Rica due to our close relationship with a partner site there, while the remaining staff members come from elsewhere in the region.”

Mexico has gained its reputation as a low-wage country for good reason, but this was not a deciding factor for Cisco when considering where to open its center. “While cost was one of the parameters, it was the country’s wealth of talent that sealed the deal,” Versavel explained. “Initally, we had GSCs in India and Poland, but not in Latin America, so after researching a number of locations in the region we eventually settled on Mexico.”

Cisco’s choice also came down to the country’s proximity to the US, its stable and growing economy, the similar time zone, and a shared culture between the two nations. In the end, it came down to maintaining a close relationships and open communications with their nearshore teams.

Acquiring and Developing Mexico’s Best

As a minimum requirement for employment, Cisco looks for applicants that have at least Bachelor-level engineering degrees, but will also consider those with science and math skills. The company also provides a lot of training, particularly to university students through a program called Incubator. Within this program, students come to the center on a regular basis to shadow Cisco engineers, getting them ready for a new job with the company.

“For new graduates, technology never stops,” said Versavel. “Twenty years ago, people who were working on one technology are now doing something completely different. We ask our engineers to grow with the technology, and if it disappears, just move on to another one. This approach requires constant training, which is something that people must adapt to.”

Cisco's CCIE wall of fame shines a spotlight on the center's talent
Cisco’s CCIE wall of fame shines a spotlight on the center’s talent

Cisco Certified Internetwork Experts

Part of this training is the Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) course, which results in Cisco’s highest internal certification and can take many years to acquire. Verseval pointed out that due to the level of customer interaction with the Mexico City GSC, many of its engineers have managed to acquire the CCIE in just three or four years. This is a result of day-to-day exposure to technology and a three-week study break, before being shipped off to Cisco’s facilities in San Jose to have a physical exam in the lab.

Naturally, keeping hold of post-CCIE talent is of paramount importance to the center. “There are very few CCIEs out there, so the pressure is on to retain that talent,” said Versavel. “This is achieved through career opportunities within the company, including local positions in the center. As a technical person within Cisco, it is possible to climb very high on the career ladder. Technology is extremely important to us, so somebody with technology skills is highly valuable.”

Sign up for our Nearshore Americas newsletter:

Cisco's engineers hard at work
More than 80% of Cisco’s engineers at the GSC are Mexican, with educations in engineering, science or maths and with fluent English skills.

Dynamic, Supportive and Progressive Working Culture

Cisco has employed an open, empowering culture in its GSC, which translates well within the Mexican workforce. “Our engineers are valued more for their brains than anything else, which is a stark contrast to the formal and hierarchical approach of their elders,” explained Candia Novaro, Manager, Technical Support for Cisco. “The fact that a company’s culture can promote growth, embrace new ideas and support their employees’ decisions is a relatively new concept in Mexico, so has become hugely valuable for our Mexican workers.”

The US approach to workspace has also been imported to the Mexican center, creating an environment designed to boost productivity through comfort. Situated on its many floors are workstations with adjustable standing desks, sleeping pods and relaxation rooms, modern e-cafeterias, games rooms with pool tables and video game consoles, outdoor balconies with additional workspaces and a healthy supply of NERF guns, making it a dream location for today’s engineering millennials. “Yes, it’s a fun place to work, but the job itself can become quite stressful due to the impactful accountability involved, so these distractions are welcomed by our teams.”

The sleeping pods also feature monitors and charging points for workers' laptops
The sleeping pods also feature monitors and charging points for workers’ laptops

Cisco’s Future in Mexico

Eventually, Versavel envisions the Mexican GSC as being completely akin to Cisco’s San Jose, Raleigh and Richardson locales. Beyond that hope, he also thinks there is potential for Cisco to look at Mexico as an R&D contender. “My personal view is that Cisco could begin to move development into Mexico, because as long as the talent is available anything is possible, and Mexico certainly has that. Intel and Oracle are already performing R&D in Guadalajara, so companies are really beginning to see what Mexico can offer from this perspective,” he concluded.

Cisco’s Mexican GSC is evidently bucking the trend, giving other technology companies hope that talent in Mexico is indeed abundant, it’s just about where you find it, how you grow it, and how you hold on to it.

Tags