With this blog, I try to inspire and mentor. One person I have a lot of respect for is Joe Onisick. I had the pleasure of interviewing Joe. Joe has really transformed himself and everything about him lately and I thought it would be nice to give you readers some more insight to his journey. Here is Joe’s story:

Q: Hi Joe, welcome to the blog! Please give the readers a short introduction of yourself.

A: I’m a technology executive who’s been in the field for 23 years, with the exception of a five-year break to serve as a US Marine. I started in network/email administration and have spent most of my career in the data center space on all aspects of delivering data center resources, up to IaaS and private-cloud.

Q: Many people probably know you best from your time at Cisco, working for the Insieme BU, responsible for coming up with ACI. What was your time at Cisco like? How were you as a person at that time?

A: I joined a startup called Insieme Networks that was in the early stages of developing what became Cisco ACI and Nexus 9000. When the product was ready to launch, we were acquired by Cisco and became Insieme BU. It was one heck of a ride, high-stress, long-hours, completely execution driven for my first 3+ years within the team.

After that time things slowed from startup mode into the processes and procedures of being a part of a giant tech company. For me it was bitter sweet, we had more support, more staff, and more funding. At the same time, we had less ability to move quickly, fail-fast, etc. Nothing unusual for any acquisition.

I’d have to guess most polite people would describe me at the time as ‘difficult to work with.’ I was very myopically focused on results and execution. On the surface that sounds good, but it also means that I was ignoring people, policy, and politics. To be highly successful both of those sides need to be carefully weighed. You can only burn so many bridges to get things done before you’re stuck on an island alone.

At the same time, I truly believed in the products we were driving, and the networking industry changes they could be a part of. That was another double edge sword. It led to the passion and integrity that helped me drive our products, which is great. It also led me to engage in unnecessary public competitive debates and arguments. Those are fun for me, but don’t benefit the customer’s buying the product, or partner’s trying to drive the product.

Because of these challenges and personal weaknesses, I learned a lot in that time. It was overall one of the best growth experiences of my career. This was exponentially accelerated by the great leaders I was able to work for during those 5 years.

Q: From the outside we knew you as a “no BS” type of guy that always said what was on his mind and had kind of a macho attitude. Would you agree with that description?

A: That’s a very kind way to put it. I think a lot of people would sum me up as an a-hole. Both descriptions are accurate, and in many ways, I purposefully cultivated both. There were two reasons for this. First, I hadn’t learned yet how to separate being a ‘no BS’ guy from being a jerk. I assumed one required the other. Second, from a more personal perspective, being a jerk helped me keep everyone at arm’s length.

Q: How did this attitude work out for you? Did it cause any problems at work?

A: Most people would be surprised that there were a lot of benefits to the attitude. People always knew where I stood, and most politics and petty garbage naturally stayed away from me. On the flip side, I was constantly making myself a target, and constantly having to answer for my attitude.

On the negative it created two big general problems. First, it caused me to have to out execute my mouth, meaning my attitude was working against my aptitude instead of for it. Second, it turned me into some form of ‘toxic Rockstar,’ meaning I was adding a lot of value as an individual, but the net effect on the team was neutral at best, and more often negative.

Q: A while back it seems you made a large change in your life where you took a more relaxed approach to life and work. What made you go through with this change?

A: I’m not sure large change covers it, I’ve re-invented almost everything about myself. In doing that I’ve tried to carefully pick the pieces of me that add value for me and create happiness and pride in myself to carry forward. I’ve spent the last two years looking at personal growth as my full-time job.

The catalyst for the change was the culmination of a series of bad decisions I chose to make finally stacking up into a brick wall. A wall in my personal life I ran head first into. Somewhere in the semi-conscious state that resulted from that imaginary collision I had a moment of unusual clarity. I made a conscious decision to learn everything I could from the complete chaos I’d just brought into my life.

From that point things got easier even though externally it looked like everything in my life was falling apart at once. I had my goal, and all I had to do was keep taking baby steps in that direction: becoming a better version of myself. The easy part was that I only had to be better than I was the day before, a very simple tangible goal that leads to huge change over time.

Q: How have things changed for you after making this change? Is work different? Did it make you happier?

A: I’m not sure we have space to cover all the changes in blog format, it’s been rather holistic. Most importantly are my personal relationships. All the relationships I’ve chosen to maintain have improved immensely. On the backend of that the new me attracts a new kind of person into my life. The more I improve, the higher quality of people I have the privilege to associate with and become close to.

Work is a different world. I still have a lot of learning and growing to do, but I’m able to be a no BS guy without having to be a jerk about it. I’ll note that I’m not claiming anything near perfection. My new colleagues can attest that the jerk still comes out often enough, but it’s not constant. More importantly, when it does it’s more tempered and I’m more receptive to feedback and criticism about it. Growth should be constant; so again, if I have improvement today over yesterday, I consider it a success.

I’m happier. I’d say I haven’t been this happy since I was 8 years old, but I don’t think that’s quite right. I honestly don’t think I ever had any idea of what happiness truly was or could be. I do now. For the first time I’ve found a place where my happiness is something I completely own, it’s not driven by the people around me, the things I own, etc. It’s funny as I think through this stuff, there’s a little bit of ‘Old Joe’ in me laughing at this sappy crap.

Q: What are some of the most important lessons you have learned so far? What advice would you give someone going for a career in networking?

A: The most important lessons I’ve learned apply both personally and professionally.

  1. The more you give, the more you get. This is taken from Warren Buffet’s thoughts on love. Basically, what I mean is that by mentoring, coaching, helping and being there for those around me I get infinite returns in the form of intrinsic happiness and growth. It also helps me be a leader people want to follow. It’s counter-intuitive but the more I consciously put others first the more I put myself first as a byproduct.
  2. Set growth goals and keep attainable measurements. Know where you want your path to lead, but know the way there is simple: one step forward at a time. If you keep that mindset each step is success, and unexpected twists and turns on the path become learning experiences not setbacks.

For anyone getting into networking or tech in general I say congratulations. Tech is a wide-open field that provides infinite opportunity and no signs of slowing. It also opens up the ability to work with anything you’re passionate about while making good stable money. You can work tech in non-profit, charity, defense, whatever is meaningful to you, without tying yourself down to a narrow career.

The advice I’d give is to constantly be learning and surround yourself with the people who think you can. It’s easy to find friends, family, etc. that will tell you the problems, the impossibilities, the poor odds. Seek out the people that believe you can meet your goals and cling to there advice and counsel. Limit your interactions with the naysayers wherever you can. Followers point out problems, leaders find solutions.

Q: Joe, what are some of the tools you use today? I know that you have been doing meditation. Is that something you would recommend the readers to try?

A: Here’s another spot where ‘Old Joe’ is laughing hysterically. My big three tools are meditation, fitness (including yoga), and self-reflection (especially on ‘failures.’) Short meditation, five minutes even, in the morning and evening help me clear my head and control the book-ends of my day. I also like longer meditations 30 minutes or so at least once a week.

We all know your mind and body are highly interconnected so keeping physically active is huge to what you can accomplish. Look at the 10 most successful people you can think of, and you’ll notice a trend toward physically fit. Exercise is also a very easy way to make, and keep, promises with yourself which boosts self-esteem and self-confidence. Don’t shoot the moon here, just set simple achievable goals. Even saying I’m going to walk for 10 minutes every day is a start. That’s an easily attainable goal that let’s you keep a simple promise you make to yourself.

Assessing failures, setbacks, and areas of improvement are key. I’ve actively trained my brain to look at failure as learning. I’ve literally done this with the same conscious consistency I use to train puppies to sit, or to potty train them. Once you’ve convinced your mind that failure is there to learn from, you can start assessing and growing from your mistakes instead of feeling guilt and shame which have no value to growth.

Q: Where can the readers find you, Joe? Any other sites you recommend the readers to visit?

A: My current passion is my career and growth coaching which you can find at www.onisick.com. I also maintain my tech blog at www.definethecloud.net which I’m trying to get back to being consistent on.

As far as recommendations, I can’t recommend Ed Mylett enough. I’ve been devouring his YouTube content during this hyper growth period I’m in. If you watch closely you can see the amazingly genuine nature of what he’s saying and trying to convey. He simply lives and breathes integrity. A lot of my thoughts here have been formed through his content. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZQvi7kPLVuQ&feature=youtu.be

Interview with Joe Onisick
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One thought on “Interview with Joe Onisick

  • March 30, 2019 at 9:43 pm

    I think a no BS approach is very refreshing in our highly PC world. Most people prefer it. But it is a very thin line between being blunt and honest and just being a jerk. Steve Jobs was a jerk and hard to work with. But went down in history as being one of the greatest tech minds ever. The key is being respectful and honest at the same time.


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