Arista CEO Jayshree Ullal advice for students: “You can be an entrepreneur and an executive”
Published: December 4, 2020 / Author: Michael Hardy
Jayshree Ullal has spent her whole life exceeding expectations. Raised in a middle-class family in New Delhi, India, Ullal earned a degree in electrical engineering from San Francisco State University and started her career at Advanced Micro Devices before joining Crescendo Communications, an early computer networking company. In 1993, Crescendo was purchased by Cisco Systems, where Ullal helped grow the company’s switching business to $5 billion in annual sales. While at Cisco, she also oversaw more than 20 mergers and acquisitions and rose to become senior vice president of Data Center & Switching.
In 2008, Ullal was named the CEO and president of cloud computing startup Arista Networks, a four-year-old company that she helped transform into a world leader in networking technology. Headquartered in Santa Clara, California, Arista had its IPO on the New York Stock Exchange in 2014, and recorded revenues of $2.4 billion in 2019. Forbes recently named Ullal No. 16 on its list of America’s top self-made women, estimating her net worth at $1.4 billion.
Ullal was interviewed by Tom Mendoza (ND ’73), former president and vice chairman of the pioneering data management company NetApp, for Notre Dame’s new webinar series, Tom Mendoza Presents. During their wide-ranging conversation on Nov. 6, Ullal discussed growing up in India, making her way in Silicon Valley, and her decision to leave Cisco to become a CEO. (Watch the full video here.)
Ullal’s top three pieces of advice for students included:
1. Find out what you’re excellent at.
“Find your dream, and find what you’re not just good at but excellent at. It takes a while; I’m not saying we all know right away. But you all have a gift; each and every one of you have a gift. And the gift may not necessarily be in the area you started with. You may have to evolve. So I ask you to keep trying, keep looking, and find that gift.”
2. Broaden your Skill set.
“In today’s world, interdisciplinary fields are more important than ever. I ask you all to seek, not just what your gift is, but how you connect the dots between your gift and other areas. If you’re in engineering, you might have to learn some business. If you’re in computer science, you might want to learn something about data science and analytics. If you’re in marketing, you might want to study how lead generation is done today.”
3. You can be an entrepreneur and an executive.
“In Silicon Valley, it’s very difficult for entrepreneurs to cross the chasm and become executives, because people think of it as either/or—either you can build technology or you can become a corporate executive. Probably my greatest lesson I’ve learned is that you can remain an entrepreneur at heart and grow that entrepreneurial journey into a corporate executive role. Lead from the front, be an expert in your field, and use your strengths in technology and engineering to create that next billion.”