A Shadow in Silicon Valley

Uwe Grunewald specializes in the field of online communication at ZEISS, spending most of his time working on websites. In early 2015 he got the opportunity to spend four weeks shadowing an employee of the American company Cisco Systems in Silicon Valley to gain insights into his work. He describes here what he learned during his time at the world's biggest networking equipment company and in Silicon Valley.


"It took 75 years for the telephone to link up 50 million people," says Uwe Grunewald. "Today's apps can achieve that in a matter of hours." Originally a physicist, Grunewald started working at ZEISS as a microscope product manager before moving into the field of communication. For almost 20 years he has been responsible for optimizing ZEISS websites. After implementing the international rollout of a new website system at ZEISS with his colleagues last year, Grunewald got what he describes as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. He was offered the chance to spend four weeks 'sitting in' on another company's day-to-day business. "The idea was to find out how the Internet pioneers work and experience digital transformation at what many people would describe as its source," says the 55-year-old. His 'job shadowing' position was at one of the world's leading IT companies, Cisco Systems. Job shadowing is a kind of career insight opportunity which gives people a chance to shadow an employee as they go about their daily work.


Grunewald embarked on his shadowing experience on 27 April in Digital Strategy and Enablement, a department of 120 people. During the first week he attended all the team's meetings and consulting sessions. The company was moving towards the international rollout of its new Internet system, something which had already been successfully completed at ZEISS. That made it a great time to exchange experiences. Overall it was an eventful month for a stint of job shadowing: Grunewald was right there on the spot to experience the appointment of a new CEO, the company's latest earnings release, and the launch of a revamped website. Grunewald also took part in two major conferences on digital topics and met managers from Apple, Google and Facebook. When he talks about the time he spent in California's Silicon Valley, you can feel his enthusiasm for the energy he sensed there. He filled four pads of A4 paper with his reflections on the month he spent at Cisco Systems, and he has published some of the highlights and his practical suggestions in a blog.


The courage to take risks

One of his key findings is that the American style of thinking isn't always fully understood by people in Europe. "In the US they're tremendously courageous when it comes to making fast decisions," Grunewald emphasizes. "Instead of spending months analyzing and weighing up the options, they simply try the idea out." If a project doesn't work out, it isn't perceived as a failure – and Grunewald believes there should be more support for that approach here, too. Another point that struck the Internet expert is that digital projects which do not substantially improve product benefits are not sufficient to keep a company successful in the digital age. Even though Grunewald has visited the USA many times before, there was still one thing he hadn't expected: "I was surprised by how tremendously punctual everyone is in Silicon Valley when it comes to business appointments."

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Impressions of Silicon Valley