Alumni Spotlights: Brett Wingo and Francesca Della Cese

Brett WingoBrett Wingo (Industrial Technology, ’88), VP of Home Networking at Cisco

To Cal Poly alumnus Brett Wingo, Learn by Doing is more than just something he learned in school. As a vice president and general manager at Cisco and a veteran of two startups, Wingo says Learn by Doing is an essential part of being a leader in the ever-changing tech industry more than 20 years after his hard-rocking college days.

“You’re always learning,” said Wingo of the technology sector. “Our industry is moving really, really fast, and technology is changing fast. If you take every opportunity as a chance to learn something new about the business you’re in, you start to just think differently.”

As an industrial technology major in the 80s, Wingo was able to learn about the principles of strategy through the lens of a booming technological world. Even in Silicon Valley’s early years, Wingo was drawn to the technology buzz of the Bay Area, where he delved into internships during summer and holiday breaks. “I was able get a breadth of knowledge and experiences from both operations and strategy,” he said. “I enjoyed the perspective of being able to do both.”

But in his spare time, Wingo says his biggest lessons came as manager and drummer of a local rock and roll band called the YaYas. He embraced that opportunity to lead and run the band as a business: managing talent, exploring new partnerships with venues, and making a profit. The band life even brought leadership concepts, like decision theory and business philosophy, into focus. Wingo said he learned by be decisive and not feel weighed down by the “paralysis of analysis.” Through the process, he said he started to see everything as a business, spotting more opportunities to learn and grow.

After graduating from Cal Poly in 1988, Wingo started his career as an engineer at Apple at a time when the company was quickly promoting those with the right abilities, rather than seniority. He moved through the ranks managing different teams, an opportunity he said was partly due to the confidence his IT education instilled in him at school. “IT is not really a discipline on it’s own. It’s about learning to be a generalist,” Wingo said. “That breadth of knowledge gives you the confidence to lead more types of people.”

Wingo left Apple to start a leadership journey of his own as a founding member of Ridge Technologies. Here, he uncovered a passion for entrepreneurship, and later went on to start another start-up, WhereNet, an early player in the “Internet of Things” movement. Although he’s now returned to a large corporation by joining the team at Cisco, Wingo says his entrepreneurial energy has never been higher.

“If you look at my career, it’s a series of startups bookended by two major corporations. But even at Apple and Cisco, there’s room for entrepreneurship,” Wingo observes. “There’s room for entrepreneurship and new thinking in every company, in every aspect, in every management job.”

As a leader of Cisco, Wingo keeps the beat steady in the face of some big challenges, most notably the industry’s broad shift from hardware to software-centered businesses. The change brings greater efficiency and profitability as connectedness becomes the standard, but forces business to maintain a faster cadence. The growing weight of software means that the cost of starting a business has declined significantly. Wingo sees this as a boon for entrepreneurs, who now have the opportunity to disrupt major industries, even with only a handful of employees.

Brett hopes he can continue to bring his knowledge of the corporate and entrepreneurial worlds back to Cal Poly. He currently serves as a Dean’s Advisory Council member for the Orfalea College of Business, where he has the chance to offer students and members of the Cal Poly community opportunities to learn from his experience in the same way he’s learned from others.

“Even if I can do one thing for the college, or have an impact on one student, that’s worth it to me.”

Francesca Delle Cese

Francesca Delle Cese (B.S. and M.S. in Industrial Technology), Packaging Engineer at Apple

In less than two years after graduating from Cal Poly, Francesca Delle Cese can confidently say that she has found her dream job. As a packaging engineer at Apple, Delle Cese works on designing innovative new packaging products that customers around the globe see every single day.

“When you launch a product at Apple, you get to see the customers’ reactions not only in stores, but online as well,” says Francesca. “That part has been really great.”

Francesca was originally a biochemistry major at Cal Poly, but switched into industrial technology after a friend recommended she take IT 330: The Fundamentals of Packaging in the Orfalea College of Business.

“The cool thing [in IT 330] was that you made something that was tangible. There was that mixture of science and design. So, I stuck with it… and liked it so much that I decided to go to grad school!”

She joined the industrial technology’s masters program in 2012, where she had the chance to do thesis research and take courses in advanced business and technology topics. Delle Cese also enjoyed the chance to teach classes and work closely with professors like Jay Singh and Koushik Saha.

“I loved the attention they give to students,” she says. “I was able to get the one-on-one attention that I may not necessarily have gotten out of another grad program.”

Throughout her time at Cal Poly, Delle Cese engaged in a variety of internships with major brands like Safeway and Dow Chemical, where she used her skills to design and test packaging concepts. In 2014, her dream job became a reality as she joined Apple’s packaging team. Delle Cese says that the Learn by Doing approach to both her graduate and undergraduate education set her apart from others in the job hunt and at leading companies.

“The nice thing about Cal Poly is all the lab time that we get, not only with software but with equipment,” she said. “It’s good to know how it works and how it’s being run so that you can explain it to a cross-functional team. I’ve met people from other schools who unfortunately haven’t had the same experience.”

Delle Cese also noted that Cal Poly’s quarter system instilled a work ethic in her that conditioned her for a deadline-driven career. “I do think the quarter system helped prepare me for a fast pace work environment,” Delle Cese said. “With only 10 weeks per quarter, students learn to manage their time well and to stay focused.” With a substantial amount of Learn by Doing in her resume, Delle Cese made a home for herself at Apple in the Bay Area.

Apple is, of course, known for developing product packaging so beautiful that many hesitate to throw it away.  While Delle Cese can’t say exactly which projects she works on, she can say she’s not the only Cal Poly proud alumnus in Cupertino. She joined the Mustang family at Apple in 2014, which boasts more than 450 alumni from a number of majors in the Orfalea College of Business as well as other colleges at Cal Poly.

“We all have our Cal Poly gear! We’re proud to represent Cal Poly packaging!”