When Cisco’s global workforce went home to work in March 2020, many of us found ourselves with extra time. No commute. No travel to customer or partner offices. No field service calls. Conversely, those who found themselves busier while juggling different demands at home needed an activity to find some balance. Leadership encouraged us to use the found time to develop new skills and to volunteer through Time2Give, a Cisco program with paid time off to volunteer and make a positive impact. We caught up with a few of our Customer Zero employees to find out what they’ve been doing during the lockdown.

Professional development through DevNet

“My technical focus is cloud and data center, and I was able to take a week-long training in software-defined WAN through DevNet,” says Mike Duarte, member of the technical staff. Cisco DevNet is a program to help developers and IT professionals learn to write applications and develop integrations with Cisco products, platforms, and APIs. “We’re always looking to build our knowledge, and Mike is one of the many employees who completed DevNet certifications to get stronger in their current jobs or prepare to change roles,” says Jon Heaton, senior manager of IT Customer Value Engineering. Especially popular is the intro class, which covers the fundamentals of coding with Python, network programmability, and collaboration technologies.

Andy Del Hierro, senior IT engineer, studied on his own to learn a new coding language—Golang. “I have some ideas for using Golang to automate the network via APIs when we return to the office. Our high programmability of Cisco products will make this especially fun,” he says.

Volunteering through Time2Give

Many employees did volunteer work during the lockdowns, getting paid through Cisco’s Time2Give program. Mike Duarte, for example, set up live streaming for his church and counseled parishioners via Cisco Webex.

Andy Del Hierro used Time2Give to make facial masks with his wife, using a 3D printer in his garage. “We go to a grocery store in our low-income neighborhood and hand out the masks to people using tissues or t-shirts,” he says.

Carolyn Philippe, senior IT program manager, volunteered with Black Girls Code, a non-profit. “We helped 200 middle school girls from all over the U.S. create a simulation game about spreading disease,” she says. “Managing 18 middle school girls with just one other person gave me an appreciation for how teachers and students are struggling with a remote learning environment.” Carolyn also volunteered at a middle school in Harlem, a New York City neighborhood. At a virtual career day, she shared her technology and educational background with girls interested in STEM.

Professional development and stretch assignments

Cisco employees can take on “stretch” assignments outside their usual responsibilities. Some are listed, and employees can also create their own. Carolyn Philippe, for example, is developing her leadership skills by mentoring computer science students from Columbia University and Cornell University as well as high school students.

Virtual events and briefings

Rather than cancelling events traditionally held in person, we held them virtually. Our Global Partner Organization conducted well-attended virtual partner sessions in the Asia Pacific (500 attendees) and Americas regions (800 attendees). Jon Heaton gave a presentation on Cisco IT’s implementation of two Cisco DNA technologies—SD-WAN and Cisco DNA Center. Carolyn Philippe attended the virtual US Cisco Live conference held June 16-17, 2020. “This year my first—and because it was virtual, more attendees could participate,” she says. Over 880k live views occurred over each of the broadcasting channels.

The Cisco Sales team does an annual conference called “Cisco IMPACT”.  Carolyn Philippe was also able to attend this year’s conference virtually. It was a great way to learn about our new products and sales strategy for the new Fiscal Year.

3D Printer in Progress

Getting creative at home

Work that can be done from home has continued. “We’re shifting resources and time toward things we can do,” says Mike Duarte, who is managing early field trials (EFTs) for emerging cloud technologies.

Automation and retooling are popular projects because they’ll make IT more responsive when people return to the office. “We’re taking forced time away from the office to save time when we ramp back up,” Mike Duarte explains. One of his team’s undertakings is building a pipeline that automatically creates webpages from content, while evaluating and deploying new products for Cisco IT’s Customer Zero program. (Customer Zero implements emerging technologies into Cisco’s IT production environments ahead of product launch. The team provides an IT Operator’s perspective as we develop integrated solutions, best practices, and accompanying value cases to drive accelerated adoption.)

People are getting creative. On campus, Andy Del Hierro ran a “maker’s room” with a 3D printer. “I found myself going there when I got stuck,” he says. “Taking an hour or two to tinker around with something other than my usual work helped me re-center.” He replicated that maker’s room in his garage at home, where he’s working projects for the Customer Zero program. One project: redesigning the network monitoring probes we’re developing for early awareness of issues.