By Alice Pollard, Innovation Program Manager, Cisco Customer Experience, Chief Technology Office & Marisol Palmero, Technical Lead, Cisco Customer Experience, Chief Technology Office 



Social distancing, masks, and pandemic are terms that have become all too familiar to us today. But back in early 2020, we had no idea how those words would flip the way we work, innovate, and collaborate with one another. Learning to “pivot” became part of our everyday vocabulary.

At that time, various teams had been collaborating to run an in-person Hackathon focused on Automation.  All the preparation was in place, and 60 people were about to jump on flights and come together to hack “Automate Everything.”

We rescheduled twice and then waited a couple of weeks to get a further sense of what might happen.  Of course, we saw things escalate around the world, and we knew we needed to rethink how we would make this a success.

Basically, overnight, everything went virtual, so why couldn’t we make a similar pivot? We needed to build upon our spirit of innovation and take this opportunity to turn this from a 4-day in-person event into a virtual hackathon that could run for three months!  We started making calls and sending emails.  Within a few days we had a kick-off session on calendars and our sponsors lined up ready to present.  Even in the unknown one thing was certain, we needed to follow through, keep innovating, and give innovators the opportunity to share and innovation be heard.

“We get to do this! During an extended hackathon we (1) get to work today on the Future, (2) we make our ideas and concepts real, and (3) we get to team-up and do it together. There is no better way to settle an argument or visualize an idea than running code!” – Carlos Pignataro, Cisco Chief Technology Officer, Customer Experience

Hack@Home was born, and what emerged has been beyond spectacular! We gained additional sponsorship from committed leaders and other organizations. We expanded participation to reach a global audience, creating even more impact for the business. We then had a blueprint, which we have further improved upon in Hack@Home’s sessions that tackled specific focus areas that aligned to our company strategy.

“Launching a new hackathon each quarter also allowed us to align with Cisco’s strategic pillars, including the Future of Work, and with the customers architectural priorities of Multicloud, Automation, 5G, and Intellectual Capital, further driving business mapping and relevance” said Alice Pollard, Innovation Program Manager, Cisco Customer Experience, Chief Technology Office.

Saumya Dubey, Cisco Customer Success Specialist, Customer Experience and team sharing a presentation on Automation

To date, more than 2,100 Cisconians have participated, contributed, and show up in ways we would not have expected, which is simply phenomenal. In addition, we have ideas being incorporated into solution roadmaps and being further developed. Our sponsors see immense value in all the ideas being generated, not just those that become finalist teams.

“The Hack@Home program has been a great source of ideas and given our employees an opportunity to innovate in a pandemic and is vital for them to know how important this is and the impact it has on our business.”- Kara Adams, Hack@Home Sponsor, Director of Engineering, Customer Experience.

“The best part of innovation is that ANYONE can do it, there is no Failing. And it always results in learning” said – Jami Stewart, Vice President, Cisco Customer Experience Centers, Americas.


This year has been hard. The Hack@Home events have brought us together, to focus on the positive and create something new to help fulfill Cisco’s purpose to power an inclusive future for all.

“I was so lucky to be chosen to participate in Hack@Home as finalist with an idea to bring automation of Identity Service Engine (ISE) in AWS. It meant so much to be able to gather diverse team with different skill sets and knowledge levels. This experience was not only about making a new innovation or a product, but also about expanding our views, learning new technologies, collaborating and learning from each other during the time when human interactions are sparse and so cherished” shared Ana Andrijic, Senior Site Reliability Engineer, Customer Experience.

After four Hack@Homes, we’re building on this spirit of innovation to continue to move forward.  Our goals for the next year focus on Intellectual Capital Systems, Future of Security & Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning Intelligent Insights. After four Hack@Home events, we are also looking to the future. With travel still minimized and/or suspended, the question remains how do we keep our captive audience? What should we do over the next 12 months? How do we continue to innovate success?

Our answer…we have narrowed in on key focus areas to help move the needle through focused and tangible innovation.  Being a virtualized event means more individuals have an opportunity to participate, submit ideas, collaborate on teams, hack together and pitch their ideas to a panel of judges who want to see their ideas move forward.

“Hack@Home allowed for creativity and resilience in helping us solve business critical problems and diverted my mind from the most stressful situation, fear, and uncertainty in life” said Sudipta Debnath, Enterprise Software Architect, Customer Experience.

When the world opens up how will we adjust?  We already know we will have to pivot once more.  The question becomes in what direction?  Which learnings do bring into the decision making? Many, many questions but the most important one is how can we bring value leveraging a hybrid model?  We know we don’t want it to go back to the “old” way there’s a new way ahead.  Our question to you is… What direction would you take?


Carlos Pignataro

Head of Technology and Data

Engineering Sustainability Office