Career Innovation: Reinventing Yourself at Cisco
Everyone knows that Cisco is about innovation – and innovation fuels sustainable growth. But most people think it only refers to technology innovation.
Cisco is certainly a tech innovator – don’t get me wrong – and as a technologist at heart and Distinguished Engineer myself, I am part of that. But stepping back, as a Cisco employee of 18 years, I have also seen a lot of career innovation.
In the tech industry, 18 years in an extraordinarily long time to stay at one company. When people ask me why I’ve stayed this long, I tell them it’s very simple: In 18 years, I’ve had very many different careers at Cisco; and I rarely have two days that are the same.
I started with Cisco as an engineer in December 1999, just a couple of weeks before the infamous Y2K event. I was hired to work on the Escalation Team – a SWAT team that swoops in to “save the day” in high-profile emergencies, for example if a country loses its Internet services. I was one of many Cisco engineers who stayed overnight at a Cisco data center on New Year’s Eve, ensuring that nothing went awry with networks as we entered the 2000th year and the clocks switched over to a four-digit year format.
I spent several years as part of the Escalation Team, traveling around the world, diving in the depths of the Internet backbone, and immersing myself in some of the most complex technology issues that existed at the time. We were often dealing with very angry customers, but it was exhilarating, rewarding work and the team achieved immense satisfaction in helping customers solve those thorny issues.
And that’s just one of my many careers at Cisco!
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One of the things I Iove about working here is that, as an engineer, you have the opportunity to get really good at something – to go deep and be a Jedi Master in a technology area or role. Then, you can teach and evangelize those skills broadly to others, and move on to a new job in a new area and start the process over again. It’s a dream scenario for someone who’s intellectually curious, restless, an “intrapreneour”, and a lifelong learner. Plus, each new job feels like a new career!
Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to go deep in many fascinating technology areas, from core switching and routing to IPv6 and MPLS, from Service Chaining and Data Center to Access, Cable DEPI, and Pseudowires, from Analytics, Telemetry, and Network Programmability to the Internet of Things (IoT). In 2007, I was named a Distinguished Engineer – there are approximately 180 across the whole company. With that designation came even more freedom to tackle the technologies and business issues that I personally find interesting and challenging, and that I believe will have material business impact for Cisco and for our customers.
Currently, I’m working on the Strategy Team for Cisco’s $12B Services business. On this team, I’m coming up with emerging-technology-based growth areas and new services to help customers solve their most pressing challenges and leveraging the latest technologies, such as blockchain and machine learning. At the same time, I am also the Services Chief Architect, helping drive the senior technical talent. There is nothing more thrilling than driving innovation from concept to incubation.
I’ve also had the opportunity to have industry-wide impact, transcending the company!
- I serve on or lead many different standards groups – I currently co-chair the L2tpext and LIME working groups and am a member of various Directorates at the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF).
- I have co-authored more than 50 Internet RFCs, which are the technical specifications for how the Internet works.
- In addition to writing three books and dozens of research papers on computer networking, I am co-inventor of more than 50 issued and another 100 pending patents – in 2017, in fact, I was featured in a local TV segment.
- I teach as adjunct faculty at NC State University. I also received over a dozen industry and Cisco honors and awards.
All of this work is empowered, encouraged and enabled by Cisco! Cisco has allowed me to innovate and evolve my career, and enabled others to follow and collaborate with me.
But the work I’m most proud of here at Cisco isn’t in hands-on technology ‘tinkering’. It definitely is mentoring and sponsoring others – helping the next generation find what they’re good at, teaching them to advocate for themselves, and most importantly pushing them to step out of their comfort zones – because I’ve learned that’s exactly where innovation happens.