In 2020, we felt the world slow down and speed up, all at once. We stayed home but worked more. We ground to a halt and began to transform. And we watched automation change everything. COVID accelerates the pace of these changes to an almost unimaginable velocity. The World Economic Forum, which studied pandemic-related disruptions and the expected outlook for technology jobs and skills, forecasts that 40% of core job skills will change and 50% of employees will need reskilling by 2025.
In other words, half of what college freshmen learn today will be superfluous when they graduate.
There’s no such thing as the first day of training or the last day of school anymore. It’s no longer possible to stay competitive by limiting education to a four-year period. Instead, the workforce of the future will learn forever and adapt to changing job requirements. That means embedding learning in all we do, from running the business to building a workforce that can pivot on a dime and transform over time.
As you grapple with the speed, scale, and velocity of change (on top of normal business operations), you might find inspiration in Cisco’s story. Here’s what we’ve learned about transformation:
Pivot on a dime
This story begins with a global pandemic. Half a billion meeting attendees used Webex in April—versus 160 million in February. More customers meant more demand for support as first-time Webex users asked for help. That’s when Cisco rapidly diverted 1,800 engineers. We called them the Webex Warriors.
For the Webex Warriors to succeed, we had to redefine expertise. The engineers didn’t need to master everything. They needed to help customers with a finite and well-defined set of issues, leaving complex cases to expert Webex engineers. That let us train the diverted engineers in three days, instead of the typical three months. It worked! They handled one-third of our case volume for months before returning to their day jobs. This on-demand shift in our talent gave us the agility to weather the crisis—at scale.
The Webex Warriors have been lauded for months, celebrated as much for their risk-taking and selflessness as for their technical prowess. Their willingness to experiment cannot be overstated. Instead of safely cocooning themselves in a cloak of familiarity, they stuck their necks out for customers. It takes a special culture to make that happen 1,800 times. And while our engineers reflect that culture, they are also nourishing it. Culture doesn’t take care of itself—it needs care and feeding. Our culture was ready to empower 1,800 people to pivot. They did. Now it’s ready for thousands more.
You need an agile workforce that can (and will) pivot quickly—at scale.
Don’t be afraid to break down the problem into small parts and redefine expertise.
Transform over time
Because we can’t let the urgent crowd out the important, pivoting is also key as we contend with the changing nature of work in the medium term. Take network automation engineers or DevSecOps engineers, for example. Five years ago, these roles didn’t exist, but businesses can’t keep up without them today. We have a responsibility to make sure engineers understand this trend and to help them build new skills to learn, adapt, and compete.
Remember those college freshmen whose newfound know-how could go out the window after graduation? The same can’t be said for Cisco engineers.
Thanks to Susie Wee, SVP/GM of Cisco DevNet & CX Ecosystem Success, and the DevNet team, we are retraining hundreds of thousands of engineers around the world at Cisco, our partners, customers, and in our community, so they have the skills to learn, adapt, and compete over the long term.
These engineers are learning new skills, like how to automate, use APIs, and build applications leveraging DevNet training. They’re learning to use new tools, like the DevNet Sandbox, to create proofs of concept in a secure, remote environment. They’re exploring the DevNet Automation Exchange, finding code that solves problems. And they’re using DevNet certifications to validate their skills.
When we design the DevNet curricula, we do so with 2025 in mind. That’s why engineers commit to this program even after spending years on their CCIEs and other certifications. That takes an agile mind, one willing to pivot to the future rather than stay comfortable in the present. We are using DevNet certifications to upskill our own workforce: more than 3,000 Cisco engineers have earned their DevNet certification in the first nine months, with more to come in 2021. DevNet certifications have ignited a new level of innovation and inspiration in our teams.
Achieving a new technical certification is no easy feat. Because our culture is all about learning, Cisco supports its employees in every way possible: logistically, with time to study; financially, with certification (and recertification) bonuses; and emotionally, with celebration and encouragement at every turn. We put energy into our people so they can put energy into learning, into customers, and ultimately, back into Cisco.
Reskill your workforce regularly and early as technology evolves. To get started,
set ambitious goals, give people the time and space they need to train, and reward them for success.
In a world that slows down while it speeds up and education takes not four years but a lifetime, the story of Cisco’s transformation is surprisingly simple. It’s a story where employees pivot on a dime, where they learn over time, and where we do anything for customers.
How are you empowering employees to be agile? What risks are you taking to help them along? And how does your culture set the tone?
The world is speeding up. Will you? Your time is now.
Excellent examples of pivoting and transforming at scale. Especially the pace at which DevNet is enabling transformation is phenomenal – with thousands of DevNet certifications already awarded since inception!
Adaptability is so key. Congrats to Cisco for investing in their employees which ultimately benefits their customers. Well done Cisco!
Love this! Thank you.EEE.. exposure experience and education! Always a foundation at Cisco!
Excellent article Ruba on transformation at scale. We tried the first one at Veritas however not at the scale mentioned, so I do appreciate the effort this would have taken. Also kudos on the journey being undertaken of training a huge set of engineers, that is a big investment. Cisco has always been good at investing in people but I think just the identification part of it is itself key.
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