Feature Story

Cisco Innovators: Simone Arena

by Stephanie Chan

Cisco Innovators: Simone Arena

Principal engineer Simone Arena thinks of Cisco as his family. See how his working mantra has helped him through his career in Italy and beyond.

Principal Engineer Simone Arena loves his family. The longtime Cisco engineer, who now leads the mobility piece of Digital Network Architecture, was sitting in his home office and explaining one of his favorite corporate title —"Enterprise Technical Evangelist". A quick rap on the door interrupted this train of thought.

"My daughters are here," says Arena, "I'm going to introduce them to you now because they're going to bed."

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Arena's young daughters burst through the door, one with a piece of paper to show her dad and another—a younger girl—looking curiously into the WebEx conference room.

"Say ciao," Arena tells his daughters.

Finding your mantra

The engineer spent his formative years in Florence, Italy, moving cities as a young man to pursue his Masters in IT at the Polytechnic of Milan.

In 1999, the recently graduated Arena moved across the world to work at Cisco as a software engineer.

See also: Cisco Innovators: Tim Szigeti

"I was kind of shocked because my idea of California was not San Jose," says Arena, "The movies—they always show you San Diego, Santa Barbara, LA. So I go to San Jose and I'm like ‘Oh my god, where am I?'"

The people at Cisco—my team—they were there for me.Luckily, Arena found his place in the Bay Area. Six years of working at Cisco provided a community for him in a city where he didn't have any family.

"When I moved to San Jose, I didn't know anyone," says Arena, "I wasn't going home to my family, so the people at Cisco—my team—they were there for me for six years."

It was here that the engineer also crafted his working mantra that helped him through the growth of his career.

"My working mantra is a circle," says Arena, "You have to figure it out, write it down, evangelize it, and make it better. I think these four phases, in whatever you do, really helps you to do a great job."

The architect

By 2005, and with his new perspective on work and life, Arena was ready to head back to Italy.

In his current title at Cisco, Arena focuses heavily on solutions for the future.

"You have the opportunity to shape how these solutions evolve," says Arena, "That's what I find the most rewarding about my job."

See also: Cisco Innovators: Jyoti Sarin

"I also work with Digital Network Architecture. It lets me look at things end-to-end and at a higher level. We have built this architecture blueprint for DNA, and we are now writing a book about it as well," says Arena.

The book, tentatively titled Cisco Digital Network Architecture, is slated to be released in early 2018.

Looking forward

Because so much of his work is future-focused, Arena has many thoughts about what we can expect for the future of networking. Mainly, the principal engineer hopes to see a more self-driving network.

"Hopefully we can move towards simplification in the way we build networks," says Arena, "IT can focus on leveraging the network to do something more useful instead of just keeping the lights on—and this means we have to automate the network. With machine learning, you can have a network that learns—without telling it anything—what is normal."

This kind of network can identify problems when they happen, such as any kind of deviation from the baseline. This then can let users know when there is the possibility of something like a security attack.

With 15 years of experience engineering at Cisco, we can trust to look forward to this adaptable, self-driving network.


Much like this network, Arena has learned how to readjust and improve as his career calls him.

His adventures from Italy to California and back have taught him about engineering, Digital Network Architecture, and self-driving networks. The working mantra Arena fostered in San Jose has even taken him through to his journey as a Principal Engineer today–the mantra accompanying lessons in building community and relationships.

"Cisco is a family for me," says Arena.