Pioneer Awards recognize the best in engineering innovation FEATURE
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These prestigious, annual awards highlight those who capture the pioneering spirit.

The company's annual Pioneer Awards seek out those who are doing outstanding engineering work.Cisco's development organization—or teams that specialize in engineering—spans swathes of discipline and geography, where innovative work is consistently being performed. The company's annual Pioneer Awards seek out those who are doing outstanding engineering work to properly recognize new strides in innovation.

Joel Bion of Cisco engineering, lead of the Pioneer award program, shares that this event is much like the Oscars or the Emmys of the engineering world.

"The purpose of these awards is to congratulate engineering for the work that it does," says Bion, "Engineers select among themselves who to nominate—who they consider to be the top candidates in the development organization from the preceding 12 months."

2017 winners announced

Nominations are broken down into three categories— Core technology, Product, and Productivity, which recognizes the work of engineers who enhance the ability of other developers to work better and faster.

This year's winners include a rare tie for the Core Technology Category—Enhanced Telemetry for Encrypted Traffic Analysis and Vector Packet Processing.

Enhanced Telemetry for Encrypted Traffic Analysis has been in progress since 2015. This is a project that helps detect unusual behavior in your network even through encrypted traffic.

Distinguished Engineer Saravanan Radhakrishnan explains that the Encrypted Traffic Analysis project was truly pioneering work.

"Encrypted Traffic Analytics solves a problem that many in the industry perceived to be unsolvable," says Radhakrishnan, "Is true network security possible without compromising on the privacy of the end user? ETA proves that we can achieve that. So, to me, this was truly a pioneering effort in the industry."

"Cisco Pioneer award is really an industry acknowledged recognition of true innovation." Radhakrishnan  continues, "It's truly an honor to have won such an award, especially considering the number of nominations that are submitted every year."

Also winning in the Core Technology Category is Vector Packet Processing, a framework that provides quality switch router functionality which led to the creation of an OpenSource community called FD.io—a community from the renowned Linux Foundation. 

In the Product Innovation Category, the AP3800 and AP2800 Series Access Points with Flexible Radio project won through creating a way for wireless products to optimize based on network loads.  

"The Cisco Wireless AP 3800/2800 has had a phenomenal ramp in terms of sales over the last year, with over 1.5 million APs sold already," says SVP of Engineering Anand Oswal, "The Pioneer Award is a recognition of the awesome innovations that enabled the success of this product."

DevNet Sandbox won the Productivity Solution Category—this project allows people to test building applications on top of Cisco technology in an easy way. 

How the Pioneer Awards work

Organization leads, lead engineers, or product managers typically nominate engineers within their area through a write-up, which is then analyzed by a group of judges.

See also: Cisco's heritage archive is where past meets future 

Two to three finalists per category are chosen from this group of nominations. These finalists present live to the committee of judges, sharing what is unique and innovative about their specific program or piece of work. Judges then choose one winner from each category.

"Sometimes we get 75, 80, or over 100 nominations," says Bion, "Being elected to nomination is such a big accomplishment. Much like every film in the Best Picture category is a great film, but one has to be chosen."

Judges consist of a group of distinguished engineers, engineering fellows, principal engineers, as well as senior managers, directors, some VPs and SVPs. The mix of management and engineering helps create a range of opinion and expertise.

See also: Innovate Everywhere Challenge discovers ideas within Cisco 

Bion shares that nominees and finalists are critiqued on how much they exemplify the spirit of the award.

"This winner will stand out not only in innovation and industry impact," says Bion, "But how much they had to be pioneers, how much they had to travel a road that hadn't been built yet."

The judges value riskiness over a guaranteed success. Often, Pioneer Award winners don't have the backing of the whole company because of their choice to take a riskier path.

The big celebration

The winners of the year are celebrated at a suit-and-tie dinner where Cisco's top executives join the engineering community. Teams enjoy a time of visibility and the recognition of the engineering work they have accomplished.

Winners receive a sparkling obelisk trophy, truly representing the masterpiece of innovative work. The Pioneer Awards ceremony is a celebration of Cisco engineers creating new paths for the future.

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About Stephanie Chan

Stephanie Ellen Chan is the Editorial and Video Producer at Cisco. She has a passion for writing about the intersection of culture, media, art, and technology.