In 1999, Cisco held its first Pioneer Awards—the premier recognition of engineering innovation at the company. As noted by Pioneer Program Manager, Mike Stewart, the celebration was a little different back then.
"If you look back at the photos from 1999, you will see then CEO John Chambers in a Cisco conference room with a few small teams of winners, enjoying dinner from one of our on-site cafeterias," said Stewart. "The awards dinner event has grown quite a bit since."
Innovation with proven impact is a big differentiator of the awards. Senior Technical Talent and Management review and evaluate the submissions, which have to include proof of positive impact. Impact can be anything from an increase in productivity, sales numbers, a major shift in the industry, or a trajectory to be a market leader in a given segment.
"The Pioneer program is an official statement by Cisco that internal innovation is a core principle and highly valued within our company," said Stewart.
Two decades of impact
This year, Cisco celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Pioneer Awards, and it's a good time to reflect on two decades worth of industry-changing work.
In the first iteration of the awards, the team behind Voice over IP won—that's the technology that delivers voice communications over the Internet. In the year 2000, the Catalyst 6K team won. This network switch was the most successful product in the networking industry, ever.
And the breakthrough tech continued. In 2006, DOCSIS Downstream Wideband Architecture won the Pioneer Award and created an international standard that changed the cable industry. 2011 brought us the Unified Computing System, or a new converged data center architecture. In 2016, Segment Routing allowed networks to scale in new ways in the face of digitization.
It's likely that many in the industry recognize some of these giant networking accomplishments, and this year's winners deservedly join this group. Three awards were granted to five different teams, with one award focusing on the constellation of intent-based networking technologies.
This year's winners
- Intent-based networking constellation
Catalyst 9K Product: Reinventing enterprise access and core switching
This product launched in June 2017 as part of Cisco's new era of networking. This group of switches helps provide a unified architecture where new features can be deployed across different points. CEO Chuck Robbins has stated that this product is the fastest growing product in the 35-year history of the company.
Polaris IOS-XE: Enterprise Network Operating System
This next-generation software stack helps unify software across Cisco's networking products, like routing, switching, and wireless. It also aids the Cat9K in bringing Cisco's new subscription based software model to the market.
Software Defined Access for LAN, WAN, and Wireless
This is a solution that is the foundation for everything within intent-based networking, including providing the industry's first policy-based automation for access across wired and wireless. Automate and run the whole network, and also provide security and segmentation across the network.
Engineers from within all three of these teams fall under the leadership of Engineering Senior Vice President Anand Oswal, who says that the whole group is proud of this year's accomplishments.
"We've embarked on a new era of networking that allows our customers to build networks in an automated manner with analytics assurance and programmability," said Oswal, "The team has a sense of pride because they know they have moved the needle in the company, and the tech of the industry at large."
- Cisco IP Fabric for Media (IPFM)
This technology helps the broadcast industry in particular, helping that community move to a new flexible, scalable, secure IP-based infrastructure. With broadcasting transitioning to ultra-HD, IPFM is the new architectural change for these new workflows.
- DevX Pervasive Quality Platform
DevX is first of its kind, as the platform gives a holistic view of software quality across levels like executives, engineering, services, and more. Multiple tools that cater to these different roles help both Cisco and customers with quality assurance.
It's been said that the Pioneer Awards are the Oscars of the engineering community. The annual Pioneer Awards event brings winners and their supporters together for a night of fun and recognition. This year, signs around the room read "20 years of showcasing innovation"—the night particularly recognized Pioneer Award winners from 1999 who were present during this year's event.
CTO of Engineering and Chief Architect Dave Ward and EVP and GM of Networking and Security Business David Goeckeler took the stage at San Jose City Hall to commend the winners.
"It's not just luck that you're here," said Ward, "It's risk-taking, desire to drive technology, energy, and time. To us, engineering is artistic expression."
Goeckeler described the prestigious award as elite, describing the room as "hard to get into."
"You have brought innovation to the networking business," said Goeckeler, "And customers are responding to it."
The next 20 years
"We reinvented how networking is done," said Oswal, "When you look back over the past ten to twenty years, you can say the work that we did changed how networks operate."
Looking back also helps us imagine what might happen in the future of the Pioneer Awards. With the intent-based networking group all being recognized as winners, we are already seeing some changes at identifying impactful innovation with cooperative teams.
"The constellation of teams and cooperative effort really created an important innovative value for the company," said Stewart, "People are already seeing outside of the box of three categories and awards. It's more about looking at the overall impact, even if it's a group of teams."
One thing remains the same–Cisco is steadfast on being pioneers of the Internet.
"Cisco spent the first 30 years building the Internet," said Ward, "We'll spend the next 30 years building how people use the Internet."
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