With Big Data and A.I., Cisco Evolves to Meet the Market


Technology companies must evolve or perish. That maxim applies equally to startups and massive enterprises alike, although bigger companies often have the resources to actually drive internal change.

Cisco is no exception to this rule. The company, headquartered in San Jose, grew into a multinational giant thanks to its networking and switching technology. Although its routers and other hardware products carved out a massive share of the IT infrastructure market throughout the 1990s, it eventually faced considerable competition from the likes of Juniper Networks and Huawei.

The past few years have been the best and worst of worlds, with Cisco expanding into new areas even as it endures massive layoffs and pulls back from key segments (Flip mini camcorder, we hardly knew ye). Nonetheless, the giant continues to push forward, paralleling the broader tech industry’s advance into the cloud, artificial intelligence (A.I.), and other areas.

Cisco also landed on Dice’s list of Ideal Employers, the result of a wide-ranging survey of thousands of tech pros. The company’s focus on cutting-edge technology and massive projects are among the reasons it ranked so highly. “There’s a lot of buzz around the ‘Network Intuitive,’” said Chris Dempsey, senior manager of talent acquisition for Cisco. “Around the last 18-24 months, it’s created a major demand for data scientists, machine-learning engineers, experts.”

The “Network Intuitive” initiative (which Cisco styles as “The Network. Intuitive”) adapts in response to network activity. “This all makes it easier for administrators to manage over their networks and global enterprises,” Dempsey added. Cisco has purchased companies such as MindMeld in order to boost its in-house predictive-analytic capability, and it needs talent capable of recognizing and organizing its big basket of initiatives and products into a cohesive whole.

Security is also a going concern, especially in the context of the cloud, one of the largest vectors for threats. “Talos has always been one of our largest threat-intelligence teams; they’re always looking for people with a strong machine-learning background,” Dempsey said. “They leverage the A.I. and data scientists, looking at billions of bits of data each day.”

More than three-quarters of our Ideal Employer survey respondents pictured Cisco as a place where they could “stay for a long time,” and about as many thought it would be a good place to develop a career. And indeed, Cisco has policies for fostering talent and boosting its internal knowledge capital, such as allowing employees to swap roles for a limited time. Its longer-term employees—the ones who have built multiple generations of switches and routers, for instance—can thus expose others to their deep networking knowledge. That learning, in turn, allows younger workers to explore fields such as project management.

If it can foster the right kind of talent, Cisco can sail through the Internet’s next paradigm shifts. And for those tech pros interested in working on the very skeleton of the modern Web, the company could offer some ripe opportunities.