Making innovation easy


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The DevNet Sandbox team enjoying some down time. (Tom Davies, Eddie Corban, Joseph Kearns, Dan Klingler, Bob Wu, Smita Upadhya, Eugene Black, Jacob Adams, Craig Newman, Mobina Baseer.)

A 2017 Pioneer Awards winner shares why he’s swinging for the fences again this year.

“Talk is cheap. Show me the code.” So said Linus Torvalds, creator of the Linux kernel. The phrase expresses a philosophy that’s close to the heart of many developers. To put it another way: getting hands on with code is where it’s at.

That philosophy is also close to the heart of the 10-person team that created Cisco DevNet Sandbox. The solution allows developers, engineers and other members of our global developer community to learn about, build and test applications on top of Cisco technology in a secure, easy way. DevNet Sandbox lets them work with technologies spanning our portfolio—from networking and data center, to cloud, IoT, open source and more.

“Its ethos is to make innovation easy—to reduce the barriers for our customers, partners and the general public to get hands-on with our portfolio of technology solutions as fast as possible,” says Cisco’s Tom Davies, who heads up the team that’s building out DevNet Sandbox globally. “We can spin you up a contact center in 20 minutes, or a Kubernetes cluster for cloud in 5 minutes, and you can be in there playing with the technology in no time—which is exactly what developers and architects need. They don’t have to buy anything or wait for hardware to be delivered to their door in order to get hands on, fast.”

Chuck hi-fives Tom Davies at the Pioneer Awards ceremony in October, as Rowan Trollope, David Goeckeler and Dave Ward cheer on.

Chuck high fives Tom Davies at the Pioneer Awards ceremony in October, as Rowan Trollope, David Goeckeler and Dave Ward cheer on.

In 2017, the DevNet Sandbox team was among the winners of Cisco’s annual Pioneer Awards, which recognize the cream of the crop in engineering innovation at Cisco. Think of them as the Oscars of the engineering world. DevNet Sandbox won in the Productivity Solution category. The two other categories—Product Innovation and Core Technology—had different winners. All were announced last fall.

“It was an absolutely amazing feeling,” Tom says of the win. “A cocktail of emotion—a mixture of amazement, a massive swell of pride in my team and what they’d accomplished, and of course happiness that we’d been considered alongside such great competition.”

A Global Effort

The DevNet Sandbox team is spread across the world—with members in San Jose, Ohio, Texas, three in Ireland and another in Shanghai, China. As manager, Tom, who is based in the United Kingdom, leads the team’s direction from a technology and platform stance. DevNet Sandbox—which Tom calls “essentially, a free public cloud service”—runs across two data centers, one in Ireland, one in San Jose. Since the team started work on the project a little over two years ago, DevNet Sandbox has expanded to 42,000 users and has over 17,000 companies registered.

“We seem to have touched a very important lever for our developer community,” Tom says.

Users generally break down into three groups—infrastructure engineers, enterprise app developers, and solution architects. While DevNet Sandbox has a heavy focus on Cisco technologies, it also includes open source technologies such as Google’s Kubernetes platform, Serverless solutions like OpenFaaS, and blockchain projects such as HyperLedger.

“We are not blind to fact that the world isn’t just Cisco, especially to developers!” Tom says.

Winners enjoying a proud moment with Cisco executives at the 2017 Pioneer Awards gala.

Winners enjoying a proud moment with Cisco executives at the 2017 Pioneer Awards gala.

As for whether the Pioneer Award win has opened doors for the team, Tom says he’s looking for ways to transform the recognition into ways to push the solution forward. That means keeping the growth and momentum going through FY2018—both in terms of the technologies provided and in the solution’s ability to support other developer communities, including Cisco’s Networking Academy (DevNet Sandbox is already being leveraged in offerings with the Networking Academy catalogue).

“We’re definitely seeing much more exposure internally at Cisco, and more people are aware of us thanks to the award,” Tom says.

The win has kick-started further innovations from the team. They’re now looking at what they could do to win another Pioneer Award—such as making open orchestration available so that anybody could build their own sandboxes.

Tom’s advice to other engineers contemplating throwing their name into the ring for the Pioneer Awards? Just do it!

“The awards are a great way to showcase to our leaders what’s happening in the engineering world—they can change the way Cisco is perceived,” he says. “And if you win, it’s the best feeling you can have and such a boost for the team and the people who have worked diligently over the years.”

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