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How nurturing developers for ‘cloud-first’ will fuel next phase of Cisco DevNet

Cisco Systems has long been considered the industry’s premier networking company, with products spanning the entire scope of enterprise requirements and service-provider networks. Historically, Cisco was known as the top-selling network hardware maker, and while it still produces best-in-class hardware, the last decade of innovation has been led by software.

One of the more interesting aspects of the renewed focus on software has been the rise and evolution of Cisco’s developer program, DevNet. For those not familiar with DevNet, the program was created in 2014 and is designed to enable developers, network engineers, and other IT pros to create applications and integrations with Cisco products using application programming interfaces (APIs). The program has enlisted more than a half-million members and spans most Cisco products, including all major ones in the areas of networking, security, collaboration, cloud, and data center.

To take DevNet to the next level, Cisco brought in Grace Francisco to be its new vice-president for developer relations strategy. Networking is somewhat new to Francisco, but the world of software and developers certainly is not. Francisco joins Cisco after leading developer relations at a series of unicorn companies: Atlassian, Roblox, and MongoDB. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with her to discuss her goals for DevNet, developer relations, and what Cisco customers can expect. 

Q: Please describe your role at Cisco and what changes have been made to the position.

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Cisco Systems VP of Developer Relations Grace Francisco.

A: I lead the massive DevNet community but also am driving awareness of the Cisco opportunity with developers who are operating and building apps for a cloud-first world, so that’s a broader charter than what was currently in place. From an audience perspective, this includes activating and nurturing the existing community of over half a million network engineers, DevOps practitioners, and ops developers–but also cloud-first developers. I have a strong background with cloud as I was at Microsoft for eight years, including with early versions of Azure. I was also on the open-source side for part of that time, where I built bridges with open-source communities to enable and unlock the potential of their open-source products on Microsoft’s platforms

At Microsoft, I served as the sole representative with popular open-source web communities, where Microsoft wasn’t the most welcome member. But I do like big challenges, and it took a good two-and-a-half years in developer relations to build bridges and drive interoperability between these open-source projects and Microsoft’s platforms. I see a similar opportunity here for Cisco and the DevNet program to expand its traditional base of IT professionals to include software and cloud developers. 

Q: How are you building on the relationship aspect of the program?

A: I spent a lot of time doing this at Microsoft, and it’s something I feel is critically important. The relations part of developer relations has a capital “R” for me, and that helped Microsoft become a welcome member of the open-source community.  At Cisco, we need to focus on building stronger relationships with the developers who are building for cloud-first, which has grown in influence over the past five years. 

It’s commonly said that software is eating the world, and that’s never been truer than today. It’s easy to create APIs but the challenge is, once they’re published, how do you get people to use them? How do you grow adoption? And how do you help people learn?  Those are all super important pieces, and my charter really is about continuing to nurture our existing community and base but also to start to nurture relationships and build pathways to this very influential developer, who now has a lot of power, particularly cloud developers. 

Q: How is DevNet changing to be more relevant to cloud developers? 

A: We are building a set of cloud-native offerings.  We have some now and are expanding on them. To help with this, Stephen Augustus, formerly of VMware, has joined the team and is part of the broader ET&I (Emerging Technologies and Incubation) sister organization. He will be working on several key initiatives, such as open source, Kubernetes and CNCF (Cloud Native Computing Foundation) to make sure we are creating that connective tissue to tie security and networking to cloud-native, and we’ll be partnering closely with him on these efforts.

Q: There are currently half a million DevNet members. What does the “next level” look like to you? 

A: This isn’t about adding more members but rather activating and engaging them. What we need to do is have more developer empathy and up-level what we have on developer.cisco.com. This means rethinking the developer journey we need to pave for them. We need to start with an understanding of who’s coming and what they need to do, whether it’s learning about it, AppDynamics, or any of our other products. This means helping them learn more about the topics and technology they care about, kicking the tires, using one of the learning labs, or using one of our sandboxes. 

Right now, many of our experiences orient around this assumption that you’re already committed to one of those products and you want to dive deep, and that’s great. We have a lot of wonderful hands-on offerings there, but we also need to start from the very beginning of the journey. This could mean helping guide them to certification, becoming a champion, or even being in the partner program. 

To me, the next level is really having an engaged and active community. We have wonderful events, like DevNet Create coming up in October. Last year, we had 33,000 attendees registered, and our big focus this year is making sure we’re focused on creating the most thoughtful and engaging learning opportunity for all developers. 

Q: Where do you see Cisco’s biggest opportunity with cloud? 

A: What I see as unique about Cisco is that we can support a true hybrid cloud–meaning that it spans across on-premises, in a data center or hybrid cloud and having a virtual service mesh to enable developers to deploy things and that can span a private cloud, GCP, Azure or AWS. We can make the developers’ lives easier in that the hybrid cloud environment is managed seamlessly. We have done work with TerraForm and HashiCorp to make sure Intersight and HashiCorp can interoperate for seamless deployments and leading to seamless infrastructure as code. 

Having the ability to securely deploy an application without having to worry about where the infrastructure is should always be seamless for a developer. I think this is a problem we can uniquely solve as security and networking are in our DNA at Cisco.

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As this focus on software and applications continues to drive the innovation priorities of Cisco, it’s Cisco’s Developer Relations organization that can drive the imagination–the creation of possibilities–from networking engineers adopting automation to developers engaging with Cisco in new ways. As a sign of things to come, Francisco’s words are as much an inspiration as they are an invitation to keep an eye on Cisco. 

Those who want to learn more about DevNet should check out the developer site or register for the virtual event, DevNet Create 2021


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