Cisco Systems

Read the Q&A with Pete Davis

Pete Davis
Cisco Product Manager

Customer Focus, Respect for Others-Standards for a Young Engineer
It's safe to say Pete Davis was a child of networking technology long before the phrase "dot-com" became as ordinary as an area code. At eight years old, when most kids in his neighborhood were riding bikes, playing baseball, and skateboarding, Pete Davis was already managing a dial-up bulletin board system - many years before people used the Internet for anything other than official government business and connecting universities. Four years later, he was a self-taught system administrator, running a server of an Internet chat system for thousands of users.

At 13, while other kids preoccupied themselves with middle-school social status, Davis began an internship at WZLX, a Massachusetts radio station. He would later assist in the deployment of the station's Web site - marking the radio broadcast industry's first Internet presence. He eventually joined the staff at a small New England ISP, TIAC (The Internet Access Company) where he rapidly provided answers to customer questions while he was responsible for keeping the systems and network functioning 24x7. His extra time in the office was spent planning upgrades and evaluating new products for future offerings (including SOHO routers and eventually, early broadband technology). He quickly worked his way up to his position of senior systems and network engineer. All by the time he was 16.

Standing in Customers' Shoes
Davis, now 23, remains passionate about the technology that fueled his childhood, but he is admittedly more driven by customer satisfaction when developing networking products. As a product manager for the Cisco Remote Access VPN solutions team (VPN and Security Services Business Unit - VSEC), he has already developed the industry's first true virtual private network (VPN) client appliance, a device that makes it easy and affordable for remote and branch office users to connect securely over the Internet. Davis credits the talent of the Cisco engineering team for the quality of the product.

"I said to myself, 'Put yourself in the shoes of the customer. What is wrong in the VPN industry that makes it so impossible to configure them and maintain and deploy them?' " "There was no product in the industry that made that [type of access] simple."

The Cisco VPN 3002 Hardware Client, which fits on a desktop PC, combines the best features of software clients - including scalability and ease of use - with the stability and independence of hardware platforms. The result is a truly cost-effective product that is ideal for franchises, chain stores, and other organizations where thousands of remote end users might want to securely access the corporate network from large numbers of geographically dispersed sites. It's ideal for connecting remote systems or users while limiting the burden on an IT department.

An Innovative Spirit
Customer successes are a driving force behind Davis' innovative spirit. "An innovator is someone who can really understand that it's OK to go talk to customers and jot down notes, but you also really need to listen to what they're not telling you," Davis said. "You sometimes have to think beyond what they're telling you, because a customer may not be ready to put in words what he/she really wants. You have to put yourself in their shoes and think, 'What would I need to be more productive? How would I be amazed by a product?' "

Davis attributes this focus on customer satisfaction and respect for people he meets in life to many experiences, but specifically to his experience while working at TIAC. At 15, frustrated with the service he received from the local ISP, he phoned the CEO and said, "Hi, I've never had a job in my life, but I feel like I know enough to make your company better," he said. "They eventually gave me the passwords, and I fixed many problems without getting paid. Within six months, I was a paid employee. Even though I wasn't making any money in the beginning, I answered customer e-mail all day and night, provided technical support, and learned a lot. We ended up growing the company from three employees and 60 customers to 250 employees and 65,000 customers. We were New England's largest ISP for about two and a half years. I was ultimately responsible for the network and routers, the UNIX machines that ran the servers, training [of the Engineering staff], and was the escalation resource for the team that we built."

But the job wasn't without intense frustration. Because Davis was so young, he was sometimes the recipient of expletives, insults and even a flying chair from an executive and admits that it took him some time to learn how to deal with such an environment.

"That job was an awesome learning experience. I learned how not to treat people in life," Davis said. "Starting off at my first real job-- at such a young age -- was very difficult, and I found that I was treated like a second-class citizen. I thought I did my best to act responsibly and in a professional, adult way, yet I was treated like a two-year-old. Since then, I've really grown as a person from all my different experiences. If I hadn't done my time, paid my dues, I'd be nowhere today. I have endless patience and respect for people I meet in life because of this experience and hold no grudges."