Saturday, 16 May 2020

A Mindset Shift for Digitizing Software Development and Delivery

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At Cisco, my teams—which are part of the Intent-Based Networking Group—focus on the core network layers that are used by enterprise, data center, and service provider network engineering. We develop tools and processes that digitize and automate the Cisco Software Development Lifecycle (CSDL). We have been travelling the digitization journey for over two years now and are seeing significant benefits. This post will explain why we are working diligently and creatively to digitize software development across the spectrum of Cisco solutions, some of our innovations, and where we are headed next.

Why Cisco Customers Should Care About Digitization of Software Development and Delivery


Cisco customers should consider what digitization of software development means to them. Because many of our customers are also software developers—whether they are creating applications to sell or for internal digital transformation projects—the same principles we are applying to Cisco development can be of use to a broader audience.

Digitization of development improves total customer experience by moving beyond just the technical aspects of development and thinking in terms of complete solutions that include accurate and timely documentation, implementation examples, and analytics that recommend which release is best for a particular organization’s network. Digitization of development:

◉ Leads to improvements in the quality, serviceability, and security of solutions in the field.

◉ Delivers predictive analytics to assist customers to understand, for example, the impact an upgrade, security patches, or new functionality will have on existing systems, with increased assurance about how the network will perform after changes are applied. 

◉ Automates the documentation of each handoff along the development lifecycle to improve traceability from concept and design to coding and testing.

These capabilities will be increasingly important as we continue to focus on developing solutions for software subscriptions, which shift the emphasis from long cycles creating feature-filled releases to shorter development cycles delivering new functionality and customer-requested innovations in accelerated timeframes.

Software Developers Thrive with Digital Development Workflows


For professionals who build software solutions, the digitization of software development focuses on improving productivity, consistency, and efficiency. It democratizes team-based development—that is, everyone is a developer: solution architects, designers, coders, and testers. Teams are configured to bring the appropriate expertise to every stage of solution development. Test developers, for example, should not only develop test plans and specific tests, but also provide functional specifications and code reviews, build test automation frameworks, and represent customer views for validating solutions at every stage of development. Case in point, when customer-specific uses cases are incorporated early into the architecture and design phases, then the functionality of the intended features are built into test suites as code is being written.

A primary focus of digitization of development is creating new toolsets for measuring progress and eliminating friction points. Our home-grown Qualex (Quality Index) platform provides an automated method of measuring and interpreting quality metrics for digitized processes. The goal is to eliminate human bias by using data-driven techniques and self-learning mechanisms. In the past 2 years, Qualex has standardized most of our internal development practices and is saving the engineering organization a considerable amount of time and expense for software management.

­Labs as a Service (LaaS) is another example of applying digitization to transform the development cycle that also helps to efficiently manage CAPEX. Within Cisco, LaaS is a ready-to-use environment for sharing networking hardware, spinning up virtual routers, and providing on-demand testbed provisioning. Developers can quickly and cost effectively design and setup hardware and software environments to simulate various customer use cases, including public and private cloud implementations.

Digitization Reduces Development Workflow Frictions

A major goal of the digitization of software development is to reduce the friction points during solution development. We are accomplishing this by applying AI and machine learning against extensive data lakes of code, documentation, customer requests, bug reports, and previous test cycle results. The resulting contextual analytics will be available via a dashboard at every stage of the development process, reducing the friction of multi-phase development processes. This will make it possible for every developer to have a scorecard that tracks technical debt, security holes, serviceability, and quality. The real-time feedback increases performance and augments skillsets, leading to greater developer satisfaction. 

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Workflow friction points inhibit both creativity and productivity. Using analytics to pinpoint aberrations in code as it is being developed reduces the back and forth cycles of pinpointing flaws and reproducing them for remediation. Imagine a developer writing new code for a solution which includes historical code. The developer is not initially familiar with the process or the tests that the inherited code went through. With contextual analytics presenting relevant historical data, the developer can quickly come up to speed and avoid previous mistakes in the coding process. We call this defect foreshadowing. The result is cleaner code produced in less time, reduced testing cycles, and better integration of new features with existing code base.

Digitizing Development Influences Training and Hiring

Enabling a solution view of a project—rather than narrow silos of tasks—also expands creativity and enhances opportunities to learn and upskill, opening career paths. The cross-pollination of expertise makes everyone involved in solution development more knowledgeable and more responsive to changes in customer requirements. In turn everyone gains a more satisfying work experience and a chance to expand their career.

◉ Training becomes continuous learning by breaking down the silos of the development lifecycle so that individuals can work across phases and be exposed to all aspects of the development process.

◉ Automating tracking and analysis of development progress and mistakes enables teams to pinpoint areas in which people need retraining or upskilling.

◉ Enhancing the ability to hire the right talent gets a boost from digitization as data is continuously gathered and analyzed to pinpoint the skillsets that contribute the most to the successful completion of projects, thus refining the focus on the search for talent.

Join Our Journey to Transform Software Development


At Cisco we have the responsibility of carrying the massive technical debt created since the Internet was born while continuously adding new functionality for distributed data centers, multi-cloud connectivity, software-defined WANs, ubiquitous wireless connectivity, and security. To manage this workload, we are fundamentally changing how Cisco builds and tests software to develop products at web-scale speeds. These tools, which shape our work as we shape them, provide the ability to make newly-trained and veteran engineers capable of consistently producing extraordinary results.

Cisco is transforming the solution conception to development to consumption journey. We have made significant progress, but there is still much to accomplish. We invite you to join us on this exciting transformation. As a Cisco Network Engineer, you have the opportunity to create innovative solutions using transformative toolsets that make work exciting and rewarding as you help build the future of the internet. As a Cisco DevX Engineer, you can choose to focus on enhancing the evolving toolset with development analytics and hyper-efficient workflows that enable your co-developers to do their very best work. Whichever path you choose, you’ll be an integral member of an exclusive team dedicated to customer success.

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