The interview is part of the ISSIP’s April Newsletter. It is a conversation between ISSIP  Editor Michele Tomic and Carlos Pignataro.

Carlos Pignataro is a CTO at Cisco Systems, and North Carolina State University Adjunct Faculty. Recently he received two awards – the 2019 IEEE Communications Society Industrial Innovation Award for his work as a pioneer and industry influencer in the fields of Internet and Telecommunications Architectures, plus his 2019 election as a Fellow to the National Academy of Inventors.

Michele Tomic – It seems that you have been enthusiastic about technology since you went to University as an undergraduate.  What started you on this life altering path and what keeps you there?

Carlos Pignataro – Etymologically, “technology” means the science and study of arts and crafts; as such, I’ve been interested in Technology since I remember – from figuring out how to make home-made pinball machines with rubber bands for me to play, to creating dioramas. I love the concrete practical application of science, and I love that it is a means to a larger end.

As I was entering college, the Internet was just starting to pick up, and so it spiked my curiosity. I saw not only something that was technologically very interesting in itself, but also could create a platform for more technology innovation on top, and as such had the potential to make a huge positive impact. In that sense, this profession allowed me to pursue a career that fulfills two of my top passions: technology and people.

MT – Congratulations on your two recent awards – the 2019 IEEE Communications Society Industrial Innovation Award for “your work as a pioneer and industry influencer in the fields of Internet and Telecommunications Architectures”, plus your 2019 election as a Fellow to the National Academy of Inventors. Since you have been recognized for many contributions, which of those will be most relevant for the future?

CP – Thanks! I feel that innovation is a collaborative effort, and these are co-inventions and co-contributions. Probably, the most relevant contributions to the industry fall into two buckets: the first is on abstracting the complexities of networking and communications infrastructure, and providing automations, to enable easier use and development of Internet applications. For example, work that includes embedded network management, service functions, internet tunneling and encapsulations. The second bucket involves novel uses of technology and business models in a Tech4Good context, as with the Sustainable Impact work at Cisco. I am very proud of the technologies and services we have built, but I am prouder of the people we mentored and positively influenced.
Looking forward, simplicity will continue to be a driving force, but I also envision significant innovations in the experience.

MT –  North Carolina State University has been lucky enough to have you as an adjunct faculty member.  How do you transition from your daily work to teaching?  What do you think of today’s students?

CP – Every interaction is bidirectional in nature, and I am the lucky one here. I give special topic lectures and sponsor students during their independent studies and senior design capstone projects. I also participate in after-lecture pizza outings!

The transition from work to teaching is very natural and gradual, since what I want students to take away is actually the nature of my daily work. But frankly, it is also one for me to grow professionally and personally by learning from students and faculty. I am always impressed not only with the comments from students, and areas of interest, but also with the creativity of their questions! Net-net, I learn more than what I give.

MT – How do you think today’s educators should change or adapt to help their clients – namely students, their parents, and ultimately society?

CP – I learn through experiences, and I believe that integral education needs to include a strong focus on providing experiential opportunities early and often. In Japanese language, a word for teacher when referring to others is 先生 (pronounced /sensei/), which literally means ‘being born (生) earlier (先)’. However, experience accumulated cannot be taught with a whiteboard, and instead it needs to be, well, experienced. That’s one reason why we like to travel in my family, to really learn through experience.

I also believe that study fields will become less vertically-integrated and more horizontally dependent. Hybrid education of, for example, biology plus data science makes for discoveries and correlations otherwise impossible. The same applies to collaboration team composition, in which full-spectrum diversity is not only a strategic differentiator but a necessity for innovation.

Lastly, the role of an educator is to flow and adapt like the water, and not be rigid. That concept is more and more important. Keep both communication channels as well as points of view very, very open, as often we learn more from students, who have passion for a subject and an innate creative force.

MT – Obviously the entire world is experiencing and having to navigate change in many aspects of their lives.  Since you work with change for a living, what thoughts or tools could you share?

CP – Much of the change we experience is beyond our control. It is neither “good” nor “bad” – those things are artificial concepts – it is inevitable. And in that context, I believe it is about re-framing the situation in a positive way so we can make the most out of it, while focusing with presence on what we can control. For a given reality, an example would be required stay-at-home orders due to CoViD-19, I can spend more quality time with my wife and kids, enjoy nature more intentionally, connect with more presence with friends via video-conference, and I can challenge myself to learn something new.

In a sentence, I see change as opportunity.

MT – As an ISSIP founder, what would you say to organizations and individuals who were considering ISSIP membership?

CP – ISSIP was founded with the intention of creating a space where people with similar goals, who are in different lines of work and coming from different backgrounds, can get together to innovate and grow professionally. This is diversity as a catalyst and maximizer of innovation and opportunity. ISSIP creates a community and environment where there is cross pollination of ideas and, for example, an engineer at a corporation can collaborate with a professor from a university in Italy, both enriching each other, and with the common goal of promoting service innovation.
MT – Lastly, please share with us something about yourself when you are not at work?

CP  As an ambivert, I love being with groups and also enjoy my time alone. I really like to spend my time doing three things: learning Japanese, swimming, and volunteering. And I love doing all of those with family and friends as well as alone. It is funny because, in a way, I found three activities, one for each of the mind, body, and soul.

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