John Apostolopoulos grew up fascinated with space, technology and science. The first movie he ever saw in a theater was Star Wars, and from that moment on he’s been hooked with all things sci-fi. Given his love of space, it’s fitting that on his way to becoming Cisco’s Chief Technology Officer for Enterprise Networking and heading up an innovation lab, he worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory early in his career. “I worked on deep space optical communication to communicate to spacecraft that may be 100s of millions or billions of miles from Earth,” Apostolopoulos explained. He also worked on digital television, and helped create the US Digital TV Standard which received the 1997 Engineering Emmy Award.
One of his favorite topics is multimedia communication over wired and wireless packet networks, which he has worked on since the late 90’s, and for which he’s received several awards.
Today he is especially excited about advances in Intent Based Networking, wireless, and applying algorithmic advances, such as machine learning, to improve networking and application performance.
Apostolopoulos’ sense of awe and wonder has never ceased, and he uses those traits to his advantage as technology continues to evolve. “I’m fortunate to get to work on multiple problems at the same time, so even if I’m frustrated on one problem, I’m making progress on another one, which gets me really energized to go back and work on the others,” Apostolopoulos says.
As CTO of Enterprise Networking, Apostolopoulos gets to use his technology expertise to think big. He played an integral role in what’s now known as intent-based networking. And while he acknowledges the importance of his job and his contributions, he’s quick to point out that none of the successes at Cisco would have been possible without a team effort. “Originally, there were about 20 of us. As we made progress it grew. Today, there are literally thousands of people across engineering, product management, and throughout Cisco who work together to make these big Cisco successes,” Apostolopoulos said. “Working with really talented people on important problems gets me really excited, and I think it also gets the entire team excited.”
Apostolopoulos’ enthusiasm for innovation and being a part of cutting-edge technology goes beyond Cisco. For years, he’s mentored graduate students at several universities and he also used to teach graduate courses at Stanford. As a son of a teacher, you could say it’s in his blood, but true to his character, Apostolopoulos deflects attention from himself and credits his students for teaching him. “I learn a lot when I help guide them to solve challenging problems,” Apostolopoulos explained. “When you teach a course and you’re able to figure out how to describe a difficult topic in a simple-to-understand manner for a broad audience, you learn from that experience. The students gain, and I gain too. I find the whole effort really rewarding.”
The same holds true with his 3 ½ year old daughter, Mia Athena. He may be teaching her how to ride a bike or how to play soccer, but she keeps him on his toes with her constant questions. She’s just beginning to learn what her dad does. Apostolopoulos’ wife Susie Wee also works at Cisco as SVP of Cisco DevNet, which makes their daughter a true Cisco kid. “She learned about Kubernetes and she could say ‘Kubernetes’ when she was very tiny,” Apostolopoulos recalled with a laugh. For those who don’t know, Kubernetes is an open-source platform for managing containerized workloads and services. Which makes it perfectly reasonable for their daughter to be learning about coding applications as a preschooler.