When Cisco Systems asked Technical Marketing Manager Jameson Blandford to replicate the internal competitive-intelligence and product quality testing skills he’d been providing, the School of Information Studies (iSchool) graduate looked to his roots, and to the people and places that had gotten him to that point in his career, in order to build the team.  

Hired at Cisco in as a technical marketing engineer after graduating from the School of Information Studies with a master’s degree in Telecommunications and Network Management (TNM) in 2008, Blandford (who received his B.S. from Syracuse’s College of Engineering and Computer Science in 2006), got in touch with iSchool Associate Professor of Practice David Molta.

That was in 2012. Since then, Blandford has hired six other technical marketing engineers as testers, and four of them are iSchool alumni. Jameson said he came back to the school for talent because he knew that the coursework, training, and hands-on experiences in the iSchool’s Center for Convergence and Emerging Network Technologies (CCENT) test lab would fill the bill. Those students were sorting fact from fiction and marketing pitch from true capacity – the skills to assess Cisco’s in-planning products—just as he had done in earlier years there.

From his sophomore year of undergraduate studies through graduate school, Jameson had taken many of his testing methodologies and approaches from Professor Molta, he said, and he now needed to clone more of the “apples-to-apples, fair-minded mentality” and skills used in the CCENT lab. “It’s a great pipeline to go back to Molta and the iSchool and see who’s doing a great job and going above and beyond,” Jameson explained. “We look for people who have the skills to do job, and it happens that the Syracuse iSchool is producing the people with the skills to do the job.”

Blandford now manages a distributed group of seven employees from his base in Rochester, NY. The group includes iSchool alumni Kshitij Mahant, TNM ’12; Shivesh Ganotra, TNM ’12; Wes Purvis, TNM ’12, and Rahul Tiwari, TNM, ’15. Two members are located in Richfield, OH, where Cisco has a 12,000 square-foot test facility; two more are in San Jose; one is in India, and another works from Singapore.

The group is responsible for competitive intelligence and characterizing the performance of Cisco’s wireless networking products. They test network access points and do performance and stress testing using a live-classroom scenario that has up to 100 people connected to one access point.

As part of the Wireless Networking Division at Cisco, their work is aligned with the latest industry wireless standards, and their most recent efforts are focused on 802.11ac Wave 2 Access Points, Jameson explained. They produce wireless access points of the type that would be installed at universities and health care facilities. In fact, Syracuse University is one of the company’s largest customers, Blandford noted.

“Our team benchmarks access points against competition and what else companies can purchase in the same price range to see how they stack up, how they rank in industry, how they are doing in job performance, feature set, almost an independent review, like Consumer Reports,” he said. The information is used internally to help sales representatives sell products, and to help engineers understand where deficiencies may exist or where improvements can be made.

The objective style of testing capability Blandford has provided the company “all really came from me watching [Professor] Molta and all the other students he had influenced throughout the years, to be such good professionals, to take things objectively, to look at evidence, and not be swept by a marketing story,” he explained.

“I like to see how you can claim performance issues and then dig a little deeper,” Jameson added. “What’s nice about students coming out of Molta’s lab is that they’ve touched products, and they may have even touched Cisco’s products,” he said. “They then just need to get even better and better at what they already know.”