RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK — Ed Paradise, one of the very first employees Cisco hired for its North Carolina operations 10 years ago, is now the top executive for its sprawling RTP campus.

“It certainly was a very exciting time, and it continues to be, right?” Paradise says. “When you look back, it seems like yesterday.

“I met with some of the old hands Tuesday, and we were talking about all the changes over the past 10 years. We started out attaching a Cisco router to an IBM mainframe (as a test), and grew that business to the point that IBM resells our network gear today.”

Cisco announced Wednesday that Paradise is taking over as its RTP Site Executive, replacing Ed Carney, who has held the job the past three years. Carney remains director of Cisco’s testing operation and also is taking on some additional duties that could mean growth for the RTP operation down the road.

Paradise will run the leadership team of some 25 to 30 directors, vice presidents and senior managers.

The next wave?

He certainly is no stranger in RTP, having been part of the organization that grew from seven developers and engineers plus a sales and call center group of 50 or so that started in rented office space Raleigh. Cisco now employs some 2,500 people at its own campus.

And Paradise has a key role beyond the Site Executive task. He’s vice president and general manager of the mobile wireless group — a crucial part of Cisco’s ever-broadening play in the wireless data and voice space.

“Just think, everything we could do on the laptops we used then I can do now on my PDA, and what we do on a laptop today can be connected anywhere,” Paradise tells Local Tech Wire. “That’s just amazing.”

But Paradise believes more excitement is coming. The “next wave” is wireless data — high-speed and available just about everywhere.

“We’re going to take the next leap here shortly. We’ll have the freedom to be anywhere and work. That’s a pretty amazing thing.”

Paradise’s group is involved in helping wireless providers transform into IP-based packet-based networks (IP RAN, or radio access networks). IP RAN helps carriers pack more traffic into high-speed land lines linking their cell towers, thus helping them offer more services, add more customers to existing customers, and reduce costs.

That’s a trifecta for success, he believes, especially with so many companies slashing capital expenditures and searching for cost savings.

“We’ve rolled out to one of the US operators,” Paradise says, “and we’re in talks with another major operator.”

Time at home, in the community

So why take the Site Executive’s role as well?

“Its going to be an opportunity to really unite the site and take the site through some challenging times now as we re-prioritize and move resources to the right areas,” Paradise explains.

Like virtually ever other tech firm, Cisco has gone through downsizing. But at the same time the firm has maintained a strong emphasis on research-and-development. Among its primary targets is wireless services, from WiFi to broadband, and the RTP operation is crucial to those efforts.

“I also will get to be a little bit more involved in community,” Paradise adds. The Site Executive is responsible for many of Cisco’s community outreach efforts.

But Paradise also is hopeful he’ll spend less time traveling and more time at home in Chapel Hill with his wife, Barbara.

“I’ve been here 10 years, but the joke is my family is here,” he says. “I’m either with Cisco or with customers.”

Paradise was involved in a variety of projects at IBM when he ran into “some company called Cisco” back before IP and the Internet became all the rage. The excitement the engineer (BS from Hartford, MS from Syracuse University) saw at Cisco led him to jump ship. Cisco entrusted him at the time with its first development office outside of RTP.

But following in the gregarious Carney’s footsteps as an executive won’t be easy, he admits with a laugh. Carney, a former US Army Ranger known for his funny stories and antics such as dressing up in costumes for charity events, is quite an act to follow.

“That’s going to be tough, right?” Paradise says. “I’m just the boring engineer.”

Rick Smith is managing editor of Local Tech Wire.