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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

A Tech Leader Left Home at 17 to Build a Career in the U.S. This Is His Success Story.

a director of field engineering at CrowdStrike
Cristian Rodriguez, a director of field engineering at CrowdStrike.
| Courtesy of CrowdStrike

At the age of 17, Cristian Rodriguez did something most teenagers wouldn’t have the courage to do: He moved out of his parents’ house on the island of St. Maarten to pursue a better education and work prospects in the United States.

“I felt the opportunities for my growth in terms of school and career were limited on the island,” says Rodriguez, who was born in New Jersey but had spent his entire childhood on St. Maarten. “It was very daunting, but also exciting to embrace the grandness of the U.S.”

He initially moved in with a family member in Florida, but when that didn’t work out, Rodriguez found himself living out of his car while finishing high school. After graduating, he landed a job as a bookkeeper at a travel agency. And then 9/11 happened.

“Travel was basically reduced to nothing, so they closed their doors, and I needed to figure out what was next,” he says.

Rodriguez had always been interested in computers, so after graduating from high school, he completed a few technical certifications while working as a customer service representative at a financial company. One day, Rodriguez overheard some leaders at the firm talking about a challenge migrating data from a smaller company they had just acquired.

“I had an idea for a script that could help migrate the databases and I asked the director if I could try it,” he says. “I did it in a day, and when it worked they asked me to run it again because they couldn’t believe I did it so quickly.”

This was the start of a long and successful career in tech. Today Rodriguez is a director of field engineering at the cybersecurity company CrowdStrike.

Here, he shares how solving the data problem at the finance company changed the course of his career, why now is an exciting time to work at CrowdStrike, and the unexpected thing that’s made him a better leader.

How did solving the data migration problem for a financial company lead to you working in cybersecurity?

After the success of the script I wrote, the director asked me to join the IT team in a help desk role. From there I got additional technical certifications and was offered a position as the network operations manager.

As that company grew, we hired a cybersecurity expert and I had zero idea why we needed someone to configure firewalls and things of that nature. He sent me down this path, which ultimately led me to work for a reseller that was focused on cybersecurity. That was my first step into the role of a sales engineer.

What led to your job at CrowdStrike, and what has your career looked like since joining?

The intelligence narrative around CrowdStrike captivated me. They were actually solving a problem that is really exciting and much more complex than some of the things I’d seen in the past.

I started out as a sales engineer and a year later was asked to become a solution architect and create our first training program to get our partners certified in CrowdStrike. From there, I was offered the chance to be a sales rep. However, I really missed the technical side of things so I went back to engineering and had the opportunity to build out a sales engineering team on the East Coast focused on healthcare accounts. We helped solve complex issues that were specific to patients and hospitals that were getting attacked.

What do you like most about the work you do?

I enjoy learning about problems and then getting to be as creative as I need to in order to solve them. CrowdStrike has allowed me to be very creative with a lot of my approaches. When someone says, ‘This might be a tough one’, I’m like, ‘Bring it. Let’s do this.’

How did your managers at CrowdStrike support you as you moved up and around at the company?

In my eight years, I’ve had multiple roles and my career progression is very much a representation of the company’s overall growth.The support system here has been very open. My managers have always simply asked me, ‘Is this something you feel like you could take on? And if so, let us know what type of resources you need to accomplish it.’

You lead a big team now. What is your leadership style? In what ways do you set your direct reports up for success?

Our organization is focused on interacting with the customer and ultimately creating a narrative of how our platform and technology can help them. But in order to captivate your audience, you have to be inspirational. I like to lead my team by showing them how I would tackle certain tasks.

I also want my team to be creative and have the same type of freedom I was granted when I started here. I’ve given my team the green light to solve problems instead of waiting for me, and I encourage them to be creative. I love it when I get to understand something new or learn a different perspective from someone who reports to me because it makes me better, too.

What is something you’re especially proud of achieving at CrowdStrike?

One of my prouder moments is building out the public sector team for the eastern region. I was given a short time to hire six engineers. And that team is a group of rock stars now. Their careers have flourished here and it is one of the top performing teams in the entire organization.

Why is now an exciting time to join CrowdStrike?

One of the reasons I love working here is we are all about innovation. We’ve established this amazing platform and customer base with a series of products that have been game changing to the industry. We’ve pioneered the concept of cloud endpoint detection and response (EDR). When I first started at the company, I met with prospects that would say this is never going to work. Some of those people work here now.

And I think we’re just scratching the surface. For anyone who’s questioning what's next in terms of a career move, we are bursting with innovation. There are so many different areas beyond cybersecurity that we’re getting into. We had some amazing acquisitions over the past two years that are going to help us expand into new areas. Each of those areas has its own opportunities for career and development and growth.

Let’s talk about you as a working parent. How does having three teenagers make you a better leader at work?

Having three teenagers made me realize that I’m going to be dealing with a lot of different personalities in the workplace. Adding a bit more of a human element to the way that I engage with my employees has been a direct result of engaging with my kids.

We're all human and have family and personal things that can affect us professionally. Having three kids and knowing sometimes I need to step away from work has helped me empathize with my employees.