Welcome to the latest post in our “Spotlight On” series where Accel Talent Partner, Peter Clarke, interviews different business leaders on what constitutes a great team—as well as tips on how to build, grow and effectively manage one. For this installment we turn to Amol Kulkarni, Chief Product Officer for CrowdStrike, leading their Product and Engineering organization and responsible for the definition and delivery of the product and platform roadmap for the cybersecurity giant.
One interesting aspect of Amol’s story is that prior to joining CrowdStrike, he had minimal cybersecurity experience. As such, the company’s decision to hire him as SVP of Engineering and Products seemed an unlikely one. But time has proven the choice to be a good one for both parties. Now five years into his tenure at CrowdStrike, Amol has helped position the company as the market leader, while also elevating the profile of the cybersecurity industry.
In this interview, we sit down with Amol to learn about the advantages of working in the cybersecurity industry and why other technologists and engineers may wish to consider this growing field. We will also discuss what factored into Amol’s decision to change direction and what advice he can give to those looking to do the same.
Peter: When you first joined CrowdStrike, it was a small, unproven startup. Can you share more about what attracted you to this role?
Amol: Prior to joining CrowdStrike, I spent more than a decade at Microsoft in a variety of roles. I had a few years of experience in cybersecurity earlier in my career but I identified as a platform and product person. That's what I had been doing at Microsoft all those years: working on various products and, as is usually the case with large companies, building platforms at the same time.
That's what I liked very much about CrowdStrike. When I talked with the team during the interview process, what struck me was that unlike most startups, CrowdStrike had a vision for a platform architecture from day one. At the same time, it had a very strong product focus. They had a long-term vision but were also focused on solving immediate problems.
So rather than building a platform for platform's sake, CrowdStrike was doing it right—building the platform for the long run, but still shipping products very rapidly and regularly with a relentless customer focus. To me, that was a very attractive combination and honestly, one rarely seen in startups.
Peter: Was there any part of this transition that concerned you—either about the company or the work itself?
Amol: I was making a change from a large, very established company to a company which, when I joined, had just finished a Series B funding round. So that was a big shift. But honestly, I didn't have any concerns with whether or not CrowdStrike would be successful. I saw enough in terms of the company’s confidence in the technology and the market opportunity, as well as the fact that competitors didn’t seem to be building a future-proof platform that would continue to effectively stop breaches as the landscape evolved. That made me very confident about the overall success of CrowdStrike.
In terms of the transition itself, I was taking a different role where I was going to be more involved across the business. For example, at Microsoft, I worked on shipping embedded products, as well as server products and cloud. But those were all different instances in different teams.
What’s unique about CrowdStrike is that we ship a sensor, which goes on the customer endpoint. So that's an on-premise component of the product. In addition, we ship the actual product as a SaaS product with a large-scale cloud service. Then we have a user interface and an adversary-focused detections component. So, if you think about it, there are four different kinds of components that operate at their own cadence. That, to me, was very unique. I was excited for that kind of challenge coming in and it has continued to big, complex problems to solve and that’s what keeps it interesting.
Peter: What would you say to an engineer who is considering a role in the cybersecurity industry? Why should they be excited?
Amol: As an engineer, where you work really depends on the kind of problems you want to solve and what you are passionate about. The unique thing about cybersecurity more broadly, is that our work cuts across a lot of different areas, which means there are a lot of opportunities to do what interests you. Whether you want to work on data science and machine learning, or work deep within the kernel on event-based architecture and understanding activity happening on the endpoint… of if you are a cloud engineer and want to work on a large-scale cloud service… or if you are a UX designer and want to design workflows that would simplify the security operations center—the cybersecurity industry does it all. Our people are exposed to so many different things, whether it's visualization in the user interface or building a graph database that processes two trillion events per week or using machine learning to do predictive understanding or predictive identification of malicious attacks. I mean I can go on and on.
In this installment we looked at what makes cybersecurity so appealing. Next up, we’ll explore how the industry delivers on this wide range of challenges and opportunities.