“The pretty Cubans play baseball,” Andres Andreu explains. “I’m not pretty, so, I grew up boxing, doing judo, and I’m not a big guy. Where I grew up, you needed that.”
Growing up in New York, every day was a battle for the senior vice president and chief information security officer of 2U. If he wanted to protect himself against neighborhood enemies and return home alive, he had to take matters into his own hands and feet. Nothing was promised. Everything was earned. And the best way to embrace this ethos was to enroll in judo classes.
“In judo, you learn very quickly that nothing comes free,” Andreu says. “Because it’s remarkably hard to win a match. And yet, it just gets ingrained into your personality, so you just become a fighter.”
Who can blame Andreu? When you grow up in a Cuban family and escape from communism, it’s in your blood to fight for your freedom. No matter how much it hurt to leave home, Andreu and his family refused to tap out. They had to find bravery and pursue El Sueño Americano, even if that meant learning a new language and surviving New York’s chaos.
Eventually, Andreu fended off his foes on his terms. Not only did he begin trusting his judo instincts to keep him safe, but he also embraced being bilingual and developed razor-sharp street smarts. And, sure enough, he received an offer to join a federal law enforcement agency in 1992. But just as he started to scratch the surface of his potential, his new colleagues blindsided him.
“What I found really quickly was that speaking Spanish also limited my mobility options,” Andreu says. “Because you get pigeonholed or stigmatized into playing a specific role. All of a sudden, people around you are moving up in the world, and you can’t.”
Not even a trained martial artist could prepare for the racist blows Andreu suffered. Like other bilingual Latinos in the workplace, he watched as monolingual English speakers received promotions he deserved. Managers and directors wrote him off as a token Latino, who should just be grateful for the opportunity.
However, despite the wrath of this brujería, as Andreu describes it, the SVP discovered his love for technology in a new role, where he learned to write software for the federal government. Then, once he got a hold of hardware, the rest was history: Andreu designed and built wiretapping technology the federal government used to tap landlines, cell phones, and faxes.
“I realized that either I learn how to control the technology, or it was going to control me,” Andreu says. “It was kind of organic, and it just happened really fast. But everything I did always came back to looking at these different angles on the same problem, and it’s basically what makes you a good security practitioner.”
Without a college education or science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) background, Andreu achieved what most computer science graduates dream of. Naturally, his phone started ringing off the hook.
Andreu bid farewell to the public sector and became the IT engineering director of the Princeton Review. Then he doubled down on his cybersecurity expertise as the chief applications architect at Ogilvy, where a large subset of the work focused on application security.
Yet despite attaining partner status at one of the most storied ad agencies ever, Andreu yearned to share his knowledge with aspiring cybersecurity professionals that never attended college. In 2006, he authored Professional Pen Testing for Web Applications, a how-to guide for ethical hacking.
Since the experience of publishing his book kindled his entrepreneurial spirit, Andreu cofounded Bayshore Networks — a firewall security startup — in 2012. As chief architect and CTO, he was responsible for the product development and software engineering behind Bayshore’s flagship SingleKey internal application firewall and Bayshore SCADA Firewall.
After a successful exit from Bayshore, Andres joined 2U as the SVP and CISO in 2021. The EdTech platform expands access to online courses and degree programs. He manages the cybersecurity of 60 million students and instructors, leads a technical department of 45 staff members handling cybersecurity and customer-facing matters, and partners with other companies to integrate tech products and handle retainer incident responses.
Of course, when Andreu first arrived, the startup still had the hiccups inherent in rampant growth. The SVP needed to build structure to support the organization’s efforts to scale and close the divide between his team and nontechnical employees. It’s difficult to imagine what it would take for him to swoop in and save the day.
The answer: He turned his most overlooked skill into his greatest asset.
Andreu committed to a leadership approach, interpreting upward and downward communication based on his audience’s language. When checking in with his direct reports, he dials up the technical jargon and waxes poetic in their native dialects: layer 7 protection, threat and vulnerability management, and site reliability engineering. Meanwhile, when meeting C-Suite members, he simplifies his message and captures the big picture in a way that traces back to profits.
With the spirit of a US Latino living between the hyphens, the bare-knuckle judo brawler transformed into a diplomat. On behalf of his team, he forged stronger relationships with other departments and formed committees that equipped 2U with the foundation needed to keep its stakeholders safe.
Still, decades removed from his upbringing, Andres wakes up each morning ready to fight. Whether that’s at work against hackers or a weekend judo class, he strikes the perfect balance and never loses touch with who he is.
“I’ll revert back to judo principles, because they’re just so real world to me,” Andreu says. “Balance is the key. If you want to throw someone, you imbalance them, and it’s default. You don’t really have to throw them, they fall.”
“A lot of my peers lack balance. They’re either business centric, or they’re technical, but they’re never both. And one of the things that I’ve strived for in my life and in my career has been to be both.”