Guatemala Tech Voyager: Connecting to People is a High-Value Attribute, Even in IT

Long-time IT professional Karl Rottmann has found success in his career by working more closely with the people around him and developing their strengths.

Hailing from Guatemala, long-time IT professional Karl Rottmann exudes passion and exuberance for his work, his personal life, and the people around him.

Karl is one of those rare souls that possesses the right mix of high energy and dedication that have rewarded him with success. From working 10 or 11 hours a day, to delivering on 4 or 5 different things at the same time, Karl has become a master juggler throughout his career, allowing him to rapidly climb the ladder across multiple companies and locales.

“People think that working on so many things at once can lower the quality of your deliverables,” he said in an interview with Nearshore Americas, “but I’ve found that spending the right amount of time on a specific task and then delegating things appropriately to the right team has worked well for me.”

An Early Passion for Computing

Karl graduated from Collegio Valle Verde high school in Guatemala City, where he got an opportunity to take a programming lesson on a Sinclair computer – a small personal computer with about 16 kb of memory that could be attached to a TV. This was in 1982, when not many people had much knowledge of computers.

“When I tried it I was immediately hooked – I know that this is what I like, this is what I love,” he said. “After a little research, I found there were three colleges in Guatemala offering computer science-type degrees. At that point, I did a lot of self-learning programming on basic language, using it in maths, chemistry, and physics classes. In fact, people thought I was cheating because I was automating things that usually required calculators or manual formulas.”

After high school, Karl’s dad insisted he go straight to college and work for him on the side. “He hired someone to build software for his insurance agency and I was basically entering home and auto policy data,” he recalled. “I loved it. It was an immediate connection and I was super passionate about it.”

The Birth of an Entrepreneur

During his first year in college, Karl felt he was learning enough to be able to re-write his dad’s software, so he convinced him to buy a new computer and let him get to work.

“He thought I wouldn’t be able to, but in a short period of time, I re-wrote the program using dBase III, one of the most popular database programming languages back then,” he said. “I then convinced him we needed to do the data entry again on the new system, because the concept of data migration didn’t exist back then, so I spent three months doing data entry day and night.”

Continuing this dedicated spirit, Karl developed his own commercial software application, which kick-started his entrepreneurial mindset. “I spoke to a number of insurance agencies that showed an interest in me doing the same thing I had done for my dad,” he said. “I then convinced them to buy a few PCs and commercialized the product and sold it to around 35-40 customers. It was a very interesting journey, because I was young and naive, but I am thankful because I was forced to start my own company at such a young age.”

Away from Home

Toward the end of Karl’s career in Guatemala, he began doing business with a company in San Francisco that was automating the process of application development. This was during the boom of internet companies who were all trying to be first in the delivery of commercial, web-based applications.

“I was earning $10,000 for six-month projects, but this company was offering $10,000 per week for consulting, which was like “wow”,” he said. “From an economic perspective, it was much more appealing, so I decided to create a company in the U.S., then got an L1 visa and worked with this company in San Francisco for two and a half years.”

Following that, Karl was invited to work with Fidelity National Financial, a Fortune 500 company in Jacksonville, Florida. At this point, he was under pressure from his wife to abandon the idea of consulting and instead create a more stable life somewhere.

“She traveled back and forth between Guatemala and California for a year,” he remembered. “She was tired because I was focused on making money in the U.S., while she and my son were living in Guatemala, creating a difficult situation. It was stressful as we couldn’t decide where to settle, but she soon decided to come and live with me on the hotel circuit, as I had to be wherever they needed me.”

Around 2002, Karl got a better offer, sold his company and became a full-time employee for Fidelity. The company transferred his L1 visa into an H-1B visa and he stayed with the firm for almost ten years, working in a wide range of architecture roles.

Passion, Drive, and Commitment

Karl recalled that Fidelity were building a platform to integrate multiple title insurance brands, spending $100 million with IBM to do so, but the solution would not scale for concurrent users. “This was the challenge I faced when I joined,” he said. “The project was about to be cancelled and no-one could see the light at the end of the tunnel; the functionality was there but the performance was not.”

Karl was given 6 months and 52 consultants to take the system from 4 concurrent users to 700 concurrent users, so he utilized what he had access to and managed to reduce the necessary consultants to only 4, saving the firm a lot of money and rescuing the project from shutdown.

“We had employed a significant number of people that were dependent on the success of this project to keep their jobs,” he said. “So this was my biggest accomplishment with Fidelity.”

Raymond Kiang, Delivery Manager at NTT Data

One of the team that worked with Karl on this next-generation system project was Raymond Kiang, who was the release manager at the time, but is now a delivery manager at NTT Data.

“One time, I worked with Karl and his team of architects until 3 in the morning,” said Raymond. “He has a passion for his work and cares about the people he works with, even outside his core team. This trait has definitely attributed to his success.”

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According to Raymond, Karl built a close relationship with people who directly report to him. They had regular family gatherings that built a closer bond between team members. “People trust Karl enough to follow him, making him very successful in spreading his personal charm,” he continued.

Career Changes

Toward the end of Karl’s employment at Fidelity in 2009, he spent a year at Thomson Reuters before being offered another position at Broadcom, where he stayed for four years.

“It was one of the best decisions I’d made in my life,” he recalled. “Broadcom was an up and coming company that was in the planning phase of a $200 million SAP implementation with Deloitte, so I became an active leader in that process. Outside of that, I was also participating in an IT transformation project and application development, so it was like having two jobs.”

After four years, the Broadcom acquisition was announced, so Karl spent the remainder of his time there refining the SAP implementation, but when Avago took over, it let go 97% of the IT staff, including Karl.

At this point, Karl had the opportunity to join Cylance as Senior Director of IT where he’s been there for the last four months.

“I feel extremely lucky because every time I’ve made a change in my career I’ve been able to make a difference, learn new skills, meet new people, and be able to carry everything I’ve learned from 1989 to 2017,” he said. “It’s been a very interesting journey.”

Leadership Tactics

“I started my career in a third-world country where talent didn’t exist,” said Karl. “You had to actually go and build people. I developed a keen eye for people with high potential and passion, and the ability to take them from nothing into highly qualified IT professionals. In the United States, people tend to hire people with the required skillset, either on-site or offshore. In my career, I’ve learnt that the best leadership qualities are being able to connect with people, build a relationship with them, and help them develop their careers. You have to figure out what that person wants and how best to motivate them, and then empower them to deliver great things. This has been the key to my career.”

Karl became a US citizen in 2013, but has a devotion to the country. “This is the country that is feeding me, and I need to do anything it takes to help the people who are born and raised here,” he said. “The trick is to figure out a technique to build people from the ground up and watch them become successful.

A Rich Personal Life

Outside of work, Karl holds strongly the core values of caring for the people around him. “Family comes first; companies have a way to protect themselves, employees do not,” he said.

Karl is also an avid photographer. “It takes me away from all the craziness in the world,” he said. “There are no rules with photography. I go wherever I want, photograph whatever want, and do whatever post-production I want. It takes you away from the structure you are tied to in the enterprise.”

This passion has forced Karl to take his camera with him everywhere, wherever his career takes him, allowing him to capture some stunning vistas and scenes around the world, from the Caribbean and Mexico, to India and Singapore, where a lot of the Broadcom application development operations were based. “Every time I have the chance to return to a place and witness it beauty I always take the chance to take some photos,” he said.

He also hits the gym for at least four hours a week, mainly strength training and cardio as a means for meditation, allowing him to decompress when the day is over.

Karl now lives in Orange Country, California with his wife and son, where he is helping cybersecurity firm Cylance improve areas such as IT helpdesk, infrastructure engineering, collaboration and productivity, QA, and cloud applications, among many other things.

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