DANBURY, Connecticut — As a high school student in the mid-1990s, Jeff DiStasio looked at colleges with an eye toward biology/pre-med, and a future career in medicine. Since he would be paying part of his way through school, he chose to attend Western Connecticut State University, took some small student loans and sought an on-campus student job to keep his costs down. That work-study job ultimately led to a change of his major, a complete 360 in his future career and a positive return on investment.
Speaking from his home during a break from crisscrossing the country for his job as director of Cloud security sales for Google Cloud, DiStasio reminisced about his time at WCSU.
“As I was working my student job checking people in at the Westside Computer Lab, I thought, ‘I know a little about computers; I could do a lot more than this,’ DiStasio said. So, when WCSU’s IT Director at the time walked into the lab, he asked if there were any more challenging opportunities. Soon, DiStasio was assisting the university’s network manager — first as a student worker and then as a university assistant — gaining hands-on experience designing the ethernet network for a new residence hall on campus.
The knowledge and hands-on exposure to networking that he gained led DiStasio to switch his major from pre-med to MIS-Cybersecurity. “Professor of Management Information Systems Dr. Marie Wright started WCSU’s program in Information Security Management,” DiStasio said. “She pioneered it when cybersecurity had just started to come into the conversation, and brought in guest lecturers like Mike Jacobs, the deputy director of Information Systems Security for the National Security Agency.” DiStasio’s future was about to change course thanks to his new passion: cybersecurity.
Upon graduating in 2000, he got his first job at NASDAQ as a network engineer. “Those years of hands-on, real-world experience that I acquired as a student worker at WCSU were a huge springboard,” DiStasio explained. “It helped me differentiate myself.”
From NASDAQ, DiStasio did a stint in network engineering at hedge fund Andor Capital Management before going to Extreme Networks as a pre-sales engineer — coupling his technology background with a sales focus. It’s often difficult to bridge the divide between technology and business in going from pre-sales engineering to sales, DiStasio said, but it enabled him to set himself apart as someone with both skill sets, and he became a successful salesperson at Extreme Networks, even luring business away from Cisco.
This caught Cisco’s attention, and DiStasio ended up as a sales account manager with Cisco for more than 14 years, climbing the ranks while managing larger accounts, and leading larger teams and organizations.
DiStasio had moved to a leadership role at Salesforce when the opportunity with Google arose.
“Google had an early stage project, and they needed am Americas sales leader,” DiStasio explained. “The responsibility was to build out a new Google endeavor aimed at providing cloud security solutions to the enterprise market for Google Cloud.”
In the year+ since taking on his director role at Google, DiStasio has tripled the size of his team and is planning for “hypergrowth” as they provide Cloud security services for the market under the Google Cloud umbrella.
DiStasio started at Google in the middle of the pandemic. Despite that, he has spent a lot of time on the road meeting his sales team and connecting with potential customers. “Google builds such an incredible experiential place to be that employees want to go to work and not work from home,” DiStasio said. “I also learned about myself during the pandemic that I thrive on being with people and not working remotely behind a video screen.”
The personal connection to people is a large part of the memories he holds about his time at WCSU, and how those interactions contributed to the life he lives now.
“I feel like the university was a more intimate setting, where you could get to know your fellow students and professors better,” DiStasio recalled. “Many of my closest, lifelong friends I met at WCSU, either through Tau Kappa Epsilon, the Newman Center or my work at campus IT. I met my wife of 21 years, Laurie, who was a Nursing student a few years ahead of me. I stay in touch with several of my professors, and I don’t think I would have made these kinds of connections at a larger school elsewhere. At WCSU, it was easier to not get lost in the crowd and find your niche of people.”
In addition to his friendships and connections, his employment path was also greatly affected by his decision to come to WCSU.
“The biggest thing I always go back to in my career is to differentiate yourself as early as you can,” DiStasio said. “Take any opportunity you’re given and do something with it. WCSU gave me the opportunity because it was a smaller, more accessible school.”
As for DiStasio’s prior dream of a career in medicine? That has continued, too — just in a slightly different way. He and his wife currently are volunteer EMTs in their hometown.
Asked what advice he would give a current high school student considering where to pursue their higher education, DiStasio said, “College is not just an opportunity to educate yourself, it’s an opportunity to acquire experiences and differentiate yourself. Since I partially paid for my education myself, the value I got back was very important to me — and this path I took at WCSU has worked out pretty well.”
Western Connecticut State University changes lives by providing all students with a high-quality education that fosters their growth as individuals, scholars, professionals and leaders in a global society. Our vision: To be widely recognized as a premier public university with outstanding teachers and scholars who prepare students to contribute to the world in a meaningful way.