Ruminations on how I became the Tech Guy in my personal and professional life
I love that we live in an era where we can communicate almost instantaneously with friends, relatives, and colleagues. I am thankful that God graced me a career field where I can work remotely and is in high demand and seems like it will always be so. Of course, no one gets where they are alone, although I did work my rear off to get where I am. I would be remiss if I did not first pay homage to the support of my two amazing parents who were both successful IT professionals in their own right. My Dad of course who worked for IBM and now can barely work a smartphone and my Mom who worked Information Assurance at the hightest levels of our government, but has a hard time getting her iTunes library backed up or her data synced to her new iPhone. My parents always encouraged me to aim high and ensure my schoolwork was before any extracurricular activities like sports, clubs, or the opposite sex.
My journey to become an IT professional did not really take shape until I got accepted to the United States Naval Academy (Canoe U, or the Boat School as some call it) and I was forced to choose a major. I really wanted to get in to the Networking track of Computer Science, but there was limited space available and I was sort of forced into programming and databases. Not that it was a bad thing, because I still had to take all the core courses like computer architecture, data structures, computer algorithms, and the major agnostic courses like Naval Architecture and Thermodynamics. Somehow, I was able to keep my head above water to graduate with a 2.97 GPA and earn my commission as an Ensign in the United States Navy. My first duty station was Coastal Systems Station in Panama City Beach, Florida (or Naval Support Activity Panama City as it is known today). Little did I know that I would eventually come back here as an IT gun for hire of sorts thanks to the opportunities affording me by serving in the military.
Information Technology is an unforgiving, ever-evolving field that at times can make you experience tremendous pride, heartache, anxiety, and that there are never enough hours in the day especially when you are a Cybersecurity professional and expected to be somewhat of an expert in almost every aspect of computers. In the early days of computing, life was much easier because most of us were using dialup modems at 14400 or 28800 baud if we were lucky. Back in the good old days of Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) and American Online (You’ve Got Mail), security threats were much slower as was the hardware. My first computer was a monochrome 286 that could barely play jeopardy, pong, and do word processing. Fast forward to today where we are carrying around computers in our pockets that are more powerful than the computers used to send men into space in the 1960s. In many ways technology and computing devices have become disposable and many of us go through a cycle where we upgrade to a new device every year. More and more of our day to day activities are done on smartphones and tablets rather than traditional computers and we are all too inclined to share the details of our day to our various social media outlets (myself included).
Someone once said, with great power comes great responsibility. Well not to be too cliche, but that is true. I have worked in places where my bosses could barely turn on a computer, let alone successfully operate and conduct business on one. This is not their fault for the most part and this does not mean that they can't be great leaders just because they don't understand the technical details of a particular device, system, or software. Much like I am ignorant in what the cool kids do these days on social media, the previous generations that did not grow up in the digital age are in many ways still learning how to navigate this jungle of seemingly endless digital technology and our increasingly connected society. The Internet of Things is here and is not slowing down anytime soon. I continuously stress that technology should be seen in a positive light, but it seems like every day there are more horror stories about bad guys stealing identities, bank accounts, and other personal information in order to achieve their own financial gains or other objectives. You can buy just about anything on the Darknet for the right price these days.
That is why I’ve shifted my focus to more offensive security than traditional network security because despite all our advances in technology and knowledge, the bad guys, nation state actors, lone hackers, are still able to disrupt and destroy people’s livelihood using tools that are freely available both online and on the dark web. If the traditional bad guys (mafia, nation state, cyberterrorists) weren’t enough, we now have the ability to share exploits with young kids (script kiddies) that may or may not have a strong moral compass and understand that their actions have consequences.
Security is ever evolving and it seems like security professionals are always a step behind the bad guys. This is why it is important that we recruit new blood in the tech industry and also always look at not just how someone looks on paper, but also how they interact with people, situations, and the content of their character. Then once you have good people in your organization continue to challenge them with new responsibilities as well as training opportunities to earn new certifications in areas in which they might not normally be exposed.