Thursday 12/08: Day 12
Today was definitely a major day for the books. We were re-united with our beloved Director, Alex Gomez and enjoyed some some comfortingly scrumptious food from Magnolia Cafe!
The morning of our first official day in Austin was spent at the IBM Corporate Campus. The opportunity was to have a conversation with Charles Henderson. Apart from being the Global Head of X-Force Red, he is also very much involved in vulnerability testing and the information security community in general. Henderson’s initial warning to us was to not ask him any advice on the local eateries, as he spent more time on airports than he did in Austin. He jokingly added that if we ever needed suggestions for the best airport food, he was the go-to man for that. This statement itself had me hooked. Gone are the days where we had to be chained to our desks all day every day. Cybersecurity allowed for remote work – doesn’t matter whether you worked in PJs or from top of the Eiffel tower as long as the work got done. He emphasized that all it took was to follow something you really loved and you would automatically be better at it. Additionally, Henderson claimed that not having a technical background does not hold you back from excelling pen testing as there were people on his team who had degrees in music. He debugged the myth that security was a solo job and insisted that collaboration is the key to solving any problem. X-Force Red is especially cool because they cover the different facets such as application, network, hardware and HUMAN. They seek out individuals with different specialities in order to create a cohesive group. The vibe was that of a startup with the resources and backing of IBM – aka the best of both worlds!
One of the major reasons I came on this roadtrip was to add some sort of definition to my blank career canvas titled Cybersecurity. Cybersecurity is so transferrable and applicable and I was not sure exactly what to set my goal as. And without a goal, I simply could not move forward (it’s a curse & a blessing). Till now I have been able to identify three of the intersections, namely entrepreneurship, cybersecurity, and machine learning. NSS Labs is essentially in the middle of the intersection currently. So to have a chance to converse with its chief executive officer was a jaw-dropping moment.
As I had mentioned in our UMUC Launch Event (click it to see the live video!), one of the leaders that I was most excited to meet was Vikram Phatak. Mainly because even before I knew who he was, his interaction with me in this past summer was kind and generous. I had tweeted to NSS Labs for an internship opportunity, and Pathak immediately replied and help me get in touch with the appropriate people. I was touched by this gesture to such an extent that I knew I had to meet this man. That’s why when Roadtrip Nation asked each of the roadtrippers who were the top five leaders we wanted to meet – Vikram Phatak was number 1 on my list!
He showcased so much of love – love for his work, love for his family, and love for us. I was high on nerves, and his calm aura simply grounded me during the interview. We navigated from his first interaction with computer, to choosing another path as a career, to re-uniting with computers. Along the way he weaved in practical industry advice, key advice on life, and humorous anecdotes. A key question that was on my mind was regarding the direct correlation between the quality of a product and the quality testing that was done on it, yet many companies do not make it a priority to test. Phatak shed light on The Market For Lemons concept and how it applied to this situation. The companies rationally have a need to know if the product will be fared well in the market, before putting in too much of resources into it in terms of QA/QC testing. By the time the product is already in the market, it is harder to do the testing and keep up-to-date with the vulnerability patching so they simply don’t. He identified that he fuels himself by staying true to himself, and keeping his bigger goal in mind. He echoed Henderson’s statement that if you do what you love, you will already be good at it. It seemed that this was truly the message of the day. Both also echoed Amin’s sentiment that the best way to get into the field was to immerse yourself in it. Pick something apart. Do independent research. Get involved in the information security community. I officially have started to make a list of things to just “dive into” as soon as I land home after the trip!
With the rest of the RV already in dreamland, I shall join them now. Looking forward to further exploring Austin tomorrow!