#CybersecurityRoadtrip Week 1

**NOTE: From now I will be able to give a daily update! **


Saturday 11/26: Day 0

While driving to the airport today, this song was on repeat on my mind. At those final moments with my family, I could not understand why would my brain want to focus on a Happy Birthday song out of all the songs that it could pick, especially since my birthday is not even until April. Instead, why was I not going over the final packing or just telling my family that I love them? On a side note, I did do both these things before I boarded the flight from the Best to the Beast coast.

It makes sense now, as they say hindsight is 20/20. Today in a way was the birth of a new Me – a Me that goes on a cross country road trip with strangers in a RV to converse with leaders in the field of Cyber Security. That’s a lot of firsts – first cross country road trip, first time in a RV, not necessarily my first travel but it’s the first time I will be with people I barely know (hopefully those skills from Comm101 will help) – in short first time essentially leaving my nest, my comfort zone.

But the most important part of these next four weeks in a way will be that I along with two others will be interviewing the game changers in infosec which will then be aired as a documentary on PBS. More information about the project can be found at HERE.  More details on the Roadtrippers can be found at HERE.
(New York City, New York)
Sunday 11/27: Day 1
Finally re-united with the gang! It was a day will filled with excitement as I waited for the other two Roadtrippers to arrive. Unpacking & fitting our belongings in the tiny cabinets was another adventure on its own. Today’s lesson was on minimalism & efficiency. How to get what was needed uses the least amount of space, and other resources. We decided to go to a local Target and stock on some food for the week. I simply could not decide what to get – what kind of breakfast was suitable for the RV? Apparently neither did the other two. The end result still has us cracking up. Out of the five of us (3 Roadtrippers + 2 film crew) at least two to three had bought the same kind of honey, peanut butter and other essentials separately. There is a peanut butter war going on at the moment to see who can finish their container first!
Reflecting upon this, communicating would have helped us be more efficient since now multiple bottles of the same items will be taking up space in the already cramped RV. Hopefully we shall remedy this in the next grocery shopping trip.
Monday 11/28: Day 2
cyzbelsuoaajukvunspecifiedPictures clicked, steps taken. That is what today was all about. Over 15,000 steps (according to my Fitbit) walked today through Central Park, Times Square, and Harlem. But that is not the only kind of steps I’m referring to – today was our first interview. Before the interview, the Director of the trip had asked me how was I feeling about the first interview. I honestly replied that today’s leader had such an impressive presence that I overwhelmed by her awesomeness and wasn’t sure how to conduct the interview without freezing up.

Christina Morillo. No where can the woman be captured by just the biographical note we received. Filled with passion, warmth and humor she intuitively guided the conversation along. Filled with memorable quotations, the conversation traveled from the Roadtrippers introducing themselves to Morillo reflecting  on her first interaction with a computer, to the challenges she faced as a woman of color, to sharing life advice. A question that was near to my heart was regarding balance. It has been a common theme in my life -whether it’s balancing two different cultures or two different fields of study. Her reply to how to achieve balance especially since cyber security isn’t a 9-5 job was simply, “Balance is BS.” There was no such thing as achieving balance, you have to prioritize and compromise was Morillo’s perspective. Apart from being an info sec professional, she is also actively involved in the community. One of my favorite interviews of her is from Code Newbie. The link to the interview can be found here.

Tuesday 11/29: Day 3
2016-11-29-20-30-48Rain, rain go away…little Mansi wants to play! While touring the Statue of Liberty against the heavy winds and nonstop rain, the three of us connected on the history and beauty of it all. Nature truly never has a “bad hair day” – whether it is a warm sunset on the Pacific or a wet morning on the Atlantic, nature manages to inspire and look beautiful. Aftwerwards, lunch was at the Chelsea Market. We tried out Vegan dessert from Seed + Mill, which is a company that makes all of its desserts (dairy/non-dairy options available) from sesame seeds! This blew my mind since I have only been used to adding tahini while making hummus. Never would have thought that it could make a scrumptious sweet dish. After the interview, we left for DC! So excited for the “road” part of the trip to begin! Note the time on my Apple Maps is not accurate as the RV drives MUCH slower so we only ended up reaching around 1am Wednesday morning.
Today’s interview was with Rohan Amin from JP Morgan Chase and Co. Just stepping into the building was a jaw-dropping moment for me. Corporate lifestyle is not for all,however I was just mezmorized that even on the higher level floors we could hear those car honks from below. This may have been the reason I was even more nervous today than yesterday (who knew that was possible) while the other two Roadtrippers were in their groove and unaffected by the “oooohs” and “aaahhhs” of the formal ambiance. Amin shared that whereas he would have been comfortable talking to any CEO or higher level executive, he was a bit nervous to converse with us. Just like Morillo, Amin had multi-faceted insights to give. He shared that initially he faced obstacle when he would try to communicate with other higher-level executives who would not take him as seriously because he was on the younger end of the age range. As the youngest in my graduate program where most others come with 25+years of experience and I haven’t even lived 25 years on this planet yet…I often feel a bit of a wall between myself and them. However, Amin shed light that with persistence and truly developing a niche for yourself, everything else comes into line. He continued to say that cyber security is a field of problem solving so pick a problem, and immerse yourself into it. Furthermore, he highlighted the importance of having a trustworthy and reliable team. Contrary to what most people believe, security is not just a one-person job. Rather some part of the responsibility is placed on every employee associated with the company. The passion he had for his work was evident and quite contagious. The interview was a bit more structured than yesterday and it gave me the two ends of a spectrum – either it could be as free flow of a conversation as Morillo or a more Q&A type as Amin. Either way, we did it! I left that conference room feeling a bit more grounded in my and the team’s overall ability to face the camera.
Wednesday 11/30: Day 4
2016-11-30-10-55-292016-11-30-16-06-43Mary had a little lamb in…Maryland!  It was my first time behind the wheel of Hopper (the name of our RV inspired after  Grace Hopper) as I drove us from MD to VA for the interview. After the interview, we also had our first cooking session in the RV. The soup pictured above was made by yours truly as we pooled resources of hummus, chips, and salsa. For entertainment, Professor Antwan was in the house tonight to help me learn about the Chicken Noodle Soup. Here is the link to the orginal song. 2016-11-30-19-34-43 is the video of what a regular class with Professor Antwan looks like! On the way back from our interview, we also experienced our first maintenance problem. While we drove back home in the rain (yes, it is STILL raining),  the windshield wipers crossed over each other and would not move. This too while we were stuck in traffic on the freeway. It was Craig’s quick judgement directing Antwan to a proper side shoulder so that he could jump out and fix the wipers. It was Antwan’s focused driving that helped us move despite not being able to see clearly. Teamwork seemed to be the message of the day especially after what I observed during our time at MACH37.
“Links are meant to be clicked.” that’s the quotation today’s leader Georgia Weidman imprinted on our RV. She meant to say that if links (even if they are malicious) are given, people are bound to click on them (even if it’s by accident). However, I took it to mean that each of us are a link and the goal of human race is to be clicked (connected to one another). Yesterday in an interview Rohan Amin mentioned that he slept better at night knowing he had his team of worthy people that he can count on. Today, I saw the same in action with the off-camera interactions between Weidman, her startup adviser Michael and her CEO Mark. The level of camaraderie I was able to witness between those three truly made me connect with Amin’s comment yesterday. People and communication are the real reasons for success whether that is in the field of cyber security or life in general.
Thursday 12/01: Day 5
unspecified-1Cold hands, warm heart. With the sun smiling upon us today, everyone was a lighter and brighter mood. The filmcrew had me do my “trip thoughts” today. This blog writing has really helped me digest some of the amazing advice that we have received so far. The journaling has now become a meditative practice.
Michael Echols. Once again the resume is impressive but does not do justice to the person. He welcomed us with firm handshakes and a warm smile to his beautiful home in Maryland. What followed was over an hour worth of inspiring life experience – coming from a humble background to working with a President of the United States was not an easy journey. He was the first leader so far to give us insights on how to grow personally not just professionally. Attributes like patience, persistence cannot be learned through a youtube video. One of his examples that really touched me was about fear. He said sometimes you may feel like something is holding your hand back from grabbing the apple you want, however, if you look closely enough it might be your other hand holding your hand back. We are sometimes the biggest obstacle and hinderance to our own growth.  The main take away for me from the conversation was the importance of communication. He shed some light on those moments where things do not go the way you want. In those cases, Echols said to envision a pyramid inscribed in a cube. If you look through the cube from the side you only see the slant of the pyramid, if you look from the top of the cube you only see a the tip. In other words, take a step back and look at the problem or obstacle from another perspective to find a solution. This really hit home for me since I’m often compared to a Bull (by my mom). I keep on going against a wall till the wall crumbles or I burn out instead of simply walking around the wall. Again the message that life and cyber security specifically are based on people. So developing and collecting professional relationships is essential according to Echols.
Friday 12/02: Day 6
Let there be light….camera, action! Today’s main event was the UMUC Launch Event. However, the tone of the day was set with a tour of NSA’s National Cryptologic Museum. The museum curator, Patrick Weadon, led us through history on the various inventions related to cryptography. From Thomas Jefferson’s wheel cipher all the way to one of the firsts supercomputer, Frostburg. We also got to try out the German Enigma machine (pictured below)! It sent chills down my spine to witness the history associated with cryptography since the principles today are still the same, the way we implement them are different.
Then came the event of the hour, the week, perhaps even the entire trip – the Kickoff! The warmth and encouragement received from all of the online and in-person attendees humbles me to my core. The themes of the past few days of communication and people really manifested today with all the warm hugs and geninue smiles and the plethora of pictures! We grounded ourselves by touring the National Mall which included Capitol Hill, Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial etc. Being a first timer at the capital, I was just overwhelmed by the amount of history made at these locations. The theme today was we cannot move forward if we do not know where we came from. This was explictly shown at the museum, then at the launch event where each of us showcased our personal journey to get to this point, and then once again at these historical sites.
Saturday 12/03: Day 7
Today was a break day and while the others ended up at various hot spots in DC, I was at the library. This amazing first week of the trip, almost made me forget that school is still in session and that my final project’s due date is still this Monday. #GradSchoolLife – the struggle is real! However, I ended the day with connecting with a past Roadtripper Pratishtha over some much needed comforting Indian food. Conversing with her, I realized that this trip is not just about this one month. Bonding at this level results in life long friendships.
To Antwan & Emily: this first week has been a blast, the next week already smells amazing with the Vegan Cajun food we will be having in New Orleans. I truly cannot wait to see how we transform through this trip and the years to come.
Ooh, time to get started on our 10+hour trek to South Carolina!

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