Weekly update, August 31, 2020
Howdy and welcome back!
Salutations internet friend and welcome back to my blog! I hope you had a very nice and relaxing weekend. Mine was pretty good, insofar as I came to some realizations that have helped me much better understand myself and the way my brain works. It might not have been as relaxing as I would have liked, but at least we have a three day weekend coming up next weekend, even if labor day should really happen in November - but that’s a conversation or blog post for another day.
In this weekly update I am going to discuss what I did last week personally, professional, share a little bit about Black Lives Matter, and end with a rant about the pandemic and lack of leadership in Washington and do something I never thought I would do. Then, as I do most weeks, I will conclude this post with a list of people you might consider following on Twitter. So without any further adieu, let’s get on with it!
Black Lives Matter
There is so much that needs to be written on this subject, and there are much smarter people than me who have invested substantial time and energy thinking about it. I think it is important to continue to highlight this issue every week because things don’t seem to be getting better and the protests are not slowing down. However, I don’t want to just do the same thing every week where I recommend books. Ultimately I don’t know how best to be an accomplice in this space other than to continue to bring it up every week. If you want to suggest ways to improve this section on Twitter, please DM me!
If you want to find suggestions to read, check out previous weekly updates. If you want to know how to make real change happen, I don’t know if I have the answer for you. I think there is benefit in volunteering, attending a protest, writing a letter to your congressperson, and even giving their office a call. However, I think that BIPOC know best what they want and need, so it is possible (probable) that the best thing to do is to just be quiet and listen. I don’t have all the answers, or even many of them. All I can suggest is to make an effort this week to be anti-racist and if you (I’m talking to white people here) find yourself being insensitive or thinking something racist, stop yourself and interrogate that reaction. Ask yourself why you thought that way, and if you really want to be a racist person. You can stop yourself and change, but it requires actual effort.
Ultimately, we can each act to make the world less racist, but it request ongoing action and continual evaluation. It isn’t enough to “have a black friend” - anti-racism requires you to constantly evaluate your relationship with white supremacy and look at how it can be deconstructed. Don’t just do nothing, try to make the world less racist!
As I write most weeks, there is much more that could be written on this subject, but I will leave it up for experts and suggest to you, dear reader, that if you want more information to seek one an expert and read what they have to say. Don’t rely on other people to inform you, take the initiative and inform yourself!
Last week was pretty good for me personally as well. Other than being attacked for refusing to read the National Review and called a hypocrite, I had a pretty nice week and a mostly relaxing weekend. With the help of my wife I came to a pretty big realization about myself and the way my brain is wired, which I think will be helpful for me going forward. It also provided some context for parts of my life that didn’t make much sense to me, as well as why I stopped watching some TV shows/movies because I saw too much of myself in neurodivergent characters and I wasn’t ready to deal with that at the time. However, learning that I am most likely not neurotypical has really helped give me some context for parts of my life that didn’t make much sense before. I haven’t been to any doctors for any formal diagnosis, but this new information would make much of my life and the way I interact with people and the world make much more sense. There is more I could say on the subject, but like the issue of Black Lives Matter I have more think on this subject before addressing it in greater detail.
Another thing that changed for me personally last week was that I made a decision to shift my morning focus a bit. I’ve mentioned frequently here and other platforms that I wake up at five on weekdays so I can have extra time to work on projects. Previously I’d been writing blog posts Monday morning, teaching myself how to write code from Tuesday through Thursday, and then spending Friday mornings doing personal writing projects. These include really long blog posts that I’ve been working on, one of which just topped 5,000 words that has no end in sight. After talking it over with my wife and some of my best friends, I decided to add an extra day of writing each week. This already made me more happy and helped me feel more fulfilled, so I know it was a good idea.
There are a few reasons that I made this decison. Perhaps the most obvious was that my wife suggested to me if I look forward to writing so much (because I mentioned to her last Wednesday that I was excited because there were only two more days away before I got to write in the morning) that it makes sense to allocate more time to writing. I want to eventually publish more books and longer pieces, and if I want to do that I should invest more time each week in writing. It’s also important for my self-care practice to do things that I like and to work on saying no.
Part of saying no comes from something I mentioned in passing earlier. I retweeted someone on either Saturday night or Sunday morning and forgot about it. Back when I was teaching myself the Java programming language, I found a programmer I started following who followed me back. I noticed that this person seemed pretty conservative and I am not (in any sense of the word) so I stopped following them. However, they didn’t stop following me and took offense to that thing I retweeted. They started attacking me and demanded I read something from the National Review (a media outlet established by William F. Buckley Jr.). Now if you’ve never met me in person, you couldn’t possibly know what I am about to tell you. Since I imagine that most readers of this blog haven’t met me in person, I will tell tell you this, dear reader. I am not the kind of person who responds well to being told what to do!
This manifests itself in many different ways. When I was in college, people gave me crap all the time about studying history as an undergraduate. I think the top question people loved to ask was, “what kind of job are you going to get what that degree?” Putting aside the question of the purpose of college (and whether or not it is to learn how to think or to get job training for your future career), this question used to annoy me to no end! I didn’t know then that I would go on to be a professional hacker, because at the time I would just talk about how important history was, and they would agree. Then I might tell them why I was studying history and their eyes would glaze over. Since I was (and I suppose I still am) an alcoholic, most of these conversations would generally take place in a bar. If you are talking to someone about something at a bar and you want to change the subject, it was generally pretty easy to do that. I also learned that almost everyone loves talking about WWII, and fortunately I’d taken a number of courses on that subject so I can talk about it for hours.
I write all that to write this. Ten years ago, if someone would have tried to start an argument with me on Twitter, I would have been all in. In fact, I would have enjoyed it because I used to love arguing with people! But those days are over, and today when someone tries to argue with me online I just politely say no. If people don’t respect my no, I feel well within my rights to simply block them. I’ve discovered that conservatives are rarely willing to have discussions and debates in good faith so rather than waste my time, I’m going to be more liberal (ha) with the block button. I don’t let people bully me in real life - I don’t know why I tolerated it online! Yesterday was the dawning of a new era, and the days of tolerating peoples abuse online are over for me.
If you were wondering why I tweeted what I did yesterday, that is the context. Nobodys puts Baby in a corner, and random internet strangers don’t get to tell me what to do!
Turning to things that are a little more positive :) last week was pretty good for me professionally. During two of those days I attended a virtual threat modeling and architecture review crash course at work. One of my favorite things about the firm where I work is that amount of training opportunities I’ve been given. Since joining the firm I’ve more than doubled the amount of engagements that I can do. I’ve also had the opportunity to learn about things that I don’t like as much, so I won’t have to invest more time in learning them. Best of all, I had the chance to do a deeper dive on cloud security and I am really starting to like it! It seems to me that there is tremendous opportunity in that space, particularly as things change from the ongoing Coronavirus situation/crisis, it seems that a number of companies are accelerating their move to the cloud.
I want to also share that last week I took a few calculated risks at work. I found an excuse to reach out to people that are much more senior than me at my company to ask them for career advice. I’ve heard back from two of the three, and they seemed pleased that I was took some initiative. I heard the top leadership of my firm saying they wanted to achieve Goal X, so I reached out to my regional sales manager and asked for a meeting with him (because he was the best salesman that I know) and he scheduled a call with his best salesman and the three of us worked on coming up with some ideas to drive the growth of my business unit.
I share that to share this with you - sometimes it is alright to make waves. Some people would suggest that you lay low and try to just try to not get on the radar of anyone important. I’ve never taken this approach and when I do my best, that sometimes includes speaking out and asking tough questions. In graduate school I made waves, did the research I wanted, and won an award that isn’t given out every year.
I don’t know if this strategy will work for everyone, or even if it is necessarly a good idea for me. Perhaps (given I’ve been working in IT/IS for nearly a decade) given that I have not been promoted to Senior-level, you should take this advice with a very large grain of salt. However, it might also be possible that the reason I haven’t been promoted to Senior yet is that I have only been back in the industry for the last three and a half years, and I took six years off to go to college and two different graduate programs.
My point in discussing my title is not to bring myself down, but rather to share that my career advice might not work for you and is not without risk. I originally wrote something much more negative here, but I remember what I wrote on Saturday night and my efforts to be more kind and stopped myself. While my career is not where I would like it to be right now, I believe I am doing the right things to get it where I want it to be. Like most things in life, it requires hard work and persistence and I have no desire to give up!
This coming week looks to be exciting as well. I am finishing up the second course on AWS security and going to start hitting the labs. I am planning to take the AWS Security exam in about two weeks and when I do I plan on writing up a blog post about what I did to get ready (assuming my employer doesn’t have a problem with me sharing that information). Come to think of it, I am going to make sure I get permission first before I do my AWS Security write-up. So if you don’t end up seeing that, you’ll know why.
Finally, I got to hang out with Acetolyne yesterday! Because we both live in different states, we did our hanging out over Jitsi, but it was and is always great to hang out with a friend! We are working on writing device drivers and it was really, REALLY helpful to be able to screen share with him. While I write all my code in vim, he uses a different editor and he showed me some of the advantages to using an IDE. I don’t know if I am convinced, and I think for the time I am going to keep using vim, but it was very helpful to see how other people work. I have frequently benefitted in my career from watching other people work and having the opportunity to see their workflow. Whether it be in penetration testing (network or web application) or programming, seeing how other people work is really helpful in my learning process. If you are still in the learning phase I would suggest trying to find someone with more experience and watching them work. Barring that, watching some of the YouTube videos from IppSec are a great place to start!
Brief pandemic rant
I want to close by suggesting to anyone reading this to try and make time to hang out with friends online. I know that the pandemic is really rough - it sucks not being able to go out and do the things that we love. It’s easy to get mad at people who don’t wear masks and to blame them, but the reality is that we should be blaming the “leadership” of this country for denying we have a problem and not acting swiftly to prevent 175,000+ dead Americans. Other countries didn’t have that many people die, and the blame should go squarely on the shoulders of the Trump administration. They blocked aid early on because they discovered the virus was hurting cities that tended to vote for Democrats. PPE was literally stolen from the states in the middle of a public health crisis, and last week at the Republican National Convention we were told that riots would happen if Joe Biden was elected. I have a news flash for the RNC - RIOTS ARE HAPPENING UNDER TRUMP! RIGHT NOW! If we really want to “Make America Great Again” this country has to get rid of Trump. Even I registered to vote, and I have not been registered to vote in over a decade - that is how bad things are. I hate Joe Biden, but I plan on voting for him because the country might not survive four more years of Trump. I have concerns it will even survive until November, what with armed vigilantes killing protesters in the streets while the police watch and do nothing but beat and gas protesters. I prefer to be optimistic and hope that perhaps the Democrats will do the right thing and manage to not fumble the football on the one yard line like they LOVE to do. Watching Hillary lose to Trump four years ago doesn’t inspire confidence, but I will keep my fingers crossed that one of the MANY countries trying to interfere with our election are unsuccessful. Wow I can’t believe I typed that out, but here we are!
What I cannot do is just sit by and do nothing and say nothing while the country burns. My wife watched most of the RNC and every morning last week we talked about what she saw. What this ended up being was a discussion of how one party can just stand up in front of the country and lie, cheat, and steal right in front of us. Watching the Secretary of Defense in Israel on official US business speaking at the convention was totally unacceptable. Regardless of whether people in the Obama administration also spoke at the DNC - that is NOT responsive to the critique of the Secretary of State doing so while in Israel! Seeing the “President” use the White House to run for re-election made my blood boil. It’s supposed to be the people’s house, not the Republican house!
One important lesson that I frequently forget is that arguing with people in bad faith is both a waste of time and really easy to do. My wife frequently quotes this relevant XKCD but it is true - sometimes you just need to let people be wrong on the internet and not argue with them. Just like trying to argue with bad-faith actors, their goal is to just waste your time and you are better to just move along.
In closing, if you agree with me that the pandemic was handled poorly (and you just say poorly because you are polite, but you really mean some combo of four letter words because you are mad you didn’t get to go to the beach this year, and you may not get to next year either) just vote blue in November. Actually, get your ballot early and vote as soon as you can. In 2022 we can push for cooler, more left-wing parties, but for now we need to get Trump out of office. If even I register to vote, you should know that I am serious about how bad Trump is. Unless you never want to be able to visit Seattle or Portland ever again, I would highly suggest you vote for Biden. Things are going to get worse before they get better, but if we can get Trump out of office there is a chance the country might recover.
People to follow
As I do every week, here are some tech and non-tech people you might consider following on Twitter.
Martin Luther King III - The son of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Bernice King - The daughter of Dr. King
@cetolyne - great friend, awesome programmer, super helpful!
@blenster - cool maker, very positive, well worth a follow!
@GWeessies - very smart person doing interesting research!
Marley - first place champ! Marley is one of the best on Twitter!
Null Coder - another awesome person to keep an eye on!
@EvilMog - creator of the DC MUD and an interesting person to follow.
Finally, thanks for taking the time to read this post - I hope you liked it! I didn’t plan on getting that political at the end, but as one of my favorite quotes goes, “time makes fools of us all!”