I was recently asked to write a bio, when I realised that I’ve been involved in Information Technology for close to 40 years now. It was a jaw-dropping moment because time has a tendency to fly by and days start to merge together. In that moment, 30 years of my professional life in I.T. didn’t really feel that long at all. It got me thinking… I suppose most people know me today from my work in Information Security, but I actually started out, all those years ago, on the programming and infrastructure side of things.
It all began when I was bedridden many, many moons ago. To help kill time, my father introduced me to the Apple II and some of the original IBM PCs (a gift or a burden, I wonder?). I was fascinated and soon began hacking BASIC programs and arguing with my high school math teachers about how computers worked and what the best ways to code were.
Believe me, in those days, you were lucky to get any formal computer training.
Thankfully, waiting for computing education didn’t stop me exploring new techniques and I quickly honed my programming skills on the Apple II and IBM PS1 and was introduced to graphical UIs with the Lisa and initial Macintosh computers. Remember the Mac SE and Mac II? I do and still have my now very old Mac IIfx! Damn, those were machines, machines you could hack to your heart’s content! Wrote my own SCSI sniffer at the time, because the SCSI card I had installed wasn’t doing its job. Anyway, a few years later and alongside a non-IT degree, I had taken a number of IT courses varying from programming in C, Fortran and Pascal, to building real time kernels based on Tanenbaum’s textbooks.
Back then we didn’t have the Internet as we know it today, but BBS (Bulletin Board Systems) that you dialled into and, if you were lucky, they supported 9600 bits/sec — some improvement over the default 2400 bits/sec or the baseline 1200 bits/sec. Downloading files or pictures was theoretically possible, as long as the connection stayed stable and you let your computer run all night. You’d also have to be willing to pay hefty phone bills, although there were some ways to get around those too, but let’s just leave it at that shall we.
Soon, regular Internet access was available, but as I was living outside the US, the best solution was to connect via a major gateway provider like Compuserve. I remember using Compuserve email gateways that could fetch the first web pages or even download content from NNTP servers.
On the professional side I started work as a programmer, helping a large international food company develop its back office systems. At the time, the brilliant idea was to use Apple’s HyperCard system to provide a UI to the backend databases and servers. If you’ve ever used HyperCard, you know that doing something of that magnitude was brave, borderline insane but, to me, it resembled the core definition of hacking.
My fascination with the world of infrastructure, sysadmin and general operations started when I took a position in Singapore in which we needed to deploy a pan-Asian production environment from New Zealand to Korea and expanding east to India.
Those were the days when building an infrastructure meant integrating Windows NT, DEC VMS, Mac OS and Data General AOS using network protocols running from DecNET to AppleTalk to TCP/IP carried over an X.25/Frame Relay WAN (routed using the Data General). Make all that work together younglings!
It was at that time that I also became fascinated with Information Security. My first foray into the field involved setting up secure LANs using 3Com switches, which, at the time, were the only switches that provided Mac based authentication. Yes, you read correctly! That’s what we had back then. Of course nowadays we know that it really ain’t secure! And so my fascination with networking evolved into a fascination with security and that became my main focus for the last 20 years, but that’s a story for another day.
Come to think of it, I suppose 30 years really is a long time after all!
Thanks to Hannah Finch for the editorial review