Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Frustration as Motivation

"Because I don’t know everything, I don’t know anything."

by Lukas Bieri from Pixabay 
I’ve heard many different variations of this self-destructive phrase from information security people over the course of my career.  We make ourselves our own worst critics because we compare ourselves to the leading thinkers and creators in our respective specialized tribes such as digital forensics, penetration testing, malware reverse engineering, and on and on. It can lead to self-defeat regardless if someone has been in the industry a long time or is just getting started.  This self-defeatist attitude can cause us to convince ourselves that we don’t have anything to contribute unless we’ve written books, created a popular tool, given standing room only talks at Black Hat, or have Twitter feeds followed by ten thousand people.

No matter where you are in your career, you can contribute and make a difference.  You should use the fact that you don’t everything as motivation.  It’s impossible to master everything about a particular field of information security. I got my start in digital forensics and build a very successful career both as an examiner and eventually building and leading digital forensic teams for large global corporations.  I can guarantee you with metaphysical certainty that I didn’t know everything about digital forensics even though I have taught others to do it at certain points in my career.  I still feel woefully inadequate because I can’t script to save my life. 

Don’t let the fact that there is too much to know demoralize you, but rather use it as motivation.  Use that frustration as the spark you need to go out and learn more.  I remember Rob Lee telling something to a SANS digital forensics class that has stuck with me ever since. He started off the class by telling the students that he wanted them frustrated.  He went on to explain that if they weren’t frustrated with all of the information that was going to be coming at them it meant that they already knew it or that they didn’t care.  Find a topic that interests you and use your frustration of not knowing that topic to motivate you to learn and, in turn, teach others.

The good example that I can come up with from my personal experience has been in the area of cryptocurrencies. I find them endlessly fascinating, and endlessly frustrating.  Every day there seems to be some new concept that is introduced into the cryptocurrency world that I don’t understand and it. makes. me. nuts. I can’t stand not understanding a concept in an area that I’m passionate about and the frustration of not knowing motivates me to learn as much as I can.  I remember when I first finally got a solid grasp of Bitcoin and then looked at Ethereum in despair.

Use your frustration to spur you to learn more and set goals for yourself.  Public speaking is a great way to motivate yourself to learn more. If you want to learn something, teach it. Pick some topic where you will do a presentation at a local chapter of some security organization or local conference.  It doesn’t have to be something ultra-advanced or esoteric. There are plenty of people who would benefit from and appreciate a good presentation on how DNS works, understanding IPv4 vs IPv6, or how to investigate malicious emails. It never ceases to amaze me at how some of the most popular talks at conferences deal with basic concepts that everyone needs to know. You want to fill a room at a conference or a local security organization chapter event? Do a well-done presentation that introduces people to a concept that everyone needs to understand to be successful in their careers.

Don't give into self-defeat by comparing yourselves to others who know more than you. Use that frustration to spur yourself to become better and make others better.  You'll be doing yourself a favor and helping many other people along the way.