Thursday, September 9, 2010

Interview with a Mentee...Mentee X

As previously mentioned, I planned on doing a series of interviews with both mentees and mentors on their experience with InfoSec Mentors to date. I tried to choose individuals that have been paired up for at least two months and I also chose to keep the participants anonymous as I thought I’d receive more honest answers, both praise and critique of the program. And with that I introduce the first interview with Mentee X:

Q: What was your reasoning for engaging an infosec mentor that you were not able to do on your own?

A: I guess my reasoning for joining the Infosec mentors is a little different to some others. I’m already in the industry and work as a penetration tester for a large bank. My goal wasn’t to get exposure, to get technical assistance or anything like that. My main issue was that I’d reached that point where I should be giving presentations and talking publicly about things I’m doing. For me that’s a hard hurdle to get over. Fear of speaking, or more aptly, fear of landing flat on my face, is my biggest issue right now. That’s something I hoped my mentor could help me with. To speak from experience about how he overcame that, and how I can start to present my research with confidence.

Q: Have you’ve ever had a mentor before? Was it organically developed or had you been a part of other mentor programs?

A: I’ve had a mentor before, but it’s been a long time since we’ve met. Since my previous mentor and I worked together at a company some years back, it was hard to keep in contact once I moved on. I wouldn’t say we came together organically as such. My previous company liked to run mentor schemes, and although we were (work) friends, I guess the program was the nudge we needed to make the agreement official. Since then both myself and my previous mentor have moved into other lines of work in other parts of the world, so it made little sense to continue the arrangement. He gave me a lot of good pointers however, and I’ll always credit him for giving me the drive to try new things and move forward.

Q: Prior to being matched, had you known of your mentor either personally or through social media forums? Where you hoping for someone “well known” in the social infosec social circle? Why or why not?

A: Funny enough, I’d met my (now) mentor a few times previously, and we were what I would consider friends. Ironically I actually joked on Twitter that I’d get stuck with him… and look what happened. I don’t regret it for a minute though, as he’s a perfect fit for what I want to improve on.

I guess I was hoping for somebody to come along who I knew and respected… and I certainly wasn’t disappointed in that respect. Not that being well known makes you any better or worse at being a mentor, but I guess I had an image in my mind of what I wanted and that went well with it.

Q: Was gender a concern when envisioning who you’d be paired with? Why or why not?

A: No I don’t think so. I don’t think gender makes a difference in the industry. A lot of people have made a fuss about gender issues in security in the last few years but I’ve never seen the issue myself. I have respect for people in this industry regardless of the age, sex, race or experience. This isn’t an easy industry to work in, so the fact they’re here and trying means they’ve earned that respect.

Q: Has your mentor suggested or encouraged you to engage in social media (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn)? Have you? Why or why not? If you have, has aided in your original goals?

A: Well I was already a social butterfly… in fact I think I’m on more social networks than he is. Not sure if that’s a good thing or not ;)

Twitter has been a big part of my success and been a great way to meet people. I can’t recommend it highly enough to people in the industry, or looking to break into it. You have to be part of the conversation after all… and everybody has a point to make!

Q: Was your pairing public via social media (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn) either by you or your mentor? What was the reasoning behind the decision?

A: We announced our pairing pretty quickly on twitter and on my blog. It wasn’t really a discussion to be honest, as we’ve both been on Twitter for a long time, it just seemed natural. I’ve actually seen a lot of infosec mentees creating accounts on twitter when they’ve been paired with a mentor. I think that’s a good thing as it’s a great resource.

Q: Did the initial meeting/conversation meet expectations? What did that initial communication entail?

A: I’ve had a few really good talks with my mentor and gotten a lot out of them. We initially started talking over Skype and other online channels due to the distance (I’m in Europe and my mentor is in the US). We met up face to face again at BSides Las Vegas, which was a fun trip. I think our relationship is a little unstructured at the moment, as we’re both rushing around to conferences and the like... plus the obvious time difference. Hopefully we’ll be able to get together more often online or IRL in early 2011.

Q: Have you made any major changes or decisions based on advice or direction from your mentor?

A: Not at the moment. I’m still working on a few things that should come to fruition next year. Hopefully my mentor can help me iron out the many kinks before then.

Q: Were you given any “homework” or assignments to complete and did you actually do them? What are a few examples of assignments given? Did you see value in the tasks assigned?

A: My mentor did offer something you could call homework, but due to some bad timing I wasn’t able to take him up on the offer. Still, there will be other chances to show my presentation skills I hope. My mentor has also given me a number of smaller tasks to do, usually at the last minute… still it’s all good experience. They’ve certainly helped me look differently on things and change my opinion about a few key issues.

Q: Do you feel the mentor you were paired up with was an accurate match? Why or why not?

A: I think so. We have similar outlooks on things, which is great. Plus he has the perfect skill set to help me achieve what I want out of our relationship. I’m hoping the transfer isn’t all in one direction however as I see the mentor / mentee relationship as a two-way street. If it’s all work for the mentor and no benefit then that’s not good. So I hope I can add some interest to the mix and make a difference for him also.

I’d like to thank Marisa and everybody involved for the chance to be part of the InfoSec Mentor program. If you’ve not already signed up, you should take the time to do it… you’ve got nothing to lose!

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