Career Notes 10.15.23
Ep 171 | 10.15.23

Susan Hinrichs: The cross between computer science and security. [chief scientist]


Susan Hinrichs: My name is Susan Hinrichs. I am chief scientist at Aviatrix.

Susan Hinrichs: When I was little, I wanted to be a teacher because that's what my mom and my grandmas were and computers weren't really a thing. My mom was very excited when she got her first TI calculator.

Susan Hinrichs: So about when I hit junior high school, you know, the apples were starting to come out and, uh, there was one at the, the town library kind of poked around at that a little bit, but by the time I was in high school, I had gotten some connections, um, with, uh, folks at the university of Illinois and was able to, uh, work on their Plato system. Uh, I, I grew up in a small town next to the university of Illinois, so that was quite fortunate. It wasn't really until I got into high school that got some opportunities to work more with technology and kind of the emerging, uh, computer software revolution. 

Susan Hinrichs: I went on to the university of Illinois and studied computer science. That was a really great opportunity. I did feel kind of uncomfortable coming in without that because a number of the other folks coming into Computer Science did have experience with, you know, the early Apples or Trash 80s or breaking into their video game systems. Uh, but it was all great, you know certainly, I think it's good, maybe if you have some knowledge coming in, but it's certainly, at the time, and I don't think it now either, is really a requirement because we all come in from different backgrounds, and you get introduced to different things at different times. 

Susan Hinrichs: I, uh, was able to get a job for about nine months in a local security, uh, operating system company called Atomax here in town doing a writing test systems for secure OS, which for government accredited security systems, testing is a super huge component, and also then working a little bit towards the end with some of the actual feature development and from then I went on to grad school and went to Carnegie Mellon for grad school and ended up working on parallel systems there and architecture. So kind of diverting, but that's how I got started into working with networking from that aspect of, of parallel systems. 

Susan Hinrichs: When I graduated from Carnegie Mellon, the market for distributed systems, distributed memory parallel systems, more specifically, was kind of soft. So I had, I had a postdoc opportunity, but then I also had a connection back from the security company, Atomax, that I had worked with in between undergrad and graduate school and he had started a, uh, a small company, a startup company that was concentrating on network security. And so that seemed really exciting. So I took an opportunity with, uh, Blue Ridge Software at the time and, uh, started working with them and we Pivoted and started looking at making a firewall to work in the Windows NT Stack and, uh, windows firewalls were a huge thing at the time because networking was just coming onto Windows systems and the Windows systems network stack you would get from a third party and all of them had some rather obvious flaws. So having a firewall to kind of prune out those obvious attacks was, was a huge thing. 

Susan Hinrichs: In the meantime, our company had gotten the attention of Cisco Systems, they ended up acquiring us. So, uh, we stayed at Cisco or I stayed at Cisco for seven years or so. But eventually Cisco, um, decided to, we had an office here in Champaign and eventually Cisco decided that, uh, they wanted to close smaller offices and I wasn't ready to move to California. So, uh, my husband and I started a consulting company called Network Geographics, which we ran for a while, and I also took a part time position at the University of Illinois teaching computer security and networking and computer security. 

Susan Hinrichs: During our consulting work with my husband, we started working with an open source product that had been open sourced by Yahoo called Apache traffic server and so as part of that, um, we became committers on the project. And eventually, uh, we asked if Yahoo would be interested in hiring us to do some consulting and they said, well, no, we don't really do consultants, but Hey, uh, we see you're in Champaign and we have an office in Champaign, uh, we would just like to hire you. And so we did that for a few years and the first manager and the person who actually had recruited us to Yahoo is, uh, my current boss actually. He eventually wandered off and went off through Google and then eventually became attached to Aviatrix and so he came back and reached out to me to say, Hey, are you bored at Yahoo, would you be interested in coming and doing something new and exciting? So, uh, I joined up with Josh, my former manager, and, uh, had been having a grand time here at at Aviatrix.

Susan Hinrichs: I think it depends on how you think about things, but for me, uh, being able to be hands on and try things has been very valuable for me to figure out what is good and interesting and to really get a deep knowledge of how things work and I think also as you're trying to get that next job either as a student or as a professional trying to change direction a little bit, if you're coming into interviews being able to talk about a project that you worked on, even if it's not a project that really anyone uses, but if it's something that's interesting that you have in depth understanding of, uh, I think is super valuable to get you noticed. 

Susan Hinrichs: So there's, um, I guess, you know, the software that you've created, although software is pretty transient these days, uh, one nice thing about open source is that I think, uh, your software contributions maybe live on a bit longer than you would in a completely proprietary system. I've had a number of students, as I mentioned, that I've interacted with over the years and I kind of, you know, can look in LinkedIn and see what they're doing, how they're changing the world, but also, um, you know, people who I've worked with at various companies, um, you know, that who have mentored me or who I've mentored, uh, you know, just knowing how they've affected me and how I've possibly affected them. I think that is probably the thing that will survive, uh, beyond the end of my career, uh, longer.