Career Notes 10.24.21
Ep 72 | 10.24.21

Mark Nunnikhoven: Providing clarity about security. [Cloud strategy]


Mark Nunnikhoven: Hi, my name is Mark Nunnikhoven and I'm the Distinguished Cloud Strategist at Lacework. 

Mark Nunnikhoven: I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do and I'm of the age when computers were just becoming a thing. And, uh, we were fortunate enough that my, my father was in the military. He saw the computer revolution coming and got a old Commodore 128 for the family. And from the moment that entered, it sort of crossed the threshold, I fell in love with it. I loved tinkering with it, programming it, pushing it to its limits. So I knew for a very long time that I wanted to do something with computers and what that was changed depending on sort of the year, but it was always around computing. 

Mark Nunnikhoven: Back in the day, as you remember, but some of the listeners might not, um, computers were not nearly as polished. The interface was a basic language interpreter. So you were programming right out of the gate and sure when you're little, you're just, you know, using, uh, pre-made programs, but very quickly, my father took me to some local user groups and, you know, there was great magazines at the time where you're typing in code. And once I started to see that, you know that, Hey, I can kind of bend this machine to my will, that set me on a path. And so I was doing a lot of self-driven learning around programming through my teenage years. Started with my first job, um, when I was 15, working for Bell Northern Research on a high school co-op and then a contract after that doing testing and some light programming on what eventually became a set top box for cable television of all things. 

Mark Nunnikhoven: I started back with the, um, good old acoustic couplers, and if you don't know what that is, please take the time to Google it. It is a hilarious visual. I started with that and that kind of opened up the world even more, uh, because you start to see like, Hey, there are other people out there with this interest. And you start to chat with them. And at that point, you know, it was all asynchronous exchanging messages sometimes, or eventually we got to the point where you could exchange files with each other when we started to get into the x86 world. It broadened, um, as we see today, you can, you know, connect to people with similar interests. because especially when you're young, and for me, I was a military kid. So we moved around quite a bit. You don't necessarily have that connection with people close or your friends might not be into it as you are. And so being able to extend out into the world of BBS is and then eventually the internet really expanded that like, Hey, there are people like me out there who have this obsession with these computers as well. 

Mark Nunnikhoven: I had a lot of turbulent times on the personal side of things through high school, which I actually ended up dropping out of high school a couple of times. Eventually graduated, but same thing with university and college, I kicked around a little bit. I did one year of what would be junior college in the U S, then a one year of university, but the college was in computer programming, university was actually in cognitive science for the first year, which I really, really loved, but I didn't finish either of them. At the time I was working. I was actually doing sales for IBM and that was going well. I'm not really learning a ton in the first year courses and because I've had this self-interest for so long and I just kind of ended up just staying in the working world, uh, from then on out though, eventually I did go, go back to school later on in life. 

Mark Nunnikhoven: From sales at IBM, I went into the Canadian federal government and I spent a little over a decade with the Canadian federal government. And as much as there are challenges in a large bureaucracy, it was fantastic from the security experience. And that's really when things started to veer into into the security world. I had some experience, obviously I had been developing and writing code for a long time. But when I got into the government, you're legally mandated to pay attention to security which is a wonderful thing for a security practitioner. I don't have to convince them they have to care. I spent a decade there and a bunch of different roles. And the wonderful thing about the Canadian public service is that once you're in, it's easy enough to bounce around from role to role. So I spent some time in service delivery, in platform architecture, in security policy, and about halfway through, um, I actually went back to school and instead of going back to get a bachelor's, I went into a graduate program to get a master's in cybersecurity. 

Mark Nunnikhoven: When I finished my master's, information security degree, I specialized in forensics. And so I was starting to do a lot of attack analysis. And of course, if you're defending a nation state, you're seeing a lot of really in-depth, crazy attacks in a good way. Um, well, at least a good way if you defend against them at a lot of interesting scenarios and sort of just a, a breadth of experience that I think would be really hard to replicate in a private company or organization. I just loved it cause there was always something new to learn and that's really, what's driven me throughout my career is, is finding an opportunity where I can keep learning. 

Mark Nunnikhoven: A good friend said, Hey, I've got a good opportunity that I think you'd be a really interested in here at TrendMicro. I sat down with my friend and we had a good chat. It's not that common to leave the public service once you're in it, but the opportunity was too good to pass up . I was going to be able to help build a trend micros cloud business out. And, uh, it was. Eye-opening to say the least, but just the cultural dynamic of going from a public service where it's a series of lifetime employees. People rarely leave to the private sector where we're concerned about how much business, what's the revenue, what's the projections, and we have customers that we need to keep happy. Um, it was very, very different, but very positive in that difference. 

Mark Nunnikhoven: What we're doing here at Lacework, and for me, what really got me is he said sort of the magic words, he said, you know, we're looking at how to automate cloud security and we're looking at how to leverage data, a lot of data. And, being a nerd at heart, loving computers from an early age and loving math from an early age, I'm like, okay, there is a lot of cool stuff that we can do with that especially trying to drive that automation and I've long felt part of the reason for moving out of the public service was that the cloud is an enabler to do security in a much more modern way.  

Mark Nunnikhoven: For me, that really comes down to two really simple things. Did I learn something new? And did I share something to help somebody else learn something new? And that's really what drives me day after day. And whether that's helping somebody on a team here at Lacework or whether that's sharing something out on social, or making a video or writing something up, or, you know, teaching a course, it's, it's really about, you know, I love learning.  

Mark Nunnikhoven: The dark days happen, especially over the last year and a half, I think for all of us. Dark days tend to be where I'm meeting to meeting, to meeting and nothing's going right. But what gets me out of those days normally is I will try to, um, carve out 15 to 20 minutes for myself where I go and sit, try to find a quiet place in the house and read a novel.  

Mark Nunnikhoven: If I can help someone understand something a little bit better, if I can provide some clarity, and if I can do that consistently over the course of my career, I think that's really what I'm looking for. I know I've taught a number of courses and continue to teach. As much as it's small, when you can explain a problem that someone's stuck on or help them reason through a challenge, the reward you get from that I think is more than rewarding enough. And if I can keep doing that every day, that's going to add up to a really fulfilling career for me.