Career Notes 2.20.22
Ep 88 | 2.20.22

Joe Carrigan: Build your network. [Security engineer]


Joe Carrigan: My name is Joe Carrigan. I am a senior security engineer with the Johns Hopkins University Information Security Institute, and the Institute for Assured Autonomy. 

Joe Carrigan: I don't know that I had any such recollection of what I wanted to do. I was kind of aimless. In 1981, my dad got an Osborne computer and I was like, this is great. I enjoy playing with this and writing code and I actually taught myself how to write BASIC on that and it was a lot of fun to play with, but shortly after that as computers progressed on, my father maintained that that Osborne and worked on that Osbourne well into the 90s before he got himself a new computer. So I didn't have any other computing experiences growing up around the house. When I saw the first IBM compatible computers, I had absolutely no idea what I was looking at because I had never seen a DOS operating system. 

Joe Carrigan: At that point in time, I had made what I described as a life mistake of getting involved in high school theater. I probably shouldn't have done that because I thought that's what I was wanting to do for the rest of my life. When I went to college, I quickly figured out that's not what I wanted to do. I took a class, an introduction to computer science course, which actually had absolutely nothing to do with computer science. It was how to be a user of a computer and it was a terrible course. I straight up, got an F in that course.  

Joe Carrigan: But the funny thing is shortly after that, I got a job working in the computer lab with a guy that would actually become my first IT mentor. I actually got on to the computer labs and started learning the Unix operating system that ran the DEC, and learning how to work my way around a Windows system and an Apple system. And I said, this is really cool, but it never really clicked with me that this is what I should do so I stuck with the mass comm thing completely believing that I was going to be some kind of radio guy.  

Joe Carrigan: I don't know if you know what happened in the radio business around that time. Even as I was graduating college, I should've seen the writing on the wall, but the entire industry has been commoditized into one homogeneous mass of maybe three or four companies that now own the entire spectrum across the nation, which I think is kind of unfortunate, but it is what happens. That means that if you want to be a DJ, you can't go to a small market, start up and work your way up the chain. So I gave up on that dream and I went into a, what I thought was going to be great. It was going to be sales. Now I'm a very technical person which means I probably suck at sales and I do. I am terrible at sales. I couldn't sell a lifesaver to a drowning man essentially is just the way to put it. I started realizing that and actually about the same time as my employer started realizing that because the end of my sales career went down just like this. I walked into my office with my two weeks notice in hand and there sitting at my desk is my replacement.  

Joe Carrigan: After that, I went to a job in at a local defense contractor. At this point in time, I didn't know what I was going to do. And it all changed one day when I was driving home and I get to the Metro station at Shady Grove and there's some guy looking for a ride because he's missed the last shuttle bus that goes from Shady Grove up to the park and ride. As I'm riding up there with him, he says, do you have any technical capabilities? I'm like, well I used to work in a computer lab in college and I taught myself how to program when I was 12. And he goes, you know what you should do is you should get into tech right now, get into some kind of, some kind of IT, either administration or software development, do something to get into the tech field, do that now. My wife looks at me and she says, that's what I've been telling you to do for the past three years.  

Joe Carrigan: I found a school, a local school here. It was a University of Maryland University College. It's now University of Maryland Global Campus. They had a second bachelor's program. So I started on that to get a degree in computer and information science, which was like a computer science degree, but without the math requirement, because I didn't think I was good at math. 

Joe Carrigan: Once I got the the first class under my belt, it was NetWare administration class. If anybody's listening and they remember NetWare they've been in the business for a very long time. I got a job doing NetWare administration and tech support and help desk and that was my first job into the field. After that I moved up to a new position where I was actually like a junior programmer because I wanted to do more programming. Went back into the defense contractor I had previously left, but came back in at this time as a programmer, not a software engineer, and spent time there developing my skills and actually went on to get a master's in computer science. 

Joe Carrigan: I was working with with this team and we had a Hopkins professor who had some work for us to do for his company. So when I went looking for a new job, I actually wound up taking a job with Hopkins, and that's where I've been since. And because of my network and because I had worked with Avi before, Avi Rubin. So I came in here and Avi was kind enough to say, yeah, Joe's a good guy. He knows what he's doing. 

Joe Carrigan: One of my biggest concerns about the cybersecurity practices of the average person and how they're what we call cyber hygiene. When they don't practice good cyber hygiene, what kind of risks that puts them at. I'm working on a survey for assessing the level of that risk for residents of Maryland.  

Joe Carrigan: There has to be some kind of education to the public about these kinds of scams. People get taken in by them all the time. I talk about them on Hacking Humans. The losses to the individual can be devastating. We often talk about losses to companies in the millions of dollars, and that can be bad too, but when you hear the story about somebody who's struggling to get by and they've gotten hit by an employment scam and now they can't pay their rent. That's heartbreaking. Or when you hear the story of the elderly person who got hooked into a romance scam and is lost literally all of their money, we hear that frequently. It's terrible. What happens and how do we stop that from happening? I think public education is the way to go about doing that.  

Joe Carrigan: I deal with a lot of overwhelmingly sad information sometimes. I'm actually pretty good at emotionally detaching from things from situations maybe too good at it. Sometimes though it does kind of get me down. And I find that friends and family are a good way to help. Staying focused is good. Remembering what's important in life. You know, the analogy of the old rocks in the jar, which, what are your big rocks? You put those in the jar first. 

Joe Carrigan: Build a network. Everybody you work with is a connection in your network, and you will have no better a group of people to work with down the road when it comes time for you to make a move or for you to go looking for somebody to fill a position in your organization. I looked back. I actually did the math on this one time. I was wondering how many times, cause I was at one point in time during a job search, I was getting call after call after call from recruiters, out of third-party recruiters. I started thinking how effective are third-party recruiters and how effective is my network at getting me a position. . And I went all the way back to my first job at Chuck E. Cheese, when I was 14 years old making pizzas and dressing as a mouse to entertain children. That's probably the worst job I ever had. It turns out, just over two thirds of them came from my network and one third of them came from recruiters. These people in your network know what your strengths and your weaknesses are already. Do your best to demonstrate your worth to people that you think will be in your network for the long haul and build relationships with people.