May 11, 2013    /    by

Hackers and Mother's Day: Honoring Hacker-Moms

What do hackers and Mother's Day have in common? According to the wealth of cyberspace knowledge that is defined by Wikipedia, a hacker can mean many things...

According to the wealth of cyberspace knowledge that is defined by Wikipedia, a “hacker” can mean many things:

For most of my career, I’ve thought of hackers as being the bad guys. As a cybersecurity leader, my mission in life was to stop those who try to access a computer system by circumventing its security system.

More recently, I’ve met more and more people who call themselves or friends “hackers” using the second definition. The new term has a much more positive connotation, with hack days, hackfests, hackathons, codefests and related events springing up all over the country where you can meet other hackers. In fact, the term hacker has almost become synonymous with clever, tech-savvy person – which includes a much wider audience.     

So which type of “hacker” are you? What type of hacker am I? How did we get to this point?

Remembering How the Road Began

I often think back to how I got into a technology career in the first place. I almost dropped out of my college major in computer science on several occasions. There were the after midnight calls from Indiana back to Maryland while I was in college. I would wake my parents up ranting, “I can’t do this! It’s too hard. I’m going to fail.”

My parents would patiently listen, occasionally asking a few short questions. After an hour or more of unloading complaints that I won’t repeat, we would agree to some simple steps I could take like meeting with my advisor, getting a tutor, or studying with different classmates.  

My mom would always end with words of encouragement. “We believe in you. We’re thinking and praying for you.” Those words now mean far more than I understood at the time.   

My parents got me through school with both financial help and constant support. They encouraged “excellence, playfulness, cleverness and exploration in performed activities” – in academics, sports and every area of life.

The Journey Continues

 As my technology career progressed, there were many joys and tragedies. I married my best friend. Sadly, my father died. We moved to Europe. I changed employers several times. We had four children. We moved back to Michigan.

Through it all, my mother was there. We’ve talked every Sunday night for more than twenty years. She would listen, encourage, challenge, motivate, celebrate and cry with us.

Meanwhile, I unexpectedly inherited another incredible gift – a second mother that I love. My mother-in-law didn’t detract from the relationship with my first mom. On the contrary, she brought a wealth of joy
and warmth to our family that words cannot described. Remembering her kind support, her interest in my job, the articles and books she sends me and her pointed questions on world events, always brings a smile to my face.

My two mothers have been, and continue to be, a positive model for my life. They have shown me what it means to be a parent, even when the kids are grown up. They teach me all about cyber ethics – without even mentioning a computer. They encourage me by asking questions in public on work-related topics, when I am (secretly) sure that they care little about the answer.

Even at work, I still feel their influence. I preach trust, integrity, self-sacrifice, kindness, perseverance and excellence to employees at work. I wonder: Who has demonstrated more of that complete package than my two mothers over the past 80+ years? I am truly blessed to have these women in my life.

Hackers and Mother’s Day

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. I initially struggled with the idea of bringing cybersecurity and Mother’s Day together. But the more I thought about it, the more it makes sense.

My two favorite “hackers” (who don't even recognize the new meaning) are:

  • The ones who have modeled and encouraged “excellence, playfulness, cleverness and exploration in performed activities” for over eight decades…
  • The “white hats” who taught me the difference between right and wrong…
  • The ones who can’t define javascript or explain spear phishing…
  • Nevertheless, the ones who I still go to for the answers to life’s most important questions…

Thanks mom – for teaching me what it means to be a hacker - using the second definition.