Java Zen:Thinking Out Loud Friday, 2017.12.15
The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain
ground.

		Thomas Jefferson

2005.03.07

Back to School

I’m headed back to school. I was accepted to the Master’s Computer Information Systems program at Denver University (University College).

This has been on my private wish list (going for a Masters) for close to 10 years, but Janet’s health placed this on permanent hold. This past fall, Janet and I had a number of discussions in regards to the “crisis” of her health. She has been fighting breast cancer for over 10 years now – for most of that time it looked as if she could die within months. Well, she didn’t and even though her health isn’t the greatest at the moment, we needed to begin to find ways to have a “normal” life.

Fewer and fewer friends were asking us to dinner less and less frequently. Most of these evenings were spent talking about Janet, her health and the issues that surround her situation – the state of western medical care (usually it’s shortcomings), the politics of “alternative, complementary, integrative” care, chemotherapy – all great, important stuff. But it was all the time and I believe people grew weary of hearing about bad news. No doubt, they have their own issues which trouble them and talking about such things can seem pointless with a cancer patient at the table.

We needed to find other things to talk about. We needed other dreams to pursue. We needed other things to be interested in and we needed to hear other peoples’ stories. After 10 years of fighting cancer to the level that Janet has fought, it appeared to have long since become a part of what was normal in our lives. At some point, it was no longer a crisis to us and we had missed when this happened.

So, we are working on developing other interests. The cancer battle is still front and center – we are not denying, ignoring or otherwise dismissing its serious nature. Its just that we have to find ways to continue living even with the a dragon in residence.

On a personal level, I chose to tune my career a bit. While current work is for the most part interesting, it isn’t exciting or challenging. At 43 years of age, I’m starting to see folks younger than I pass me over for promotions. The elusive cube with a door isn’t likely to happen if I wait for someone else to tap my shoulder. I’m tapping my own shoulder.

Unlike the college experience of 20+ years ago, I have at my disposal an impressive array of resources. It is far easier to chronicle my path now than it was then. And so, this weblog will serve just that purpose. I shall use this forum to chart my progress, record my observations and occasionally, no doubt, vent some steam.

The essay I had to write for DU’s admission application sums up best how I feel about the next stage of my career and seems to be a good place to kick off this blog theme:

Admission Essay
Historians have been calling the period over the past 25 years the Information Revolution, something akin to the Industrial Revolution in terms of global impact on human society and culture. Time will reveal the historians’ accuracy. Regardless, it is certain our lives are increasingly recorded in the ones and zeros of digital technology while an unprecedented flow of data is monitored and controlled across a broad spectrum of industries for an equally broad spectrum of purposes. Who owns this data and who is responsible for compromised, inaccurate or misused data has yet to be decided. Until then, information security is very much the wild frontier for the Information Revolution.
For the past 25 years, I have been an active participant in this revolution, developing software solutions for both scientific and business related problems. I have enjoyed the success and satisfaction that comes with developing quality solutions which make our lives easier. I have also suffered the effects of identity theft and fought to insure the accuracy of my wife’s medical records during her 10 year battle with breast cancer. In both cases, the failing competency of industry in controlling the data to which it lays claim, combined with corporate inertia in adopting secure technology, has resulted in great personal expense as well as harm to my wife’s health. This, too, is part of the Information Revolution’s history.
These experiences have left me keenly aware of the power and influence computerized information has in our lives. They have placed in sharp contrast the discrepancy between the current level of computer security and what needs to be in place in order to provide protection for private information, preservation of personal liberties and strong national security.
Since I can remember, I’ve sought to create the kind of world in which I would want to live. Coupled with the belief that life’s challenges are calls to strengthen my character and improve the well being of my fellow citizens, I continually strive to enhance my capabilities beyond the scope of my career. Invariably, skills acquired in unrelated areas cross boundaries and provide fresh insight into solving problems. Studying the martial art of Aikido (currently ranked as a 3rd degree black belt) taught me how to use physical strength and power to arrive at peaceful resolutions to conflict. The discipline required of Aikido students and constant practice in quickly identifying weaknesses has had a profound effect on my ability to rapidly debug software problems in complex systems. Studying human communication patterns (NLP), cybernetics and systems theory has allowed me to remain attentive to the needs and capabilities of those around me and thus has had a significant effect on the quality of my software documentation, project planning and management skills.
Past experience, good and bad, has served to clarify my goals for the next 10 years. In recent years, I have designed and built complex, web enabled enterprise applications that have solid records for security, satisfied users and successful return on investment ratios. I have also authored several open source projects and subjected my coding efforts to the scrutiny of a global pool of developers again, with success. I am aware of what it takes to create secure, stable and useful software. While technology continues to evolve at lightning speed, the quality and capabilities of technical management has not kept pace with the industry. The result has been short sighted, on occasion dangerous, leadership. Too many of my successes have been made unnecessarily difficult by uninformed decisions proselytized by MBA wielding Troglodyte School of Business graduates. Regrettably, information security management is dominated by those who manage what they do not understand. Recognizing the need to change this, I feel it is time to take my role in the Information Revolution to the next level and actively participate in determining its direction.
I believe DU has the program to help me succeed at creating a leadership role in the computer security field. Successfully completing the CIS Master’s program (with Systems Security Concentration) will provide a solid foundation on which I can confidently build a successful career. I expect the program to help me become competent in the field of computer system security and capable of articulating the importance of computer security to corporate executives, public policy makers and the uninitiated public.
DU has a reputation for excellence, so I expect course work to be well designed, thorough and challenging. I expect the program to expand my current skill set beyond core technology and include other equally important areas of business, such as the economic impact of information security, risk assessment, security process control, strategic deployment and maintenance. I expect to find at DU a quality team of instructors and mentors capable of guiding my studies so that by graduation I am qualified to lead in each of these areas. Given the relatively new and rapidly evolving field of computer systems security, I also expect DU’s program to allow the opportunity for both creative and critical thinking.
Upon successful completion, I anticipate the CIS Master’s degree will prove to be a valuable catalyst in helping me step forward into a leadership role on the frontier of the Information Revolution. This role may be within an existing corporation as an Information Officer or perhaps will result from creating a new organization that allows me to utilize the expertise acquired during the course of my studies. Five years after receiving this degree, I expect to be in a position of authority, leading a team of competent professionals, respected by my peers and sought-after for my opinion. I anticipate contributing to the field as an author of technical articles as well as continued involvement in the nonprofit community as a technical consultant.
Information security is a process. It must be effective, adaptive and reliable. In order to fulfill these requirements, information security professionals must be intelligent, creative and qualified. My goal is to hone these skills on the best academic whetstone I can find. DU’s CIS Master’s program appears to offer the opportunity I seek.