From an 8-Bit Home Computer to a Cyber Warrior
Vol.9 Issue 2

When I played my first video game, I was intrigued by how the little rudimentary pixels were directed where to go and what to do. I loved watching that bouncing dot hit my digital paddle. I didn’t get to play the first at home video console from Magnavox, but when I finally got my hands on the Atari 2600 and played Pong, I was hooked. I needed to know what was going on inside that little electronic box.

Atari 2600 VCS (Video Game Console)

Shift gears a few years later, and you’d find me working at the defunct electronic retailer Intelectrix. In my young adulthood you would be hard pressed to tell me I hadn’t found my dream job. I not only got to sell other people on the allure and excitement of digital entertainment, but when the mall closed, I had unlimited access to the display models – every game console at the time; Colecovision, Intellivision, Atari 2600, 5200, 7800. I couldn’t get enough, but I still wanted to know what was going on inside those electronic marvels. As if the universe anticipated my wishes, we received our first "personal computers" in the form of the Atari 400. My initial thought was, "Where is the joystick?"

The Atari 8-bit home computer introduced by Atari, Inc. in 1979 with the Atari 400.

I read the product information and advertisement poster. It told me it was "the affordable home computer that’s easy to use, even for people who’ve never used a computer before." My brain told me, "Hey bud, they mean you." I was intrigued. Not only could I play video games on this thing, but I could create my own games. So began my introduction to Basic programming. I wrote a text-based adventure with more bugs than a condemned warehouse, but as time went on, I improved and built cleaner code and shared it with my friends who also had this technical marvel. We would spend endless hours dreaming of creating the next big thing, or some newfangled utility to make life easier.

Fast forward to 1984. This is where it was clear that I must begin "adulting." With a family and responsibilities, my computer time took a back seat to working long hours, raising my daughters, and paying bills. I eventually realized that working at a convenience store was not in my long-term plans. I needed to find something that would allow me to meet my obligations and allow me to pursue my passion of computers at the same time.

Fire Controlman Second Class Ford Operating the OJ-194 Console

I took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) and discussed my options with a Navy recruiter. I was told that there were a variety of fields that I was qualified for, and I gravitated toward anything that had the word computer or micro-computer in the description. I landed on Fire Controlman.

That was not the most intuitive name, as it confused my friends and family. Everyone inquired, "you’re going to fight fires?" I explained that I would be learning programming, digital systems, radar, and microwave principles as well as advanced electronics.

A year and a half of training later, and I was aboard the USS Tattnal working in the computer plot division. I loved it. I loved poring through code and schematics to fix equipment issues. The blinking lights and the sound of mylar tape spinning as we loaded our operating system was exactly the work that I was looking for.

My time in the Navy was rewarding and exciting. Not only did I get to work on advanced weapons systems, learn programming, and troubleshoot problems, I was able to see many new and exciting cities and countries. I’ve been to Italy, France, Turkey, Israel, Romania, and so much more. I wouldn’t trade it for the world, but the time was coming when I would need to make the decision to stay in as a "lifer" or get out and go back into the civilian world.

Sperry/Univac 1219 Computer

With my skills and education, I knew either choice would be acceptable, but I wanted more time with my family and wanted to see my daughters grow up, so I left the Navy to find my next dream job. I found my first post-Navy job as a contractor for an oil company. I was brought on as a computer technician in the desktop support group. I loved it. I got to troubleshoot computers, networks, and printer problems. I was equipped with a pager and a folder full of floppy disks with various utilities. I knew when my pager went off, it was another opportunity to help someone with an issue that was trying to ruin their day. I was top in my field with an excellent problem solution rate, excellent customer reviews, and good reviews.

The oil company I was working for offered to convert me from a contract employee to full time. I jumped on board and couldn’t be happier, or so I thought. Several years into this dream job, a new group was forming. It was in its infancy, but it intrigued me. They called this new group "Information Security." The manager of this new group reached out to me and asked me if I had any interest in moving from desktop support to information security. Well, not knowing what it was, I discussed it with him. I would be part of a team that would ensure that the company’s data and assets were protected from bad actors. It sounded fun, so I made the leap. It turned out to be so much more than I could have anticipated.

We were on the ground floor of this new concept. We pioneered remote disc imaging of suspect devices, we were trained in and performed digital forensics, analyzed logs for suspicious activities, and protected intellectual property. We worked with corporate lawyers and local law enforcement to stop or catch the bad guys and recover intellectual property. We created scripts and programs to monitor and capture data packets, conducted penetration tests on corporate networks, engaged in social engineering exercises to penetrate physical security controls. All of this to protect our data and assets. I was hooked. There would be no going back, and I haven’t.

I have continued to learn and grow. My degree in Information Assurance and Forensics is focused on information security and protection of data assets. I hold multiple information security certifications (CISSP, CEH, CGRC, CCSP and CISA) but will never be satisfied, as there is more to learn or attain. I am forever passionate, not only about the inner workings of programs and electronic devices, but also about securing things, whether that be data, devices, people, or doors. Incidentally, I have never lost my passion for video games. I think it is my destiny that I will have a game controller in my hands until I can no longer operate the joysticks and buttons.

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