What is your current role and where do you work?
In my current capacity as a Cyber Security Architect, ICS/SCADA/EA SME for Energy, Manufacturing, and Petrochemicals with a major government consulting firm, I work closely with energy, chemical, and manufacturing clients to transform and mature their critical manufacturing and operating infrastructure against cyber-attack, and provide actionable and timely telemetry to assist in incident response and post mortem forensics, against some of the world’s most complex adversaries.
How did you get into tech?
As a kid, I was always enamored with gadgets and electronic toys. Being socially awkward, nerdy and painfully shy, I spent a lot of time reading physics and electronics books, learning how circuits worked, and with computers (as rudimentary as they were at the time). That passion later evolved into science and electronics competitions, electronics and computer courses in high school, and a summer job with a local cabling technician that taught me about cabling and wiring patch panels (Cat3 and punch-downs). From there I received my first personal computer while heading to college and the rest, as they say, was history.
What’s your favorite technology to work with and why?
My passion is (and has been for some time) information security, which includes cyber, and all things that are information security: network security, application security, critical infrastructure cyber security, hacking (mostly whitehat these days), and infrastructure associated with said areas (firewalls, security appliances, etc). For me, information security is one of the most rapidly evolving and complex areas of information technology. The dynamism of emerging and even persistent threats, coupled with the psychology of why people interact with technologies they way they do, is very intriguing and challenging when you are developing strategy. Cyber security changes so rapidly, the practitioner is in a constant state of learning, and this in my opinion keeps us from burning out in the field.
What project are you most proud to have worked on and why?
Being a huge football fan, I believe that the pinnacle of my career was working with the NFL, City of Indianapolis, and various law enforcement agencies to provide cyber security, emergency management, and notification services for the Super Bowl, and to be able to be in the press box with credentials for the Super Bowl. The level of coordination and logistics that go into developing POAs (plans of action) and evaluating systems (cameras, computer systems, networks) is on a scale most will never encounter. Further working with the major carriers to provide wireless services for in excess of 1 million people is an extraordinary endeavor, and I was (and am still) honored to have been part of the experience.
What do you see as the most interesting technology on the horizon?
For me, IoT seems to be the most interesting technology on the horizon. As we become more connected and interconnected, the ability to gather telemetry from wearables and other devices that traditionally have not provided data before becomes intriguing. From having your refrigerator send you an alert when the milk gets low, to a water heater sending notifications to a repair company whenever it is getting ready to fail or malfunction, the use of these “smart” devices creates a myriad of opportunities, and a cornucopia of security and privacy concerns that will keep practitioners busy far into the foreseeable future.
If you weren’t working in tech, what would you be doing?
Were I not in tech, I would likely be following my secondary passion: teaching at the collegiate level. It has always been a dream of mine to teach the next generation—a dream that I was finally able to realize this year with teaching cyber security at the collegiate level.
What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned in your tech career?
Having been in the industry for over twenty two years, I can honestly say that there are two things that have certainly kept me sane in cyber security, and it is a sentiment that I share with all of those that I mentor. Two simple things to remember: Have a thick skin and a short memory span. Here’s why: Cyber security, and IT in generally is often the scapegoat for everything that goes wrong within a business, and never the bastion of praise when things go right. As practitioners, we cannot take those slings and arrows personally. Part of the demise of many technologists is they cannot take the daily bludgeoning that often befalls us in corporate America. For those of us that are able to weather the storm, however, there is a lucrative and potentially rewarding and challenging career for us in technology.
What can companies do to create more inclusive environments?
Interestingly enough, I think that companies approach diversity differently. In fact, I would argue that ‘diversity’ has very different connotations depending on who you are talking to, and what the company perceives to be the ‘diversity’ problem. As African-Americans, we often assume that a company’s diversity initiatives are geared toward more inclusion of us. However, what I have found is often times that is not what the company necessarily intended. The dichotomy is often ‘white’ and ‘non-white’, as opposed to further delineation beyond that. If we as African-Americans want diversity beyond the standard ‘diversity’, then we are going to do things to compel it…either through increased involvement in programs that specifically target us within the workplace, or creating our own outreaches through blogging or other social media avenues to provide insight on inclusion.
What keeps you busy when you’re not being a technologist?
Family. Because I often travel for work, I try to spend all of the time that I can with my wife and children, and enjoying activities with them, and attempting to be the best husband and father I can. Raising African American children in this environment is ever becoming more challenging, as there are so many concerns even from those that are charged with protecting us, and so we have to remain vigilant with our children and their upbringing. I love to read and in classical nerd fashion, I still love to play video games. I am a huge Saints fan, and so football season is a special time in the Brager household, as the earth stops rotating from noon until about 3 PM on a Sunday evening while the game is on.