First Visit to Austin
My first trip to Austin came as a pleasant surprise -- as most of my time was spent as a remote intern, I wasn't sure how often I'd get to meet in person with the team. I was invited to see the office within the first couple of months of working there. Not knowing what to expect, I was eager to put faces to the names I worked so frequently with. It was nice to see the main office and share the week with my coworkers experiencing some of the things that make Austin a great place to live after working hours. This first trip solidified my belief that this internship was about to be an excellent opportunity for me. I felt like I connected with my coworkers, and it was exciting to think of all the things we might build together along the way.
The second time I visited Austin, I was asked to speak about ThreatIngestor at an event InQuest would host at San Jac Saloon aptly named Hacker Hoedown. This marked my first time talking publicly about a project I was a part of. As nervous as I felt, I realized that it was not nearly as hard as I would have expected -- I was confident in the project I was talking about. More importantly, I was passionate about it because it was something I genuinely thought could help other people. Realizing that talking about a topic is much easier when you're knowledgeable and passionate was an essential step in becoming better at conveying my ideas to the people who might be able to benefit from them. I was met with support from my coworkers, and am much more comfortable speaking in front of a crowd as a result.
I was invited to Blackhat for the first time! I shared my ideas with peers and brainstormed solutions for some of my problems, and listened to the trials, and learned information from the experts surrounding me. At Pedram Amini's Worm Charming talk, I was even credited at the end of the presentation on some of the work I did on InQuest Labs. It was my first time in Las Vegas, and I really enjoyed meeting my coworkers again in a social atmosphere.
On top of all this, I worked the whole year remotely. Because of this, I was able to travel through a large portion of the US. It wasn't always easy to manage my working time with driving time without being exhausted, but it was very much worth it.
Lessons I've learned
Mentors are a catalyst for improving yourself, but you must be self-driven!
As developers and analysts, we stand on the shoulders of giants. Mentors are crucial in passing down information they learned through years of work. My mentors are a source of inspiration to me. Without them, I couldn't have had made many of the projects that I am proud to have my name under. I admire them, and many of their accomplishments are the goals I set for myself. They have considered me as their peer even during the times when I'm learning something new, and I deeply respect them for that behavior.
The time spent with a mentor is intrinsically valuable as a learning tool, and I feel as though it is essential to use what I have learned. It might not always make sense why something needs to be learned, but whether the drive on the topic comes from genuine interest or self-discipline, it doesn't matter. The drive needs to be there because the information is pertinent even if you haven't recognized it yet.
Most problems are not as complex as they seem.
When I first learned to program, it marked a change in the way I thought about things. Programming inherently teaches you to break down complex problems into simpler parts, and for me, it was when I started to apply that to other parts of my life. When I got to InQuest, everything seemed very daunting. Pipelines of information coming in from many places, the many processes a file or IOC goes through before being utilized, how that information is displayed publicly versus internally -- there were tools for everything.
With my programmer hat on and the onboarding docs by my side, I went into each tool until they made sense. To be totally honest; I still don't know how everything works. It’s a never-ending process. But as the months went on, as I studied each cog in the machine rather than simply observing in awe, I became comfortable with the flow of things. In fact, I started to realize that most of the processes weren't that difficult at all. It was my apprehension as I was looking at a huge task that was causing my struggles, not the content itself. Keeping multiple tasks using different parts of the infrastructure was valuable for me, as it allowed me to move on to something else when I got stuck until I could come back to it with another plan or decide that I need help while learning more about each portion as I went.
Open Source Everything.
This industry revolves around sharing. Or, controlled sharing to be more accurate. Twitter, GitHub, and VirusTotal are all hubs for publicly shared information, and without them, threats would not be defended against as quickly.
I was found by InQuest from my projects on GitHub if that tells you anything about how I feel about open-source code. I'm proud to have been at a company that values open-source projects as much as I do. I think sharing what you have learned with others is a moral imperative.
ThreatIngestor introduced me to a powerful new idea of how to take in, process, and direct data in python that I had not thought of before. Labs.inquest.net will allow me to continue studying new types of malware and creating rules to catch them. While there's not much money in giving things away, it is a great way to see your ideas take on their own life in the open-source community, and there are ways for open source projects to be profitable. It was an idea I was fond of before, but after working at InQuest, it has solidified my reasoning for why it's so important, not just because it's free and available.
I want to express my extreme gratitude to the InQuest team. For the good times, the great people, and the kindness you've shown me. I've learned more than I expected in a year, and I believe it's due to the environment InQuest provided. I will miss the quirks and personalities of everyone on the team. I think, in part, I liked working here so much because I not only looked up to my coworkers, but I could relate to them as well. Their passion inspired me when I felt overwhelmed.
I'm looking forward to utilizing what I've learned here in my future endeavors -- It's been a great year.