I was a freshman in high school on September 11, 2001. Living in New Jersey, many of my classmates were deeply affected by the 9-11 attacks. But we all felt a call to service. In my case, I resolved to join the Army and enlisted in the infantry three years later. After a year, I got an appointment to West Point. The Academy fundamentally shaped the rest of my life: I got a world-class education, met my classmate and future wife Danielle, and won a Rhodes scholarship. After commissioning, Danielle attended medical school in New Jersey while I completed a Ph.D. at Oxford. I transferred to the Army’s newly formed Cyber Branch after my graduation and reunited with her in San Antonio, TX to start a family and continue our Army careers together.
As a cyber officer, I got the opportunity to lead several major efforts with nation-level impact. By latching on to mentors and senior leaders in the cyber community, I was able to choose exciting, challenging assignments. Because the branch was so new, I got to help shape it in important ways—for example by creating and co-teaching the C++ course that all of the Department of Defense’s cyber capabilities developers must take. These kinds of experiences proved to be deeply rewarding.
I decided—with mixed feelings—to leave service nearly ten years after commissioning. I wrote an article, “Fish out of Water: How the Military Is an Impossible Place for Hackers, and What to Do About It” about some of the structural problems keeping highly technical talent on Active duty, including antiquated career management, forced time away from technical positions, lack of mission, non-technical leadership, and staggering pay gaps. Since, there have been promising signs that these issues are being addressed.
After leaving active duty, I co-founded a company with two other former Army cyber officers called Shift5. We’re building products that protect weapons systems and national commercial infrastructure from cyberattack. I also published a book, C++ Crash Course.
I’m incredibly grateful to the Army for allowing me to serve, and for all that the Army has given me in return. I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.