Monday, January 2, 2012

Collaboration, Contribution, and Paralysis

Over the last few weeks there have been a lot of conversation on twitter and different blogs about Contributing back to the Community. Rob started the conversation, Harlan gave us his thoughts, and Erika followed up with hers.

Rob talked about Kristinn, and his creation of the log2timeline tool that he developed and contributed to the community. He used that as a reference point where he talked about various ways to contribute, and that people were willing to help. Rob’s points are centered on tangible contributions in the way of research and tools.

Harlan took this chance to talk about other non-tangible contributions that are over looked but are equally valid. These include providing feedback on the tools that we use, the blogs that we read, the information that is shared within the community, and even asking a question on the subject.

Erika commented on factors of her own paralysis when it comes to a contribution to the community. She talks about how the fear of failure is a major paralyzing factor. She also states that “If you never fall, you’re not pushing yourself hard enough.”  Erika’s blog speaks to some of the things that hinder me as well.

Reading these, Harlan’s comes across to me as a very brutal and honest opinion on the current state of contribution from the community. Yes there are plenty of exceptions to the rule, which excel in their contribution to the community. What stuck with me the most from reading his post was how much it resounds within my own level of contribution to the community. His blog also showed me other areas that I can contribute to that I had not considered.

All of these blogs have caused me to think about my level of contribution to the community, and to also think about what is holding me back. There are some things that I do well, and there are other things that I need to do better.

What I do well
I am willing to share my research and my information that I discover. This is why I started my blog, this is why I posted my summarized term paper, and this is why I am forcing myself out of my comfort level and submitted CFP’s to some conferences.

I ask questions, although the questions might not be the best formed questions. Harlan has experienced a few of my vague twitter questions. While they can be better formed, the responses that I have gotten from them have been extremely valuable in my development.

What I need to do better
I download tools, I try the tools, but I do not provide feedback to the author of these tools. I assumed that this was not an issue, because someone would respond to the author and provide feedback. In reality, if the author does not get feedback on their tool what will drive them to continue releasing another tool or update?

Clicking “Like”, “+1” or re-tweeting a post. Something I have heard before from various community members is “What Benefit did YOU get from it?” We do not seem to share this enough, we are either concerned about what others might think of our idea, or we assume everyone is thinking the same way.

Understand that if I think it is important to put out there someone else will feel the same. We hold back because we are afraid that the information we put out will not be utilized. This in falsely reinforced with the lack of feedback on the information provided.

What holds me back?
The biggest issue I have is the fear of failure or publically admitting my skill deficiencies. This behavior has been something I have struggled with for almost all of my life. This is something that became ingrained into me as a child trying to fit in. If you make a mistake people will ridicule you.

People do not like you if you are more successful than they are. This is another belief that has been a struggle since childhood. When you are trying to fit into the popular crowd, there will be times that you sacrifice your success so they will better than you.

The lack of time I have available to contribute to the community. I work a full time job, I am enrolled as a full time graduate student, I am married with two wonderful kids, and my time is valuable. In reality it is an excuse. I can find at least 10 minutes to drop a note to the author of a tool and tell him what I think of his tool. I can publish research, homework, and even thoughts on my blog as I have time.

What steps have I taken to change?
I realized that I do have the time to contribute. I mean I have been able to pull a 3.6gpa while working full time, keeping quality family time, and organizing BSidesIowa, I should be able to find a few minutes to contribute.

Ask stronger questions about forensic topics. Questions that are vague or open ended when you are looking for a specific answer or guidance will not work. The community members you are requesting help from are busy, and if they do not know what you are asking you will either spend more time clarifying it, or they won’t answer.

Confront the risk of Failure head on. I have never presented a paper outside of class. I have submitted my Windows8 Forensics paper to three conferences, one local and 2 major. If I can get the research in I will also be submitting to the DFRWS conference. I am either going to be humbled by the rejection or I am going to be making an impact, either way I will learn from the experience.

I read the blog The OCD Diaries written by Bill Brenner. It helps to reinforce that other people have battled their demons to achieve success. While not everything that Bill talks about I can relate directly to there is a lot of indirect relations that I can. This is one of Bill’s posts that I have frequently reread; of course it links to a lot of his other posts.

To give thanks to those that I have learned something from, and to let them know what I learned. This is something that Harlan mentions in his blog. Let the person know what you took from their guidance, post, case study so they know how you used it and that their work is being utilized.

I joined the Consortium of Digital Forensics Specialist when it first was announced 4 months ago. I felt at the time that this was an important thing to join to help shape the future of the profession. Since joining I have been very passive, this is not what I wanted when I signed up, so I am going to change that.

Closing Remarks
"Do the thing you fear, and the death of fear is certain." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Everyone in the community had to start somewhere, while we would like to believe that the Rockstars that we idolize were forensicating from the womb, we know better. They took risks, failed and stood back up to face the challenges. The contributed to the fledgling community and provided an incredible foundation for those coming after them.

Eventually they will pass the torch to the next generation, and we must be ready to take that responsibility and step up. We also must be willing to teach the next generation and transfer the knowledge. We will be looked upon by the newest members of the communities as the Guru’s and we will have enormous shoes to fill.

For 2012, take an assessment of what you currently take from the community, what you currently contribute to the community and what else can you contribute to the community. Find a few things that you can improve on and a few new things you can offer to the community and start contributing.

I think Harlan sums it up nicely
 No one of us is as smart as all of us, and the best way to get smarter within this community is to engage with each other, share perspectives and thoughts, and then build from there.
I want to thank EVERYONE who has ever answered a question, given advice, released a tool provided me with encouragement, and visited this blog. Without you I would not be where I am now in my skill set, my development or potentially my career.