A job in Washington?


As many of you know, I am between jobs, looking to work with bright people on interesting problems. It’s going fine, and the ideas and opportunities come at a steady pace.

I attended the FedCyber summit this week, in part to test the waters and investigate opportunities. It was a day well-spent, and I am glad I went.

One speaker said that the government needs to help make geeks cool, so we will increase the number of young people trained in security: CSTEM, STEM plus Security, is the goal. The idea isn’t bad, though I am amused by the idea of a government initiative to make geeks cool. Of course, geek is already cool.

Someone else complained that there were too many feds at Blackhat, diluting the population of people they were there to see.

One of the main topics was the government’s need for skilled computer security people. They need to talk to and hire more people from the “black shirt” community, said one speaker.

That could certainly be me. I’ve helped invent and build technology that helps defend this country (Lumeta), assisted the Secret Service in getting back online after 9/11, and participated in numerous ad hoc meetings and workshops on various aspects of security and visualization. I certainly qualify as a geek: heck, I have a cat named SCIF!

The upside: the government certainly has smart people working on interesting projects. Some of the ideas and technology are astonishing. Most of the problems are well-worth solving. Some friends even get to carry guns.

What are the downsides? I made a list, as I heard discussed at the conference:

It’s hard to apply for the job. It is hard to get promoted. It is hard to attend conferences, hard to telecommute, hard to start work right away, hard to get permission to speak in public, hard to publish ideas, hard to send messages to your boss’s boss, and, by the way, the salary is lousy, there is a dress code; and you have to move to the Maryland/Virginia/DC area, where the houses are cheap, the commute is easy, and the taxes are low.

Okay, I lied about the last three.

If you add about three bullet points, you have a fair description of doing time in a medium-security prison, except you can talk about your work in prison. I have actually quit jobs because one or more of these bullet points became annoying.

Under these circumstances, the salary ought to be about 150% of that of a regular version of the job. I understand that government salaries are generally not allowed to exceed those of the boss or a senator. As a matter of policy, we should give both substantial raises, not because they necessarily deserve it, but because their underlings do.

I have a number of friends who have worked under these conditions for their entire careers. It’s not surprising that most share a sardonic sense of humor about everything. But forget the stupid jokes about military intelligence, these are very sharp people who can blow away most of the black shirts I know. They have been one of the most important parts of my personal education.

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