Some thoughts on motivation…

It’s been a while since my last quality shitpost, and it is time I shitposted again. The past year has been a time of growth for me, both in terms of pushing my technical boundaries and in terms of professional character resilience. I’d like to share my thoughts, both to help me gather them, and just incase someone might find them useful.

Without further ado…

Altruism Is Terrible

Over the past year, the Platypus Initiative has been in a state of steady decline. Activity is near-zero, and while there are countless reasons for this, I think the biggest is that we began to switch from wanting to do things for ourselves, to wanting to do things for what we thought was “altruism”.

The old adage, “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink”, holds true: some people are content-creators, but the overwhelming majority are not – and that’s fine. I recall with a certain fondness the times when a few of us would get together and CTF in the dark – when I thought we communally reached for the metaphorical stars and pushed our own technical limits.

While this was fantastic at the time, this is over – this isn’t remotely sustainable, and our time is better spent doing things we’re genuinely interested in.

That’s not to say there’s no room for collaboration – I spent last Saturday sitting together with someone working through some power analysis work – there’s plenty, but it must be organic for it to be truly meaningful, and in terms of holding events, for it to be something more than an excuse to get together and drink.

Row, Row, Row Your Boat

In a corporate environment, it is easy enough to “give up”, rest on your laurels and pretend to know about security, lording over the rest of the organisation with arcane proclamations no-one dares challenge. Whether it is in my day-to-day work or at general infosec social get-togethers, I see this everywhere.

This is base betrayal, of both professional ethics and general sensibilities.

Still entire industries have sprouted up among this concept, and it is not my place to be offended at their chosen livelihood (of fraudster), and more than I can be offended by the respected fisherman or master blacksmith.

Instead, our time is better spent focusing inwards, and taking the opportunity to make the best of our own situation, because if we don’t, no-one else will. In line with the “Altruism Is Terrible” concept, it’s great if we can make our own lives better and do the same for others, but charity starts at home and we should look after ourselves first – you can’t help anyone if you’re not motivated yourself.

To this point, here is (part of – I’ve now moved the oscilloscope to the left side of my laptop to improve my feng shui) my desk at work now, a fortress of quality posting among a tide of business excellence.

Great success.

For anyone thinking of working with my employer, know that I am the exception to the rule, though I hope that one blessed day, more people will be able to pursue interesting technical content as part of their day job, and I will work towards this.

Nothing Is Beyond Our Reach

The most difficult part of the last year has been to remain consistently motivated, and in this, I haven’t been 100% successful. There’s been days where I’ve just given up and played videogames – and this is ultimately fine. LiveOverflow deals with this quite well:

Still, I am not LiveOverflow.

I’ve found the trickiest part is to get started – once I open IDA and load that massive memory blob, or heat my soldering iron, things are easy form there – but some days, it is particularly difficult to begin. I’ve found the trick is twofold:

  • Surround yourself with people that value actions over words. If you don’t know any, then email the authors of good papers and ask them questions, and get that conversation started.
  • Keep a diary with a to-do list, and don’t go to sleep until you’ve updated it. Even if all you do is shift everything to tomorrow’s to-do list, at least make the effort to recognize you’ve done nothing, and tomorrow, seek improvement.

If you can combine the above two somehow – perhaps by finding a group of similarly minded people, all the better.

Remember Your Roots

A year ago, I could barely hardware – but now, I have some experiencing tampering with embedded systems, and know enough to Google what I don’t know. Two years ago, I was stumbling my way through CTF challenges – now, after deliberate practice, I know enough to meaningfully contribute and can comfortably solve things on my own.

Still, it is difficult to look at the achievements of others and not feel a sense of despair that we’re not there. To this, I refer to Ange Albertini’s talk at hack.lu:

It is important to keep in mind that at the end of the day, there’s always someone smarter out there, and someone who knows things we will never practically come across. It’s almost a matter of prioritization – of picking the things you want to be good at, and throwing your heart and soul into it, and doing the bare minimum for everything else.

Surprisingly, the most difficult part of this is to let go of things (and people) that don’t positively contribute to where you want to be: it is far better to strive for excellence alone, than to accept mediocrity with company.

See you in TJCTF (again).

About Norman

Sometimes, I write code. Occasionally, it even works.
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