Cybersecurity, ADHD, and Alan Turing

{Note: This was originally posted on October 28, 2016}

October is an important month for cybersecurity. Most people in tech know it as National Cybersecurity Awareness Month. But it is also ADHD awareness month. I tend to think that while this is an accident, it is appropriately coincidental.

When I was about 9 years old, I was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The National Institute of Mental Health describes ADHD as “a brain disorder marked by an ongoing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development.” To read this, you may be surprised that my own experience with ADHD has been different from what most would expect.

As a child, ADHD was very hard on my development. Like many others, I was ostracized, laughed at, and often times made to feel less than. It didn’t help that my inability to concentrate dramatically impacted my academic performance, required me to take tests in a separate room, and harmed my ability to read and write. Mathematics was magic, science seemed more like fiction, and the normal pace of the classroom was overwhelming to me. It took me years to control my impulses, direct my mental energy, ween myself off of medication, and discover that ADHD can be an advantage.

{At this point, I’ve stepped away from this piece 3 times to either…oh wow…what is that over there…}

It wasn’t until my sophomore year of high school that I began to understand how to exercise my mental judo. Studying at a hyper-competitive college preparatory institution, the workload became overwhelming. Every night, it was like a pile of facts and figures fell down on my head. Struggling to work through it all, I began to see an opportunity. By organizing the totality of work into small chunks, running myself in 15–30 minute springs, and laying out the content on my workbench, I was able to use my impulse to move from task to task as an advantage. In modern terms, I was agile.

Cybersecurity is the ultimate workload. Nothing makes sense, everything is iterative, all of the content is interrelated, and success is largely dependent on pattern matching and intuition. Later in life, I would come to realize that cybersecurity is the ideal field for me. The way that I work is just as agile as the adversary.

If you need proof that those afflicted with ADHD are important to the field of cybersecurity and computer science, look no further than the father of it all: Alan Turing. His advancements in machine learning and cryptography changed the world, broke Nazi cyphers, saved millions of lives, and ended a World War II. Like many others, his mind worked differently enough that he could shift the balance of power by understand more and putting it into the world.

ADHD is not only an advantage; it is a gift to one of the most important industries of our time.

Cybersecurity executive, recovering startup founder, tech philosopher, hacker, traveler, early-stage investor. Independent. Faithful optimist.

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