What would an ex military cowgirl do in a Hackathon team?

Mel O'Sullivan - September 20, 2020

I first saw the word "Hackathon" and thought it might have something to do with clearing scrub. You know - a bunch of people get together to hack away at weed eradication. I saw the term "Pen Testing" and thought "don't they test the Pens before they leave the factory?"

When one of the jet techie types I work with suggested I join a Hackathon team (after gently explaining what it all meant with a straight face) my first thought was:

"What could a middle aged, ex Army, office lady/cowgirl with almost no understanding of cyber security possibly contribute to a gun Hackathon Team of Cyber Security Jets?" So I rounded up my friendly neighbourhood Cyber Security Jet and asked the question.

Turns out the answer is: "quite a bit".

So what is a Hackathon?

Basically, a mission/objective is set and teams are put together with the desired skill sets to achieve it. Teams may require a  whole range of skill sets including Data Analysts, Penetration Testers, Cyber Security Specialists, Database Operators, Baristas (coffee is a must), IT Technicians, Project Managers, Team Captains, Subject Matter Experts - any skill set relevant to the objective.  You may be unable to operate a computer and still be a key member of a Hackathon Team. The sneaky mindset of the successful wargamer or tactician is highly valued. If you're not so great on a computer or new to the scene you still bring a very valuable objective perspective to the table and add to the diversity of the team.

No different really to the way military teams are organised and configured really. If you need a driver, a demolitions expert and an interpreter then that is how you configure your team.

Mission types vary. Cyber Security and Penetration Testing are perhaps the best known. Hackathons are also used for Intelligence Gathering. Sometimes they have Programming/Coding Competitions - sometimes it's about developing new applications or showcasing new ideas. Hackathons are fantastic networking opportunities for industry specialists and a great way to practice/display your skills - especially if you win! You can use them to gain experience for your Resume and make business contacts.

Teams are usually put together well before the event to allow for troops to task allocation, setup and rehearsal. Most of the time a reasonably decent laptop with webcam/mike and standard internet connection are all you need. Most of the popular operating systems are more than up to the task. My Cyber Security Jet says that YouTube would be your best friend when it comes to learning the software. You should expect to have to download software.

So what can someone like me offer the team? Analytical mindset, curiosity, communication skills, organisational skills, leadership skills, life experience, strategic and tactical problem solving, "think outside the box" creativity, agile mindset, diversity, range, motivation, drive and tenacity. As a recent major Hackathon Winner said to me - one of the advantages Veterans have is that we just keep trying  until we find a solution.

You better believe that a veteran can contribute to a Hackathon - regardless of the level or nature of your computer skills. I'm just about to enter my first Hackathon - I'll let you know how it goes.

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