Reach Ever Higher
Everybody’s freshman year takes them far from their comfort zone. I didn’t have any illusions about that.
“But, jeez,” I remember thinking as I stepped onto a plane bound for Las Vegas, “this is several hundred miles farther than I expected.” In my eyes, I had long since made my first year a successful one. I was just finishing up my first year as a research assistant with the Senator Leahy Center for Digital Investigation (LCDI). I was equally excited and intimidated by the lab ever since my first tour of Champlain College as a high school sophomore. I didn’t think I had what it took to work there; my technical knowledge and prior knowledge didn’t seem like they were up to snuff. Still, I applied. I still felt a little out of my league, overwhelmed by the amount of information being thrown at me both in work and at school. It was around this time that I received an email: send in your applications to go to Enfuse 2016!
Now, I had known about the Enfuse delegation since those tours so many years ago, but I hadn’t thought about it too much since. “Someday,” I had said then. “Pace yourself.” I sent in an application once the time came, expecting a polite rejection. “It’s fine,” I thought. “I’m a first year; I have plenty of time to be considered for the real world stuff.” Personally, I was content with getting the opportunity to physically acquaint myself with digital forensic tools and software. My classes didn’t cover much more than general principles and theory. I had already talked myself out of it by the time I finished my application; I was on the right track, but Enfuse was out of my league. Then I got the acceptance email and my jaw dropped onto my lap. Before I knew it, the year was over and I found myself staring at Caesar’s Palace with a suit and absolutely no idea what to expect. And in short, Enfuse was larger than life.
I saw four pools at Caesar’s (there’s probably more), but the welcome reception took up at least two of them. I entered to see executives idly chatting over a deluge of music, dancers, food and lights. There was a giant setup of Forza-like racing simulators you’d see at an arcade in the middle of it all. Some of my apprehension escaped me while I watched security professionals curse and groan in frustration as they slammed into the virtual walls over and over again. I was nervous when I boarded my plane that morning, but by the end of the night I was ready and anxious to get started. And when sessions began the next day, I made a bewildering realization: turns out I wasn’t the hapless freshman I thought I was!
Soon, I was I introducing myself to forensic teams based all over the world during and in between sessions. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to talk shop! In real time, I saw all of the work that I did over the course of the year come together. Just as amazing was how many people knew about Champlain’s digital forensic program; I even met six or seven alumni specked in the crowd. I had never been to a conference before, and I didn’t know a thing about networking. After a couple of sessions, however, I was hooked and it all came very naturally. I learned a lot in the lectures I attended, mostly having to do with expert witness testimony, trade secret laws, report writing and some less advanced operations like smart phone forensics and USB tracking. I also received some crucial insight into the industry and some of the places I could find myself in further down the road with a degree.
Enfuse was the culminating event of a jam-packed year that taught me plenty of lessons. The one I found most valuable – and the one I want to teach as many people as I can – is to go for it all. It’s not your background that decides how well you do here, like I thought when I arrived at Champlain. The key is to have a willingness to put yourself out there and learn as much as possible; to buckle down and be ready to plunge headfirst into every opportunity you can find. Nobody is going to count you out for being new to the game, so don’t do it to yourself like I almost did. If you can, try to get to Enfuse – send in that application. I can’t endorse it more as an amazing learning experience.