The first image that most often comes to people’s minds when they hear the term “hacker” is some young, video-game-loving, Mountain Dew drinking, Doritos-eating guy with glasses living in his parents’ basement. Add to that your typical presumption of a lack of social skills, pussy-pulling ability and more, and one tends to think that becoming a hacker is either something to be spurned or something intellectually unattainable.

Well, I’m here to not only dispel the aforementioned stereotypes, but also to give you some tips on setting yourself on the right path to becoming a hacker, or, as companies like to say, a “Penetration Tester.”

Let’s begin with what a hacker, either good or bad, actually does. It’s quite simple: we make things (hardware/software) act in ways they weren’t designed to act; we break them; we manipulate them to turn on when they’re supposed to be off, and off when they’re supposed to be on; we find problems with the way software is written and hardware is configured; but probably the most important thing we do is we find unique ways to bypass security, whether virtual or physical, in order to gain access to information or resources that we should not be able to access.

I’ll admit that before becoming a hacker, I had always dabbled in the technology and telecommunications space; however, I never really thought I was capable of hacking until I took a job in 2010 that forced me to dip my foot into the murky waters of 802.11 Wireless Hacking. Prior to getting into this world, I had received some training on basic networking, how computers work, and a little bit of forensics, but was never in a position to truly exercise the skills I had learned.

Some of you reading this may be asking yourselves, “Well, why didn’t you try it on your own?” The answer is, I didn’t know what I didn’t know and viewed the barriers to the hacking world as insurmountable obstacles. I didn’t even know where to begin, and it all seemed complicated, disjointed and uninviting to the novice.

Suffice it to say, I now feel comfortable calling myself a hacker after a few years of working in the field unofficially and officially. My journey was slow and painful, and as such I learned several important lessons along the way, lessons which I’d like to share with those who are aspiring to enter the world of hacking or Cyber Security.

1. In the beginning everything seems difficult and strange. Please refer to Josh Kaufman’s book, The First 20 Hours, about how to overcome this problem.

2. You will never be an expert in everything. This was and is still a difficult thing for me to accept as I’ve always been very good at everything I’ve done. You should strive to become capable in everything and a master of a few things.

3. This one feeds off of #3. Find one or two areas/subjects/topics and learn everything you can about them.

4. You will feel like quitting hundreds of times along your journey. Don’t give in, and use Google as your companion on this lonely journey.

5. If you don’t have a curious mind, don’t even bother starting the journey.

6. Your job as a hacker is to solve unique problems that most people aren’t even able to understand. So, prepare yourself to read widely, and not just in the technology field. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve solved the “unsolvable” because of something I read in a work of fiction, history, psychology or art.

7. Be an active learner, not a passive learner. Sure, watching Youtube videos on how to crack your neighbor’s WEP encryption is cool and all but, you’ll never learn anything unless you put fingers to keyboard.

8. Learn and use memory techniques such as memory palaces and the loci method. They will be invaluable as the amount of information you must learn and understand grows exponentially.

9. Take a break and get some exercise. Your brain learns well in short bursts and when it is well fed and well oxygenated. Get off your lazy ass and get moving.

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10. Learn how to search the Internet effectively.

In my next post, Part 2 of “So You Wanna Be a Hacker,” we will dive into some of the core topics you should begin studying and some of the resources on the Web. There are some amazing individuals out there who are completely self-taught using books and Web resources. This may not be for everyone but, the fact still remains: we all have the world’s largest library at our fingertips! We can learn anything and everything.

Other Suggested Readings

We Are Anonymous: Inside the Hacker World of LulzSec, Anonymous, and the Global Cyber Insurgency

2600 Magazine: The Hacker Quarterly

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