AWS Solutions Architect, Ethical Hacking, and the Loss of a Dear Friend

A couple of weeks ago I wrote out a plan for myself to follow in the hopes of getting a job. It’s important for me to be able to track my own progress, so in that vein I’ll be posting occasional updates on what I’m working on and how I’m structuring my time and efforts.

The first week went according to plan. The second, sadly, did not.

Week 1: Amazon AWS Solutions Architect course from ExamPro.co

One of the classes I didn’t get the opportunity to take at UW was on cloud computing. With it being such a popular course, that there were only two or three opportunities per year seemed insufficient. This coupled with the ubiquity of required AWS experience in job postings made deciding to start with a cloud course fairly easy. We’d covered cloud computing as a concept during a couple of courses, and drawn up several diagrams and even written some limited code, but I wanted to dig in and make sure I understood the concepts inside and out.

I decided I’d be a better developer if I understood the architecture, hence CSA

After some snooping through YouTube and FreeCodeCamp.org, I found a course on ExamPro.co for the AWS Solutions Architect certification. I’d seen a YouTube video containing 10+ hours of content, but rather than doing battle with the video progress bar for a week, I opted to pay $21 and have the videos cut into smaller chunks for easier viewing.

For 6-8 hours per day over the course of five days I learned more about cloud computing and the AWS platform than I ever would have expected. Coming from a background where my only formal education on how the internet really works was from networking and security courses, learning how to build robust, scalable systems using the cloud was extremely illuminating. No longer do I fear the word “scalability”!

Several times per day I caught myself thinking “I should host the crash detector server here and build up a backend with a proper database. I’d set up a Lambda function, but I don’t want to wait for the VM to spin up while I’m sitting in a ditch. Then I could add mapping and breadcrumbing using a Google Maps API. Then set it up for multiple users. Then set up horizontal scaling. Then I could…” The possibilities are daunting, not because I think they’d be particularly difficult to implement, but because once I go down that rabbit hole I might not come back up for a month or two.

Ultimately I thought the course from ExamPro was a great balance of breadth and depth, and I’m very happy to have stumbled upon it. Initially it had been my intention to register for and take the certification exam sometime this week (after a day or two of refresher videos), but following the events of week two that cost will just have to wait.

Week 2/3: Practical Ethical Hacking course on Udemy

I love cybersecurity. The idea of being a good “bad guy” is enormously appealing to me. I can remember reading the book Rogue Warrior by Richard Marcinko in junior high, learning about the concept of red teaming and being completely awestruck by it. I was so enamored by the idea that I changed my major from Computer Science & Software Engineering to CSSE: Information Assurance and Cybersecurity within a month of starting UW’s Intro to Cybersecurity class. 

Opening Kali Linux for the first time gave me a very distinct feeling that I’ve trusted time and time again to make drastic life changes. Watching a motorcycle do a wheelie past me at 3am outside of Grant’s Pass, Oregon gave me the same feeling, so I bought a motorcycle. Similarly, writing my first line of HTML on Codecademy while high out of my mind on oxycodone following shoulder surgery led me to immediately decide to go to college for computer science. You know, minor parts of my life.

How anyone can know this exists and not want to master it is beyond me.

When the lockdowns began in March and April, several online courses were either made free or deeply discounted. One of these was the Practical Ethical Hacking course by Heath Adams, hosted by Udemy. I had registered for the course back then to ensure access when I wasn’t busy with school, but for the next several months it was just another class I’d gained access to. OK, so it was more than that, but with how much I enjoy security stuff taking this class felt like eating dessert first. I’d decided to eat my vegetables instead and spent months on Leetcode, Hackerrank, and other DS&A platforms honing my ability to manipulate data with a minimum of complexity. After the CSA class, however, I was no longer able to resist.

In the first day I managed to plow through nearly to the “midterm” project. Admittedly, I skipped the Python and Linux sections, because I’ve got enough experience with them that it seemed like a bit of a waste. As much effort as I put into my security courses at UW, my professors tended to stick mostly with theory, preferring 60-90 minute follow-along labs on things like Wireshark, Hashcat, and Wifite to actually letting us attack a real system.

Not terribly realistic, but good for learning relevant principles

Monday night, just prior to gaining root access to the Kioptrix Level 1 VM the teacher had us attacking, I called it a night. I was pumped up and excited to get back to work Tuesday, but it was not to be. 

Tuesday morning I had gone to lunch with some friends from high school, only to be recalled by my wife to take our dog, Bella, to the vet. She’d had the runs (which wasn’t unheard of), and was shivering (which was). I took her in, she was given a shot to stop the diarrhea, and went home. Two hours later she vomited up all of the food she’d eaten that day, so we went back to the vet where we were told that we just needed to let the drugs work for a while. I suspected an intestinal blockage, but was persuaded to wait and see if she would improve overnight. She did not.

She was up all night in pain. I’m not certain she slept for a single minute. My wife took the first shift, allowing me to sleep on the couch while she snuggled up with Bella, and I relieved her at around 5am. At 8am we were the first people in line at the vet. They now agreed that something was wrong and took her in for x-rays. There was indeed a blockage in her intestines. She was taken into surgery midday, and we were warned that if the blockage was cancerous that they could not ethically wake her up. Many tears were shed. An eternity later, we were informed that the blockage consisted of sticks (Bella loved eating sticks, despite being scolded for doing so) and that one may have pierced her intestinal wall, leaving her septic. The vet gave us 50/50 odds that the intestinal wall had been breached and instructed us to take Bella to an animal hospital for the next 24-48 hours for monitoring and recovery.

Eight hours after we dropped her at the hospital we received a call saying her blood glucose level was crashing and requesting authorization to perform additional work on her. We obviously approved the expenditure, but eight minutes later the vet called to inform us that Bella’s heart had stopped. We declined to resuscitate her, fearing it would cause her to suffer unnecessarily. 

Such a pretty girl…

It took five days of managing grief, being there for my wife, and visiting with tearful friends and family, but today I forced myself to sit down and resume the course. The void left by her death is going to take quite some time to completely overcome, but the way I’m choosing to view that hurt is that it wouldn’t exist if she hadn’t been such a fantastic dog.

Personal space and pit bulls are mutually exclusive values.

At least I get to go back to a class I enjoy.

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