It’s time again to mark the calendar for Des Moines Area Community College’s ciLive (Celebrate Innovation Live) event. The two-day speaker series titled “Go Boldly,” is heading into its 13th year of convening a group of notable individuals to inspire audiences.
This year’s event is scheduled for March 9-10, and speakers include a stunt actor, an underwater photojournalist, a glassblower and a panel on the future of space. DMACC West Campus in West Des Moines will host again with livestreaming opportunities available. More information and the schedule are available at dmacc.edu/ciweek.
Ahead of the event, the Business Record asked two of the speakers, Bryan Seely, an ethical hacker and public speaker, and Jason Feifer, editor-in-chief of Entrepreneur Magazine, to share their stories.
Bryan Seely’s career as an ethical hacker, speaker and author on cybersecurity has been built on making sure people and larger institutions understand what they need to know about technology and cybersecurity to navigate the rapidly changing digital era and protect themselves, others and their businesses.
Seely does public speaking events for everyone from industry professionals to children to people without a technology background, incorporating comedy and making the topic relatable and accessible so they can better understand what to watch out for.
“There’s a lot of good and there’s a lot of bad [in technology], and as we create more things, the impact of our developments seems to be getting greater and quicker than before. … Things are changing very quickly and people miss stuff, so there’s a big need for people who understand how all of that works together and can see between lines and see what criminals would do to exploit stuff,” Seely said.
Seely has moved around frequently: He grew up in Japan, except for a three-month stint in 10th grade attending Gilbert High School in Gilbert, Iowa, joined the Defense Language Institute in California providing members of the Marine Corps culturally based foreign language education, and worked with contractors in Iraq for two years before returning to the West Coast.
But he said technology has been a constant interest, as he was fixing computers and printers for people as early as 12 years old.
Once back in the U.S., he worked for a company that was manipulating map data on Google Maps, putting up fake businesses with phone numbers that all directed to the same person, and got the fake businesses prioritized on the app, reducing visibility for other area small businesses.
“People figured out how to do this, they did it on a mass scale, and it devastated, and it still continues to harm, local businesses all over,” he said.
He decided to respond by doing the same thing as these hackers, but with the goal of calling attention to the exploitation. First, he changed the names of prominent places to bizarre and funny names, which turned only a few heads so he thought about what would get more attention.
He landed on manipulating the locations and phone numbers of the FBI and Secret Service without permission.
Google Maps still showed the FBI and Secret Service in their same locations, and those who called either headquarters got through, but Seely was able to hear and record every incoming call.
He avoided jail time for the wiretap by immediately disclosing to the FBI and Secret Service what he had done and explaining his reasoning. He said it took some convincing for officials to believe him, but ultimately they determined it wasn’t done with criminal intent.
A lack of malicious intent is key to defining ethical hacking, but what else separates legal and illegal hacking?
“Easy. Paperwork,” Seely said. “Ethical hackers won’t break into something without consent. You need permission to use someone else’s credentials or gain access to a computer system that is not yours. Criminals won’t adhere to those rules.”
Ethical hackers working for businesses will often sign agreements outlining all the systems and information they will have access to while doing penetration testing – pen-testing for short – on a company’s computer systems. Pen-testing identifies flaws and finds all the ways the systems can be breached before criminal hackers capitalize on them and attack.
Being ahead of the game is a key trait found in many ethical hackers, Seely said.
“A lot of people in the ethical hacking space are problem-solvers, and they don’t give up easily and they don’t accept ‘no’ or the default,” he said. “Like a class clown who’s ahead in terms of being able to understand everything, but they’re bored so they’re trying to keep themselves interested. They’re the kids who are not just accepting that things are the way they are. They’re saying, ‘Oh, I can go change my grades.’ Sometimes it’s malicious like that, but there is definitely a use for people who think outside the box and who don’t subscribe to all the normal conventions.”
Jason Feifer’s journey growing into entrepreneurship
“The journey that I went on is similar to the journey that I see in a lot of entrepreneurs, which is that they start with one thing, thinking that they’re providing value in one kind of way, and then they face this choice at some point where they see that if they would be willing to transform themselves and what they do, that there’s just an even bigger opportunity in front of them than they thought in the first place.”
Jason Feifer’s path to being an entrepreneur did not start until he joined Entrepreneur Magazine in 2015 as second in command to the then editor-in-chief. But since he took over the editor-in-chief role in 2016, he has become one in more than one way.
His background was in journalism, first as a newspaper reporter and freelance writer, and then as an editor at several magazines, including Men’s Health, Fast Company and Maxim.
Entrepreneur was an entirely different experience. Feifer said it was the first role that asked him to help shape and change the company’s product.
“Earlier in my career, [I just wanted] to learn and come in and say, ‘OK, let me carry the ball here. This is what needs doing. Let me do it, and let me do well, let me learn about it,’” he said. “But at some point, you reach this place in your career where you say, ‘I don’t want to carry the ball anymore, what I want is a molten environment,’ and that was where I was when Entrepreneur reached out.”
His first year as editor-in-chief was spent “heads down” working on redefining and focusing the print magazine. The main challenge was creating a product that spoke to all kinds of entrepreneurs, which he said has grown to encompass a lot of people, given how the definition of the word has changed in recent years.
“What I came to realize, and this was a guiding insight for remaking the magazine, was that the thing that everyone who calls themselves an entrepreneur has in common, in fact, arguably, the only thing that they all have in common is the experience of being an entrepreneur; the emotional experience of being an entrepreneur is the one thing they can all relate to,” he said.
When Feifer looked up at the end of that year, he had gone through many of the same processes and experiences of an entrepreneur, but he immediately shifted focus to the next step of getting to know the magazine’s audience more personally.
These conversations with entrepreneurs made him think that maybe he should be thinking differently, or rather, vertically.
“Entrepreneurs don’t just do a thing. Everything that they do stacks on top of each other, so that all effort is driving towards one purpose, and that’s not how I had grown up to think,” he said. “I grew up to think really in what I’ve now realized is a kind of horizontal thinking: Do one thing, then move on to the next thing, then move on to the next thing. It never stacks upon something, it never builds. Entrepreneurs just don’t think like that.”
Realizing there were other ways he could, and wanted to, create value and build on everything he was currently doing marked another moment where Feifer became an entrepreneur.
He started his own media company, Heyfeifer Productions, and added titles like podcast host, public speaker and author to his repertoire. These new ventures likely wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t joined Entrepreneur, he said.
With the boost of interest in entrepreneurship coming out of the pandemic and as people leave corporate jobs, Feifer said it’s “critical” that enterprise companies begin to consider structuring their business to welcome entrepreneurial thinkers.
“What you will find is that if you are a true intrapreneurial company, you will attract entrepreneurial thinkers and they will want to have a real meaningful impact in the company,” he said. “They’re not people who just plug into something and, frankly, they might want to work at your company, and also just like me have their own thing on the outside. That used to be less tolerated years ago, and I’m finding that there is more and more tolerance for it now, and not just tolerance but encouragement of it.”