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ISSA 'Next Generation' meeting - The Art of Bullshit

Growing up with Aspergers

Growing up with Aspergers can be incredibly intimidating. For myself it was a world of misunderstanding and miscommunication, often to my own deficit. From a very early age I was forced to overcome communication barriers that others around me weren't even aware of. I was seen as different, and was bullied for it. Unfortunately, I'm not alone.

Autism spectrum disorders are present in an estimated 1.1% 1 of the UK population. Although there is no official register, a plethora of studies have been done in an attempt to gain a further understanding of just how prevelant Autism is.

Aspergers and communication

Communication plays a huge part in our lives, and those with any kind of difficulty being able to communicate are forced to develop other ways of managing their social lives, or even ways to escape from them entirely. Personally, I adore music and playing the piano, while others may find different escapisms. Those with Autism tend to immerse themselves in these hobbies and interests to a starting degree, often becoming experts in the field. This insatiable interest coupled with an analytical mindset means you will often find autistic people making significant headway in the scientific field. I personally believe that Autism is a disability in communication, not in learning.

Difficulty communicating in school

While I had no trouble learning at school, I certainly had trouble communicating. My education was disjointed and I received animosity instead of support from both my peers and my teachers. There was a significant disregard for my own style of learning as it did not adhere to the strict 'recite and repeat' methods employed by the current education system. I regressed further into my interests and was eventually expelled due to a multitude of factors, many of which were caused by my inability to communicate.

Starting Ferox

I left school with a significant disdain for authority and education. I was scared of working around others and so started my Ferox Security with my dear friend Aidan. Computer security was a mutual interest for us both, and one we were extremely passionate about, so it only made sense to go into the industry. I became more and more engrossed in it, motivated by my appetite for puzzles. The reality, however, soon dawned on me that we would have to get our company known, and this meant communicating with others.

I was confident; I had been forced to learn how to communicate and already knew how to overcome the various barriers I had encountered as a child. I was able to adapt by analysing body language, non-verbal cues and other factors of communication I had previously struggled with. I plucked up my courage and set about introducing myself to other companies, networking and so forth.

The world of corporate bullshit

Upon my entry into the corporate world, I was immediately I was greeted with a new language. Phrases such as “promoting synergy” and “360 degree learning” filled the air conditioned office rooms I was in, polluting the atmosphere with self-important nonsense. To start with, this new corporate tongue intimidated me, however I began to question whether anybody actually knew what these phrases meant. Curiosity is in my nature, perhaps to an unhealthy extent at times, and I began to challenge this new language.

A ground-breaking discovery

When I started to challenge the language used, I made an amazing discovery: Nobody actually knows what these phrases mean.

It turns out I wasn't alone. Those around me were also baffled by words such as “incentivisation” and “mindshare”. Not only that, but even the people using these words came to a stand-still when I asked them to explain the meanings behind them. I slowly came to the firm conclusion that this language was mostly employed as a facade, hiding the face of ignorance.

It is my belief that if you can't explain an idea to a someone with no knowledge in that area, you don't understand it well enough yourself. Ferox prides itself on clear, consistent and transparent communications, while I personally pride myself on my use of the English language.

This new world reminded me very much of the world I lived in during my time in education. There was a complete lack of understanding and a mismatch of communication. The only difference was that this time, the confusion was shared by my peers.

Discouraging young Cyber Security enthusiasts

Luckily, due to my experience dealing with Aspergers, I quickly learned to see through the terminology of business. However, this fashion for bullshit is particularly prevalent in our industry. The current knowledge gap is being pumped full of the sewage that is corporate language. This makes the information security industry extremely difficult to understand and exclusive to those with a lot of experience. It puts young people off and quenches their fire for technology. It must be stopped.

A few words on words

Language is a beautiful tool for communication, and I see it as the fabric for all the puzzles I encounter. It can inspire passion, love and enthusiasm; traits I strongly encourage in our industry. If we abuse our language in favour of these nominalisations and bullshit phrases, we will extinguish people's love for cyber security and indeed for business as a whole.

Words! Mere words! How terrible they were! How clear, and vivid, and cruel! One could not escape from them. And yet what a subtle magic there was in them! They seemed to be able to give a plastic form to formless things, and to have a music of their own as sweet as that of viol or of lute. Mere words! Was there anything so real as words?

Oscar Wilde - The Picture of Dorian Gray