A first semester almost gone

Tales of Iowa State

A first semester has come, and now it’s almost gone. It’s weird. If you told me a few months ago that it would go by this fast, to be quite honest, I’d probably just laugh in your face, but now that it’s actually almost over, I have to sit back and say, damn, it’s really almost over. I don’t quite know how to feel, other than saying that it feels kinda weird. The leaves have fallen off the trees, the temperature is dropping. Shit, it’s already December, and I have finals in a week, and after that, it’s over. A semester came and went.

So I want to tell you how it went, what I’ve learned, and where I want to go from here.

Getting started

I started here at Iowa State a few months ago in August, majoring in cybersecurity engineering. Pretty quickly though I learned that maybe that wasn’t what I wanted to do, so I added a polisci class, introduction to international politics, to my schedule. And, needless to say, I loved it. So fucking much. To the point that if I don’t major in polisci, I at least want to minor in the area. And I’ve also been talking to a professor in the polisci department to do some undergrad research. Which, as a freshman, I thought was very exciting.

Clubs? Yes clubs!

There are two clubs that I joined on campus. Not including hall and house council, which are definitely organizations, but I wouldn’t call them clubs. So the two clubs that I did join were IASG (which I believe is being rebranded as the Cybersecurity club or something like that), and also I’ve joined Tir Asleen. While both have been amazing, Tir Asleen has just been so much fun. And I feel like it’s really a place where I can be myself, and accepted and supported for being myself. I’m not saying that IASG hasn’t been those things, but just not to the same level of Tir Asleen.

I feel like I’ve learned so much about both myself, as well as the college, through my involvement. I learned that I'm not the best at hacking, and still have a lot to learn. I learned that I definitely have trust issues, and that sometimes I just need to put my trust in other people. I learned that I need to work on, and learn to, talk more to other people. I learned that I’m self-reliant, to a fault, and that that’s honestly hurt me quite a bit over the semester.

First cyber thingy (copied from “Baby’s first CTF”)

Today I got up a little bit earlier than normal for a weekend, it was time CTF time.

Attending my first CTF - an adventure

I attend Iowa State, and one of the clubs here is the IASG (Information Assurance Student Group). I have no idea when you, comrade, are going to be reading this, but they hosted the sp00kyctf on Saturday. Or for all you future dwelling folks, on the 28th of October. I had seen an announcement on the club's discord and had forgotten about it until a day before the event when somebody messaged in the discord asking if anyone wanted to join a team. I said I was interested, signed up, and, as they say, the rest was history.

I have to admit, that I’m pretty new to cybersecurity. I’ve been a pretty big Linux nerd for a while, which kinda helped some parts, but I was going in as a fresh beginner. Even so, there were some challenges that I was able to complete. And it was a beginner-friendly CTF, which helped a lot.

So what was I able to do?

Get stuck on one challenge for 2 hours. That’s something that I actually was able to do pretty well! Also, I’m something of an internet sleuth, sometimes to a fault. If there can be information dug up about somebody or something online, then I’m the one to do it. So the OSINT challenges were by far my favorite. And one of them even made use of Shodan. It almost makes me buying it a couple of months ago worth it. Although I was able to get it on a sale, so that helps.

With all that being said, though, there was also a lot that I wasn’t able to do, or at least didn’t know how. But here’s the thing, I’m not really mad that I wasn’t able to do a lot. I tried, and to me that’s the most important thing. And I also learned a lot about what I’m good at and what I’m not good at. It was a learning experience. Sure, I may have wanted to cry in the moment after spending hours trying to get something to work with no luck, but in hindsight I’m really glad to have had that experience. The experience to say I tried. The experience to look and say that I need to work on that. Which in my case is pretty much everything, but hey, at least now I know.

I’m really looking forward to the future, and competing in future CTFs. And hey, our team got third place. And I got quite a few points. And I’d say that’s pretty damn good for a first time (yes, most of that was OSINT). And they had free pizza, it was a win-win.

My first (or technically second) computer focused class

The tales of CprE 184. Or, Yet Another Really Fun Techy Class.

Very general overview

It’s kinda funny how both of the computer focused classes that I’ve taken have both been taught by middle-aged men who seem to love to go on really interesting tangents. Honestly, that’s probably one of my favorite things about my CprE 184 teacher. The randomness and the interest was so… fun. Like each week I went to class, I never knew quite what to expect, but I could be sure that whatever it was it would be interesting. Like one week we could be talking about multiplying and dividing binary, and the next we could be taking a field trip to the birthplace of the first digital computer (go Iowa State!), as well as looking at an old cyber professor’s vintage computer collection.

It was instantly one of my favorite classes in the semester. What could be better than going every Thursday afternoon to Coover and just vibing, learning about computers.

Some late night thoughts about life and my major

I have to admit that I’m constantly in flux about how I feel. On some days, I feel great, and like it’s really something that I want to do. And then on other days I feel like I just want to be done with this major and switch to polisci. Although, the more time I spend in engineering, and the more people I meet, the more sure I am of my choice. One of the main problems that I felt at the beginning of the semester was that I don’t think that I really felt that I fit in with a lot of other engineers. One friend (not an engineer, but still) was talking about how there weren’t many women in her major, and that conversation helped me come to this conclusion:

“While everyone I’ve met has been really nice, I just don’t always feel like I fit in.”

And that sentiment was really hitting pretty hard. I’m trans. I’m black. And I don’t see many people like me in my major. Honestly, I don’t see anyone like me in my major. But then once I started finding a group of people that I did feel like I fit into. Once I did start finding people who accepted me for me, things started to change. I felt more like it was something that I wanted to do.

The two types of engineers (especially with computer shit)

This is purely based on vibes, but I kinda feel like there are two types of engineers. Especially at a school in the middle of fucking Iowa. There’s the frat boy, annoying conservative kinda engineer. But there’s also the chill queer communist kinda engineer. I just need to find more of the second. And, toward the end of the semester, I feel like I have been.

In closing

I think that I do want to become a hacker. I feel more confident in my major than ever before, and I look forward to whatever crazy adventures the future has in store for me.