Johnny’s Uganda Story unfolds… Twitter Style
This story wrapped up on March 10, 2009
* People are asking what happened. I’ll tell you a bit at a time.
* So it all started in the early 90’s when I headed CSC’s hacking team…
* …Then I got all uber in the mid-late 90’s and “hacklab” showed up in Phrack…
* …then came Defcon 11 in 2003…the peak of my career. Gads. My bio, the writeup.. trying so hard! Who’d I think I was? http://is.gd/eLz5
* I was nobody. I had a 52 entry GHDB: http://is.gd/eOlv, I pimped everyone @ DEFCON XI: http://is.gd/eOnD. Talk was OK but DCXI left me flat
* The peak of a 10 year career seemed so pointless. What kind of legacy was this? I wanted out. I sought solstice from my spiritual roots…
* “Web suicide” by giving it all to God: my site, my career, my life. http://is.gd/eLBg. Expected headlines: “Johnny the Jesus Freak Weirdo?”
* But that never happened. It wasn’t suicide at all. It was a fresh start.
* A week later, I get an email from Syngress: “Wanna write a book on Google Hacking?” It took six months to decide and three months to write.
* My biggest fear was that I wouldn’t have enough to write about and that the A-Listers would think I was lame. Google. Hacking. You know?
* But things were starting to happen. 500 user site goes 80,000. Talks started getting attention in media and at cons. Serious life upswing.
* Insanity.. CNN, MSNBC, CBS, WSJ, Wash Post… Google book v1 went best seller and it was clear I got what I wanted: fame, and a following.
* I worked on more books including the Stealing the Network series. I worked alongside superstars. I was humbled, but.. impressed with myself.
* But I wasn’t happy. Blackhat’06 I was in Vegas, my wife was in Uganda, Africa. She brought back pictures that messed up my brain.
* Vegas was big for me that year but I was sick worrying about her. She flew back through London during the liquid terrorist scare.
* Her pictures. Africans. Orphans. Ridiculous poverty. Filth. Huge smiles. Laughter. Happy kids?!? Happy about what? It ate at me, haunted me.
* Contentment had eluded me but those kids had found it. In May ’07 I went with her to Uganda. It would be the start of my next life phase.
* I went expecting to do grunt work but the Ugandans found out I was a ‘computer guy’ …
* Here’s our photo journal from 2007: http://johnny.ihackstuff.com/uganda.
* I did computer work and it saved kids lives. Helped AOET profile them and find them sponsors faster. Made my day job back home teh suck.
* Crazy. Back home hacking stuff (which I still loved) and thinking about African kids. Months after the feeling should have passed.
* My mind spun. I wanted that sense of purpose I felt in Uganda. But I was one person a world away. A conference crowd sparked an idea.
* I began pitching Invisible Children before my talks. I donated my Amazon Book sale money. Impact: negligible. Nobody really cared. Fail.
* Then the real idea came. What if I could engage the skills of the hacker community for good? Hackers for Charity was born.
* HFC allowed me to amplify the little work we had done in Uganda by engaging the hacker community in charity work. Major success.
* We did well. Created web apps, built 3 computer classrooms in Africa and fed 400+ kids! But slowly HFC became a project. A challenge…
* I began seeking personal funding so I could do HFC full time. I started Informer to fund me, not HFC. Small success… for a month.
* It took a ton of work and the money I brought in was meager. Nowhere near enough to let me quit my job and run HFC full time.
* I became more and more consumed with making HFC a successful business. I put my shoulder HARD to the wheel. Pressure. Tension. Fear.
* Balance of job@CSC with HFC was too hard. Tension caused turmoil at home. Wife’s advice: “Let go. It’s not about you. Or is it?”
* She was right of course, but letting go is HARD. But I did. I took a break from HFC, and handed it over. Near immediate results..
* “Out of the blue” job offer from old friend: 3 weeks travel, 5 weeks off to focus on HFC. The first thought of leaving 12 year CSC gig.
* Tunnel vision. Find the secret to doing HFC full time. Pushed Informer again for income. Our web server “hiccups”. Coincidence?
* Then my web server crashed hard. Machine toasted, backups nuked. Total disaster.
* I lost my main site, my forums, my downloads, my blog, my book sites, my charity site, everything I HAD WORKED SO HARD FOR.
* The thing was I didn’t realize how bad it was at first. My wife’s words echoed strangely in my head. I exhaled and let go. It would be OK.
* HFC was more than a site anyhow. But IHackStuff? Unsure. I just knew that the work in and for Uganda made me feel alive again.
* We’d talked about heading to Africa long-term but there were hurdles. Our kids might hate it. Their schooling? Income while there? Health?
* One by one the hurdles had fallen. Took our kids & they loved it. Started homeschooling them. Was going OK. No health problems from visits.
* But about income? CSC offered impractical no-pay sabbatical. How would we live? More prayer, and then another “out of blue” job offer.
* 2 year old company offers flexibility to work PT from Africa, offers to do pro rebuild of sites and GHDB, and paid support of speaking gigs.
* We weigh the options and take a leap of faith. I leave CSC after 12 years to work for “NewCo,” our sights set on Africa and charity.
* My wife leaves for Africa for 3wks in Dec 08 to serve AOET and scout for us and HFC. That’s when I realize the extent of my server damage.
* No signs of malicious activity. Good old fashioned hardware failure. All signs point to what I needed anyhow: a new start.
* My wife picks up a wicked infection in Africa. Fear and doubt: are we crazy? The changes excite me, especially a fresh start and new site.
* Began my new job with my wife in Africa. Strange. I grinned from my tiny cube wondering what their skilled team would do with my sites.
* Days passed, she got worse. She lost consciuosness in a Kenyan hospital as they tried to help her. Nothing I could do but pray.
* This was December 2008. Stress over my wife Jen became all consuming. I needed to fix something. I focus on recovering my web server.
* Many failures, then I consider my friend and ISP host’s advice: “Tried everything. No luck. Maybe this machine’s not supposed to recover.”
* Back from Kenya, we took Jen right to the ER. She looked happy and sick. Nurses freaked, doctor didn’t. “Antibiotics. No big deal,” he said.
* Exhale. In 24 hours she was better! Lingering virus hung on for months. But she brought back something else that really shook me up.
* All my profits from No-Tech Hacking had gone to a program to feed children in Kenya for AOET’s fledgling program there.
* That made me feel good. A transaction every three months to help some kids. I got a report back listing kids names and stories. Oh…
* Real kids. Jen brought back video of our classtooms and food program in action. That just wrecked me… woke me up… changed me.
* Real kids. Jen brought back video of our classrooms and food program in action. That just wrecked me… woke me up… changed me.
* With a flatlined site, the timing was perfect. I decided I would come back up on my own terms and Informer would return, 100% for the kids.
* But because of her trip we made an even bigger decision.
* Despite her rough trip, we decided we needed go to Uganda for a year. I Googled for tickets and Jen trumped me(!) by finding better prices.
* That’s when things started falling apart at the new job. I was bitter about broken promises and I disconnected emotionally.
* When I was called on it I was bitter but made the difficult decision to apologize and do my absolute best despite the circumstances. 17 days ago
* Misery@work. Family, charity, passions on hold. 3wks behind on email, no progress on website, Uganda trip prep looms. Life feels toxic.
* For years I thought of going it alone, doing my own consulting, etc. But the business side of that is tough and time consuming.
* Mutual separation from “NewCo” on Mar 6. Unemployed for first time in 20 yrs. It’s an answer to prayer. On 100% faith now. Africa is go.
* So we head to Uganda on June 15th to learn more about the culture and take our commitment to the next level. We plan to be there for a year.
* God will provide for us financially. Speaking gigs offer one source of income (I’m working on my next talk). Sites will be up soon.
* GHDB remix is coming and we will kick the crap out of poverty through HFC and Informer. Welcome to the reinvention. Johnny, IHS.