Cyberattacks are a major threat to businesses today, with a single attack potentially costing a company hundreds of millions of dollars and permanently deflating customer trust.
With hackers growing more sophisticated all the time, the risk has never been greater and companies need leaders focused daily on shielding customer data.
Fortunately for Businessolver and our customers, we have a top shield in Tom Pohl, our VP of IT Systems. His passion for maintaining the integrity of our customers’ data and keeping our systems secure is critical in bringing new ideas to the table that move our technology forward.
The funny thing is, Tom has sharpened his skills by hacking other systems – including our own. In his free time, he is an avid competitive hacker (yes, it’s a real hobby!) and has won many prestigious hacking competitions.
I chatted with Tom to hear more about his experience participating in hacking competitions, how it impacts his work and – gasp – why organizations might want to consider hiring a hacker.
What first got you interested in hacking as a hobby?
With my background in IT, I’ve always been interested in the back-end piece of technology. In 2012, I took my first trip to Defcon, which is the largest hacking conference in the world. I had never tried hacking before. Initially, I was going solely to check out the conference and take it all in. But once I got there, I decided to enter a hacking competition. I received the hacking assignment from the show coordinators and started working on it the second night. I ended up getting fourth place! Problem solving under pressure was such a thrill – I was hooked.
How do hacking competitions work? How do you practice?
Each hacking competition begins with an assignment, which is shared by the hackathon organizers. For example, “Build new software that uses this specific data set to further X business goal.” From there, you have to put your skills to the test and navigate through encrypted databases and codes to come up with the solution. It really is like solving a mystery. It’s tough to practice alone, but fortunately, I am part of a group in Des Moines that meets regularly to challenge one another and sharpen our skills. We also enter smaller, online competitions to practice for the larger conferences.
What’s your favorite part of competing?
Honestly, I love the challenge of it all. It’s a thrill when you crack a code or finally break down a system you’ve been working on for a while. The hacking competitions are a fun way to keep my mind sharp. Plus, I’ve found camaraderie and friendships through the hobby.
How do these competitions relate to your job at Businessolver?
I equate these competitions to taking a science lab in college. It’s hands-on practice for building skills that I need to oversee our IT systems at Businessolver. When I’m looking at our web traffic, I put on my hacking hat and think: Is this a legitimate user? Are there red flags happening here? Or when I’m proactively assessing our system, I ask myself: Where are the loopholes in our system that cause concern? Through the competitions, I’m building investigative skills that can be directly applied to my work, which all help keep Businessolver IT systems secure.
Hacking isn’t a traditional skill employers look for on a resume. Why do you think organizations should consider IT candidates who participate in hacking?
My hacking hobby plays a big part in my success at Businessolver. It inspires new ideas and helps me stay astute. I think anyone responsible for IT systems and data security could benefit from being involved in hackathons. They’re a great catalyst for new ideas and innovation that can help push a business’ operations to the next level.