Hyperfocus Hour podcast discusses hyper fixation and upskilling with ADHD in the cybersecurity field with guest Chris Roberts, a Cyber Threat Intelligence Manager, emphasising the importance of understanding and playing to the strengths of neurodiverse individuals in the workplace. Chris discusses their experience with ADHD and how it can be an advantage in cybersecurity due to the ability to quickly extract information from limited data. Hyperfocus Hour discusses the challenges faced by neurodiverse individuals in obtaining qualifications and succeeding in the cybersecurity industry, emphasising the importance of curiosity and hands-on experience over qualifications alone. Chris suggests researching potential employers to see if they have an inclusive culture for neurodiverse individuals.
Jon joined Via Resource with a year of recruitment experience in the Cyber Security market, where he specialises in Security Engineering and DFIR.
Having placed candidates from Senior Manager Security Engineering to mid-level in highly regulated industries such as finance; Jon has built a comprehensive understanding of both candidate and client needs and addresses each role, and person, on an individual basis to find the perfect fit.
As an avid Star Wars fan, you will often see or hear Jon making connections and references to cyber security. Jon has ADHD and is an avid supporter of neurodivergent talent in the workplace.
Chris Roberts, an accomplished expert in cybersecurity, brings over a decade’s worth of experience to the table. His professional journey in offensive and defensive cyber threat intelligence, as well as information security, is characterised by adversary-based breach and attack simulations. His record illuminates a dynamic fusion of profound technical acumen and leadership skills. Beyond his professional pursuits, Chris cultivates a well-regarded security blog and news aggregator. His interests extend to photography, music – where he showcases his talent on the drums and cinema. A fervent explorer of modern technology, Chris delves into the world of machine learning during his free time.
Jon: Welcome to Hyper Focus hour. We are a podcast that is dedicated and focused to neurodiversity ADHD and also to the neurotypicals that want to learn about neurodiversity and ADHD in the workplace. What is that workplace? It’s IT it’s cybersecurity. And today I have a very special guest. It is Chris Roberts, who is a Cyber Threat Intelligence Manager, and he is going to be helping me talk about what hyper fixate and upskilling with ADHD looks like in his field. So, Chris, welcome.
Chris: Thanks for having me.
Jon: Pleasure. It’s an absolute pleasure. And I honestly cannot wait to get started on this. We’ve talked a few times in the past. You always have great insights on LinkedIn, your posts, everything. You seem to know quite a bit. You’re really passionate about this and I can’t wait to dig a bit deeper. So I’d say, before we get started, I have one question for you. The ADHD tax, what was yours this week?
Chris: So I’d probably say this week is prepping presentations for me. When you want to put a good presentation together. The sort of ADHD brain just wants to put all of the information in there because I’ve done all this research and I’ve got all this information, but it’s on purposely trying to strip that back and get it into a succinct format and then being able to present that in a decent way. For me, there’s a lot of prep that goes into getting that done. So that’s been my tax this week.
Jon: You know what that sounds at least it’s productive tax.
Chris: Yeah, I suppose so.
Jon: While you’re talking, I was thinking about my tax. I spent the weekend in Liverpool with my family. Right? Crazy, I know. You wouldn’t believe I’ve got scouse blood in me from the accent, would it.
Chris: I wouldn’t have guessed that. Yeah, no, don’t worry.
But I spent the week in Liverpool and my uncle has a has this really cool magnetic bottle opener that you just push down and it opens the bottle, keeps bottle cap on the opener. So I decided I was going to buy it. Problem is, I don’t drink bottles of beer or bottles of soda or anything. I don’t actually have my house that much. So I spent ten quid on something I will probably use over the course of the next six months. Maybe three times.
Chris: That whole impulse control, right?
Jon: I just couldn’t help myself. It looked so cool and so satisfying just to do that with it. Okay, so I guess we’ll jump into it. We’ve covered a little bit of kind of that forgetfulness of the inattentiveness hyper fixation.
Jon: Anyone that is neurodivergent, that has ADHD, whether it’s inattentive, whether it’s hyperactive we know what hyper fixation is, don’t we? We live and breathe it. So I’m curious to kind of get your sense what is hyper fixation to you? What does it look like for you?
Chris: So, for me, I’ll get something stuck in my head. I get like a bug or just something that I’m really fixated on a problem, something I’m researching, something I want to buy. Just something that I’m really sort of just wanting to understand all of it. Right. And before I can let that go, I need to just get it done, I need to complete it, I need to finish it, I need to get the output that I need from wherever it is I’m doing. And that can last for hours, sometimes even days. If I’m troubleshooting a bit of code, for example, and I go to bed and I think, well, I haven’t managed to fix what I’m doing, I’ll be up the next morning, straight away, straight back on that thing trying to do, because I can’t leave it. It’s just got to get done. Um, and it can seem obsessive to some people. I guess it depends on your perspective. And a lot of people may have given up by that point, which I think is actually positive for people with ADHD. They have that drive to see things through. But it’s because I know there’s a way to make it work. I know that this thing can be done, I just haven’t found how to do it yet, or I’m still researching the thing. I know there’s more to find out, and it’s either because I’m really interested in it or I’m really frustrated with it. It’s the two ends. There’s no middle ground, is there? Yeah. I’ve got to be really annoyed that I can’t do this thing, so I’m not going to let go till I’ve done it to prove I can do it. Or I’m just really interested in this thing and I’m just going to do all the research because I want to know everything about it. And you can’t choose when to kick it in. It just happens. And like I say, it’s typically because you’re interested in something,
Jon: or, as you said, you’re so annoyed by it that you can’t even though you want to go, you want to stop.
Chris: You’re just like, I can’t. Yeah. You just got to get it out the mind and get it done. And that can be really great for work. So some work situations, you can do this really amazing bits of work, and you can hyper focus for a whole day, and you can get up from your computer and think, oh, my God, it’s time to go home. I didn’t realize. But sometimes it can interfere with your personal life a little bit, where you’re so obsessed or interested in this thing and you just forget the hours of the day and you should have done some washing or put a dishwasher on or whatever it is, and you just totally forgot because you’re so interested in this thing. And sometimes it can just take, like, an external you need an external force to snap you out of it. Otherwise you just sit there and carry on doing it.
Jon: And I think the the problem with that like you know, with an external forces, you know, sometimes even if it does snap you out of it, you can still be thinking about it, can’t you?
Jon: Yeah. It’s so frustrating and yeah, it’s just awful. But at the same time, like you said at work, it can be such a I think gift actually might be the right word or like no superpower. It can be such a superpower at work when you’re actually able to hyper focus on the right thing and you can smash out 8 hours of work in 2 hours and then for the rest of the day you’re like I’ve done basically everything I need to do. I’m free to pursue the new projects that we didn’t have time for.
Chris: It definitely can be like that. It’s strange because if you really aren’t interested in that thing you just can’t get it to kick in, you just can’t make it happen. And you think, well I’ll come back to it later. I’ll do that later. It’s a fascinating subject and there’s probably a sort of a neurological sort of biological aspect to it that we’re not looking at it from but just from the sort of cybersecurity from the recruitment side. It can be a blessing. ‘
Jon: Yeah, no, definitely. So I’m actually curious when you hyper fixate at work, has it ever strained or has it ever impacted your relationships with coworkers or managers or even the people that you lead on your team? Has that ever kind of made an impact?
Chris: So so I’m up front with everybody. I say look hey, I’ve got ADHD and I’ll tell them how it affects me and stuff like that and tell my managers and all of that. So there’s not really any surprises. I’m not trying to hide anything from anybody and I think that is a benefit. You know, if if people can’t understand why you behave in a certain way and you can’t tell them why, that can cause issues, I guess, but it’s not really caused me any issues at all in my company. I think it does also depend on if your sort of company is equipped to deal with neurodiverse people and if managers are aware of how it affects you and why it’s important to have those one to ones with your managers and say, okay, look, I’m not ready to tell the rest of the company, but I do need you to know that this is how I think. And I may seem like I’m a bit direct, but I don’t mean to be. I’m just trying to get my point across. Or it may seem that I’m forgetful and I’m not hitting deadlines or whatever the person may be struggling with, but this is why. And I have neurodiverse people that I work with, and obviously, coming from that background, I’m fully aware of other people’s struggles. So I’m quite aware of how to help people with that. So it hasn’t caused me any issues so far. Yeah. But I think I may have been lucky with the sort of team I have and the sort of companies that are well placed to look after the people with neurodiversity.
Jon: Yeah, I’ve had a couple of experiences where my hyper fixation I don’t want to say detrimental, I wouldn’t go that far, but it’s definitely caused some tension with managers I’ve had or coworkers because I’m focused on, okay, I need to fill this. Going to just hammer it out for the next kind of, like 8 hours. And my manager is like, you have meetings for the rest of the day. Like, you have training. You have to do this stuff. And I’m like, I don’t want to do that. That’s boring.
Chris: Yes. When I get this done.
Jon: Okay, so it’s not really been an issue for you, but I mean. Know, you said you had other kind of neurodiverse people on your team, and I appreciate you may not want to talk about that too much, but when they hyper fixate if they do on tasks or duties and you kind of need them to do something else, I’m just curious to get a sense of how you may have handled that.
Chis: Yeah, I mean, it can be difficult am trying to snap somebody out sometimes. I mean, I’m just trying to think from my personal experience if I’m on a bit of work and I’m just so engrossed in it, I just want to get back to it and get it done so it can be. What I find sometimes is jumping from one place to another doesn’t suit everybody. So some people can go from back to back to back to back meetings and they can jump from subject to subject to subject and they’re fine with it. But some people need to cool off after some of these meetings, so they’ll need to have their meeting. They’ll call off, write their notes, get their thoughts and stuff out, and then they can carry on with a task. So it’s really about understanding the people and playing to their strengths. So if you know someone really can’t do back to back meetings, then you try and support them when they plan their day to not put them in that situation. And I think being a good manager is being somebody who can support those sorts of people. So if you say, hey, look, you can’t do it, fine, what is it you need? I’ll try and step in and maybe take that over from you and help you with that. But yeah, I try to let my team choose what they want to do because that’s the best way to keep them focused. Right. If you want to do something that you’re interested in, as we’ve just discussed, we’ll high all day on there and we’ll get it done. There’s obviously tasks that come up that nobody wants to do and you just got to be sort of sensible and say, well, it needs to get done, and pick it from our Jira board and just get on with it. And if you do struggle, give me a shout and I’ll help you out of it. And that’s the way that.
Jon: Okay. So it sounds like probably because you are neurodiverse yourself. It sounds like you really have a good way of handling when people hyper fixate or like I said, when they don’t want to do a low dopamine task. And it sounds like it’s going quite well for you. Would you say that something that could be kind of carried across the board beside of security?
Chris: I don’t know. I think it’s a difficult one, I think because I have a history of it and my family have got neurodiversity and people at work have got neurodiversity and I have it, I understand it, so I know how to deal with it. There’s a lot of people that don’t understand it at all, don’t understand not just ADHD, but just neurodiversity as a whole. So they’re not always well placed to be able to manage that type of person. So yes, I think there’s an element of training that will help with that, but I also think it’s having neurodivergent people in management positions who understand the people to help push that through. But there’s no easy way to fix it, I don’t think.
Jon: Yeah, there really isn’t. I know there’s a big statistic out there. Oh gosh, I’m going to butcher this, but I’m going to try anyway. I know it’s a big number. I believe like 25% neurodiverse people are like 25% more likely to struggle in their career or to essentially job hop, which obviously means if you’re hopping jobs, you’re struggling more in a career, you’re less likely to get into senior leadership or even management positions. So. It’s it’s it’s interesting to hear from your perspective, as you know, as a leader in your you know, in your field and in your in your industry, how you manage other people with neurodiverse people and also kind of recognizing that ironically well, not ironically, but yeah, ironically. One of the things that would help is if we had more neurodiverse people in management positions and also realizing that we we as kind of a group, if you will, struggle to get into those positions, basically because of the way that our brains are wired, isn’t it?
Chris: Yeah. And it does take practice, and it does take having coping mechanisms and little cheat sheets in your brain to sort of get that done. But yeah, I do believe neurodiverse people have a lot to offer. They just need the opportunity sometimes. Sometimes it just takes that one person to give you a chance and then you’re away.
Jon: Yeah. Could you elaborate a little bit on how your ADHD because if I remember correctly, you were combined, aren’t you, in a sense of anticorruptive? Yeah. So would you be willing to elaborate a little bit on how your ADHD has affected your profession and if there’s any superpowers? I know you’ve already talked a little bit about the hyper fixation.
Chris: Cybersecurity, there’s a lot to take in. There’s so many elements of it. You got all the research, you got to understand all the technical side of it. You got to make connections pretty quickly. And I do think people with the ADHD brain are very good, putting two and two together really quickly and extracting information from limited data and coming up with an answer really quickly, and nine times out of ten, they will come up with the right answer. When somebody’s only sort of halfway through their conversation, they’re like. I already know what this is. And that can actually be quite frustrating because somebody can be talking, they’ll be explaining the thing and go, right, I know what this is, I’ve got the answer. But they’re only halfway through what they’re saying, so now I’m sitting there waiting for them to finish talking and I don’t want to forget what I now know is the answer. So either I have to go and write it down, or if I have to try and keep in my brain, I’m now not listening to what you’re saying because I’m just waiting for you to stop so then I can say my big because then I’ll forget otherwise. Right, so it’s having those coping mechanisms in place to say, right, well, I need to also listen to what you’re saying now, so I’m going to quickly write that down. And yeah, I’ve noticed that a lot through not my team, but just peers across the industry that have ADHD and neurodiversity and that’s why I’ve always got a notepad on my desk. I’ve got a phone with a stylus. So if I really am out and about and I’ve got nothing, I can always write a little note on my phone. Sometimes you just need a little reminder just to get you back on track so you can be doing all this amazing work and getting all of these conclusions from little bits of data, but you might just need someone just to guide you back onto course. And I think having a good manager helps there. Like I said, it’s good that you can put all these things together, but you also need to stay on focus of what we’re trying to achieve is so having someone that can say, brilliant, excellent, great work, but we also need to focus on this as well. I think there’s an element of that as well.
Jon: Yeah. No, I completely agree. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been to meetings and like you said, someone says something like, we need a solution or we need to figure this out, or they start talking. I actually just had. Actually just had our annual review meeting about a week ago, and halfway through one section, I was sitting there listening to it, and I was like, I already know what they’re going to say. I’ve already figured it out. And there was no clear context or kind of indicators or anything. I can’t describe how I knew what they were going to say, but I knew what they were going to say, and so my brain switched off and immediately went to the next thing. Was that’s the next thing on the list? Okay, I’m going to try and figure that out. And by the time they got to what I figured out, they said it, and I was like, I was right. Yeah. And that’s what I’m saying.
Chris: Right. So ADHD brains are very good at troubleshooting and fixing problems, and we generally come at it from a different angle than other people. Like, you’ll say something, oh, this is the answer, and they go, I didn’t even think about that. That was really obvious to me. Like, within seconds I got that. So I don’t know. I think it’d be weird to not think the way that I think I always have done. Right. And it’s got me where I am today in my career by being good at doing that.
Jon: Yeah. About thinking outside the box. Yeah. I’m curious to get an idea of this. Obviously, interview processes, hiring processes can be a bit they can be scary and challenging for 90% people already. When it comes to neurodiverse people, a lot of us are very visual people, and we especially struggle from rejection, sensitivity, Dysphoria, all of this stuff. I don’t know if you’ve hired on your team personally, but if you have, did you change the process at all for neurodiverse people, or if you haven’t, what would you ideally. You know, change about like a hiring process just to try and help ADHD neurodivergent people. I know it’s a very long question.
Chris: Yeah. So I have done some interviews and hiring for my team and I don’t change interview process for any specific type because the way that I do it is very sort of accessible to everybody anyway, right. So the way that I do it, a neurodiverse person, obviously, if they ask for specific things, then you obviously tailor it for that. But if they don’t ask for any adjustments, then I just try and keep it as simple as possible. Which means no matter who I’m interviewing, it should work for everybody anyway. Right? Yeah. Personally, the whole sort of interview side, it’s the unknown, right. And it doesn’t mean you don’t know what you’re talking about. You just don’t know what’s going to come up in that interview at that time. So if you can offer an agenda to somebody so if somebody wanted to come to my team and said, what questions are you going to ask me? I said, Well, I’m going to be talking about this subject. I want to know about that subject and I might ask you about this sort of thing. So you’re not given specific questions like answer ABCD, but you’re saying, these are the topics we’re going to talk about. They can then go and write their notes. So I’ve got no problem with somebody being on a call with a notepad and looking at their notes and answering my questions because there’s no point in me having an interview with somebody who can’t answer anything because they just can’t think of it on the spot because that’s a wasted interview. Right. But if I’m saying read your notes, fine, but at least you can answer my questions and we can have a proper conversation because you’re prepared. And and so, so I like to do it that way. But if there are adjustments that need to be made, then of course, you know, you you say that to to the person.
Jon: But yeah, I think that’s really good, actually. So so you let them have, like kind of you like you said, you kind of let them have notes to cover. Not the specific questions, but the topics that you’re going to interview them over. Yeah, I’ll be honest, I’ve never seen or heard someone on your end, especially, do that before. Let an interviewer or sorry, an interviewee have kind of a notebook about the potential topics, and I can’t tell you the amount of times that would have been helpful for me.
Chris: And again, it’s because I know what it’s like on the other end of this. Right. So I think because I have a full understanding of what it feels like to be on that side, I can put that in place for the other people.
Jon: The amount of times I’ve had questions of I’ll use Bartending for an example. It’s it’s a bad example in this case, but it makes sense. If I was interviewing for a new bartender position, if I had a note on, have you ever created a cocktail? I’d be like, yes, and this is why, and this is what we did, and this is the flavor profile. But then if they ask me straight up, have you ever created a cocktail? I’d be like, yes, I have. I know the ingredients, but I couldn’t tell you the flavor profile or the reasoning behind it because my brain is just suddenly fogged over, and then that’s.
Chris: Not useful for anybody. Exactly. So you’re like, yes, he does know, but he can’t tell me why. Let’s get rid of him. Because he doesn’t know how to answer the question when actually if you’d have played to their strengths and give them that opportunity to say, this is the actual answer here. This is what I wrote, and this is the thing that I made, I just couldn’t remember off the top of my head. You actually get to know the person there. You get to understand their capabilities. And when you think in real life, it’s people look stuff up in your job, you don’t have everything in your head, and they’re ready to access it. People will always go and Google something. They’ll go and ask a colleague, oh, do you remember how we did so and so? Oh, yeah, you do this. Cool. So why should an interview be any different, you know?
Jon: Yeah, exactly. Well, just yesterday, I spent the weekend in Liverpool with my family, took the train down, got into Houston, and just last night, even though I know the way home, I still pulled up my phone and thought, okay, what’s the best way home? There’s two or three routes that I can take, depending on the time of day, blah, blah, blah, and how lazy I’m feeling realistically. But I still wanted I still wanted to look it up just to see that I was making the right decision. It’s not because I don’t know it it’s literally to reinforce my own my own knowledge or information of where I’m going in the situation to make sure that I’m making the right decision, the fastest decision in this situation. And it’s the same thing, isn’t it?
Chris: Yeah. And it makes sense. If it works for you, it works for you. It might not work for someone else, but that’s fine. They can do it their own way.
Jon: Yeah, I think. And that’s one of those cases where if you have someone that’s going to be interviewing for you, if you give them the general concept or idea or topic, they could hyper fixate on that and they could actually end up remembering it and not need the notes. That’s so possible. And then you’re getting the best of both worlds, aren’t you? Because then that person is like, oh, man, I’m really passionate about this right now. I can show off. I know my stuff. You’re impressed. You’re like, I want this person right here. Let’s not even bother with the third stage.
Chris: But when it comes to interviews and stuff, there is a stigma around, um, ADHD and neurodiverse people. Not every employer wants to or has the capability to take somebody on with neurodiverse issues. So I do think there’s a lot of work in the recruitment area that needs to be done around. Hiring neurodiverse people and taking their stigma away.
Jon: Yeah, no, absolutely. And obviously that’s one of the points. One of the things we’re trying to do here with this podcast with Hyper Focus Hour is we’re trying to reduce that stigma on ADHD, what it looks like neurodiverse, particularly in the security field, and try and help people. Such as ourselves or yourself. More specifically, break into security and equip them with the tools that they need to be able to interview better and succeed when they hyper focus and how to break out of that when they need to do meetings. Everything we’ve talked about so far. But yes, there is a long way to go, but that actually leads into something I also kind of wanted to talk about was exams and certifications. Obviously, there’s a lot of exams, there’s a lot of certifications, there’s a lot that goes into security.
Jon: Security is, by its nature, you have to constantly be learning. You have to have your brain essentially open as a book, don’t you? Yeah. If you’re a visual person how do I put this? Let’s see if you’re a visual person and if, like you said, you don’t necessarily remember, you’re not built to regurgitate, essentially. How do you or how have you handled the certifications and the exams and stuff? First of all, types of ADHD.
Chris: So there’s the inattentive and there’s the hyperactive, and then there’s the combined, and then on top of that, there’s a scale along that as well. Right. So not everybody has the same sort of types of ADHD. So. When it comes to exams, for me at least, my weakness is on the spot. Memory recalls just that executive function sort of issue, right? And the way I try and explain it is, think of like Google’s website, right? In the back end, they’ve got this database, they’ve indexed all the websites in the world and they have the information, it’s all there and you know it’s there. And when you go and do a search on their search engine, for whatever reason, it just didn’t work. And it’s not because the information isn’t there, because we know it’s in their database on the back end, but the search button didn’t work. So you’re thinking, I know, I know this, but I just can’t get the result, I can’t think of the answer right now. And then all of a sudden it’ll take something like a little hint or a bit of the word or an external prompt or whatever it is, then all that information comes back and you go, I know what that is now. But you need that cheat sheet, that external prompt, that note, that something to kick that memory back in. And that’s why with exams, a lot of them are closed book exams, you just need to remember the stuff. So for people who already struggle with just keeping things at the front of their brain for memory, they’re already a disadvantage for the exams. If you had open book exams, and there are some, but there aren’t many, but if you had open book exams where you could take some notes and obviously they could vet them in some way before you come in to see that you’re not just got the answers written down. Yeah, but you can say that, here’s my notes, here’s the highlighted bits that I’m interested in, and then you can go and do that exam, you get that visual reminder, you get that external prompt and you can go and answer the questions. So I struggle with exams purely because my memory isn’t as designed for it to work that way. Some of these exams are free hours, 4 hours long. So that’s 4 hours worth of stuff that you need to just remember when you already know that you struggle to remember things off the top of your head anyway. So I prefer to go down the route of doing courses and getting that education. So I’m still learning the same stuff, I’m still knowing how to do the job, I’m still doing that but I just don’t have the qualification at the end of it. Um, and, you know, I think I probably could do the qualifications, but it would take me a lot longer than other people because I have to train my brain in a way that’s not used to, and I have to try and find a way to sort of memorize things that other people may just be able to do naturally.
Jon: So you almost have to embed yourself, you almost have to take the hyper fixation and then multiply it and fully embed yourself. And let’s just use like CISSP, just fully immerse yourself in it but probably for twice as long and for double the intensity than a neurotypical person just to be able to pass the exam.
Chris: Yeah, it has to be all consuming because I can’t think of anything else because I just need to get through this exam. And that can be a detriment to your personal life. They can be detriment to work because you’re going to have to say actually I need to book a week off work because I just need to spend this next week just studying intensely just to get this thing done. And you know, I’ve always preferred to do be hands on and be self taught because I know that’s how it works better for me and you know so so it, it can be difficult. And like we were talking about interviewing earlier. So if we see two people with a qualification and one with that doesn’t necessarily mean I will always go for the one with the qualification because I’m more interested in the way people think. You can have someone who’s really curious, they just want to. Know how that things work and they’ll rip it apart and they’ll sort of take it down to the bones and they’ll put it back together again. And you can’t always teach that. You can teach those people things, but you can’t teach people to be curious if they don’t have that mindset. Sometimes they can be people that study, they know the stuff from the book. But when it comes to these real world situations, they don’t actually know how to trouble shoot, they don’t actually know how to rip things apart and understand the fundamentals of how they work. So qualifications, yes, they’re a good benchmark for somebody’s ability to remember and sort of apply knowledge in situations, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the best person for the job.
Jon: Yeah, okay. And again, that kind of goes back to the hyper fixation, doesn’t it? If you’re a naturally curious person, then the chances are let’s go back to interviews. Again, if you’re naturally curious person comes out in interviews, let’s say for hypothetical reasons, obviously well, no, that’s not the word. Anyways, for curiosity’s point, ironically, let’s say you have someone in an interview that has disclosed prior that they’re ADHD, we tailor the new view for them, and then you ask them that question what are you curious about? Or what have you hyper fixated on? And they tell you, oh, I’ve never worked with MIT or an attack, I’ve never used it. Now, obviously it would be a bit ridiculous, but again, just for argument’s sake, then they say, I’ve never worked with it. So I hyper fixated on this entire framework. I’ve done courses on it, I’ve watched YouTube videos, I’ve read books, I’ve done everything. Now, what would you think of that?
Chris: Yeah, like I said, for me, that person has because they’re curious, they’ve gone and they’ve got that self. To go and understand something, whereas somebody who said, Well, I passed my Ceosp. I don’t need to worry about understanding this because I’ve got the qualification. Yeah, okay, you do have the qualification, but if I asked you to go and do the same sort of thing and take that whole framework in, they may struggle with that. Not everybody, of course, but they may struggle with that because it’s just not the way their brain is designed. And they don’t have that desire to pull that framework apart because they don’t understand it. It’s not to say that everybody on the team has to have a neurodiverse issue. You want people to complement each other on a team. So you may have someone who’s really good at this thing, but not so good at something else, whereas a non neurodiverse people might be really amazing at this thing. So it’s about having that team balance. Yeah.
Jon: Do you think that’s why the more cyber professionals I talk to, such as yourself, entry level, even CSOs and things, I’ve been seeing a trend of it’s. A lot of security engineers, a lot of threat intelligence people, and a few DFIR specialists that are, if not ADHD, are definitely neurodiverse, maybe have ASD. Do you think there’s kind of like a silo in security that maybe fits the ADHD brain more so than others?
Chris: Yeah. So I think there’s a lot of people in security that may be undiagnosed with neurodiverse issues. And I think it’s maybe it’s the technical side of it. Maybe it’s the troubleshooting side. There’s something about that. You need that thing to fix, that thing to focus on, that drive to want to understand. And I think those more technical roles generally provide that for people. Um, I mean, there there may be other roles around the business that do a similar thing, but from a cybersecurity perspective, there are a lot of people with neurodiversity diagnosed or undiagnosed that sit in that function.
Jon: Without doubt. Yeah, because I’ve worked a couple of GRC roles and I’m thinking about it, I’m like, why would anybody want to sit there just on an Excel spreadsheet for 8 hours a day or something? I could never do that. But then I talked to yourself or to some technical security engineers and I’m like, yes, I want to hear all about what you do. This is awesome.
Chris; Yeah, there are elements to it. There are elements to it that are boring. Right. You have to sit in that spreadsheet, but that’s where you lose that hyper focus and you have to train yourself, say, look, I’ve got to do a job and I just need to do this task. And it’s sometimes just forcing yourself to get around and doing these things, even though it may not be the thing that you want to do. You might want to go and do that formula somewhere else. It does take a bit of self control, which is what we struggle with anyway. Right, so it’s just practice really. But when we’re talking about the sort of education side of things, I think with the AI tools that are coming out now, like the Chat GPT and some of the other local language models that are coming out, they’re allowing education to tailor it for specific people. If you got a classroom of 30 people, a teacher can’t does doesn’t have the time to individually tailor content for each person it’s designed here’s a course for a class and I’m just going to present it to the class. Whereas if you could take that education from the teacher, then take it back into one of these AI chat tools and say. My teacher was talking about XYZ the other day and I didn’t really understand this part of it. Can you tell me as a five year old or a ten year old or a 20 year old, how this works? And then they can give you an answer and you can follow it up and go, okay, but what about this bit? And then you have that tailor bit. So whatever you can use to make you understand it is a benefit, I believe, and I think you’re going to see that more in the future with these AI Chatbot tools to allow. I mean, I know schools are banning them at the moment because they’re worried.
Jon: That exams and stuff, yeah, worried students. Are going to cheat.
Chris: But I think that doesn’t that show that the education system needs to come up modernize, to come up with the times, to be able to work with these tools instead of work against them. So use things like Chat GPT in the classroom and say, go and ask the tool an answer to this, and then everyone submit your answers and sort of integrate it into their education system. But I don’t think we’re there yet.
Jon: This is a tangent, but what’s funny is, with Chat GPT, while schools are banning them, I would not be surprised if there are teachers that are going on to Chat GPT. I’m hungover or something. Can you please write me a lesson for tomorrow?
Chris: I can guarantee there are yeah,
Jon: I know a couple of teachers and I can definitely say they haven’t done that yet, but I’m waiting for the moment that I meet them in the pub or something and they’re telling me, like, oh, yeah, one of the teachers at the school got in trouble for doing that. I’m just waiting for that because I know it’s going to be hilarious, it’s going to be great, but, yeah, no, I see what you mean. With AI tools, the more you can tailor that to the specific person, and that’s a trend we’ve been seeing for the last, what, probably 15-20 years. It’s more about the individual now. Than it is about the company or the masses. It’s how can we make a bespoke experience for the individual? And I think with neurodivergence and our struggles with hyper focusing or lack thereof, and because it’s a low dopamine task or something, I actually think that can be that’s really powerful. Because, you know, spaces where we where we traditionally struggle. The more it’s tailored, it’s more bespoke to us, which I think some people would argue could be special treatment or something like that. And maybe to an extent it is, but we’re neurodivergents living in a neurotypical world, so should we have that special treatment in quotes?
Chris: I don’t know. It’s a difficult subject if you try and put it the other way, if you had a neurotypical person that said, right, today you’re going to work with an eye patch on one eye, so we’re going to take a bit of you away that you’re used to having, see how you get on. We’re going to play darts today. Right. And hang on, that’s not fair. Yeah, I know, but that’s what it’s like sometimes. We’re missing something and we’re making up for it by putting 110% effort in. So I may not be able to understand your way of thinking, but I make up for it in my own way, so I’ll do it another way to sort of get around that.
Jon: That might actually be one of the best descriptions I’ve ever heard of what it’s like to be neurodiverse. I’ve never thought about it that way.
Chris: Because think about it, right? So by default, we’re already not underdeveloped, but we’re struggling with executive function or impulse control or whatever your sort of diagnosis is. So for you to appear normal. In air quotes. You have to put extra effort in to do that. Sort of ties in a bit with introvert and extrovert. I think for me, I’m a bit introverted anyway. And every time I interact with someone, you can think of it as like the coin system, right? So I spend a coin, I start the day with ten coins, I’ve interacted with you. I spent two or three coins ends, I’ve got some left for the rest of the day and that’s enough to get me through the day and that’s my energy level is gone by the end of the day. I’ve used all my ten coins up, I’m exhausted, I’m done. I just sit in bed and watch Netflix. Whereas the extroverts are the other way around. They start the day with no coins. Every interaction they have, they get a coin. So they’re taking a coin each time they’re getting their interaction. By the end of the day, they’re buzzing. They’ve got their ten coins. They’ve spoke to loads of people and they’re really happy. And I think some of the neurotypical people, like, like I say, they, they have that that ability already to do things that we can’t, right? So, so they, they’ve already got the coins. We already start with a couple less. So if you took took their coins off them at the start of the day and say, actually, you’re going to start with two less and we’re going to give ourselves those two and see how it levels up. It’s not as simple as that, but.
Jon: The idea of it, that’s the general idea. How would you think from your perspective and experience? How could educators I’m going to backtrack because I just thought of this when we were talking about exams and certifications. I’m obviously American. I don’t know how the I don’t how the system works here, but at least in the States, when I told my university I had ADHD, I was given special time for exams. I could even take note cards in. I don’t know if it works like that here and if it doesn’t. More so for security exams than for actual kind of higher education. How do you think that these security exams or certifications and employers potentially could try and be more inclusive or give us the coins that everyone else kind of already has?
Chris: Yeah, so I think there are and obviously, I’m not an expert in the exam space, but there are some boards, examination boards, that will give you that extra time. They’ll allow you to sit in a room by yourself so you don’t get those distractions, which is the equivalent of you having those extra two coins right, that the other people you would have taken away from. I believe there are systems in place to deal with that. How widely adopted that is across the whole industry, I’m not too sure. But I do know from wider family, when they’ve done exams and they’ve said they’ve got ADHD, they have had systems put in place to allow them the extra time, to allow them that room. I don’t know about notes and stuff, but they have had some sort of allowances in place. It may be a common thing, but I’ve not gone too deep into that.
Jon: Yeah. Okay, so it’s not all doom and gloom. It’s not all doom and gloom anymore. Okay, so there’s some progress being made, but maybe there’s a little bit more we could be doing. Yeah.
Chris: And I know with a secondary school. So, again, my son’s got ADHD as well, and they are putting systems in place for that, for when the exams and stuff come up.
Jon: Okay, I realize we’re nearly out of time, but last kind of question for you. Let’s say for someone who’s coming into cybersecurity, who has ADHD or is neurodiverse just in general. What kind of encouragement or advice would you like to give to them?
Chris: So for coming into the cybersecurity area, I would recommend starting off going down a help desk route. Okay? So you learn a lot very quickly, you have a lot of different environments, different situations, different, um, things to troubleshoot and fix and that will build up a good foundational knowledge of sort of It and cyber in general. So that’s the route that I would suggest coming down. In terms of the neurodiverse part, like I say, it’s difficult because if you declare too early that you’ve got ADHD, that might put some employers off, whereas some others are fully happy for you to do that, right? So I think if you’re worried about mentioning it, it’s looking at the employer going to see if they mentioned about neurodiversity on their website, if they have that inclusive and diversive culture. And you’re probably more likely to be able to be in a safe place then to be able to discuss it and talk about it. But otherwise I would just mention it at the interview. I would just say, sorry, I don’t know. The answer to that question is, because of my ADHD, can we maybe rephrase it or put the question in another way, or can you explain it in a different sort of way? I don’t find it anything to hide behind. I’m not ashamed of having ADHD because it’s me, that’s who I am. And maybe it’s because I’m a little bit older and I’ve sort of just been through my life. When I was a kid, ADHD didn’t exist. I was just the kid that couldn’t sit still or my leg was fidgeting under the desk and stuff like that. So I’ve just had to cope and deal with it. So I think that sort of put me in a better position and. It, but, yeah, I’d say just be yourself, honestly.
Jon: So be yourself. Go through it kind of help desk route. Okay, yeah, I think that’s good advice. From my side, I would say reach out to recruiters anyone that is wanting to start your career, reach out to recruiters. We’re here to help you, especially myself. If you have ADHD, you’re neurodiverse, I will put my arm and leg out for you. More than happy to do that. Can’t always help you, unfortunately, but I will always give you my best and I will, obviously, if I can’t help you, point you in the direction that I think might help you the best as well.
Jon: But, Chris, thank you so much for your time, your experiences, your insights. It’s all been so valuable. Last thing for me to you and to the listeners, to the watchers, to the viewers, everyone, don’t forget to stand up, drink some water and take a break.
Chris: That is good advice because I should probably go and do that now myself, actually.
Jon: All right, well, next week we will be talking about something entirely different. It’s going to be a little bit more generic. Chris, I hope that you tune into it. Everyone else obviously hope you do, and I can’t wait to see you again. And Chris, again, thank you so much.