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Hacker IRL

Trinity. Lisbeth. Kate. Nomi. Mac. Felicity. Darlene. Whiterose.

Ever since I dragged a mattress against a wall and tried to run across it, Matrix-style, I've wanted to grow up to be a hacker.

However, I assumed that was about as feasible as growing up to be a hacking T-rex (except way better at typing).

It's a Rock Star Dino Hacking away!

I was but a lowly undergrad working on my Computer Science degree at University of Texas at Dallas when I found their Computer Security Group (CSG) that participates in HACKING competitions.


Turns out, Capture the Flag (CTF) competitions set up challenges and invite everyone to practice hacking! They are also exhausting, spanning days and challenging even the most seasoned hackers.

CTF Life

So, I started showing up, asking questions, and learning. The award for "Single Most Life-Changing Lesson" goes to (drumroll please)...

Professional hacking is a thing. (See White Hat Hacking

Runner up…

There's this pesky team at Carnegie Mellon University that keeps winning the darn competitions, and they're called Plaid Parliament of Pwning (PPP)

That year, I was flown to New York with CSG to compete in the CSAW CTF finals and watched PPP sweep the board, so they're celebrities to me (even now that I'm also a member of the team).

After graduating with my BS in CS, I took a detour as a systems administress, but continued to seek out security conferences.

Stickers good, mystery usbs and charging stations bad

In particular, my first DEF CON immersed me both in hacker culture and absurdly glamorous corporate-sponsored parties.

The motherland was calling me home.

So, I decided to try for a Masters of Information Security through the Information Networking Institute at Carnegie MOTHER-FUDGING Mellon (It's kind of a big deal).

To say that I was thrilled when I opened the acceptance letter would be a gross understatement. 


To say that I jumped up and down with jump-rope arms when I received the Executive Women's Forum (EWF) full-tuition scholarship would be about right.

Not only was my tuition covered, but I was invited to the EWF Annual Conference which is full of real life, baller hackers (that also happen to be executive women)!

EWF Woo!

As I approach graduation, I'm now looking at the sexiest (in my humble, sexy opinion) of all security jobs: penetration "pen" testing which is essentially being paid to hack into stuff so it can be made more secure.

TL;DR: I do get to be a real life hacker after all.

<3 Mel

P.S. I'll be writing a series to feature some of my favorite real life hackers early next year!

Pictured Fictional Hackers:

Trinity from The Matrix

Lisbeth Salander from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Kate Libby a.k.a. Acid Burn from Hackers

Nomi Marks from Sense 8

Cindy "Mac" Mackenzie from Veronica Mars

Felicity Smoak from Arrow

Darlene from Mr. Robot

Whiterose from Mr. Robot

Hacker T-Rex:

Art by: Sabrina Symington

Best Jump-Rope Arms gif:

Ross, Rachel, and Phoebe from Friends

EWF Group Photo:

Alta Associates' Executive Women's Forum