The Security Doctor

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Meet John Vu – DIrector of Information Technology for the Open Door Group in Vancouver, as well as lead instuctor on CAT’s Network Security programs.

How did you get into Network Security?

I have always found Information Technology interesting as it dictates the future of our lives. As technology advances, there are more technical vulnerabilities in the infrastructure allowing hackers to gain easy access. Every day, you will hear hacking news such as a data breach of about 106 million Capital One accounts, or Verizon exposed data for 14 million customers however appearing to have been caused by hackers. There are other threats than viruses, spam, trojans and ransomware.

As the ‘Internet of Things’ begins to establish a foothold in daily life, ransomware growth seems poised to become more severe and more
widespread. The more I work with IT systems and its infrastructure, the bigger the interest in Network Security grows. The feeling of security is important especially in situations where before you go to bed at night, you want to check if your gate and all doors of your home are closed. You would struggle to have a good sleep without that reassurance.

Where did you train?

My training started with technology long time ago, when I was in high school working with electronics projects on Commodore 64 (an 8-bit computer!). Then followed my university years with many hands-on problems to solve in projects and thesis. Leaving the university, I landed the first job with BMW Engineering and Development Head Quarters where I could help engineers and designers secure data transfer through video conferencing. Other jobs followed with more deep insights of technology and its security.

What companies/roles have you worked in?

I am very fortunate to start my IT career with a famous car company as a project manager. When another big bank needed my expertise, I went on to work on their security and system maintenance for a while before I settled down in Canada. In Canada, I volunteered with NRC (National Research Council Canada) which a few months later led to a permanent job as a Technical Officer.

After the long IT career with many corporations and jobs from Technical support to Director of Information Technology, I am now transferring my knowledge to another generation.

What was it about the area of computers and Network Security that originally most interested you?

Almost everything which involves computer network and its security. When you speak about security, means that you have to have a deep understanding of systems, granular to every part of hardware and software and all the protocols that make its network. With the advances in cloud infrastructure, AI (Artificial Intelligence) and IoT (Internet of Things) there are more to know.

Is that interest still the same, or do other elements interest you more now?

Throughout my IT career, I have lived, worked and mastered many IT challenges. Now, my interest is how to bring it to a new generation of Technologists to understand and prep them to be able to master any IT challenges they might face in the future, not only in IT Network Security.

What is your favorite thing about working in this area?

There is always new technology infrastructure that comes with new challenges. There is a sea of knowledge you can take in every day. The more you learn the more you realize how little you know about it all. It is very fast paced and you need to adapt to it.

Your least favorite thing?

In fact, there is no such as least favorite thing. The less you like it the more you have to work on it until you like it. The job of IT is to be able to do everything, and any time. Think of it as if you are a medical doctor on call. It is up to your ability to give the computer access back to your colleagues (sometimes 20 thousand or more of computers is your daily job) if the network got hacked. You are not saving one patient but thousands at the same time.

It’s “It’s funny when you walk around in the building and your colleagues start to call you Doctor – Doctor of PCs.”

John Vu

What is the funniest/scariest/weirdest thing you have ever had happen to you at work?

Sometimes it is funny when you walk around in the building and your colleagues start to call you Doctor – Doctor of PCs. In the old days, most of the times you spent at work was in the cold dark server room. Days can last long into nights. When you are alone in a very big building after midnight, it is like in the scary movie – you hear all sort of noises, door slamming, people talking and there is nobody around except you. Then you look at the software you are working; on the CD cover it says “Ghost from Symantec” (it is a software using for backup and disk cloning). It is scary and weird at the same time, huh.

What advice would you give to NSS students who are graduating shortly? Any words of advice or wisdom?

Work hard, but smart, and always continuing to learn. Never give up on tough challenges in IT; be persistent. Master the theory of the matter before trying it live – don’t trust Dr. Google, but use it as source of information that you still need to evaluate. Develop not only your hard skills, but improve on your soft skills – at the end of the day you are not working with networks and computers only, but with people whom you help. Landing a job is a mix of experience, credentials like certifications, degrees, soft skills, and initiative.

What do you or the companies you work for look for in a new hire/employee?

To be qualified for the job you will need all the above mentioned and more. As we are helping internal and external customers to solve IT related problems, we need to put them first, actively listening to their problems, show empathy. At the same time, you will have to be analytical to solve the issues. Most of the time you will work under time pressure, stay calm, keep a clear mind to analyze and to provide a smart solution.

Always be willing to learn and be patient with your customer. Pay attention to detail as you work on troubleshooting. This goes hand in hand with analytical thinking and involves listening to your end user intently to find clues as to why they are having a technical problem. Be a team player, care about others; collaborate and lend a hand when you can. Teamwork makes the dream work.

When you aren’t teaching or working on NSS things – what could we find John Vu doing?!

I am lucky to have many hobbies, but unfortunate to have only 24 hours a day to do everything. If I am stuck indoor you will find me in the garage fixing cars or building some technical gadgets. If you see me in the kitchen, then I am baking or cooking some very delicious meals that I end up gaining weight to finish it. Music is relaxing for me too – both listening and actively playing. So, you see I am not getting bored being in isolation during the COVID-19 time. I love hiking on the mountains and gardening, too. Playing soccer with friends or having a tennis game in the sun can be fun and healthy at the same time.

John Vu
John Vu

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