Mark Wilkerson

R&D Engineer @ Twitch

Let's Save The Internet

I've been on the Internet a long time. Longer than the Web, in fact. Every good thing in my life was made possible by the Internet.

The Internet let me and my family find each other after being separated for 27 years. The Internet is how I learned to play instruments, join my first band, and make lifelong friends. The Internet made it possible for me to learn all the skills I use to provide for my family.

The Internet is what allowed a low-income kid from East LA to grow up to have a 25 year career, spanning over 100 organizations across 4 continents. The Internet is how I met all of my friends. The Internet is how I met my wife. To say that I care about the Internet would be an understatement.

Over the last 10 years, I've watched (and very likely helped) the open and decentralized Internet of my youth fall under the control of a handful of oligarchies and mega-corps. Watched it go from an open network of knowledge and communication, to a platform for mass manipulation and ad-driven psychological damage.

This is not something we can fix with policy. In my mind, the only path forward is to build open, trustless, distributed, ungovernable technologies.

Below is a curated timeline of my time with the Internet, tech and my career in general. Please feel free to drop me a line if you'd like to discuss serious opportunities that can leverage my skills and experience to make this future a reality.

1988-PRESENT

TECH JOURNEY

  1. First Program

    A programmer gave a 30 minute class at an East LA children's center. I write my first program on an Apple II. It prints "Mark is cool" diagonally across the screen.
  2. First 80386

    Find a 386SX in a dumpster behind an office park. First time with DOS.
  3. Dumpster dove a 486 running Windows 3.1 and a modem. Discover BBSes, Usenet and start writing QBasic.
  4. First Sysop

    Learn the basics of telephony (thanks Phrack!) and start my first BBS. Door games, warez, and chat. PCBoard w/14 lines courtesy of our apartment complex's unlocked MPOE
  5. Discover Linux

    Discovered Slackware Linux. Becomes my primary OS for the next 11 years.

    I like it so much that I unironically join the Church of The SubGenius because I am 12 and made of cringe.

  6. C has entered the chat

    Learn POSIX Shell, C and Tcl/Tk over the summer. With C came a lot of firsts. First IRC bots. First serial drivers for random devices.

    To be clear, everything I made was insecure trash, but it was the first time that I felt like I could make anything.

    This is also the summer where I switch to vim from vi and never look back.

  7. All The Certs

    Aunt marries a guy who works at New Horizons. As a result, I can take any certification tests for free. I get literally every tech certification they offer. Cisco, CompTIA, Microsoft, Novel Netware, if it was around in 1996, I got it.
  8. First Tech Job

    Drop out of high school sophomore year to join first startup as a software engineer. "Private IRC for corporate executives to make requests to IT". Not kidding. This got funded.
  9. Worst of the Web

    Learn Flash and a subset of Java. Build all my websites with flash intros and java applets.

    Later I learn JavaScript and become obsessed with "DHTML" and pointless animations.

    I'm pretty sure I exclusively used tables for layout and rounded corner placement on everything. It was a dark time for frontend.

  10. Python

    While watching an episode of some Leo Laporte show on ZDTV (The Screensavers maybe?) I get my first real introduction to Python.

    I write cringey IRC bots that run through Monty Python sketches, and then rewrite all my terrible Perl code @ work as terrible Python.

  11. First Tech Layoff & Radioshack

    The first tech bubble bursts. Defeated, I get a job at Radioshack.

    While at Radioshack, I meet my first professional mentor Farrokh Moshiri. Under his guidance, I learn to read and forecast P&L statements, manage payroll, schedule employees, and manage direct reports.

    I also get every one of the dozens of Radioshack electronics & business certifications, and learn to solder properly.

    I didn't appreciate it at the time, but working for Farrokh at Radioshack was one of the most valuable and educational opportunities of my life.

  12. Project Luna

    While working at Radioshack, form CDS Labs with Keith Hoerling. Keith teaches me monk-level Perl.

    After seeing Saqib Kahn's ICMP moon bounce talk, we develop a prototype for the Luna Correspondence protocol & tools.

    Inspired by our concerns over the surveillance overreach of the USA PATRIOT act, Project Luna leverages encryption, obfuscation, and flaws in network protocols to communicate anonymously while under unfriendly observation.

  13. Defcon & Toorcon

    Present Luna @ Defcon and Toorcon conferences. We also won the Toorcon rootwars competition with the late, great Dan Kaminsky . R.I.P. Dan & Dorian.
  14. First Books

    Contributing author on two infosec titles:

    Hacking Exposed 4th Edition

    ISBN: 978-0072227420

  15. First "Enterprise" Job

    Become "Senior Network Administrator" at K.Hovnanian. Network Administrator was kind of a bait and switch title.

    Most of the job was building infrastructure in undeveloped areas with no dry utilities. Long hop PTP wifi. Citrix over packet radio. Climbing telephone polls and pulling 100 pair cables through chest deep mud. It was a really fun time. I only left when 6 hours of daily commute became a necessity.

  16. Linux Sucks

    Try to watch episodes of Oz on my Gentoo machine. Have to recompile mplayer with different SDL flags every few episodes depending on the codec of the video. Rage quit and buy a mac mini.

    Watch all the episodes with no problems, and stay on OS X for the next few years.

  17. Back to Infosec

    Security Engineer @ Alvaka Networks. This job was an odd mix of responsibilities. I was responsible for vulnerability assessments and penetration testing, but also managing Citrix and Exchange servers because of my experience @ Khov.

    Toward the end of my time there, we partnered with eEye. My last project was building a hosted, on-demand vulnerability assessment platform based on eEye's product Retina. It was my first time getting into the guts of VMWare and automating hypervisors.

  18. Join Frontline Information Security as principle engineer. This was a weird one.

    I wrote the software for a product called CeniVUE, which was an early security hardware appliance. It was essentially a red team in a can and was actually pretty cool. It was deployed for a few customers, but I don't think it ever went anywhere.

    I also designed a built the remote OS and firmware update system and an on-prem rolling update system for the appliances. I'd never done anything like that before and it was a really fun project.

    At some point I was the only one coming into the office, and then my paychecks stopped coming. By the 5th day of no coworkers, no communication, and no paycheck, I assumed they went out of business.

  19. The Start of My Consultancy

    Join Quest Software (later Dell). Fly around the world 50 weeks a year as a software engineering consultant. Got to live in Singapore for a month. Fun times.

    Introduced to a book that teaches me the basics of influence without authority: The Secrets of Consulting.

    Specialties included Java, groovy, JavaScript development, APM, and "software development automation & process improvement" (aka DevOps before DevOps was a thing).

    Clients include Apple, Broadcom, JPMC, US Department of Veterans Affairs, Toyota, DBS, Medtronic, and dozens more.

  20. First Cryptocurrency

    Casually mine something like 16 BTC. Think nothing of formatting the drive to install Windows XP so I can play the original Fallout.
  21. Back to Linux

    Back to Linux because OS X Lion breaks tmpfs and Linux has figured out video. Embrace the meme and run Arch.
  22. Notice that most of my favorite businesses have terrible websites built by sketchy providers. Start a side gig building and hosting websites for my favorite places. Eventually start hosting email as well.
  23. Node.JS v0.8

    Check out this Node.js thing.

    Around the same time I start advising a different Keith on a non-profit project he's working on with some guy named Ray. Knock out a prototype of their spec in Node over the weekend.

    First time building anything with a graph database.

  24. Lok'tar Ogar

    Join Blizzard Entertainment. Luckily, I had long since overcome my WoW addiction.

    Build an on-demand dev environment provisioning system with libvirt, C and Python. Got my name in the Hearthstone credits which was pretty cool.

    I broke WoW logins for ~3mins because I didn't know to add a trailing whitespace in a config. In that 3 mins there were hundreds of angry tweets. Highest profile thing I've ever broken.

    I continue my consultancy in parallel. My bread and butter is helping clients scale their single instance Node.js MVPs to more stateless, distributed systems. First time I go deep on redis for things like session stores.

  25. First Time Co-Founder

    Leave Blizzard to Co-Found TheSpark, SpeakUp , and FitFriends with Keith and Ray.

    3 startups at once, for 3 first time co-founders, with one engineer. What could go wrong?

    TheSpark is a 501(c)3 non-profit with the goal of matching up people who need help, with people who have skills, time, and resources. The point of TheSpark was to do away with the administrative overhead of charities where only a portion of donations actually go to solving the problems directly.

    SpeakUp is a platform for internal crowdsourcing and ideation.

    FitFriends is a social fitness app that adds accountability and support for fitness goals. Think Instagram + WOD + MyFitnessPal.

  26. Take over as organizer for Node.jsOC (later JSOC). Secure sponsorship from Joyent & Zillow. Grow memberships from ~70 with 10 avg attendees to 800 members and avg 70 attendees.
  27. Government Shutdown

    TheSpark is stuck in bureaucratic hell because of the 2013 government shutdown. Its 501(c)3 status is held up indefinitely so we can't accept donations. We decide to focus on the for-profit ventures so we can self-fund TheSpark until we can get the non-profit status sorted.

    Ship MVP for SpeakUp and burn out, because trying to launch 3 startups as the sole engineer is a really dumb idea. Mercifully bought out by my Co-Founder, stayed on as an advisor.

  28. Joined Hightail. Built what's now the flagship product with a small team of amazing dudes in less than a quarter.

    First hands-on experience building real-time video transcode services and working with petabyte-scale object stores.

  29. After the success of Hightail Spaces, the legacy leadership decided to move in and take over the product. I opted to leave to continue my consultancy.

    Much of this time was working on longer term project, building NDA infosec hardware tech for Vegas casinos. Hopefully one day this tech becomes public so I can write a post about it.

  30. Join Curse to help with some pre-acquisition problems. End up joining the Union For Gamers MCN team a short time later. Learn a ton about YouTube and the business of content creation at scale.
  31. Current: FAANG Gang

    Competitive Intelligence R&D @ Twitch/Amazon.

    Built really fast NDA things with Go and Node.js, that collect and analyze tens of billions of disparate data points daily.

  32. Feliz COVID Dad

    Defeat COVID-19 and welcome our first-born. Gain some perspective and resolve to leverage my 25 years of skills and experience to make a better world for my kids.