Riemann, an engineer, and Van Gogh walk into a bar…

I was building some chicken and rabbit coops the other day. The object of the endeavor being to keep the snakes, rats, foxes, racoons, etc. away from:

1) my animals’ food supply (my money)
2) my animals (my food), and
3) the by-products of my animals (again, my food).

Building the coops was like building a defensible network. This got me thinking about the differences between a mathematician (a theorist – aka me), an engineer (an applied theorist), and an artist.

My finished work looked like what a blind man would create given a chainsaw, plywood, a stack of 2×4′s and a nail gun. Nothing was plumb, only the internal flooring was level, liberal use of poultry netting was required in order to shore up gaps, etc. That’s what you get when a math guy builds something. Production ceases when functionality is addressed. Period.

My brother is an engineer. His chicken coops, dog pens, horse fences, etc. are all optimal. “Optimal” being the key word. If he needed to, he could expand any one of his habitats. I, on the other hand, would have to rebuild mine from scratch if I ever needed more space.

My other brother is an artist. If he built a chicken coop, it would be a beautiful thing to behold but wouldn’t contain any tar because it didn’t go with his color schemes. It wouldn’t have front steps because that would detract from the ornate design of the front door. Poultry netting would be verboten… In short, his animals would all die horrible deaths in beautiful surroundings…and then, he would write a poem or short story about it while crying over a bottle of wine.

Lessons learned.

1) Theorists can be used in a limited capacity when building a defensible network…they should not be depended upon to deliver scaleable, optimal products, however. Idea guys shouldn’t be implementing their ideas.

2) Engineers design and implement solutions which the idea guys throw at them.

3) Artists should never be used until the engineer is done. Sorry. Artists take the well-engineered framework and make it look like the Taj Mahal.

So, when creating defensible networks (or software that protects defensible networks) you should plan on dividing your labour into at least 3 categories

A) Idea guys come up with the great ideas. These guys could be mathematicians, philosophers, jazz history majors, marketers, whatever. The net result of the idea guys is…(wait, here it comes)…unique ideas.

B) Engineers validate that the ideas can be implemented and then build it.

C) The artists come in and make the engineers work look a lot better. The Marketing guys will appreciate this.

With only A & B, you get products that the ‘techies’ will love, but will never get approved through a Corporate budget committee (think CANVAS). This product won’t sell very well…sadly.

With only A & C, you get products that the ‘techies’ will love initially and that the Corporate budget committee will approve. However, the techies will quickly learn to abhor the product as it doesn’t scale…and then, some artist will find a buffer overflow in the security product and that’s that (think ISS). This product will sell (sadly). However, the company will often have to ‘reinvent’ themselves…And, by ‘reinventing themselves’ they actually mean ‘We screwed up initially so we’re just scrapping the whole thing and starting over but please keep paying on that support contract because you’re gonna *love* our next version’

With only B & C, you don’t have an ‘idea’ to begin with…so, you end up with well-engineered, snazzy products that don’t really do anyone any good (think IPS). Don’t underestimate the persuasive powers of marketing artists…this product will sell ;)

Peace be unto ye,


  • http://www.adamdreaver.com abomb

    Interesting and insightful read. I myself aim be all three cases(a, b, & c), but no doubt if you were part of a team with the right proportions of all 3 types, you could make some good products.

  • usinfosec

    Amusing! I love the references to ISS.

  • lazy joe

    CANVAS is a good competitor to CORE, but it looks is what is bringing Nessus/Tenable down, when they are compared with competition.