MVP Insider – Q & A with Blake McNeill (Windows – Security)

Blake McNeill (MVP Profile) is primarily a software designer who's history involves the design and development of a number of commercial software products ranging from engineering simulation tools, to banking systems, to medical systems, to security tools and pretty well all points in-between. While always being cognizant of security issues the voyage into security began when brought on to SecurityFocus and charged with creation of commercial software products.  In order to design successful software, the need to understand the environment, problems, goals and objectives of the end user and players involved is paramount, so began the deep dive into security.  It involved setting up of honey pots in order to understand how different attacks worked or what different scans were attempting to find and how these could be monitored and reported. Once this knowledge was obtained then the design and development work on Aris could begin. Once finished, Aris was a key component to Symantec's acquisition of SecurityFocus and now Aris is known as DeepSight.  DeepSight is one of Symantec's premier enterprise products. Blake is often found helping start-up companies succeed by designing and building better products for their users.

1. What does being an MVP mean to you?

It’s nice to be acknowledged for all the time and effort that one has put in helping people.  I've been answering questions and posting articles and such since the days when CompuServe was king.  I do it because I believe in the possibilities of technology.  Helping people with security was because reasonable security is actually really easy if you just watch out for a couple of things, so a little help could go a long way towards mitigating people's security risks.  The next security challenge is to educate developers and companies that secure software takes real effort and knowledge to develop and anything less isn't secure.

2. If you could ask Steve Ballmer one question about Microsoft, what would it be?

How has Microsoft been able to maintain such a high passion level for so long with their employees and company and how could we ignite that for everyone in the IT industry?  One of the things that concerns me is how the appeal has really dropped for careers in IT and unless we can get some of that shine back it will be very difficult for IT to deliver on its existing

3. What do you think the best software ever written was?

This is really tough, as the best software ever written could mean so many things as lots of factors contribute to so called well written software.  I used to write engineering simulators and always admired SimCity.  They had a pretty good simulator underneath the covers but the interface to all the variables and such was so well designed that it was a great game that anyone could play and experiment with.  Rarely would you have to think or deal with the simulator or the technology, just all the things that YOU wanted to do with it.  I often wondered how much more productive and creative our engineers could have had been if we had a SimCity type interface for them. 

4. If you were the manager of Visual Studio, what would you change?

I'd round up all the groups and get them moving as a little tighter team. Right now it seems to me the .Net framework guys are a little too far out there and developing versions and features that we can't easily use in existing versions of Visual Studio or in some cases even in beta versions of Visual Studio.  I understand the need to lead, but if you get too far ahead, people might not follow you as they lose touch with what your doing or where you’re going.  I know they are a very capable group of extremely bright people, but they need to remember that they are building products for us mere mortals to use.

5. What are the best features/improvements of Visual Studio?

I used to be a hardcore Borland Delphi developer and use to mock Visual Studio developers, as I felt frankly that I could out code them, as early versions of Visual Studio seemed a little immature and incomplete.  That's all changed now since Visual Studio 2005 (and even more so with Orca), the tool is truly ready for prime time and hence I've happily left the Delphi world for C#.  If I was to pick one feature, it would be the ability to develop killer apps for Windows Mobile.  Visual Studio opens so many doors like Windows Mobile and Xbox 360 game development with XNA. It's the creative potential within Visual Studio which I love.

6. What was the last book you read?

Sometimes I think I'm the last guy on the planet who still buys computer books and so my current read is 'Microsoft Mobile Development Handbook' by Andy Wigley, Daniel Moth and Peter Foot (some fellow MVPs).  I've been coding now for a very long time as the first programs I wrote were in Fortran 4 on punch cards, but there is always something new to learn to keep current and I think that Mobile devices are now ready to take their place as truly ubiquitous tools (I've been using them since the first Palm Pilot from USR which weren't very fun to develop for).

7. What music CD do you recommend?

Pink Floyd Wish You Were Here, is there anything else?  It's timeless and I can easily see myself 20 years from now, still listening to it and getting lost in it.

8. What makes you a great MVP?

Passion, like I've said I've been a 'geek' for a long time and the pursuit of knowledge and understanding still burns as bright as it did when I first got into IT.  I love to learn and share this passion with people as I believe that technology can benefit everyone.  Some people ask some really interesting questions that I might not know the answer to, but I look at those as great learning opportunities, and then sharing opportunities.  I believe in the adage about you learn more about a topic when you teach it to others and discussion around anything only helps expand your knowledge and exposes you to viewpoints that you might not have thought of before.  This is my 'greedy' component to being an MVP because as I help other people, my
understanding and knowledge also increases. 

9. What is in your computer bag?

It's an old HP zd7000 which is slated for replacement within the next couple of months (some dual core, 64bit, 4gb memory beast running Vista, I can hardly wait but it will be sad to retire an old faithful friend).  There are two devices that I have some fun with in my bag being a Security MVP and wireless security is something I find interesting, so I have Wi-Spy and AirPcap as well as some other wireless tools.  Wi-Spy is a spectrum analyzer (you know you're a wifi geek when you carry around a spectrum analyzer) and AirPcap is a wireless sniffer, so when I travel I always tend to check out the lay of the wifi land to sort of speak as I'm always trying to understand where wireless security is at in its evolution and usage.  Certainly on
average it has improved a lot since it first came out, but we have a long way to go and with the advent of mobile devices I think we are entering into some unexplored security territory.
10. What is the best thing that has happened since you have become an MVP?

I've met a ton of really great people and have learned so much from them.  It's always fun to get together with other people who love something as much as you do and it has expanded my interests as lots of people have shared their area of expertise with me.  For example someone showed me XNA and I went and purchased an Xbox 360 right after seeing that, as the potential of that technology really hit a chord with me.
11. What is your motto?

'The Lord doesn't like a coward, but he is not too keen on fools either' is one I sometimes mention to people but really I guess I live by 'it’s not what you take, its what you leave that matters'.  I think that life is just too complex for just one motto, and the closest universal truth I've found would be from Buckaroo Banzai who said 'No matter where you go, there you are'.

12. Who is your hero?

I have tons of heroes, as there have been so many people who have left their mark of advancing mankind or ingenuity throughout the ages that I respect like my Wife, Mahatma Gandhi, John F. Kennedy (his speech about going to the moon is still my all time favourite), Thomas Edison, Walt Disney, etc.  I think that Sir Issac Newton understood what heroes were when he said 'if I have seen further than others it's only by standing on the shoulders of giants'. I live in a time that has been made possible by legions of heroes so I couldn't pick just one.  James Burke's connections series repeatedly demonstrated that heroes are often the just end result of complex relationships involving many small contributions from many individuals, none of whom one would think of as heroes, but without them the end result hero wouldn't likely exist.

13. What does success mean to you?

It depends on what the objectives are, for life it would be love, happiness and a good BBQ burger, but for software development success is where lots of people use your software without ever really thinking about it, as its a tool that fits naturally into their world and helps them to achieve their objectives without inflicting itself upon the user.  I think of myself as a tool maker, and success to me isn't the tool but what people do with that tool and that is what makes technology so cool.

Comments (3)

  1. August 23, 2007: MVP Insider – Q&A with Ken Cox (Visual Developer – ASP/ASP.NET) September 6, 2007:

  2. Blake McNeill ( MVP Profile ) is primarily a software designer who’s history involves the design and development of a number of commercial software products ranging from engineering simulation tools, to banking systems, to medical systems, to securit

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