My Biggest Critic Sounds Off: Two Angry Responses

by Bill Brenner on February 24, 2015

I once wrote that writers like me need our critics to keep honest. This post is a tribute to my biggest critic: fellow infosec professional Dave Marcus.

Mood music:

A few things about Dave:

  • Despite everything that follows, we’re good friends with similar musical tastes.
  • He owns some of the coolest guitars on the market, but he doesn’t play. The guitars hang on a wall like Han Solo frozen in carbonite.
  • He’s an avid weight lifter.
  • His critiques have forced me to do more gut checks than anyone else’s.
  • As critical as he is, he does agree with some of what I write.

Here are two of his most colorful critiques.

Critique 1: “This post is escapism and blame.”

When I wrote a post suggesting that all parents have their flaws, Dave went nuttier than Charles Manson on a hot summer night.

Not all of us were raised by lousy parents. Not all of us ARE lousy parents. No matter how one was raised at a certain point your life becomes your own responsibility. Not your parents’. Not your genes’. Not your phobias’. This post, to me, is escapism and blame. I choose to fix the problem and not the blame.

Critique 2: “Are you trying to superimpose your issues on the rest of us?”

After I wrote that there’s a burnout problem in the infosec industry, fueling cases of depression, Dave was particularly incensed. He wasn’t the only one to disagree, but he expressed himself eloquently in a private Facebook exchange he later gave me permission to share.

The scene: I’m working when a Facebook chat box alarm sounds. 

Dave: Your last few OCD articles seem to really try to pigeonhole the whole community as obsessed and mentally ill. Are you trying to superimpose your issues on the rest of us? Your last article really annoys me. Do you feel that depression runs deep in the community? My issue is that you and the greater InfoSec Burnout movement sounds more and more like its an InfoSec problem or job/workplace-centric problem rather than a mental health problem that the individual brings with them originally. Granted, you may be getting lost in their greater noise. You are more balanced usually.

Me, trying to be diplomatic: I agree with your last statement and have written a gazillion posts making the point that it starts with the individual. But because we are trying to address burnout in our industry as one of many byproducts/triggers, some see it as us painting everyone with the same brush. There are aspects of this we are simply never going to agree on. It is also my observation — and I do not mean this as an insult — that if you are personally not affected by something, you don’t see is as legitimate. My experience is that there is no one-size-fits-all path.

Dave: Without research and study all you are left with is opinion.

So you see, Dave is one tough critic. He makes powerful points, and sometimes he goes off his rocker. But I love the guy.

Dave Marcus and the words Doesn't even attribute Meme courtesy of Michael Schearer

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Dave Marcus February 24, 2015 at 10:02 am

You are dead to me. DEAD I TELL YA!!

K.C. Yerrid February 24, 2015 at 11:52 am

As a partner in the burnout project, I do have data to back up our assertions. Burnout is not an infosec problem. It is a workplace problem, and is fully documented in other occupations where the individual is not directly in control of the outcome, yet is expected to be. A caregiver whose patient dies despite caring. A young professor being denegrated by a colleague. A security professional whose organization gets hacked.

Early onset burnout catches the headlines, and is often a little more than having a bad day or week. But others, particularly in an reputation-based community like ours, often feel there is not a way to vent or admit failure. So we try harder. We work late even though we do not want to. We ignore our children to send out emails. Then, often we turn to substances to cope. Eventually, we fail and are exhausted and that is when there is a real problem with burnout.

We are not trying to convince anybody that they are burned out. What we are trying to do is raise awareness that there is this thing called burnout. We don’t know how big of a problem it is, so we research. I have never suggested that any person is burned out. I am not a doctor to make that call. However, we have lost some bright contributors to our profession to their own intentions, I am simply trying to avoid the next one by giving the feeling one may be feeling a potential reason for those that can relate.

If it does not apply, congratulations! Your work/life is well partitioned or integrated depending on your situation and you are happy.

I love me some Dave Marcus, but daymn… his opinion is only one in a series. I will take it as a personal challenge to find a middle ground with him to consider that not all messages to the community are intended for every participant and that we each bring unique perspectives and experiences to the dialog.

Nathan Magniez February 24, 2015 at 12:44 pm

There is a huge lie in this article. It states Dave Marcus is an avid weightlifter.

But he doesn’t even lift, bruh. 😉 #DYEL

Nathan Magniez February 24, 2015 at 12:45 pm


Are you planning on doing another talk on this topic? If so, where?

Gal Shpantzer February 24, 2015 at 4:28 pm

I’d respect Dave Marcus’ opinion on things more if he even played guitar. DYEP?

Boris Sverdlik February 25, 2015 at 7:24 am

Dave Marcus is a burnt out bee keeper with emotional issues who doesn’t even do 10k steps a day. I have research to back that statement up.

As to burnout I do believe it exists across most professions. I wouldn’t correlate it with mental health issues though. I was burnt out in financials rage quit and now I’m relatively happy with work life balance.

Andrew van der Stock February 25, 2015 at 7:50 am

Burnout and depression are common in our industry. I went to a Blue Hackers session at and found the fullest lecture theatre when I was expecting half a dozen attendees.

Burn out is what many describe classic depressive symptoms you feel when you’re depressed but don’t know it yet – the lethargy of doing anything including getting out of bed can be so hard. The sooner folks stop pretending to be hard men doing dead lifts or doing BJJ and start to admit they may have a problem, the better folks in our industry will be, and maybe we might be able to address the things we can control within our industry, like stupid hours, idiotic pressure, pushing back on unrealistic expectations and even basic things like space between gigs to allow decompression and regenerate the batteries.

This doesn’t mean you are depressed or burnt out or that what worked for me will work for you, but there are way more of us than I think most folks in infosec care to admit.

Rich Greenberg May 4, 2015 at 2:54 pm

tough subject; I have even more respect to my friends Bill and Dave for being so open about their dialogue. I have been preaching for years to my peers about balance and its importance in our lives. Don’t let the work consume you; consume your work!

Black Daius The Third May 4, 2015 at 4:35 pm

Isn’t that a picture of Skydog?

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