Hello, World! - A look back at the past, present, and future.

Well, it’s time.

I’m back. Hello, world!

jens-hausdorf.de is no longer … uhm … dead (or redirecting to my LinkedIn profile). So, what kind of content can you expect from it? Well, I don’t know yet. Something I have ever struggled with is to provide meaningful and regular content – so let’s see where this is going.

I want to work on that though and start blogging as a way to get my thoughts in order and because I want to give back. I’m really thankful for everything I could learn from the free and open web (kudos to Mozilla for fighting for it). As you can see during this blog post, especially at the beginning, I haven’t had someone mentoring me. I really learned a lot by trial and error as well as through learning materials from the Internet out of pure curiosity. As a kind of safe heaven, it has also helped me to navigate through the rough times my younger self was facing – ultimately shaping my character.

So to start with the first piece of content, let’s rewind what happened in the last few years and changed since then. Also, we’ll take a look into what’s going to happen in the future. For as far as I can say, at least.

This blog post is mainly targeted to remind myself of what I did and what I have experienced during the times. If you think this is interesting for you as well, let me know on Mastodon!

Initial traces dating back to 2013

To remind myself of what I did, I started with doing research on me.

The Internet Wayback Machine holds records from my (then German) website from late 2014 on. As you can see in the Copyright notice there, I have had a website since 2013.

At (only) 10 to 11 years of age – I can’t remember exactly whether I started with my personal website before or after my 11th birthday. (For reference, I’m 20 years old at the time of writing.) Wow!

To be fair, its content was not as important to me as having a website itself. It was mainly a sandbox, so I could learn a lot from it. What kind of elements does a website have? Where could I use what kind of element? How do I structure my stuff to provide (some kind of) value to my — not so many — visitors? (Mainly, it was myself who used it…)

It was using a proprietary content management system my dad was using as a foundation to his online shop he had back then. It was called “shop to date” (by DATA BECKER) - a piece of software that doesn’t exist anymore. Driven by its quite terrible User Experience back in the day, it really felt like exploring, and (so) I spent hours in the tool.

The elements I arranged resulted in a collection of things I found on the Internet back then. Like Easter eggs, interesting doodles from Google front pages etc.

As you can see in the Wayback Machine, I have also experimented with coding. I have written a web browser in Visual Basic. I still know how bad the coding was, e.g. by copying a bunch of if-else statements because I wasn’t aware of arrays and loops. Yet it worked - and I have received a few e-mails from folks that were using it! (Whyever…)

The first e-mail, the first feedback from users in the guest book I had then. Wow. It felt like… I don’t know — incredible. Now I think that maybe my parents wrote some comments, but if I remember correctly, I stared at the IP addresses – and they were different to what we had back then. (So maybe they were really existing humans that found my website on their own?)

However, it was prior to 2013 where I started to get creative with computers.

Prior to 2013

During kindergarten, I was allowed to play some games from the “Toggolino Club” on a Windows XP laptop. There you could play games on the website while learning some (really fundamental) stuff. If I remember correctly, it cost about five euros per month.

I still remember how I played and sang along the alphabet song to my younger sister to teach her the alphabet. She sometimes sat in front of the laptop together with me.

The Toggolino Club was my admission to use a computer – most of the time, unsupervised. Once more, from time to time it was more interesting to learn about what the underlying system itself allowed me to do, and essentially how it worked. (Like how to start other programs like the Windows Explorer or the preferences of Windows and what they do.)

But its access was regulated. I had time schedules, and I wasn’t allowed to use the laptop any longer than what was ruled to me.

This was because I wasn’t the only one using it – and also, to not get “rechteckige Augen” (rectangular eyes) as my mum used to say. From time to time, my dad was updating the online shop my mum had back then. It wasn’t using any content management system and its layout was composed of HTML tables, and gifs, and a lot of other images. And HTML forms that were redirecting to PayPal. I can’t remember of any CSS. But I remember how I was – sometimes – allowed to sit next to my dad and sometimes type some keystrokes to write some text.

Seeing the result of what I typed – in the web browser I only knew from learning games… That must have felt great!

And while HTML is not any programming language, this was how I got creative with computers and that continued through primary school. Mainly just experimenting, no real-world benefit.

My very first own PC

We then moved to another city during my last year of kindergarten.

If I remember correctly, at the age of five, I’ve been given my own PC. It was running Windows Vista and it was great!

I had unregulated access (hehe).

I played a lot of computer games back then, like Driving Simulator (Fahr-Simulator 2009) by Astragon or Train Simulator. I had a lot of interest in trains – I was even allowed to drive and control a real physical train by sitting on the lap of a train driver during a school event. During 3rd or 4th grade, I had given a presentation about the city of Karlsruhe, and I used it as an opportunity to talk about the Karlsruhe Tram-Train model and put the focus on it. (I mean, it’s world-famous!) Back then, I wouldn’t imagine I’d pursue a career in IT, but instead I wanted to become a train driver.

Honestly, I have repressed a lot from that time and I have only so limited memories left. During primary school, the bullying began. Physical education classes were especially awful for me because we went to the gym by bus – without any teacher in sight. We only saw our teacher after changing clothes when we were picked up by the stairs – plenty of time without any teacher. In general, I hated breaks and wished that the lessons were going on forever.

However, there is a major milestone I do remember: I have bought myself a new graphics card. And I replaced the old graphics card with the new one I bought (it cost about 50 bucks) - and now I could play games like Euro Truck Simulator 2 much faster. This was the first time I touched hardware and assembled some parts of a PC.

Start of secondary education

In fifth and seventh grade, we had ITG (“Informationstechnische Grundbildung”, roughly translates to “Basic information technology education”) as a subject. It was great! This was the first time I realized that there are aspects where I know stuff my peers don’t know yet. I remember I was asked by the teachers to say what we should focus our lessons on (they had basically less clue than I did) and I was asked to present my findings and guide them through the exercises in front of the class. Besides getting to know programs like Word, Excel or PowerPoint (where I always stressed that OpenOffice is much better because it is free), we had some lessons on HTML. A part where I was able to shine. It was really cool to teach them stuff because I felt valued as a person when they asked me. (Even though they didn’t respect me when the classes were over.)

Initial hopes by my former teachers, my parents and by myself were that the bullying problem resolves itself when I would finish primary school and got to secondary school. Unfortunately, the bullying problem has not resolved itself, but got worse. Essentially, my former peers — some of them were put into the same class I went to — had managed to turn the class against another person and me. I haven’t had friends. My grades weren’t good either, and I had to visit additional classes for both English and German that were intended to help the weakest. I now think the bullying as well as a home where I didn’t felt safe were two factors why my performance was quite weak.

I was sent to the school social worker and had regular meetings with her. That was really helpful and a kind of rock in the surf. A place where I have felt cared at – I think we talked a lot about computers and she was very concerned that I only play games that are not violent. She was very patient as well. She and the class teachers organized workshops and team building events that were supposed to restrict the impact of bullying. To say the least, they hadn’t the effect that was hoped – but it was well-intentioned.

To deal with these things that put a burden on me, I distracted myself by using the computer. My first website on jens-hausdorf.de went live (it’s 2013).

Sometime here, I’ve been given my second PC. It was the old PC of my dad, who bought a new one. It was a major upgrade and everything felt speedier.

Maybe because I saw more capabilities in the new PC, I started learning real programming languages (that is, a turing-complete programming language):

  • Visual Basic - it was the foundation for the web browser I wrote back then (bascially, Internet Explorer with an even uglier yet functional interface). Here is a proof – I recognize that the way I pose questions nowadays is much better.
  • PHP - here is some first proof dating back to 2014. This was also the time were I learnt some fundamentals about security vulnerabilities like XSS or SQL Injection.
  • Batch - it was the scripting language for Windows before PowerShell became a thing. There was BjarneLP on YouTube, who posted an extensive tutorial series on it. It was great. Unfortunately, its videos have been set to private and cannot be accessed anymore. I never met Bjarne, but I’m really thankful for his work. It taught some basic concepts like input/output and variables etc.

Learning PHP included learning some basic SQL, because I used XAMPP to develop stuff (basically it bundled a Apache, PHP and a MySQL database). And this is how I stumbled over MySQL.

Before he opted to turn against me, I taught a former peer some fundamentals of Visual Basic when I was invited to come over. We had quite a lot of fun with creating message boxes with weird error messages.

At the time of writing, I now realize that I apparently liked explaining things to others quite early. I still like to get included and asked by peers because I feel valued then (maybe it’s a bit of a unhealthy habit…).

I remember that I was so proud of myself that I already knew what variables are when we were getting to know them in Math classes.

Although my school performance was quite weak, most of the teachers liked me and I had plenty of good and supportive conversations with them. We had a lot of trust. I now think a big reason for that is because I never skipped classes. For example, I was quite unorganized, hadn’t had my materials ready and lost my French schoolbook in the middle of seventh grade. The French teacher would readily hand out hers whenever we got tasks to do. When I said I would change schools when discussing grades outside the class, one of them became noticeably sad, wondered whether there is no other way to deal with it and admitted he would like me and miss me.

All in all, I really appreciate all the things they did for me to make the experience as pleasant as possible.

New school

Beginning with eighth grade, I visited another “Gymnasium” (high school in Germany) in the city next to my hometown. I have had a week of school with them in seventh grade to test the waters. It felt perfect.

It was a new start. A reset. I have a lot more memories from this time on.

The social situation in school did noticeably improve. I was guided by the social worker of the new school. I have even dared to participate in school activities outside the classroom. For example, I took a traineeship that mentored us to become media experts and spread the gained knowledge (Schüler-Medienmentoren-Programm). The new class teachers were aware of my situation and did their best to introduce me to the new surroundings.

However, my school performance was still weak. This is largely because the topics have started to depend on stuff we learned during fifth to seventh grade. I didn’t pass eighth grade. I had questionable social behavior.

So, another time, I’ve ended up in another class. In the first attempt of the eighth grade, I learned to open up and then, in the second attempt, I started to engage in the school life by participating in extracurricular activities like the School first aider club. I also started doing my very own extracurricular activity. It was concerned to teach kids in fifth, sixth and seventh grade the basics of presenting. The next school year, I changed the subject of the extracurricular activity. Then, it was concerned with presenting as well as programming (based on the graphical programming language Scratch). I pursued that until Covid came.

The new classmates were great, and I made a lot of connections. This is where I formed friendships that still exist today.

I still did a lot of things in front of the computer. I felt like people, especially my fellow students, started to appreciate not only my capabilities but also me as a person which gave me a lot of confidence I lacked until then.

I appeared trustworthy enough to be handed out keys for the media technology as well as access to the computer labs to do the extracurricular activity in school. I started contributing on GitHub – 2017 was really an active year on GitHub.

Even better, school made fun. My grades skyrocketed, and I’ve even been given honors at the end of the school year. Oh gosh, getting an honor felt great!

I definitely reached a new level and my character evolved a lot in this time – puberty, after all. With the better surroundings in school, it felt easier to deal with the struggle at home. I had people in my age — friends even — to talk about what concerned me, not only social workers. Finally, at my request, my parents split up, and one of my parents moved out. This eased the situation noticeably. (They thought it was better for the children to have both parents under one roof.)

Introducing: A social-ready teenager Jens finalizing school

I have produced a couple of videos that showcase my programs and published them on YouTube. (Unfortunately, they are all deleted.) There were quite some reactions to it. A couple of views, a couple of likes. Not a single dislike. Comments, even.

One comment noticed my age in my voice and praised me that I would have an tremendous amount of experience regarding my age. They suggested signing up for Jugend Hackt – an educational program run by non-profit organizations for young people who are interested in technology and programming. They are running hackathons for the youth guided by pedagogic personal making sure everyone feels safe.

I wasn’t aware that something like this existed. I signed up for the next event. And thanked the commenter. I went to my first Jugend Hackt event, taking place in Cologne (2017). It was soooo cool. Here is the presentation of the project we did as a (quite large) group. Many more events followed - some were without recording.

From event to event, my confidence grew. I made friends that were in the same bubble. I eventually dared to talk during the presentations (this was a major step for me). I traveled throughout Germany. As a family, our last vacation was when I was in kindergarten, so it felt like a lot of freedom to travel throughout Germany – alone, even.

During school time, I was a mentor at the spin-off of Jugend Hackt for people that are under the age of 12 – Jugend Hackt Hello World, now simply hello world.

This section is dedicated to Jugend Hackt, because it really had a big impact on me. Through Jugend Hackt, I got to know people from the Chaos Computer Club and I got a voucher to participate at 34c3 in Leipzig. This enabled me to get to know more people like me. I started volunteering at the events, for example as a medic. Because in the meantime, I also started to engage in an aid organization. I was trained as a medic.

In 2017 during 34c3, I met Frederik Braun, now a Security Engineering Manager at Mozilla, who mentored me during my last couple of years in school. We put a focus on security topics (XSS, CTFs, memory security bug exploitation etc.), and I’m glad I could learn that much from him. I also started to get more active on the Mozilla project.

And, as I turned 18, I became a mentor at the Jugend Hackt as well and have guided several groups to realize their crazy ideas in around 48 hours. I’m thrilled to participate at the next event!

Then, Covid came. The school was closed at first. I learned self-responsibility and self-organization around this time. That worked quite well, and it was a chill time.

During the summer vacation in 2020, I worked at Mozilla and got to write Rust as well as C++ code professionally. That was a quite exciting time. (The year before, pre-Covid, I had an internship at a security-related company and that was cool as well!)

Also, through a virtual Jugend Hackt event during the Covid pandemic, I met my first girlfriend. I see this as another step in my personal development.

I used my improving software engineering skills (not just programming anymore) to ease the publication of our Graduation newspaper (Abizeitung). I engineered a website that enabled peers, among other things, to write comments to other peers, to gather and vote on citations, fill personal information, write course texts as well as to vote on and submit memes. It also featured a ranking and a poll system. All of that was containerized, which simplified both development and operations. Then I wrote a Python script that took the data and some assets and generated an Abizeitung out of it using Scribus’s API. Through that, layouting was a lot easier, the data collection was simplified and it was definitely worth it. We could test changes to the layout much faster as it was defined in code. This not only benefitted the Abizeitung, but folks from other groups were happy to have it as well because it could help with Covid restrictions etc. The concept was used for my then-girlfriend Abizeitung as well.

I received the social price for my engagement since eighth class.

This marked the end of my school time – and wow. I received my A-Levels and the grades were still quite good. I didn’t see the point to learn to always get the best grades. I conceded a lot of free time during school and learning wasn’t definitely a focus of mine. Still, I passed quite well, having a “eins vor dem Komma” of the weighted average grade, as my goal was (a grade better than 2.0 where 1.0 is the best grade possible and 4.0 is the lowest possible grade).

To summarize, I really made a big development here during the 13 (!) years at school. For good. I’m proud of myself. I’m at a point I wouldn’t have expected me to be ten years ago.

Entering professional life while pursuing a CS degree

For financial reasons, and also to get more real-life work experience, I applied for a “duales Studium” (cooperative university education) in Computer Science. I had an internship with my current employer (“dualer Partner”) prior to applying for the “duales Studium” there which made the application process quite easy as they already knew me. I was accepted after a single interview.

The cooperative education model means that I alternate between university and my employer for three months for a total of three years. While at my employer, I write project works (“Projektarbeiten”) that are scientific documents concerned with what I have done during the time I give in at the university.

I’m currently in the fourth of six semesters of pursuing the Bachelor of Science degree. The time passed by quite fast and I’m still glad my prior knowledge helps me to understand the stuff quicker. Whether it is practical computer science, theoretical computer science or computer engineering (as the three main disciplines of Computer Science), I am well grounded in them — as long as it is not concerned with Maths. This enables me to focus more on personal growth as well as to explain stuff and help peer students when we are revising lectures – as well as to engage in the students’ union which makes quite a lot of fun.

Part of the personal growth is, next to improving on weaknesses, doing what makes me happy. I’ve become a First Aid Instructor and I’m doing a lot of youth work for the aid organization.

What I really like about the study is that I

  • learn much,
  • can get involved in many areas and
  • that I can make a difference, as well as to get to know a lot of people.

During the study, I decided to focus on cybersecurity. This is mainly because it is a very creative field where everything of Computer Science comes together. It’s fun as well as a big area where I can take responsibility and something that ever changes.

The forseeable future

I want to do a “dualer Master”, that is a Master of Science degree, also using the cooperative education model, in Computer Science with a focus on cybersecurity.

Otherwise, I’d like to further specialize on cybersecurity in the professional life as well. Out of the top of my head, I’d like to get some CERT or SOC experience.

As I couldn’t imagine where I would land at 10 years later, I don’t want to make up any future. So…

Let’s wait for the future

So … this is it. Thank you for your time to read this! I noticed I used the word “I” quite often. :D

I’m really thankful for all the curiosity that is in me that allows me to learn so much (also as a way to pass time).

As I stated in the introduction, I mainly want to start blogging to not only share thoughts, but also do so in a structured way. I’m really keen to get feedback on that. You can feel free to do so using a Mastodon direct message or by shooting an e-mail at mail@<the-hostname>.de - or, if you happen to see me sometime, face-to-face.

I promise the following blog posts won’t get as long as this one!