DMLPBRE: Rowan Cota

Time to get clever…

Dead Machines Live People Book Release Extravaganza Presents:

Rowan Cota – Futurist

How about something a little different? Rowan is a good friend, coder, and low-key expert on internet security. If you’re looking to lock down who you are online, Rowan’s a good place to start. You ready for a little learning?

1. Of all the people I know, you’re the one with the clearest ‘self made’ story. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got to where you are? Something to do with Ada Lovelace, right?

Yeah. I spent 2016 out in Seattle at the Ada Developers Academy, which is (in fact!) named for Ada Lovelace. It’s a code bootcamp for women and nonbinary folks where you spend a year learning how to be a developer. I’ve been fascinated by technology since I was pretty young, but unfortunately in high school I was discouraged from pursuing it due to my low grades in math classes. I ended up taking about a 15 year detour from my dreams of writing code.

Being at Ada was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, both emotionally and mentally. I was supported by a huge community, but at the end of the day doing something like lifting yourself out of poverty (which this was for me) requires an effort and strength I wasn’t sure I had. And yet, even with how hard it was, I remember feeling really lucky every day too. I got to spend almost a year of my life in a supportive community of women and nonbinary folks and their allies. I got to take a year off, in many ways, from the real world to immerse myself in a thing I love.

2. What can you tell us about what you do these days?

For my day job, I’m a site reliability engineer. I work with folks who keep things on the internet. It’s a pretty fascinating job where I get to combine my love of systems with my love of code.

As a side-hustle, I consult, with a focus on women and folks of other marginalized gender identities, on how to better protect themselves online. My focus is around practical, solutions oriented work where I walk people through actually taking necessary steps to protect themselves before something happens to them. It’s my goal to help people realize that good security actually isn’t painful.

3. What’s the best place to find more information on how to protect yourself online?

I’m really a big fan of the work Crash Override did, with their guides. (http://www.crashoverridenetwork.com/resources.html) In addition they have a step by step interactive called COACH that’s a comprehensive process for locking down your online presence. The EFF’s Surveillance Self-Defense site, while more aimed at people who are concerned about government spying or legal data collection, is another fantastic set of resources for protecting your privacy and keeping yourself safe. (https://ssd.eff.org/en)

4. Who is your favorite scientist/technologist/futurist in fiction? 😀

I’m really tempted to say “Carl Sagan” because _Contact_ hit me at a formative point in my life, but that wouldn’t actually be true. My absolute favorite is Kage Baker. _The Garden of Iden_ is a beautiful and sometimes heartbreaking work of cyborgs in the middle ages.

5. In all of fiction, media, or history, who or what is your favorite robot?

R2D2. Hands down the best robot from my childhood, when one’s first opinions about robots are formed. The fact that Princess Leia trusted R2D2 with her secrets was probably the biggest endorsement of a robot I could think of.

Rowan’s all over the internet, of course. Start here to keep up with her projects and good works!

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