What’s your most memorable moment in your career? Walter Cooke, a seasoned cybersecurity professional, shared his “Once in Life” adventure in South Africa. There are certain things you initially say I absolutely positively don’t want to do this, but those are often the opportunities you really really should take that!

Bryan Li:  

So, Walter, in your career, there are quite many years. So what was the most memorable moment, if you can share a story about yourself. What was the most memorable moment in your career?

Walter Cooke:

Yeah, there’s a few that come to mind I’ve been in this business for over 40 years now, and I have the white hair to prove it. 

Obviously, I would say the biggest most interesting one that was my 15 minutes of fame was in 1994 and Elections Canada.

Someone who worked there contacted me at 4:00 a.m. in the morning. And they were in Johannesburg South Africa and they were there to help with the South African election, which was taking place that April. And they said: “Walter, we need you on the next plane to come down here because we’re have these big computer systems we’re putting in place to allow nine million people to vote in this election.”

“This will be the first all-party election where everyone in the country has been allowed to vote it’s the end of apartheid.  All the people who are never allowed to vote are going to vote this time. But we have all these terrible security problems right now. So can you come down and help us out?”

So along with some of the other Canadian people who worked for the Ottawa government’s departments of Defense Elections Canada, I spent several months down in South Africa looking after their computer security requirements and disaster recovery planning.  So we get through the election and allow the event to actually take place.

It was a fairly scary event, you know, there were people being assassinated; a lot of things going wrong; there was a database of over 40,000 problems…

They had everything from people burning down the locations where the election was going to take place.  There were several bombs left in front of the seat buildings where we were working.  We had to evacuate headquarters very often. My hotel was blown up with a bomb once. There was about a block and a half away from the largest car bombs going off in Johannesburg Sunday morning…

So, I came back home from that adventure, and a lot of people told me I was just absolutely crazy to have even done that.  But in fact, what happened was then I had sort of instant celebrity status for at least, you know, a little while.

I was interviewed by the CBC the moment I got off the airplane in Halifax. I was able to go into a number of speaking engagements at the world conference on disaster management and few other things for both the next five years.  So it kind of cemented my reputation in the information security world.  I can’t say I’ve really coasted on that since then, but it’s got a long way to both provide me with some of the professional accolades that I have and the sort of street smarts on how to get things done in a civil war situation.

So, when you have opportunities like that that come along once in a life time, you don’t turn them down. Because the end of it, Nelson Mandela got elected! That’s an amazing event!

So, there are certain things that you know you’re initially say I absolutely positively don’t want to do this, but those are often the opportunities were you actually really should take them.

I have taken the risk.