Rebecca Gurley Bace, a member of the Advisory Board of Code Dx, Inc., died last week. While we lament her loss as an Advisor to Code Dx, Inc., that lament is dwarfed by my personal sense of loss of Becky Bace’s friendship and mentorship. Becky was truly one-of-a-kind.
I met Becky about ten years ago, through a mutual friend, Simone Seth, who said “I think you two will really get along.” I had no idea that when we dined at G&M, a favorite NSA restaurant, I was meeting one of the five most influential women in cyber security. Becky was unpretentious; she had a down-home Alabaman warmth, and talked for a long time about family and food before discussing business. It was only after I returned to my hotel that night, when I dwelled on our conversation, that I realized I was fortunate enough to have experienced great crab cakes and an amazing person, who I would grow to know over the next decade. Beyond the southern friendliness was a steely woman, with incredible intellect and ability to foresee technological advances that were decades ahead of what was deemed “state of the art.”
For those who are not aware of Becky’s contribution to cyber security, take some time to look her up. She overcame significant adversity—racial and sexual discrimination, a neurological disorder, a view that she was “unfit” to be educated, and personal tragedy—to become one of the five most influential women in cyber security. She influenced the very early stages of cyber security while she worked at NSA, where she was one of the pioneers in intrusion detection, and later Los Alamos National Laboratory. She was influential in the early stages of In-Q-Tel (the intelligence community venture capital fund), and was a major player in Silicon Valley’s Trident Capital’s investments in cyber security technology.
Becky’s partner in pioneering advances was her dear friend Terri Gilbert; together they started a cyber security consultant company with the evocative name “Infidel, Inc.” It was then that Becky adopted a memorable email address “infomom at infidel.net.” The “mom” part of her email address reflected the “Mama Bear” part of Becky that generously advised and mentored young people and young companies, like Code Dx, Inc., to help us achieve our vision.
Becky seemingly knew everyone in cyber security. She had a “rolodex” (those under 40 will have to look that up) that was unparalleled. She really knew the people in her network; when she called or emailed us, we answered, no matter how busy we were. In the last stage of her life, she used that network to help the Center for Forensics and IT Security at the University of South Alabama (USA) where she served as their Chief Strategist. When I was at USA last September and met up with Dr. Alec Yasinsac, the Dean of the School of Computing, I remarked that he pulled off a great feat in getting Becky to “retire” to a position at USA. However, after seeing the exciting programs that Alec had already initiated at their School of Computing, it was no surprise that Becky wanted to join up.
When Becky returned to her native Alabama for the final stage of her career, it was on far different terms than when she left many years ago. When Becky grew up near Birmingham, one of six children born to an Alabama soldier and his Japanese bride, she felt the isolation of racial discrimination. Her feeling of not fitting in was exacerbated by a neurological disorder that caused seizures. In fact, her neurologist told Becky’s mother that after graduating high school Becky should plan on being on disability for the rest of her life. This woman, who became a pioneer in cyber security, was seen as unfit for college or a career.
Becky eventually did go to college, after a local librarian noticed Becky’s intelligence, became her advocate, and helped her apply to college. This may have been her inspiration for being a mentor and advisor to others throughout her career. When Becky started at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (with two scholarships), she was the only woman in the engineering school. After college, she used her brief stint as photocopier repair person (no time here for that story) to position herself at the doorstep of NSA. And the rest, as they say, is history. Or herstory, in Becky’s case.
We will all miss you, “MamaBear.” Thanks for letting us into your life.