As CEOs, many of us are deeply passionate about our industries.
We became CEOs because we often couldn’t have imagined, or couldn’t keep tolerating, a career doing anything else.
But Alton Johnson of Vonahi Security might be the one of the best embodiments of passion-turned-entrepreneurial journey I’ve seen yet.
If you missed my livestream on The Channel CEO with Alton, be sure to watch the full video of our talk here (or just click the image below!):
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Like many of us who later find ourselves in the CEO chair, Alton said he wasn’t very interested in the standard curriculum of high school back in the day.
Instead, he spent nearly all his time obsessing over what he’d rather be doing: hacking computers.
He wasn’t a criminal mastermind but more of a practical joker who couldn’t contain himself when he learned that it was possible to remotely access a stranger’s PC to open and close their CD drive, freaking out the user.
And he knew how getting hacked felt, because someone had done it to him.
At 11, he was already super interested in computers, but it wasn’t until a hacker breached his machine and then revealed how they did it that Alton became fully addicted to technology.
“I don’t know why anybody would ever do that,” Alton said of his ethical hacker, “but it changed my life.”
Once he saw just what was possible with a computer and some coding knowledge, Alton became obsessed with the world of hacking.
“It was really cool for me because I didn’t have to wait until I got much older to go to college and get a job, all that crazy stuff, as a kid, right? I could just come home after school and create something that I would have never created had I not known how to code.”
Far more interested in computers than he was in his schoolwork, Alton decided to get his GED and skip the formalities of the rest of high school. At just 16 years old, he began attending Louisiana Technical College, where he studied computer networking.
Cybersecurity wasn’t an industry or really even something tech professionals expected to become an industry at the time. So, instead, Alton learned skills like how to troubleshoot and fix computers, manage servers, etc.
In fact, Alton’s instructors at the time told him that programming and cybersecurity weren’t going to be anything to note in the future.
But, as luck would have it, Alton encountered one of those mythical early cybersecurity professionals while working for a credit union in Louisiana.
“We hired a cybersecurity company to come in and do a security assessment,” he said. “And when I saw the guy come in and started doing stuff I was like, “Dude, where do you work?’”
After this encounter, Alton applied for every cybersecurity position he could, and eventually landed his first job in the field as a penetration tester.
Maybe it was fate because, as it turns out, becoming a pentester would set Alton on track to build the company he’s now CEO of: Vonahi Security.
And, while he didn’t set out to start his own business, Alton’s passion for hacking, programming, and efficiency turned into just that.
As he found himself writing more and more reports for big companies, Alton started to become annoyed by the manual reporting process, and he realized reporting was a bottleneck affecting many cybersecurity companies.
He began experimenting with report automation and was eventually creating automated reports while his team at work was none the wiser.
“So, to me, that proved that, hey, it’s possible to automate something and deliver the same quality as I would manually, because no one could tell the difference,” he said.
Yet, despite his success with report automations, Alton wasn’t feeling passionate about working for someone else’s cybersecurity company anymore.
Instead, he bought himself a new laptop and decided strike out on his own:
“I said, ‘You know what? I don’t care what happens in my life. As long as I have this laptop, I will figure out a way to make this work.”
Alton kept doing what he was passionate about: automating manual processes in the cybersecurity industry.
Today, Vonahi not only automates cybersecurity reports, but penetration testing, too.
“The initial goal was to automate reports for myself as a pentester,” Alton said. “But then I started automating a lot of penetration test stuff and eventually we got our first demo.”
While some of Alton’s success may seem like sheer luck, I’d argue it’s rather the result of a deep passion for what he’s doing, and his dedication to that passion overall.
For example, even though he loved automating, learning how to get himself in front of potential customers and essentially market his business was a process Alton had to learn.
If you’re really dedicated to what you’re doing though, facing those challenges is just another step to move your passion forward.
If you haven’t yet, watch my full interview with Alton above to get even more insights from our talk.
And, if you’re a channel CEO, let me know if you want to be interviewed next!
Let’s do this.
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