Technology For Good

My First 30 Days as a Software Engineer at Thorn

By August 1, 2016 No Comments

Mike Ottum is our newest software engineer in the Thorn Innovation Lab.

One of the first things that struck me when I began speaking with the engineering team at Thorn was the importance and clarity of their mission: using technology to fight child sexual exploitation. I’d never worked on anything with that kind of gravity before (my background is in building systems management software), and I felt unsure. But as I learned more about the technical problems that Thorn was tackling, I realized that software is software and the same basic methodologies that deliver cat memes on-time and on-budget can be applied to help identify children who need to be rescued.

In my first thirty days, I’ve been focused on our dark web tool, which aims to speed the time of victim identification for children whose abuse material is shared in the dark web. My work has involved increasing reliability, automatically discovering new suspicious sites, and improving our ops infrastructure so that we can roll-out new services easily and painlessly. The team strikes a good balance between reacting quickly and building for the future (so that we can continue to react quickly).

At Thorn, I’m frequently oscillating between excitement about technical solutions and a sense of the intense reality behind the problems we’re tackling. Moving back and forth between those mindsets has taken some getting used to, but I’ve started to shift from feeling sad/angry at being exposed to some of the ugliness in the world (from a very safe and privileged distance) to feeling intense pride in being part of a team that is working to make things a little bit better.

I’m excited and honored to be a part of Thorn. I’m working on scaling out existing tools and developing new ones. All with the goal of helping investigators find exploited children. Because software is software, so why not think big?