A Discussion with Jeff Neithercutt On Pushing Through Life’s Challenges and Maintaining a Positive Attitude

Jeff Neithercutt was born in Northern California, and received his Associates Degree in Administration of Justice from Chabot College in Hayward. He then completed a Bachelor of Science at CSU Hayward in Criminal Justice Administration, and eventually completed a Master’s Degree in Cyber Security and Information Assurance with a specialization in Ethical Hacking and Penetration […]

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Jeff Neithercutt
Jeff Neithercutt

Jeff Neithercutt was born in Northern California, and received his Associates Degree in Administration of Justice from Chabot College in Hayward. He then completed a Bachelor of Science at CSU Hayward in Criminal Justice Administration, and eventually completed a Master’s Degree in Cyber Security and Information Assurance with a specialization in Ethical Hacking and Penetration Testing in 2013. Mr. Neithercutt is currently a Senior Cybersecurity Consultant with a Consulting firm specializing in information, security, and technical consulting. He has 25 years of information technology experience and several industry certifications including Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) and CompTIA Cybersecurity Analyst + (CySA+.) He is a published author and speaks regularly at industry conferences. Jeff has a decade of prior Law Enforcement experience as both a Police Officer and 911 Dispatcher and worked for six years as an Information Security Analyst and Engineer at a large international bank. Jeff’s work experience focused on critical incident response to physical and information security threats, auditing, and Computer Aided Dispatching (CAD) consulting using industry security control standards including the National Institute of Standards and Technologies (NIST) Special Publications (SP) 800 series and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 27000 series. He also has extensive background providing detailed technical reviews of system infrastructure design, disaster recovery and business continuity plans, and Independent Verification and Validation of large, complex systems. He is a College Level educator in many subjects and taught 30 different subjects for Training Solutions Group, an online based remote certification group. In 2019 Jeff and Becky Neithercutt completed the Sacramento Entrepreneurial Academy, winning Best in Showcase for their tech startup Blockchain of Evidence. Blockchain of Evidence is a unique use of Blockchain in the supply chain that evidence passes through from crime scene to court. www.blockchainofevidence.org.

Where you were born, education and any achievements. Where you live now, work experience and what your business is (include website link).

Why did you decide to create your own business?

I’ve always held more than one job in my life, even starting in High School, when I worked at the Movie Theater, Sandwich Shop, and Video Game Arcade all at the same time. I’ve had an independent Computer Consulting company called Computer Integration Services since 1997, after several Auto Body Shop owners in the East Bay Area requested I start a computer consulting business supporting their efforts to be successful in the (then) burgeoning “Direct Repair Program”, where body shops and Auto Insurance Companies work directly together to process Auto Insurance claims. After a successful run for three years, I returned to my love of Law Enforcement and became a 911 Dispatcher for two years. At that time my computer consulting business became a “side gig”, and I’ve always used it to cushion income loss during time between full-time jobs since. Over the years since, I’ve used it to launch different business ideas, some successful, some not so much. In 2018 my wife came up with the idea of using Blockchain to give integrity to the chain of evidence in law enforcement, and Blockchain of Evidence was born. Since we didn’t have experience in the tech world as a startup, we enrolled in and completed the Sacramento Entrepreneurial Academy, winning “Best in Showcase” for BoE in May, 2019. Owning your own business provides you with the opportunity to be truly creative, because you don’t have a “boss” telling you your idea won’t work, but it’s a lot harder than most people imagine. We frequently spend 12 hour days trying to get the next stage moving in our startup. It’s incredibly exciting to take a company from idea to fruition.

What does a typical day consist of for you?

I have a “day job” as well as consulting “gigs” teaching online remotely, and BoE, so every minute of almost every day is packed full of my next “project”. It certainly leads to inventive time management, and I frequently make calls on my lunch break. Travelling to conferences is challenging as well. I usually get up around 6:30 am and get ready to bike to work. I use my bicycle to commute to keep myself healthy without having to go to the gym, and I usually arrive at work refreshed and ready to take on the day. After an 8-10 hour stint at my day job consulting for Public Agencies and State Agencies, I bike home and have dinner with my wife. After dinner we may watch an episode of “Finding your Roots” or a documentary. Then I return emails and calls from other clients, work on trademark or patent information, design powerpoints for my next class, or attend a local Blockchain meetup to socialize with those in my field. During my day job I may attend as many as 5 meetings, take and make 5-8 calls, and review documentation from several different clients and divisions.

Who has been a role model to you and why

My father was my role model for most of my life, and it’s been amazing to me how much of my own life mimics his path to success. He started the Criminal Justice Department at CSUH with Dr. Ben Carmichael and Dr. Pat Zajac and taught at the University for 27 years. But prior to that he received his PhD at UC Berkeley, a Master’s at UC Berkeley, and worked for a time as a Federal Probation Officer in the Berkeley/Oakland areas. Both of my parents were involved in Law Enforcement and instilled in me a true love of, and respect for the law. Growing up I learned that you work hard and constantly learn about things you are interested in, spending your free time educating yourself about things that will help you or your family when you aren’t working. Dad would drive 4 hours round trip to CSUH three to four days a week, teaching courses on Ethics, Research Methods, and Recidivism Prevention. Then he worked on maintaining the 7 rental properties he and my Mom had purchased over the years to prepare for my brother and I to use for college, and for them to retire on. I learned to fix things around the house, and how to repair cars from him. I learned to research and build evidence for your arguments before you started them, and to always respect the person you were arguing with, even if you respectfully disagreed. My father warned me that Criminal Justice was a system that struggled mightily with ethical dilemmas, and that the men and women within it were frequently tempted with the gains of easy money and drugs. What he forgot to warn me about was that corrupt cops don’t always get caught. Sometimes they promote and hunt good cops under them that could catch them being corrupt. That was one of the toughest lessons of my life to learn, but he showed me that when you fall off the horse, you get right back on, even if it’s a different horse going a different direction and you don’t particularly know where it’s headed. He taught me excellent English skills, plumbing, electrical, roofing, siding, how to use power tools, and how to drive. My father died in 2015, and I miss him more than anything in my life.

How do you maintain a solid work life balance?

Work-life balance is difficult when you have a family and others relying on you. The important thing to remember is to never sacrifice your family or health time for work. Make it clear when you take a position that family comes first, and be flexible in your off hours if you need a time adjustment for a family event. For instance, be willing to work remotely on vacation days when you might have “down time” in order to preserve your PTO hours for important events like birthdays, funerals, school events for your children, etc. Be willing to work on a Saturday if you need a Tuesday off. If you make it clear when you start with a company that you will do the work they need, on time, and (hopefully) under budget, they are much more willing to work with you. For instance, the company I currently work for told me when they hired me that I would be working for salary, and they expected me to work “40-60 hours a week, you pick the hours.” That has made for some long days, but it also makes it possible to work on a weekend day to cover a weekday I need off. You can’t think of it as “work stealing my time”, you have to think of it as sharing your time with your work so that they will share your work time with your family. I think the place most people are the most discontent in a work environment is when they feel they are working harder than they are being compensated for working. That is all about your attitude though. If you decide that you are willing to work on a Saturday in exchange for having a needed weekday off, then it won’t feel like such a sacrifice when you have to work that Saturday. The important thing is that your work needs your productivity, so give it to them, then set your family schedule and your work schedules to complement each other. As an example, if you want to take your kids to school every day, arrange to start your workday after you drop them off, but don’t expect to then go home at 5 with everybody else. Understand that coming in at 9 or 10 am means going home at 6 or 7 pm. You can also stagger your time in some industries, like getting up at 5 am, working until 8, doing breakfast and the kids’ drop-off together, then working from 10-5 to round out the day. You also have to be reasonable about your expectations in some industries. People who are working the ticket booth at a movie theater can’t “work from home”. Likewise, positions that require you to be client-facing aren’t likely to allow you to come to work in shorts and flip-flops. If that’s what you want to do with your work schedules, then don’t take jobs that don’t allow that type of activity, and then expect them to work around you. Take the job that provides that type of flexibility, even if it means taking a cut in pay. Also, if you do not take the initiative to earn a college degree or industry certificate, do not expect to be treated the same as those who did. You have plenty of options available to you to get an education, but they won’t be easy. That’s why I tell our younger family members to take advantage of the time right after high school when they can live at home for less cost and go to school. Get it over with before you try to start your life. That is when the most scholarships and educational opportunities are available. And yes, it will look like much more fun to “take a gap year” and do something else, but don’t complain when you come back from that gap year and your classmates that went to college are a year ahead of you educationally. You have to balance your time and efforts then, and later when working, so that you get what you want in terms of salary, upward mobility, and time for your family.

What traits do you possess that makes a successful leader?

I’m an Aries, the Ram, and I’m pretty straight-forward and persistent when I set my mind toward a goal or project. This means I can come off as “pushy” sometimes, but I’m finding as I get older that I am learning ways to temper that pushiness to collaborate better with my coworkers toward a common goal, rather than just ramming ahead to get what I need/want. When I was a Police Officer we were trained to “take command” of every situation because from an Officer Safety standpoint, if you didn’t control the situation, and all the people in it, you were at risk of getting injured or killed. Obviously in the private sector, that is no longer a concern, so I’ve had to temper my cadence to be more suggestive and convincing rather than just ordering people around. It’s interesting too that I’ve realized that my ability to be suggestive and convincing actually gains better support and cooperation than ordering people around ever did. It makes me think that maybe the Law Enforcement network could benefit from teaching a different style of command presence. One that evokes confidence and trust from those you are encountering, rather than fear and apprehension. I’ve always believed the best leaders were the ones whose followers wanted to follow them, rather than doing so out of fear of reprisal or consequence. I feel like a leader who practices reasonable introspection and modifies their approach  to include as many members of the project as possible earns the respect and loyalty of their colleagues, where the leader who instills fear and competition among the ranks has valuable members of their team quit and go “where I will be appreciated.” It’s important for a leader to be able to recognize the strong points and weaknesses of their team members in order to gain the best performance and satisfaction from every person. I hope I do that well. It feels like I could be less confrontational at times, but I find that some individuals have developed a sense of entitlement that prohibits them from participating fully in work without the occasional spoken reminders of who they are and what they represent. Coaching “slugs” is another talent a great leader should have. Finding ways to motivate personnel who have “given up” or just no longer participate fully in the goals of the team is a critical skill that requires patience, understanding, and the ability to gain the trust of individuals who may have been “burned” by prior managers. I recall one former co-worker whose child had been diagnosed with autism so the co-worker was feeling “hopeless”. He expressed that feeling of hopelessness to his Sergeant and the Sergeant reported him to the Department Psychologist as “Suicidal.” After having his confidence betrayed, and after having to spend weeks convincing the Department Psychologist that he was only sad, and in need of support, not suicidal, he was allowed to return to duty. What are the odds that employee will ever share his feelings, needs, or desires with a supervisor ever again? What a wasted life full of good skills and training, who no longer feels any compulsion to be a member of “the team” because they’ve been betrayed. That is never good.

What is one piece of advice that you have never forgotten?

I had a sergeant that I worked for during my years as a Police Officer who always told us, “Do the right thing, for the right reason”. This piece of advice has stuck with me for more than 10 years now, and frankly I wish I had heard it years before I did. It taught me that even though you may be in a position where a policy, law, standard, or advice tells you to do something improper, you must not. It compromises your ethics and morals to do wrong, even if you are feeling compelled to do so. As an example, Police Officers are given a special power, well many special powers, but one in particular; discretion. Officers have the discretion in many situations to choose between three options to handle a situation they are called to, or discover on their own. Unless compelled by the law to act only in a certain way, Officers can choose to either educate, enforce, or engineer a solution to the problem. The easiest way to describe how this works is when an individual is contacted reference violation of a minor infraction. If the person was simply not aware of the law, or their responsibility to follow it, writing them a ticket or enforcing a fine against them may not be the best option. Frequently, educating an individual on the reason for the law’s existence, and the benefit to society, including the miscreant detained for violating it, can be much more effective than simply writing out a ticket and sending the person on their way. This doesn’t work if the individual detained is not willing to be educated, or lacks the concern necessary to move on with the new information and not violate the law again, however, most individuals will listen if given the chance, and if explained properly, will likely not reoffend in the same manner. The effectiveness of this educational process declines dramatically as the seriousness of the offense increases. For instance, you can not educate someone into not reoffending for a serious crime like burglary, grand theft, rape, or homicide. That would not only not be acceptable in society’s eyes, but likely ineffective in an individual already willing to cross that particular and very serious societal line. However, an individual who is speeding in a school zone should be evaluated for knowledge that there is a school present. If the violation is minor, and educating the individual is likely to gain permanent compliance with the law in the future, then you are more effective gaining that individual’s compliance with the law from that point forward in that particular school zone, and hopefully any others they encounter. People without children are frequently unaware of how randomly children will act, wandering off, running away from their caregivers, and not paying any attention to street entrances or other safety barriers, frequently darting into a busy street with no warning, and with such suddenness that the oncoming driver, even if they see the child at the last minute, is unable to avoid a collision with them. Is it a better use of the Officer’s time and energy to ensure that driver complies willingly with the speed limit in that school zone from that point forward, or to earn a few dollars for the City Coffers from the fine generated by a citation. Enforcement becomes necessary, and in fact are required by blatant disregard for safety, as in the case of driving a child around without ensuring they are properly secured by a seatbelt or child safety seat, whichever is appropriate to the age and weight of the child. Individuals who violate this vehicle code section require immediate correction, and fining them heavily usually ensures it doesn’t happen again. Education is not a good choice in this situation because this is “common knowledge” that every licensed driver and parent knows is a critical safety procedure. A parent who drives with their child unbelted needs more than an education, which would be wasted on them anyway as they are already aware their child is required to be secured in the vehicle. The only time an Officer might consider education in this instance is if the child is of borderline age or weight and a newly enacted regulation has changed the requirements of the law, but regardless in this situation, the child must be secured prior to allowing the driver to continue on their way. That is the “right thing to do” and “for the right reason”.

What is the biggest life lesson you have learned?

Hard work doesn’t always pay off the way you’d expect. In fact, you will fail more frequently than you succeed….but that’s not always a bad thing. In the Startup world,
fail fast, fail often” is frequently touted as the Agile key to success. As a project management framework, Agile has its place, and can actually help a business to try and find its way among the varied paths toward success. But fail fast simply means failing. Granted, failing fast gives you a leg up on learning your lesson and moving forward in a different direction. In fact, knowing how to recognize that an idea or plan is failing and pivoting toward a more successful plan is really important in any business, but particularly in the startup phase. Fail often just means frequent failures, however, so I’m not quite as enamored with the idea that it “helps” you in any way, shape, or form. Still, I guess the idea of figuring out your mistakes early and redirecting your efforts toward a business plan with potential success is a good one. What I’ve learned from watching it is that whether you fail or not, hard work is the only way to actually accomplish anything. If you start at 10, take a two-hour lunch, and leave early, you aren’t likely to accomplish much. Still, there are plenty of people who put their nose to the grindstone 12-14 hours a week for years without a break. I’m not sure they are all that much more successful than their colleagues with a more laid-back approach to the workweek. For example, the American work week is typically 40 hours, though there are variations. Most businesses offer a few paid holidays and between 2-4 weeks paid vacation per year for the first 10 or more years, before it begins to bump up toward 5, or even 6 weeks paid after 20 years. In Europe, even low paying positions are frequently granted 6 weeks paid vacation immediately upon hire, and it remains so for most of their careers. They also enjoy a shorter and more relaxed workweek schedule in Europe, averaging only 30-34 hours per week. Yet they don’t seem to be any less successful at what they are trying to accomplish than their American counterparts. I guess it really doesn’t matter how much work you put in, but rather how much you put into your work. If you can accomplish more in 20 hours than most people do in 40, you can go ahead and work 40 and be an over-achiever, or you can spend that extra time with your family and friends and live a more full life. Sometimes, being a hard worker simply means you have more time off. I guess it all depends on what you do with it!!

What trends in your industry excite you?

I guess the first thing I’d have to decide is what “my industry” is. I have a day job working in Cybersecurity Consulting that is very rewarding and takes up a good portion of my time. I have a side “gig” doing computer consulting for a select group of clients that is also rewarding. I’ve started a new company, a “Startup” called Blockchain of Evidence that has already won “Best in Showcase” in an Entrepreneurial competition in the Sacramento region, and I’ve really enjoyed working on that. I had a long and fulfilling career as a Police Officer and Dispatcher that was also “my industry”, so I guess the most difficult thing about answering this question is figuring out which industry to answer it about. I think I can actually tie three of them together, and the resulting upcoming trends really are exciting for that. As a Police Officer I learned how difficult it is for Officers working the streets to overcome the politics and policies that have been pushed down onto them over the last three decades. Frequently they are working in dismal conditions, without proper equipment, using an evidence management system that is 300 years old, and if they make even a tiny error, they are summarily fired and then crucified by the press. It truly is a thankless job, and I’m excited to be able to make it much better by updating and upgrading the supply chain management that occurs in Police Evidence Management. It really is difficult for the Officer on the street to arrive at what is frequently a tense, chaotic scene, with many pieces of important evidence strewn about. We’ve seen huge improvements in Police Personal Protective Equipment over the years so at least they aren’t getting overexposed to hazardous waste and bodily fluids as much. But the bottom line is, there are video cameras in the car, on most houses and businesses, and now on the Officer’s body as well, and instead of being used as the treasure trove of valuable information that it could be, augmenting the Officers recall and documentation, Departments are using it to identify and punish Officers instead. This causes the Officers not to trust the technology and valuable footage either is intentionally not captured, or taken from the Officer and stored where they can’t use it to verify their recollection of the sequence of events. Sometimes footage an Officer could use to protect themselves against civilian accusations of impropriety is simply dumped by the department, and the Officers are reminded over and over again that the video will end their career if it shows them making even minor mistakes. Thankfully, with the advent of Blockchain and its application to Evidence Supply Chain management, Officers will be able to prove every action they’ve taken, every second of digital video and audio they’ve collected, and they will be able to use the technology to augment their recall and be even more accurate in their reporting of the events that unfolded. Especially those clouded by the human brain’s reaction to stress levels most of us never have to experience, much less try to function while suffering through. I’m excited that Blockchain is coming to Police Evidence Management, and I can only see good coming from a better and more transparent way to track, trace, manage, and store Police Evidence, and I look forward to how it will help our brothers and sisters in blue begin to more accurately and safely record the facts of the many cases they are assigned every shift.

Where do you see you and your company in 5 years?

Our business plan and financial projections show us as profitable and rolled out to over 50 Police Evidence Management systems in 3 years, so hopefully in 5 we’ll be in over 100 agencies, and helping Officers and Evidence Technicians more accurately automate the recording of the tedious details of everyday evidence collection. I plan for Blockchain of Evidence to be at the forefront of the move from 300-year-old Pizza box and scotch tape evidence management to RFID tagged digitally stored and signed tamper-evident storage containers visible to all in the process, from scene to court. Just image what will happen when the Prosecution comes to court with an immutable, mathematically proven chain of evidence. The Defense will have no choice but to stop filing frivolous cases alleging Police malfeasance at every turn. And what of the actual Police malfeasance? It does happen, we know all too well. Blockchain of Evidence will make it impossible for Police to make any changes to, lose, taint, steal, or accidentally dispose of any evidence once it’s been collected and its digital signature uploaded to the blockchain. Quite frankly, our court system should be able to bypass at least 50% of the current caseload because once the evidence is mathematically proven reliable, there won’t be any reason for most cases to even come to court. In fact, people will not be able to clog up the court systems with shoddy evidence claims any more. I look forward to that day. And I look forward to Blockchain of Evidence being the leader in the field. But I look forward even more to people being able to once again trust that they are in good hands when Police arrive to investigate a crime. To trust the Criminal Justice System will be ruled by math, not bias and petty prejudices. Officers will be able to spend their time talking with people, and collaborating on safer communities instead of writing for hours about the things their video and audio systems already captured at the scene. That is where Blockchain of Evidence really shines.

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