The Dan Kaminsky Fellowship: Finding and Funding Hacker Firefighters

The success of this Internet1 is widely understood to depend on open-source software development and the hacker gift culture. In hackerdom, your social status is based on what you’ve given away: specifically, what breakthrough knowledge and tools you’ve given away. My friend and HUMAN Co-Founder Dan Kaminsky was a paragon of that gift culture. 

Open-source software is so critical to the Internet, it is now supported by a wide variety of programs, from Google’s Summer of Code to the Linux Foundation’s Core Infrastructure Initiative.

We wanted to create a program that gave exceptional code contributors the space, time, and money they typically do not get to dedicate towards their open-source projects. That’s why the Dan Kaminsky Fellowship is more than just a fellowship, it’s a springboard to the future for the internet’s next Dan. That may sound like big shoes to fill, but that’s where HUMAN comes in.

HUMAN is offering its Fellows a year of full-time employment to dedicate to deep work on their open-source projects. Fellows will enjoy the same employment benefits as the rest of us—like health benefits and a supportive community of peer reviewers. An advisor will lead the Fellows through life at HUMAN and help them navigate their projects.

But this is the part that makes me the most excited: HUMAN will prepare the Dan Kaminsky Fellows to share their work with the world at the conferences Dan loved, like Black Hat, DEF CON, and RSA Conference.

Dan wasn’t just a great builder. He was also a great presenter. Sharing is as big a part of the hacker gift culture as creation. I loved working on presentations with Dan, and even more, working with Dan to help others on their presentations. When Dan helped, he didn’t just boost the quality of a presentation; he boosted the confidence of the presenter. Some of our proudest moments were seeing the ones we helped showing off their great work on stage.

It’s important to us at HUMAN to help our Fellows not only share their work but also to articulate why that work is important and why we should care. Dan loved talking to the press, and he got really good at answering tough questions crisply, memorably, and quotably. He had a talent for it. He also had good training and a lot of practice. We want to help our Fellows get the same.

“There are fires everywhere,” Dan would say. And there is no elite superhero corps tapped with the power and authority to put them all out. There’s just us. Whatever our skills and accomplishments today, we got them by having the will, the generosity, and the audacity to try—instead of waiting for someone better to come along. Some people nominate themselves to be the ones to put the fires out, and that’s where all the firefighters come from. There’s just us. 

I miss Dan terribly. I hope, with this Fellowship, we can help some firefighters feel a little less alone. 

1. This Internet is not the only one; it’s the one that worked. Dan titled his 2016 Black Hat Keynote “The Hidden Architecture of Our Time: Why This Internet Worked, How We Could Lose It, and the Role Hackers Play”