Occupation Thesaurus: Ethical Hacker

Jobs are as important for our characters as they are for real people. A character’s career might be their dream job or one they’ve chosen due to necessity. In your story, they might be trying to get that job or are already working in the field. Whatever the situation, as with any defining aspect for your character, you’ll need to do the proper research to be able to write that career knowledgeably.

Enter the Occupation Thesaurus. Here, you’ll find important background information on a variety of career options for your character. In addition to the basics, we’ll also be covering related info that relates to character arc and story planning, such as sources of conflict (internal and external) and how the job might impact basic human needs, thereby affecting the character’s goals. It’s our hope that this thesaurus will share some of your research burden while also giving you ideas about your character’s occupation that you might not have considered before.

Need help figuring out the perfect jobs for your cast of characters? The Occupation Thesaurus can help. This week's entry? Ethical Hacker

Occupation: Ethical Hacker

Overview: Ethical hackers are professionals who are employed to deliberately break into a customer’s network or system to determine security vulnerabilities and offer solutions. Also called a “white hat hacker,” these individuals apply the same techniques and methods that malicious hackers use, but their intent is not malicious. Rather, they seek to shore up potential issues to keep the bad guys out.

Ethical hackers may work as independent contractors or be part of a security firm.

Necessary Training: Training requirements vary from job to job. Because of the security risks, many employers require that their hackers have a bachelor’s degree in computer science or another related field. They also may want anyone they hire to be certified in one of the main IT security certifications.

While it’s possible to become an ethical hacker without any formal training, getting hired  can be difficult. This occupation is legit and in demand, but many people view the field suspiciously, believing that ethical hackers are simply bad hackers turned good. For an employer to put their company’s security into the hands of a stranger, they need to be able to trust that person. Many times, a degree or certification (as well as legitimate references) can be enough to convince them.

Useful Skills, Talents, or Abilities: Gaining the trust of others, multitasking

Helpful Character Traits:

POSITIVE: Adventurous, analytical, centered, curious, discreet, independent, intelligent, meticulous, observant, persistent, proactive, professional, resourceful, responsible, studious, uninhibited

NEGATIVE: Addictive, confrontational, devious, manipulative, mischievous, paranoid, perfectionist, rebellious, suspicious, unethical

Sources of Friction: Missing a vulnerability within a client’s system that is then exploited, being blamed for a breach in a recent client’s system, one’s own system being hacked and one’s credibility being threatened, getting caught using unethical procedures on a job, unknowingly letting one’s certification lapse, nefarious individuals from one’s past making it difficult for one to “stay clean and fly straight,” word getting out about one’s illegitimate hacking activities from the past, being blackmailed, complications arising from one’s illegitimate hacking activities on the side, lack of respect from loved ones who don’t understand one’s job, not being trusted by others (because of one’s past or their own prejudices about the industry), conflict with the client’s IT security team over proposed solutions, being very good at one’s job but struggling with the social part (having to communicate with clients, lead meetings, engage with security teams, etc.),

People They Might Interact With: clients, online certification instructors and admin, people working for or with the client (employees, contractors, past employees, etc.)

How This Occupation Might Impact One’s Basic Needs:

  • Esteem and Recognition: It’s possible for ethical hackers to receive criticism from many quarters. Black hat hackers could see them as sell-outs and cowards while legitimate professionals may have a hard time trusting them. If unethical hacking is a part of their past, family members and loved ones may continue to be suspicious. If any of these dysfunctional dynamics come into play, it can impact the character’s esteem.
  • Love and Belonging: Hacking is an often solitary occupation, meaning many in this field may struggle building relationships.
  • Safety and Security: A hacker’s safety and security may be threatened if they discover vulnerabilities in a system that the creator doesn’t want removed. This need could also be impacted if the hacker fails to protect a popular or public client’s system, resulting in the public at large or an important grid (traffic, electricity, food distribution, etc.) being exposed.

Common Work-Related Settings:  Basement, boardroom, man cave

Twisting the Fictional Stereotype: When people think of the typical hacker (even an ethical one), they picture a twenty-something male working out of his basement. Give readers a pleasant surprise by considering alternative genders, ages, and locations. What about a semi-retired grandfather working out of his assisted living facility? A stay-at-home mom who works in her she-shed during school hours? A part-time pastor or priest doing ethical hacking as a way to supplement his income?

There’s also a common perception that ethical hackers weren’t always ethical. Keep in mind that your character might have a squeaky-clean past and still be good at this job.

Visit the other Occupations in our collection HERE.


Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
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4 Responses to Occupation Thesaurus: Ethical Hacker

  1. Harmony Kent says:

    I’m loving these occupation posts and am linking to them each week on my blog for my Week in Review and Writing Links … harmonykent.co.uk. Thanks so much! Great fun and great info 🙂

  2. :Donna says:

    wow, this is a good one, girls!

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