Teen wired for a future in security

February 25, 2011|BY TIFFANY ARNOLD |
  • Mark Sokol of Hagerstown has been interning with the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park, helping to upgrade their software.
By Colleen McGrath/Staff Photographer

Typical toys in the Sokol household were old microphones, oscilloscopes and computer guts.

Yet, 17-year-old Mark Sokol said his interest in technology didn't pick up until he was in high school. Now, the senior at Washington County Technical High School has a technology internship with the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park.

"I'm a total geek," said Mark, smiling, in a red Atari T-shirt and jeans. He was sitting next to his mother, Linda Sokol, in the living room of their Hagerstown home.

Basically, Mark comes from a family of tech heads. And this technology stuff was a slow progression, some of it acquired by osmosis, some of it natural interest.

Mark's dad, Mike Sokol, is an audio engineer and computer wizard who used to have a computer repair shop. His brother, Alan Sokol, is a 20-year-old computer science major at St. Mary's College of Maryland, a former teenage podcaster and a former contributor for Pulse, a section of The Herald-Mail that features stories by teen writers.

"Thank goodness they've never given me any trouble," Linda said. "I'm proud of them, all of them."

The Sokol brothers grew up with all the game consoles — Mark has six of them connected to a single television — the 1985 Nintendo Entertainment System, Super NES, Nintendo 64, Game Cube, Wii and the Xbox.

He has a separate vintage NES connected to an older TV just so he can play "Duck Hunt."

"I used to have an Atari but I broke it when I was 3," he said.

Mom said that Mark and his twin, Kevin — who's lately been more interested in baking — would spend hours talking about shows like "Mythbusters," and sometimes tried to recreate the scientific myths busted on the show, at least the ones that didn't involve explosives, she said.

No old gadget was safe in the Sokol household.

But there was at least one gadget he wasn't privy to until he was 14 — a cell phone.

"Not until they were 14," his mom said. The rule was no texting, no dating — at least not until age 16. That first phone was an inexpensive Samsung flip phone. Mark has since upgraded and has been scheming to one-up the iPhone he has now.

Mark said his first computer had a Windows 98 operating system and was a gift from his dad. He remembered wanting to get into its operating system, trying to figure out what made the computer run. He recalled watching a YouTube clip of Watson beating humans on Jeopardy. Watson is an IBM Supercomputer that faced off against human competitors on the TV trivia show earlier this month. With all those terabytes of RAM and the racks and racks of cooling towers? "Humans didn't have a chance," Mark said.

Lately, his work for the C&O Canal, he said, involves helping the park system upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 7. He said his real interest lies with cyber security. He said he plans to earn a forensic science degree at Stevenson University, where he'll focus on cyber security. As for the impression he'd like to leave?

"Determined," he said. "I'm definitely determined."

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