Bill Wear learned how to hack into phone lines when he was 10 years old. By age 14, he'd become a full-blown computer delinquent. One night, using a password he'd stolen from a guidance counselor, he hacked into his school's computer. What happened next changed his life. The counselor, who knew that Wear had swiped the password, had posted a message for him. Wear still recalls it: "I know that you're using my account. I also know about your father. I know he abuses you. I also know that we can do something. Call me. Let me help."
Wear made the call. His counselor helped get him into a private school — and stayed in touch with Wear as he earned two engineering degrees. A wise mentor had transformed the life of a hacker.
Today the ex-hacker is himself a mentor. Wear, now 39, works as a program manager for security at Hewlett-Packard. He describes his encounter with the counselor in an online handbook for HP employees who participate in the company's email-mentoring program. The handbook, which Wear wrote, is full of creative ideas and savvy tactics.
"Where I am now is so different from where I would have been," Wear says. "I'd probably be living on an island with a lot of money — and a spot on the FBI's Most Wanted list. I owe my life to mentoring."
You can reach Bill Wear by email (firstname.lastname@example.org). To read his handbook, visit the Web (http://mentor.external.hp.com/information/handbk1.html).
A version of this article appeared in the November 1998 issue of Fast Company magazine.