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  • Donald E. Hester

What's up with the Hawaiian shirts?

What's up with the Hawaiian shirts? That's the question on many minds when it comes to a group of California-based local government cybersecurity professionals associated with MISAC (Municipal Information Systems Association of California) who have been spotted at conferences donning these colorful and tropical garments. The answer may not be as straightforward as one might think, as there are multiple reasons that tie together to create this unique phenomenon. In this blog post, we aim to shed some light on the matter by exploring insights from members of the MISAC Cybersecurity Committee, unveiling the diverse motivations behind their choice of attire. So, let's dive in and uncover the intriguing stories behind the Hawaiian shirts worn by these cybersecurity professionals.

In 2021, during a pivotal cybersecurity committee meeting, a unique proposition emerged – the suggestion that every member of the committee wear a Hawaiian shirt to an upcoming conference later that year. The underlying idea behind this proposal was to facilitate recognition and camaraderie among the cybersecurity professionals amidst a sea of conference attendees. The intention was clear: by donning these vibrant and eye-catching shirts, the committee members could easily identify and connect with one another in the bustling conference environment. However, the significance of the Hawaiian shirt for some individuals runs even deeper, with roots reaching back much further in their personal histories. Let us explore the intriguing tale behind the Hawaiian shirt, its multifaceted symbolism, and the unique stories that have made it a cherished choice for some members of the MISAC Cybersecurity Committee.


One of the key reasons behind the Hawaiian shirts is the recognition of the inherently stressful nature of the job. Cybersecurity is a field that demands constant vigilance and attention, with professionals always "on" and facing high-pressure situations. In such an environment, the ability to mentally escape to a tropical paradise, even if just in their imagination, can serve as a valuable stress management technique. By closing their eyes and envisioning a peaceful place, individuals can lower their heart rate and alleviate stress. In the past, I (Don) would imagine myself amidst the serene redwoods or tranquil Lake Tahoe. However, after being introduced to the serene beaches of Kauai, they became my preferred mental sanctuary. I am sure others can relate. By wearing Hawaiian shirts, a physical representation of that idyllic tropical setting, we cybersecurity professionals not only enhance our meditative experiences but also cultivate a sense of tranquility and reduce stress in our demanding line of work.

Nathaniel, a cybersecurity committee member, finds in the Hawaiian shirts a sense of calm and comfort amidst the ever-changing landscape of cybersecurity. Drawing a parallel between the unpredictable nature of cybersecurity and the unpredictability of island life, Nathaniel embraces the chaos and uncertainty. By wearing Hawaiian shirts, he symbolically embraces the notion that no matter the challenges faced in the realm of cybersecurity, a moment of respite and tranquility awaits. The beach, with its serene and timeless presence, becomes a metaphorical representation of solace and reward after successfully overcoming the immediate challenges of the day. This perspective allows Nathaniel to maintain a sense of perspective and balance while navigating the often turbulent and demanding world of cybersecurity. The Hawaiian shirts thus become a tangible reminder to embrace the unpredictable nature of our work, find comfort amidst chaos, and look forward to the eventual moments of peace and relaxation.

Don, the Co-Chair of the MISAC Cybersecurity Committee, reveals that his affinity for Hawaiian shirts stems from his appreciation for the escapism offered by tiki culture. As a fan of tiki culture, Don finds that wearing Hawaiian shirts symbolizes a sense of relaxation and transports him to a state of mind associated with tropical getaways. The vibrant patterns and colors of the shirts evoke images of serene beaches, swaying palm trees, and exotic cocktails. By embracing the Hawaiian shirt, Don not only embodies a laid-back and carefree vibe but also taps into the escapist allure of tiki culture. It allows him to momentarily detach from the demands of his role in the cybersecurity field and indulge in the soothing imagery and associations that the shirts represent. The Hawaiian shirts become a personal expression of Don's appreciation for relaxation and a reminder to find moments of respite and enjoyment amidst the fast-paced and very stressful world of cybersecurity.


Another significant reason behind the choice of Hawaiian shirts among the MISAC Cybersecurity Committee members lies in the concept of fostering a sense of community and camaraderie. Within any community, there exist certain behaviors, traditions, or symbols that help strengthen the bond among its members. During a crucial MISAC cybersecurity committee meeting in 2021, the idea of wearing Hawaiian shirts at the upcoming MISAC conference was proposed. Recognizing the potential for building a shared identity and fostering a sense of unity, the committee members unanimously agreed to embrace this suggestion. As a result, a considerable number of them arrived at the conference proudly clad in vibrant Hawaiian shirts. This collective display of attire serves as a visible symbol of their affiliation and shared purpose, reinforcing their connection and promoting a spirit of camaraderie among the cybersecurity professionals.


In addition to fostering a sense of community, the choice to wear Hawaiian shirts is driven by a notion of solidarity and strength in numbers. The demanding nature of the cyber defense job can take its toll on individuals, and having a support system becomes crucial. Wearing Hawaiian shirts becomes a symbolic gesture, signifying that they stand together as a united front. While many causes and professions have adopted colored ribbons as a visual reminder of their respective challenges, the realm of cyber defense seems to lack such a symbol. The Hawaiian shirt fills that void and serves as a representation of the shared stress and resilience among cybersecurity professionals. By embracing the Hawaiian shirt, we demonstrate our unity, support, and determination to tackle the demanding nature of their work as a cohesive force, reminding ourselves and others that they are stronger when they stand together.

Wearing the Hawaiian shirts unifies cybersecurity professionals, reminding us that despite our diverse backgrounds and roles, we all face similar challenges in the cyber realm. It serves as a visible symbol of their shared experiences, expertise, and dedication to protecting digital systems and data.


Another compelling reason behind the choice of Hawaiian shirts, as expressed by committee member Cesar, lies in the belief that cybersecurity is a remarkable career path. He holds the perspective that being a part of the cybersecurity field is something to be proud of and to celebrate. By wearing the Hawaiian shirts at conferences, Cesar and other committee members aim to stand out and spark curiosity. When people inquire about the attire, it presents an opportunity to engage in conversation and share their enthusiasm for cybersecurity. Cesar believes that by openly expressing their passion for their profession, they can inspire others to consider a career in cybersecurity and highlight the importance of this field in today's digital landscape.


Kevin, a longstanding member of the MISAC Cybersecurity Committee who proudly embraces the title of the "Hawaiian Shirt Guy," offers a unique perspective on the significance of the attire. For over a decade, Kevin has sported Hawaiian shirts at work, finding that it serves as an excellent conversation starter. He believes that wearing the shirts helps break the stereotype of a rigid, unapproachable professional in a business suit, creating a more open and inviting atmosphere for interactions. By donning the vibrant and casual attire, Kevin conveys a sense of approachability, signaling that they are not just "saying no" but are receptive to engaging with others. Moreover, Kevin emphasizes that wearing Hawaiian shirts allows us to showcase our relatability, emphasizing that we are individuals who, like everyone else, look forward to the weekends and everyday joys of life. In this way, the Hawaiian shirts become a visual representation of our shared humanity and serve to bridge the gap between the cybersecurity professionals and others, fostering connections and dispelling preconceived notions.


Don has a longstanding history with Hawaiian shirts, dating back to his days as a Microsoft certified trainer (MCT). During his time as an MCT, it became a tradition among trainers to wear Hawaiian shirts on the last day of a boot camp—a week-long intensive class. Don first heard about this practice from Kathleen, who introduced him to the MCT community in 2002 or 2003. The idea behind wearing the Hawaiian shirts on the final day of class was twofold. Firstly, it created an atmosphere of approachability, signaling to the students that the instructor was open to questions and discussions. Secondly, it served as a celebratory gesture for both the students and the instructors, marking the accomplishment of completing a rigorous and fast-paced training program. Additionally, the Hawaiian shirts helped set a relaxed tone, preparing the students mentally for the upcoming weekend and allowing them to unwind after an intensive learning experience.

In conclusion, the multitude of reasons discussed above provide strong reasons for cybersecurity professionals to embrace the tradition of wearing Hawaiian shirts. Given the high demands and stress associated with a career in cybersecurity, these vibrant garments serve multiple purposes. They act as stress management tools, allowing individuals to mentally escape to a tropical paradise, even if just for a moment. The Hawaiian shirts also contribute to a sense of community and camaraderie, creating a visible bond among professionals in the field. Additionally, they help dispel stereotypes and create an approachable image, fostering meaningful conversations and connections. Furthermore, the Hawaiian shirts serve as symbols of solidarity, reminding cybersecurity professionals that they are stronger together. Lastly, they embody a sense of relaxation and escapism, offering a brief respite from the fast-paced and unpredictable nature of their work. Collectively, these reasons make Hawaiian shirts a fitting and beneficial choice for cybersecurity professionals, providing both practical and symbolic support in their challenging careers.


There is always someone trying to ruin a good thing for everyone else. It is important to note that there is absolutely no affiliation or association between the choice of Hawaiian shirts by cybersecurity professionals and the boogaloo extremists. The decision to wear Hawaiian shirts predates them. Many of us have incorporated Hawaiian shirts into our wardrobes long before they were around. For cybersecurity professionals, the focus is on the positive and diverse reasons.

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