Imagine you’re a young, skilled techie just starting your career. Maybe you’re fresh out of school, or still in an internship program. Or maybe you’ve been out of school for a few years, working your way up through various companies in the industry. You came from a normal background – possibly you thought about the military at some point, but the allure of working in technology drew you into the private sector. Your skills are solid, you produce at work, and you don’t get into any trouble beyond the usual for your age.

Then one day you’re contacted by someone in the government who was sent your way by a buddy from school, or maybe an old professor. They need someone with your skills to help them out with a project. Perhaps it’s to join their agency directly. Or maybe they merely ask you to take a look at something for them – sort of steering you toward a bit of a grey area you wouldn’t normally explore because you don’t want to get in trouble. They tell you it’s a matter of national security, and this is finally your opportunity to give back to your country without having to get shot at. Heck, maybe you spent time in the military and this is a great opportunity to continue your service on a volunteer basis without getting stuck with crappy military pay and travel/deployment requirements.

Perhaps you already work for a foreign company your government friends are worried may be a risk to national security. All they want is for you to provide a little information, or maybe plug a USB drive into a system in the office for a few minutes.

Or maybe you’ve been working for them on some projects for a while, even if they don’t really pay you and merely “suggest” things for you to look at. You’ve done a good job and they ask you to apply for some work or study abroad in another country. Or for a foreign company in your country. Either way, all they’re asking for is you to further your education and career, maybe helping your country out a little along the way.

Ethically this is no different than joining the military, an intelligence agency, or working for a private contractor or university on government projects. You are serving your country while advancing you career – pretty much the best of both worlds. You can’t talk much, if at all, about it with your friends and family, but you sleep at night with the satisfaction that you’re able to blend the needs of your nation with your own personal development goals.

Did I mention you grew up outside Shanghai?

The thing about espionage is that there are no good guys or bad guys. Merely patriotic individuals living in different places who believe, with complete conviction, that they are doing the right thing and serving the public good.