Conferences in our industry tend to have varying reactions from different people. Depending on your role, personality type, and outlook, they can either be extremely valuable or something you tend to avoid at all costs. In my opinion, above all else, they are one of the best places to go for professional networking and good conversation with like-minded people.
ShmooCon held its twelfth information security conference this year in Washington, DC. With such a wide variety of things to offer, this infosec conference is so popular you're lucky if you’re able to snag a ticket! Due to the size of the conference center, tickets are limited to 2,100 sold over three separate sales periods, usually selling out in under a minute. This conference has a wide variety of activities, such as: capture the flag competitions, barcode hacking, and others put forth by sponsor booths, that are great challenges and can entertain you for days. There's also the lockpick village sponsored by TOOOL that provides some free training and practice for physical security.
This happens to be the first time I’ve been to a conference where I wasn’t organizing, speaking, volunteering, or training. I was excited to have even more of a chance to meet people across the industry, whether this was their first infosec conference or they were veterans to the community. There tends to be a large emphasis on the talks, and although I do try and catch several that pique my interest, it isn’t my main goal in attending. I tend to take advantage of other aspects - plus, for many conferences, the presentations are recorded and posted online for later consumption anyway.
This conference also held a special meaning to me and many others. A dear friend of ours recently lost his battle to pancreatic cancer. David Jones (a.k.a. Rance or @revrance) was one of the most kind-hearted people you would ever meet. The rubber chicken head was his calling card, and they ran rampant this year at Shmoocon. I think a mutual friend of ours put it best:
“I am grateful that in this industry we have a family of friends that extends beyond our corporate boundaries, beyond the country that I call home, and on the sporadic basis we see each other – typically at conferences or passing through airports, countries, or cities. The family is not perfect, it is not all roses, and it can be dysfunctional and harsh at times, but there are those in the family who I count as friends and whom I try to keep in contact with. We need to make the time, take the time, borrow it from other focuses, to actually recognize those people who are around us, who influence us, and who are part of that family… even if it is just to remember to send them a “hi” or “hug” on Twitter, LinkedIn or E-Mail, or a catch up at the coffee shop in whatever city we are traveling through.”- Chris Roberts -
For the most part we get along, even if it is dysfunctionally at times. Even though many of us grew up as outcasts we’ve found common ground with each other – a lot of which has to do with the passion surrounding what we’ve chosen as our career.
Above and beyond the feeling of community and family I get when attending a conference, I also receive an intellectual high. The conversation is a nice break from the day-to-day problem solving, working with customers, and a busy home life. Almost anything goes: from discussing the access to your digital assets after death (which comes from a great talk by @lerg called “Online, No One Knows You’re Dead”), to cryptography at NASA, or even whether or not User Education and security awareness training works (always a topic that I love to debate), things like working at SpaceX, and everything in between.
If you like my thoughts, make sure you check out the thoughts from two wonderful women on their first shmoocon as well. Cheryl Biswas (@3ncr1pt3d) https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/my-first-shmoocon-time-its-personal-cheryl-biswas and Sarah Clarke (@S_Clarke22) http://infospectives.co.uk/2016/01/21/suits-shmoos-security-sense/