DefCon 25 was an amazing experience! While I had heard that DefCon could be an unwelcoming place to newcomers and women I did not find this to be the case personally. Attending DefCon was hands down the best conference experience I have had so far.
While I did miss the first day due to working as a Conference Associate at BlackHat that was also part of how I earned a DefCon badge in the first place. I was also able to share a hotel room with a couple of friends.
I loved the social environment of DefCon. People came from such diverse backgrounds and had highly varied reasons for attending. I met people who simply came along with a group of friends who were into hacking and others who worked in video game design and wanted to transition into a cybersecurity career. There were students, well establish cyber security professionals, aspiring music teachers, professors, web developers, pentesters and hobbyists from all over. It was easy to meet friendly people and a lot of fun! A piece of advice I received several times, which I fully stand behind is “Prioritize the villages, demonstrations, sky talks and people over talks. Talks will be online later but certain opportunities need to be taken advantage of during the conference.
The vendor area was also quite a bit of fun itself. I picked up my first set of lock picks there and scouted out interesting books and tools. I learned about Security Weekly podcast there and got to flip through a bunch of No Starch Press books while I was there. For example, I got to take a look at The Manga Guide to Crypto which still only available to preorder right now. There are also independent visual and musical artists who you can buy directly from. You can also find groups like Hackers For Charity in the vendor area where you can learn more, make a donation or purchase goods.
At some point, I became tired enough that I wasn’t really sure what to do with myself for the remaining hour of the conference that day. So, I got in line to get a mohawk at Mohawk Con. For a suggested donation of $20.00 volunteers will give you a mohawk. This year you could choose what percentage of your donation went to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Hackers For Charity and Mohawk Con itself. I had a great conversation while waiting in line and had a lot of fun with the whole process.
One of my favorite things I learned about was that there are people and organizations using hacking skills in order to track down human traffickers. When they have enough incriminating evidence the government can be tipped off, start their own investigation and prosecute. Several people have been saved from human trafficking in this way. I found this incredibly inspiring to hear about and it only makes me want to progress more. I would like to be able to put the skills I develop into such good use.
If you are thinking about going to DefCon start planning your trip now! Find out if you have a local hackerspace or local DefCon group. Learn about the conference and how to stay both digitally and physically safe, and go for it! You’ll be glad you did.