Tuesday, September 30, 2014

My first year of cons - Knowledge and Squishy Feels

Last year DerbyCon 3.0 was my first hacker con ever, and I just sat down from a long week at DerbyCon 4.0. In this year I've now been to 7 total. I've gone from a lowly attendance goer with no clue of who anyone was and zero self confidence to a conference organizer, blog writer, speaker, and volunteer with 0.1% self confidence. It's been an amazing journey of learning, networking, experience, and fun.

My first DerbyCon got me hooked. I was in somewhat of a volatile and unhealthy relationship at the time (now looking from the outside in) and the only way that I was "allowed" to attend was the fact that Dave Kennedy (founder of DerbyCon) had given me a free ticket to attend. I spent the entire con moving from talk to talk, taking notes, not actually speaking to anyone much (lest I get in trouble). The moment it really hit me that this is where I belong was during the DerbyCake CTF (capture the flag) Challenge. I was working solo into the early morning hours on different challenges, even though I was not even close to being as technical to the other people in the room competing or the organizer Rob Fuller (mubix). The amount of help, comradery, and just good fun that we all had in that room just opened my mind and made me realize what I wanted to do in life. I walked away from that CTF with some amazing knowledge and some great friends. That led into the closing ceremonies where I saw what amazing and giving people they all were. It was a true family!! I could totally be a part of this!!

The person inside of me that had been lost and oppressed was awoken, which sped up the decline of my marriage. Shortly after this I was given the (false sense of a) choice between my career and my marriage. I still believe that I made the right move. Going after a career that means so much to me shouldn't be mutually exclusive to a relationship. If you'd like the long story sometime just let me know. I spent such a long time in a state of depression and anxiety that I had started on some anti-depression and anti-anxiety medication about 4 months prior. The meds helped a lot with my internal struggles. I wouldn't be where I am today without them and the infosec community.

After my husband and I split up (a week following derby) I dove headfirst into the community, working, and learning. An article I wrote transitioned into me submitting my first, second, and third CFPs (call for presenters); being accepted to speak and volunteering for CircleCityCon. CircleCityCon was my fourth con ever. I enjoyed volunteering so much for BsidesNash that I volunteered for that as well and submitted to speak. I had some of the things go through my head that so many others have. "Who wants to hear what I have to say, I don't know anything!!" My friends pushed me to go for it. I had to start somewhere. CircleCityCon needed more help after I volunteered so I became an organizer and plan on doing so again next year.

At my second con, Bsides Columbus, I was still super shy and didn't really talk to many people. Fast forward to BsidesNash I met some amazing people, had Raf Los convince me to ride a mechanical bull, and met some people in person that I had known online for awhile. I thought I was going to just wait until DerbyCon for my next con after that. Which I was ok with. It's way worth it. After all I did get an anonymous donation to send me to training. That was something that just blew my mind. Someone, somehow, figured out I was interested in becoming a pentester and wanted me to realize my dream. Instead of waiting for derby my friend tehExodus decided to start a crowdfund for me so I could go to my first DEFCON. Even though I was starting to get a grip on my place in the community, DEFCON is still something that was a little intimidating. Really just from the stories I had heard; creepy dudes, no family vibe like derby, Vegas craziness. I signed up right away to volunteer for BsidesLV. Volunteering is a great way to meet people, learn the behind the scenes of a con, and contribute back to the community. BsidesLV and DEFCON were both amazing. I had a great time at a lot of different parties, workshops, and CTFs. I didn't have a single issue with creepy dudes, rockstars, or rude people. I am forever thankful for the people and friends that donated to me so I could make the trip.

A close friend of mine told me that the reason that it works so well and we feel so close to each other is that many of us are broken. We are broken in different ways. Whether it be from bad relationships, to medical/physical/psychological/emotional issues, to clinical depression, to a whole range of other brokenness. I guess in summary I just want to point out that we all have a starting point. Sometimes we'll be lifted out of a dark and horrible place into the light among new friends. Other times we just need that nudge in the right direction of where to start. Either way, welcome to our community, I can't wait to see what this next year brings!!

A special thanks goes out to Dave Kennedy (@HackingDave), Rob Fuller (@mubix), Steve Loughran (@z0rlac), Adrian Crenshaw (@irongeek_adc), Josh Louden (@tehEx0dus), Bill Garder (@oncee), Nate Husted (@DrWhomPhD), Jason Samide (@jason_samide), Michael Smith (@drbearsec), Ben Ten (@Ben0xA), Michael Cooley (@irishjack), DerbyCon (@DerbyCon), CircleCityCon (@CircleCityCon), BsidesNash (@BsidesNash), BsidesLV (@BsidesLV), Defcon (@_defcon_) and every other person that has helped me realize that I have potential, helped me through the bad times, and have made me feel welcome.