Only now am I starting to recover the feeling in my legs from my adventures in the Vegas desert. Over time my conference going experience has changed for me as it relates to BSides Las Vegas, Black Hat and DEF CON. Much in the same vein, the conferences themselves have changed as well.
DEF CON entered a legendary status in the days at the Alexis Park Hotel. In the common vernacular you would hear the “old timers” like myself, refer to the good times at the AP. There was no end of shenanigans there and it was quite an experience. From trying to fight your way past the pool area to listening to talks in the tent on the roof (damn that was hot) as the conference had already outgrown the facilities at that point.
Much like we do as we grow older, things change. We get a little more snow on the roof or a spare tire. We find it more appealing to sleep at night as opposed to partying until 5 am. It’s a natural progression as we grow up. And that is exactly what we have seen with these conferences with the march of time. They’re growing up.
I spoke on a panel at BSides Las Vegas in 2010. We were set up on the artificial beach outside and had to pause every couple of minutes as yet another South West flight would go screaming overhead as it left McCarran air field. The house looked like Dante’s inferno had an illegitimate love child with Animal House. OK, that’s overstating it somewhat but, by comparison the conference has evolved to a large production with almost 3000 attendees. It has changed. It has matured.
Black Hat is no stranger to this as well. The attendance was somewhere around the 15,000 mark this year. Nothing to sneeze at. But, yet again, we see a conference that has changed with the passage of time. This year the vendor floor was simply massive. I heard people comment that it had become the new RSA. There was a time where only a couple of vendors would have folding tables in the hall way. Then one year the hallways became seemingly impassable with the congestion.
Each conference has, in turn, grown in some measure. They have become victims of their own success in their own right. Each has changed to match their growing audiences. Inevitably we find those who lament the changes. We as humans are resistant to change by our very nature. But, as each conference changes each attendee has to realize that they takeaway what they want from a conference.
One friend was delivering a training class at Blackhat where a student showed up late, put up their feet listening to their headphones then left early. Do you think that person learned anything? I’m going to go with NOPE. This helps to illustrate the problem with security conferences or anything like this in general. People will get back what they put into something. If you screw around and treat your training opportunity like a boondoggle then don’t whine when karma comes back to bite you in the arse.
Times change. We need to adapt and grow as well.