My first DEF CON was in August 2019 attending DEF CON 27. I was able to attend due to the generous people that donate regularly to Women in Security and Privacy (WISP), a 501 (c)(3) non-profit dedicated to advancing women’s careers in information security and privacy.
While DC27 was my first DEF CON, it was not my first time in Vegas for Hacker Summer Camp. I had previously attended Black Hat 2018. Black Hat was an absolutely fantastic time! However, I struggled to feel like I belonged. I had recently graduated high school, landed my first internship doing education and security work, and was frankly just going though some major life changes. I learned a lot, but I fought impostor syndrome heavily and struggled to make connections with others (it did not help that I also had to tell numerous attendees, speakers, and vendors that yes, I did belong here…but that’s a story for a different time).
At the time, I was already aware of the…say…”culture difference” between Black Hat and DEF CON due to speaking to attendees of DEF CON and the magic that is Twitter, however, I didn’t really realize the true differences between the two until I actually experienced DEF CON firsthand. I was concerned about fitting in, coming off as being too much of a n00b to understand things, and very much just not have as much as a fun time as I was expecting…that changed quickly.
DEF CON is represented as the “fun” conference. Utilikilts, rubber chickens, mohawks for charity, glitter EVERYWHERE, and all around just a different atmosphere that is the more suit-and-tie vibe that Black Hat carries with it. This casual atmosphere I felt help break down the idea of “I have to look a certain way to be taken seriously”. I had conversations with people in dresses and suits as well as rainbow hair and ripped jeans. Appearance didn’t matter, we were all here to just have fun and learn.
DEF CON was also so social! Between talks and villages I always was able to run into someone I had spoken with on Twitter, worked with recently, or helped answer a question of mine. It’s very hard to be shy when every time you turn around, you’re waving to someone or being yelled at from across the hall to come over and say hi or get a hug.
I participated heavily in #badgelife and frankly spent a little too much money on them (but it was so worth it), I finally met so many friends and mentors I’ve only known though Twitter or the WISP scholarship chats, I was able to nip some of my impostors syndrome in the bud with the warm and welcoming atmosphere that DEF CON provided, and solidified that security is what I am truly passionate about and love.
At the end of the day, to quote the DEF CON 101 panel – “I just wanna do hacker stuff with my friends”, and I was able to do all of that and more.