Career Advice Tuesday – A Conference First Timer’s Guide (Part I)
July 12, 2011
I had a quick question. Blackhat and Defcon are coming up and I get to go for the first time. Do you have any advice on what I can do to get the most out of my conference experience?
It’s definitely conference time for much of the information security industry. Recon was last weekend, the big Blackhat / Defcon / BSidesLV triumverate is coming up, and there are a bunch more coming up in August and September that are worth going to as well. And we’re really glad you asked this one, as it’s definitely something that far too few people actually think about: most people just show up at the conference, follow along with the good time that they’re having, and come away with whatever stories that they come away with.
That hasn’t ever been our approach to conferences. As two guys who run their own businesses, we can’t afford to just show up – conferences like Blackhat are where we do a lot of business, and making sure that we have a productive time is what allows us to succeed.
But that’s not just a business thing – we did that before we were running our own companies as well. To that end, we have three main tips to succeeding at conferences – and this post is going to be long enough that we’re going to spread it over two Tuesdays.
Tip #1 – Have a Plan
What far too few people do before they leave for a conference is to have a plan. They may know that they want to see a particular talk or go to a particular party, but far too few people that I’ve met go in to the conference with a legitimate plan.
You should approach every conference that you attend like a sales person – know what you want to get out of the conference. Sometimes, that’s information – you want to learn about a particular topic from a speaker or a trainer.
But most often, there’s something you want currently in your career: to move in a different direction, to get a new job, to move up the ladder at your current job, etc. And there is almost always going on or someone there who can help you out with that. But it requires that you actually sit down and figure out who / what that thing is and how you can get involved with them.
Networking expert Keith Ferrazzi said it best: “[G]et focused. Take time weeks before the conference to think through and write down why you are attending. What do you want to achieve? Who do you want to meet? The more clearly you articulate what you want and need from the conference, the more likely you can plan and execute your mission.”
This week, you should be sitting down and figuring out what your goal for your first time at each of these conferences is. Who do you want to meet? What experiences do you want to have? What talks do you want to see?
I promise, the conferences will be much more fun when you know in advance what you want to do.
As an aside, there’s something that you definitely should be doing on Thursday afternoon at Blackhat: We (and some special guest friends) are doing a full afternoon workshop on getting the most out of your information security career. It’s going to be full of all of our latest research (and the results of our 2011 Value of Certifications Survey) and some really great advice. As well as an opportunity to ask us questions live. Make sure that’s on your plan.
Once you have a plan, stay tuned for part II next week….
Lee & Mike