How it Began
It’s been a privilege to attend Defcon: the annual congregation of hackers, law enforcement and security staff (red/blue team) for the last 15 years. My inaugural Defcon experience occurred when I was barely old enough to order a drink from the Alexis Park hotel bar in Vegas. By 2005, I was working for a very small security consulting firm that serviced the financial industry. Back then, Defcon was very small and only had a few thousand attendees, and lacked gender and ethnic diversity.
To call the DEFCON of 2005 raucous would be an understatement. The attendance was predominantly younger males navigating the conference chaos making it both exhilarating and intimidating for most that were outside that demographic. The general Defcon shenanigans at the Alexis Park were so well known, the hotel would itemize all of the furniture or equipment in the room and disclose the costs associated with replacing the items in it, just in case you decide to destroy or tamper with it. Most of the programming took place under the 100+ Vegas sun in outdoor tents on asphalt, the lines were fully exposed, making the experience the least bit favorable, even with sunscreen. I often opted to the comforts of the air-conditioned hotel room where I would watch the talks from the conference CCTV instead of cooking in the Las Vegas sun.
What it has Become
Since 2015, Defcon has transitioned its venue countless times and with each, the conference has substantially evolved. While Defcon was once a conference unto itself, it has now become a grouping of many (many!) smaller conferences that take over Vegas at the same time, dubbing the first week of August in Vegas, #HackerSummerCamp. Between the Skytalks, villages, expanded hackerspaces, and more, Defcon was spread throughout at least four different hotels across the strip.
With the expansion, naturally comes a far more diverse set of attendees. There is far more balanced in the gender, age, and race of those interested and attending the event. It’s been exciting to see Defcon expand and build an inclusive conference environment for all. Inclusion is not easy nor is it smooth, there have been mistakes as any quick check on Twitter will tell you. But Defcon and the organizers have worked diligently to continue to improve the accessibility and inclusion of the conference.
With any highly technical topic, translating to make it accessible while maintaining substance can be difficult. However, the organizers have made a concerted effort to withhold the integrity of the content and technicality while offering non-technical topics such as the law and politics, diversity, privacy, and career development. With the many sub-conferences occurring at the same time, nearly anyone working in technology can attend Defcon and find useful, quality content hosted, presented and attended by some of the most friendly, helpful (and incredibly smart) people in the industry.
I am looking forward to DEFCON 2020, and I’ll see you there!