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A newcomer's experience of Defcon (and Blackhat.)

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  • A newcomer's experience of Defcon (and Blackhat.)

    This year I attended both Blackhat and Defcon for the very first time. I had been wanting to for years, but this was the first time I could actually make it happen. The two events were both good, but they did have stark contrasts to each other. I can honestly say that I learned more practical knowledge and theory at Defcon than I did at Blackhat. (I attended Blackhat Briefings, not Trainings.) I also found that the people at Defcon were much more friendly and open than those who attended Blackhat. Since I think that at least some of the people who attend Blackhat also attend Defcon, I am not sure what to attribute this to. It may have been my isolated perception/experience. The one thing that the more formal Blackhat seemed to lack was any feeling of community. While I enjoyed Blackhat, and was overall satisfied with it, I was thrilled by Defcon. If I could only choose one of the experiences, I would select Defcon over Blackhat. While Blackhat was vendor focused, Defcon was people/community focused. Blackhat did have great snacks (free), but I was so busy learning and having fun at Defcon that I forgot all about eating for a couple of days.

    As my first Blackhat ended, I headed over to the Bally's casino to find Defcon. This was my first Defcon as well. When I arrived I found some friendly people hanging out on couches. The informality was a welcome contrast to the Blackhat conference. I quickly met several new people that night, and had several interesting conversations ranging from the technical to popular culture. Everybody was very warm and welcoming. This special social area was a wonderful place to meet people, and I revisited it occassionally, and was never without somebody new to talk to. I think that the placement of this area was very important. I wasnt' even aware that Blackhat had a social area until I noticed it tucked into a corner while I was picking up my Defcon badge. The Defcon social area was the first feature I noticed on the Bally's side. This immediately set the tone that my Defcon experience was going to be different in several important ways.

    The next day I decided that my first stop would be the packet hacking village and listen to the talks there. This area was very popular, but I was lucky enough to score a chair. I stayed and listened to several interesting topics while allowing myself to acclimate to my surroundings. I had tried to find out more about the events that were being held in the area, but wasn't able to glean much through simple observation. This meant that I had to talk to even more people and get my questions answered (an observation, not a complaint.) It all sounded very interesting; however, I had not brought the necessary resources along with me, so I determined that my participation in this area would have to wait until next year (hopefully.)

    Parts of the next two days I spent in the hardware village, learning a brand new skill set. I walked in a rank novice, and walked away with a much stronger understanding of how to assemble devices. I even learned how to correctly solder! Special thanks to the random strangers and staff who patiently answered my simple questions, and demonstrated their techniques. I look forward to my next opportunity to solder, and have ordered some equipment.

    I had also met people who were going to make a video for the Defcon movie contest. I had never heard of this contest, but accepted their invitation to help out. This was yet another great exprience packed into my overloaded days. The Goon in charge of this contest deserves a special thank you as he patiently worked with our group.

    The track talks I attended, and yes I managed to fit several in, were also great. Waiting in line wasn't as bad as I had been led to believe. The darknet badge I had made gave me something to do, and was a good ice breaker. Talking to other random people helped to round out the entire experience.

    My only complaint is that there simply wasn't enough time to do everything I had wanted to do. (I guess it is better to leave wanting more, than the other way around.) More advance information on the website about each village would have also been helpful, so that I would have a better understanding of what I might want to bring along, should I want to tak part in the activities there. (If the information is out there I managed to overlook it.) I tend to travel extremely light, and do not bring extraneous stuff. A suggested, slightly generic, "packing list" type of document might be helpful. Another idea would be to have some kind of faq for each village on the Defcon website. While I asked lot's of questions, I know that many other people probably wondered the same thing, but were too intimidated to ask for themselves. I spoke to a few people who told me that at any rate.

    In summary, this was an amazing first experience. Most of the people that I talked to were friendly, patient, and helpful. I heard very little complaining. Issues that had came up during the first days were quickly addressed, and I assume that the processes will be fine-tuned over time.

    Thanks to everybody who this experience happen.

  • #2
    I/we really appreciate the effort you put into your review of your first DEF CON. These kinds of reviews help us with many years of DEF CON experience see what things we are missing, as viewed through the eyes of someone new to the convention -- this can help show us where we have opportunities to improve the con experience for more people.

    Thanks! If you come up with other thoughts or ideas on your first DEF CON experience, or you find ideas that could help resolve some of the issues you encountered, please follow-up with any new information or ideas you may have -- community members (new and old, experienced and new) are the sources for most if not all new features and solutions that help us improve DEF CON every year.



    • #3
      dorp0 , awesome write up!! I did not go to Black Hat but this was my first DEFCON (I had the option to choose one or the other and, after some research, Black Hat seemed more corporate and DEFCON seemed more community, which seems to be supported by your post). I like the idea of a packing list for n00bs (I've got DC24 marked on my calendar and have been making notes of what I do / do not need to bring to make the trip more efficient). At any rate, I saw your post and wanted to say thank you for the compare / contrast of the two events. If you go again next year and I'm able to do the same, look me up and we can compare notes over a beer :)
      .: This post contains 100% recycled electrons :.


      • #4
        sainate, that sounds like a great plan. I do hope to come again next year. I think I might try out some of the Blackhat trainings next year as it looks like that would be a good educational experience. I had wanted to this year, but wanted to talk to somebody who had taken them first.


        • #5
          We're already booked for DC24, so I'll look forward to a report on the Blackhat trainings over a beer :)
          .: This post contains 100% recycled electrons :.


          • #6
            what an outstanding write-up... it sounds like you did DEF CON properly, for sure! way to make it wok for you...

            you get out of DEF CON what you put into it, and you were surely on point with making new connections and trying many activities. good work!
            "I'll admit I had an OiNK account and frequented it quite often… What made OiNK a great place was that it was like the world's greatest record store… iTunes kind of feels like Sam Goody to me. I don't feel cool when I go there. I'm tired of seeing John Mayer's face pop up. I feel like I'm being hustled when I visit there, and I don't think their product is that great. DRM, low bit rate, etc... OiNK it existed because it filled a void of what people want."
            - Trent Reznor