Submitted by: Kate Esprit
Last week, I was one of the lucky 1,500 women to attend the annual conference hosted by Women in Cybersecurity (WiCyS), a global organization dedicated to the recruitment, retention and advancement of women in the cybersecurity field. The conference was held in Denver, CO and comprised 3 full days of learning and networking. To say that my first ever industry conference experience was inspiring and worthwhile would be an understatement. Here is a detailed account of what I did, what I learned, and recommendations for future conference attendees.
Lessons Learned: The Tips and Tricks
For the readers looking to attend a future WiCyS conference, or any industry conference, here are my top 5 recommendations for how to get the most out of the experience:
1. If you are not mentally and socially exhausted after each day, you did not take enough advantage of opportunities.
Conferences are naturally draining – the long workshops, the networking, the tight schedules, etc. But the WiCyS conference requires a particularly high amount of energy and focus, and it is worth it. The WiCyS conference enables attendees to customize their own schedules – you can register for workshops on particular themes, attend a career fair and learn about job prospects, and participate in mentoring and social events. As each day ends, your schedule after hours should still look full. Organize some happy hours and meetups with people to continue networking and learning – even if you are not 100% up for it. For instance, on the second day of the conference, I had signed up to attend a capture the flag (CTF) competition that was scheduled to last until midnight. Although I was exhausted and seriously contemplating not going, I put on my pajamas, grabbed a snack, and joined my first CTF event. And it ended up inspiring me to start participating in future CTF games!
Attendees should aim to create a full schedule that is tailored to fulfill their personal goals for the conference. Are you an undergraduate student looking for post-college jobs? Are you a cyber leader looking to mentor other professionals? Are you transitioning careers and looking to learn more about finding your niche within cybersecurity? Whatever your objectives are, ensure that you take advantage of everything offered by WiCyS and fill that schedule! And do not forget about the greatest human discovery in history – coffee!
2. If financially and logistically feasible, arrive a day beforehand.
I arrived the afternoon before the WiCyS conference was scheduled to start, and it was one of the best decisions I made. Arriving early meant that I had time to settle into my room and walk around the hotel to become accustomed to the layout. I found the part of the hotel that would host events, where the coffee shops were, and where to find restaurants for dinner. This was super helpful, as the WiCyS annual conference is a huge event and therefore, the hotel was a vast and expansive space.
The other advantage of arriving to the conference early is that you can get to know people beforehand. I was fortunate enough to find a group of wonderful women the night before the conference, and they became my best friends during the following days. It was very beneficial to meet them before the conference and learn about their cybersecurity journeys – all without the time pressure and constraints that the actual conference can sometimes entail.
3. Come with business cards that have quick response (QR) codes connecting to your LinkedIn profile.
Of course, part of networking is exchanging contact information and it is most ideal to make that exchange as seamless as possible. Conference attendees should have business cards on hand that list contact information and current job titles (if applicable). Additionally, most people whose business cards I received had included a QR code that connected to their LinkedIn profile. This made it very easy for me to see their professional history and learn about their career goals – not to mention to stay in touch with them after the conference.
Personally, I came with business cards which included a QR code connecting to my blog instead of my LinkedIn profile. I regret doing this, because it generated some confusion for my new connections and I had to manually show them my LinkedIn profile. If any readers are looking for a quick and affordable way of creating business cards, I highly recommend using Canva, which allows for the creation of custom business cards online and ships them directly to customers.
4. Wear comfortable shoes and bring snacks.
These are recommendations that I wish I knew before packing for the conference. Leave the heels at home and bring your most comfortable flats. Pack some water and snacks because the days are long. Additionally, there is much more walking involved than you may think (again, the hotels are huge). By 10:00am on my first day of the conference, I had acquired a blister on my heel from my shoes and by 3:00pm that day, I was feeling very weak from a lack of food (I did not have time for lunch that day). The following two days, I took smarter approaches – wearing more comfortable shoes, having band-aids just in case of another blister, and packing a large bag of trail mix.
5. If you are nervous to approach people, do it anyways.
Even for extroverts, approaching strangers to introduce yourself can be nerve-wracking and overwhelming – especially when meeting people who are “big deals” in the industry. But you miss 100% of the shots you do not take and making introductions is a key part of the WiCyS conference. It is important to remember that most likely everybody is nervous to make initial connections with people, but everybody is equally open to doing so. So prepare beforehand, take deep breaths, and go for it!
It can be helpful to practice how you introduce yourself and your experiences prior to the conference. I made some notes in a notebook to help guide me through the first few interactions until I gained more confidence. Specifically, I created a few bullet points about my background and transition into cybersecurity as well as a few questions for the people I was meeting. It is crucial to consider “stand out” items about yourself, because everybody will be meeting hundreds of other professionals and you will want to be remembered. For example, after sharing the details of my blog, I made it a point to ask everybody I met about what they would enjoy reading about. This was a great ice breaker and I received some very insightful responses!
For all readers who are considering attending a cybersecurity conference, I highly recommend it. Once you arrive at the event, take advantage of every single opportunity – big or small. While it is impossible to do everything at an industry event, try to do everything. You will not regret those few hours of sleep sacrificed in order to spend more time with other professionals. My WiCyS conference experience not only served as a way to be inspired by other women in the industry, but also served as confirmation that cybersecurity is truly the best path for me. I left Denver feeling grateful, encouraged, and above all else, motivated. The experience was worth every penny, worth every minute, and even worth every blister.
The next WiCyS conference will be in March 2022 – see you there!
To learn more about WiCyS, please visit the organization’s website.
Kate Esprit (September 15, 2021), All about My First Cybersecurity Conference
View the Original Article HERE
View the Spanish Version HERE