Wednesday, April 11, 2012

BSidesIowa, a Reflection of a crazy idea.

I have lived in Iowa almost 6 years. In that time I have seen Kansas City, Omaha, Chicago and the Twin Cities get some love by various Security Conferences or Incredible training events. I have been envious of the fact but never really did anything about it. I attended my first every security conference, GFIRST, in Nashville last year and fell in love with the idea.

I started to question why we didn’t have and event where we bring the local community together and share ideas, topics and presentations. I started looking at my options and somehow convinced myself that a security conference would be EASY to do. I looked around for anything that might give an idea of how to do it. I settled upon the idea of a Security BSides event.

I submitted my requests and I remember playing phone tag with Jack. When we finally connected Jack told me that there would be days I that I regretted, it would be a thankless job, and unless the first year was successful than the likelihood of convincing sponsors that we could do a second year would be difficult.
I am not saying that there were not days that I wanted to give up on BSides, but somehow everything seemed to click and fall into place. Our Sponsors – Symantec, Checkpoint, IOActive and The Chad Carden group stepped up and covered the basic expenses for the conference. Without the generosity of Iowa State, and the College of Engineering to host the event for free, and cover the cost of staff we wouldn’t have had the shirts.

The door prize sponsors support that we received was incredible. Between NoStarch Press, Wiley Tech, Syngress and Mike Sikorski graciously donating prizes we were able to give away 30 different door prizes. This allowed us to give our attendees a 1 in 3 chance of getting something. With these numbers and the prizes given, I am going to have to keep going big every year for door prizes. I am not sure my future attendees will mind.

Then there were the Speakers. We covered a wide range of topics and hopefully something for everyone. I felt that I took a risk with the keynote and it paid off. We also had to scramble the week before the conference to find someone to fill a slot. Finally we even asked a freshman college student to present. Unfortunately due to organizational duties I missed a lot of the talks, so I will not provide feedback on them. Philip Polstra did a recap on his blog.

Finally we have my volunteers. Without Matt, Baily, Michael, Barry and Kala (sp??) helping the morning of, I am not sure if I would have been able to pull this off. Matt helped me a lot on the front end, with making sure the website working and with pushing myself when I was ready to throw in the towel. Baily kept pushing me to communicate with my volunteers and was irreplaceable with the support provided the day of the event. Michael and Kala helped me with check-ins and setting up the morning of the event which proved very helpful in keeping my Sanity. Barry volunteered to pick up Phil, and provided some support at check-in. Without my volunteers I know that this wouldn’t have ran as smooth as it did.

What Did I learn?

If you build it they will come. When I started organizing this event I was hoping for 30-40 registered guests, and maybe half showing up. I was humbled by the 175 registered guests and 95 attendees.
I learned that Central Iowa has a strong community of InfoSec professionals and students that are interested in sharing ideas.

Organizing a conference is A LOT of work. Setting goals, budgets and having a good core team is very important. The group of volunteers I had on Saturday made everything run smoothly.

Whatever you do someone will not be happy. There were plenty of negative feedback on individual topics, but overall most of it was very positive.

Try to get all Sponsorship funding in hand before the event. I ended up having to wait for a couple of checks. I had to give trust in my sponsors as they gave it to me.

What can I do better?

Breakfast was the normal conference carb and sugar heavy donuts and bagels, with coffee. I really wish we had a selection of fruit, and a wide selection of beverages. With limited funding I had to be frugal.
Breaks between each talks, I ran a very tight ship and had no breaks. This is something I need to plan on next year.

Promotion of the event, this was a grass root promotion. We had limited exposure outside of the Des Moines and ISU Campus areas. Next year will be better.

You need Signage for location and refreshments. If you make it difficult to find the venue or refreshment options people may not enjoy it as much.

What about next year?

BSidesIowa will probably be later in the year. Possibly May. This is because Matt and I will hopefully be graduating and will be busy getting things done in March/April.

We will be in a different location next year, while the Auditorium in Howe Hall was great, we have been informed we will not be able to utilize the space next year.

Hopefully we can span two days. One day filled with talks, and the other day filled with CDC and Training.
We are currently looking at options for a better opportunity for networking to the attendees.

Wider range of door prizes, although I am completely satisfied with what we received, I would love to have some interesting geek items to win.

I have learned a lot about myself and the infosec community that is here. I am glad to be part of it, and I know that with their support we will be able to strengthen the community here.

BSidesIowa 2.0….

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