Standing Out and Fitting in at DefCon

DefCon is a crazy and unique experience and, admittedly, it’s not extremely welcoming to the outsider.  The Vegas regulars whisper about all of the hackers as if they’d just walked into a band of terrorists and in one day, the inside of the Paris hotel turns from a sampling of middle America into a sea of black t-shirts, mohawks and tattoos.

To be honest, my first DefCon a few years ago was super intimidating.  I was new-ish to the industry and feeling the pressure of being the least knowledgeable person in a room of BRILLIANT people.  This year, several DefCons in, I had a notably different experience:  I was overwhelmed by an incredible sense of inclusion and community. This is my tribe.

Just to paint the picture since most of you haven’t met me already, I’m a corn-fed, mid-western girl who sort of hovers in some strange space between preppie and hippie – I’ve never even gotten a tattoo.  I’m not your typical DefCon attendee and my mainstream vibe sticks out like a sore thumb in certain circles.  In fact, my first mentor told me that no one would talk to me at DefCon if I dressed so much like a corporate mom.

Fast forward several years later to a personally challenging year which has changed my world view dramatically. Instead of donning my black shirt and pulling my hair back in a tight ponytail so that I fit in better, I decided to go au natural.  Not the way you’re thinking – get your mind out of the gutter.  Instead, the first morning, I pulled on my navy capris and corporate mom top and headed out the door with a smile.

The strangest things happened.  As I started talking to people I would have been intimidated to approach five years ago, people smiled and talked back! It soon became clear that Defcon is like everything else.  Most of us are a little self-conscious about what we don’t know and whether we’re fitting in – even when we’re amongst a group of professed individualists!  The more I shared my authentic, if not traditional DefCon self, the more fun I had.  I was open about what I don’t know, confident about what I do know, and others were far more comfortable creating a true connection with me in return.

Through all of the incredible technical talks, challenges, networking events, and crazy parties, the best thing I learned this year is that we are one.  We are one community coming together to solve some of the world’s most challenging problems.  We all bring our different talents, styles and ideas to the table in one hot soup of messy humans.  That is what DefCon is to me and I can’t wait for next year!!