Build Your Professional Network with BSides

Posted by Bob Wheeler

BSides Augusta LogoLast month I attended my first BSides conference for Cyber Security Professionals in Augusta, Georgia. The experience was, to say the least, very enlightening. For a job seeker in the information security industry, attending can be a smart career move too.

First of all it wasn’t the stuffy, uber-professional, get together I had experienced at most conferences. Instead, this event very much had the feel of a community get-together. This single-day event, held at Augusta University, brought together hundreds of people passionate about cyber security and infosec into one place to share ideas, teach new techniques, learn new concepts, and most importantly from the job seeker perspective, to network within their industry.

BSides events are locally produced which has a lot of benefits in terms of career development, perhaps the most important of which is cost. Because BSides events are hosted by volunteers the attendance fee is much lower than the cost to attend other events. Because the events are local, this also means less opportunity cost in terms of travel and time away from other responsibilities.

During my visit I sought out and spoke with many job seekers, particularly service members who were still on Active Duty as well as those that had recently transitioned out of the service.

Four ways to get the most out of a conference for your career:

Lesson Number 1: Attend these events early and often. Speaking with many people either new to the industry or at least new to the private sector, it was amazing hearing them talk about how much they didn’t know. Not only about their profession, but more importantly about the various key players in the industry.

One gentleman made a weekend trip out of the event, driving five hours from Camp Lejuene, North Carolina, down to Augusta to attend. It was his first conference of any kind, and he told me about all the new information he learned and all the new industry connections he made. As an active duty Marine with three years still remaining on his contract, he wasn’t looking for a job now, but he was beginning to build the network of people and organizations that will eventually become critical to his professional development.

In short, he was making an investment that will not only pay dividends for his daily job in the Marine Corps, but in the long term he’s already setting himself up for a successful transition. Whenever that may occur.

BSides Augusta Lock PickingLesson Number 2: Don’t just sit there, participate. BSides events typically have more than just presentations. Augusta had everything from a Capture the Flag contest, to a Lock Picking Village, to an evening social event. As one of our Six Principles of Networking from an earlier article states, “Attending an event without talking to people is like not attending at all.” The more things you do at an event, the more people you’ll talk to. The more people you talk to, the more you enhance and build your network.

Lesson Number 3: Be you, but be the best you that you can be. You never know who you’re speaking with, especially in an industry like cyber security that thrives on informality. There’s always the possibility that the person you sit next to in a presentation or strike up a conversation with during lunch could be the key to your next job. As part of the BSides After Hours I was member of a panel discussion on employment issues. One of the other panelists, the owner of a small but growing business, told the group that he had probably held “ten or eleven” job interviews that day adding that “most of them didn’t even know they were being interviewed. That included you right there.” He said, pointing to a guy sitting in the front row.

bsides-cjn-lanyardLesson Number 4: Follow up. Once the event is over, now is the time to reach out and connect with some of the people and organizations that you met. Many presenters will include the best way to connect with them on the last slide of their presentation. If they do, snap a quick picture of the slide on your phone.

If they don’t include that info, you may just have to do some basic detective work. Not everyone is on LinkedIn, but many are. Reach out and connect with those people, using a personalized message referencing the event and any other pertinent details.

Don’t neglect other social medial tools as well. Just about every BSides event will have a Twitter account associated with it and these Twitter feeds can serve as a terrific networking tool before, during, and after an event. Even an event taking place outside your current geographic location.

Taking a look at recent events like BSides Augusta can give you a good idea about who was there both from an organizational and an individual perspective. Following current events, like the upcoming BSides DC can allow you to see what’s going on in real time at the event if you can’t actually attend. All 1,000 tickets for BsidesDC are already sold out.

Following the feed of a future event such as BSides Huntsville not only keeps you in the loop about the upcoming conference itself (like when the tickets go on sale), but it also provides you with notice on other important networking opportunities, such as being on the volunteer staff or even becoming a presenter.

All professional conferences have the potential to be good for expanding your professional network, but few are as easy to attend as BSides. Their events are locally produced and since 2009 have been held in 94 different cities across 25 different countries, with 12 new cities added in 2016 alone. There’s a good chance you can find one near you.

For a full list of events, to include upcoming dates, locations, and associated hashtags take a look at the official BSides wikipage.

Bob WheelerBob Wheeler is a Account Manager, a Navy veteran, a former recruiter and a certified veteran transition coach. You may reach Bob at [email protected]

This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 05, 2016 10:17 pm

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.