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How to Compliment Your Career with Conferences

Posted by Ashley Preuss

We had the pleasure to attend talks from Steven Bernstein, Senior Security Advisor and BSidesSATX Coordinator, at both BSidesAustin and Circle City Con. Here are some key insights from Steven’s discussion, examining how conferences can enhance our careers and help us add value to ourselves and others.

Some professionals get the education required to perform their job, start their position, and call it mission complete. However, to continually advance in your career and successfully face whatever challenges come your way, you need to commit to life-long learning.

Steven asserts that the conferences, conventions, and events hosted by the Information Security community hold great possibilities for your career. He examines how they can help you get your start, figure out where you want to be, realize you have something to contribute, and find reward in helping others.

Getting Started

Attending conferences in your professional community is a great way to broaden your perspective and gain exposure to different ideas, people, and experiences that you can draw upon throughout your career. If you haven’t attended conferences or meet-ups in your professional community yet, start at home. For many of us, networking is out of our comfort zone, but the fist step is to get out there and engage. Steven insists that mistakes will be made, but move past them and grow from your experiences.

A great place to get your footing is at local groups or associations. Then move to a local or regional BSides event and eventually larger cons like DEFCON. Consider what your needs are and find a conference that meets them. Regardless of the events you choose to attend, you will gain valuable exposure to new people and companies. Take a chance, step out, and talk to the people in the room. The connections you form now might help you solve a problem in the future or even land your next job. As Steven put it, the bridge you build today may be the one that saves you tomorrow. So make the time to nurture those relationships, follow up, and connect.

As you progress to larger events, it might be helpful to go with a friend – someone who will help you find the ropes and take new risks. You might sit in a track or presentation that you know nothing about and have your mind blown. But you have to be willing to take risks and step out of your comfort zone – otherwise you might miss something big.

Specialize and Step Up

Not only are conferences a great resource for getting started in your career and forming your network, but they can also help you find the next step in your journey. This might mean choosing a major or a direction to pursue. It takes time to learn, grow, and ultimately figure out which direction you want to take. However, as you attend conferences you will eventually notice that you are drawn to specific talks and have developed a particular interest – a.k.a., a specialization.

At this point you’ve made new contacts and have figured out what you enjoy and what you want to do. But how does this translate to your day job? Bring ideas back with you. You might have learned something that is applicable to your work life and have something valuable to share with management or your coworkers. Maybe you found out about new attacks and your team should implement new protections. This kind of information sharing and collaboration shows management that you are growing and can do things they may not have expected.

Prestige and Presenting

If you continue to step up, learn new ideas, and strive for constant growth, you will get to what Steven calls the Prestige Class. By now you’re ready to share what you’ve learned. You might have even become a subject matter expert in your area and people now come to you for answers. It’s time to take the next step and present. What have you learned? You might give an intro talk at a local event, polish it, and eventually take it to a conference at another city.

As you begin presenting, record and time yourself. It’s often tough to watch yourself, but you want to find out if you’re talking too fast, fidgeting, or playing with your hair. Once you find your cadence, take the show on the road and continue to adjust and improve your presentation all the while.

You may encounter imposter syndrome or be terrified of public speaking. So why would you ever go out of your way to do all this? It’s valuable to management—this demonstrates your initiative and willingness to learn, which can lead to greater responsibilities in your job. Presenting at conferences will boost your confidence and help you better present during future interviews too. And presenting also puts you in touch with a new group of people – the other presenters. Allowing you another opportunity to further grow your expanded network.

Your Turn as GM

As you continue to attend conferences, participate, and grow your network, the time may come for you to run the show. Someone might convince you to take over or start something new. Organizing and contributing to a conference is a great opportunity to level up in your career. Steven remarked that he’s coordinated BSidesSATX for four years now and it changes your perspective and opens doors to bigger thing at work.

At this point in your journey, you have a way to build contacts and connect with your community. People look to you for opportunities. They want to learn from you—giving you a new set of challenges to face. This process ensures that you continue to grow and avoid becoming stagnant. Conference management also adds value to your skillset from marketing to budgeting and planning. If you don’t know how to do these things – ask for help. You’ll gain experience with conflict resolution, team building, and learn how to encourage your team of volunteers. All excellent skills that you can take back to your day job and impress management with.

Avoiding Burnout

As you move through these stages or career arcs, you will encounter the risk of burning out. At points you’ll feel frustrated and exhausted. But Steven urges that you look back to the things that excited you in the first place. Reconnect and you may discover new facets to explore, as new directions come from reflection.

This is also an opportunity to call upon the network you’ve built. Find people who are willing to listen that can offer a sounding board or feedback. There are people who can reinvigorate you and offer support. Don’t try to do all of this alone. Steven says this is a community for a reason and there is still valuable learning to be done. So you have to fight back when you face burnout and keep riding the wave. As Steven said, “We’re building a community, together – let’s help each other grow it and make it better.”

This entry was posted on Tuesday, July 23, 2019 9:31 pm

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