Unleash Your Professional Potential with Presenting

Posted by Kathleen Smith
Presenting for Career Development

Through my community involvement, I’ve noticed a trend that information security professionals are giving of their time, but they’re not typically looking at this through a career development lens. Presenting at conferences or other professional gatherings is a prime example of community involvement that holds career development potential. From initially coming up with an idea, to submitting a proposal and giving a presentation at a conference, there are limitless opportunities for building invaluable skills and increased confidence that benefit your career.

I had the opportunity to chat with Magen Wu about her community involvement and presenting experience. I also asked Doug Munro, community volunteer and recruiter, for input about how recruiters view community involvement.

Magen Wu works for Urbane Security and has been volunteering in the community most of her professional career. She has worked at BSidesLV Proving Ground for 5 years and as the Department Lead for DEF CON Workshops, including DEF CON China.

Doug Munro, Director Talent Acquisition with MAG Aerospace, volunteers with BSidesDC, BSidesLV, RecruitDC, and Northern Virginia Community College.

Magen, how did you begin presenting in the infosec community

Magen: After my first DEF CON, I fell so head over heels in love with the community that I dove in headfirst. I thought, “Where can I go, what can I do, let me do something.” In my first few years of volunteering, I accepted everything that came my way because I was so excited, I loved seeing my friends and meeting new people. Then I realized, community volunteering is really exhausting and work doesn’t want to pay for all this time off.

With my first job in the field, the company didn’t have a presence in the infosec community, so I had to be very picky about where I could spend my volunteer time. Then I moved to Rapid7 and now Urbane Security, two companies that are really big on community involvement. They’re both very supportive through sponsorship and support of volunteering, and this is how I have the most impact with the limited amount of time that I have. If you’re trying to build your brand within cyber security as a company, you might want to consider being part of this.

How do you prepare to present

Magen: The first time I presented was after my initial DEF CON experience. I really fell in love with the security community and loved learning from other people. I happened on a topic I was going to speak on and I delved into my research. I actually had my entire outline and half of my slides already written when I submitted the Call for Proposal (CFP).

I didn’t know anybody and nobody really knew me at that time, but then I got accepted. My first talk was at DEF CON 16 and it was really cool. I thought, “Oh my god, I got accepted at DEF CON!” So I felt the pressure to put in a lot of time on my presentation. I put an average of 8 to 10 hours in for a couple of months and then right before the conference I’d go over my talk constantly over and over again every day.

Practicing was important to me. I had people listen to my presentation, making sure that I wasn’t forgetting anything and having them ask me questions in case the audience would. Then you get on stage and half of that flies out the window. You have to be ready for when you blank. Coping mechanisms, learning what your presentation style is, what makes you the most comfortable, what freaks you out and what to do about it are all important.

I also speak really fast naturally and when I get nervous it’s even faster. So if I don’t catch myself, I can go through an hour or two of material in 45 minutes. People are sitting in the audience asking, “What just happened?” So it’s helpful to relax, find your pace, and make sure people understand what you are saying.

I’m able to take this experience into work. I’ve known that I wanted to get into infosec since I was 14. I’m kind of an outlier. I got my first job in infosec when I was 24. They saw my passion, saw me volunteering in the community and presenting a lot, and that really helped me get hired, because folks in the community saw me pop up everywhere and I just wouldn’t go away.

What are the mechanics behind submitting a talk

Magen: When you see a CFP that you want to submit to, you have to have your idea. A lot of folks have this problem, you have a talk that you think you want to give but you talk yourself out of it—especially when you see someone else submitting a similar talk. So we end up not submitting a lot of times and that’s not good because everybody has their own perspective to give. We all have our own experiences that are going to be different than somebody else’s, so you have to go over that hurdle first. Then you have to do a little bit of creative writing to create an abstract that grabs the reviewers’ attention and also shows them the logical flow through an outline.

When do you tell your employer about your presentations

Magen: Unfortunately I have to say it kind of depends. My current and my previous employer were really great about it. They would simply ask questions about what the idea is for the presentation. That’s been great and it has given me the confidence to keep going out and doing it.

When I first started though, at a company that wasn’t really involved with the community, I would work on my talks on my own time, on my machines, and then submit the talk and use my PTO in many cases. I didn’t bother notifying them because I wasn’t representing them in any way and I used none of their resources. There’s that clear delineation, but then as soon as I started working for folks who were heavily involved in the infosec community this changed. I think it’s a matter of respect, to show that not only am I interested in this, I want to do this extra work that you are not going to pay me for, and I want to teach other people.

It’s also important to understand that rather than automatically thinking that your employer is going to pay for everything, do your due diligence. Talk to your management and ask if there is an internal approval process. Unfortunately, some companies have a very long and arduous approval process. If you happen to work with one of those large companies, you may want to understand what your internal process is. You need to work with your management and possibly with the corporate communications department. You really have to map it out.

In that instance, you actually have to have your abstract together well before the CFP opens. You have to map out which talks that you want to submit to and then get approval well before the CFP opens. This is time management—being able to say, 8 to 10 months out that you want to present at DerbyCon, but if you want to make sure that your management is okay with this, you might need to submit it 10 months ahead of time.

Doug, how do you view people who present from a recruiting perspective

Doug: It’s a positive because it’s not easy. These are all very important skills and even when you don’t get accepted, you are learning along the way—how do I better hone the abstract, how do I create a better idea, create more value so that I’m going to get the opportunity to present. It’s all positive.

The other thing that comes out of presenting and the very practice that you are describing is something I tell candidates all the time. Sooner or later you are going to have to interview for your next job and these are skills that apply to interviews. The further along you go in your career, the more presentations you are going to have to give internally to your organization, or externally to a client. So it’s an absolute positive to me and to every recruiter I’ve ever worked with.

It’s time management. It’s commitment to do something above and beyond. It’s honing those skills that translate to overall involvement and job search. Your next job is going to come from someone you know.

Magen, what do you learn from presenting

Magen: We all get that question that we kind of hate when we interview which is, “What was a major setback for you and how did you grow from it, or what did you learn from it?” And a lot of times when I get rejected that’s the best learning experiences that I have. We get rejected two, three times more than we get accepted to conferences. Once I get rejected, I message the review board to ask why I got rejected. A lot of time they will give you feedback.

This feedback is very helpful. It shows me that I didn’t communicate the concept the right way or maybe I just shopped it at the wrong conference. I improve it. And if you are still in the CFP window, you can resubmit the same talk if you improve it. If you don’t make in the first round, you can submit for the second round and have another chance.

The potential in presenting

If you have an idea or experience to share at a professional conference or other professional gathering, know that the time and effort you put into any CFP process is well worth your while. You’re honing your creative and critical skills and regardless of the outcome, you’re taking steps to build your career in a positive direction. Presenting in the infosec community is a valuable career development tool that has the potential to enhance your career trajectory in numerous ways. From expanding your industry network to enriching your skillset, presenting offers an opportunity to make you a more polished professional while also benefiting your community.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, May 08, 2019 5:47 pm

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