This, now just passed, DEF CON marks my 14th year in attendance and, as a DEF CON veteran, I get the opportunity to catch up with a lot of great people, but also meet new attendees! I am often asked by the newbies (not a derogatory term here) what is the best way to experience the conference. To be Frank, that is a personal decision…

But since I don’t want to be Frank and I enjoy my time as MasterChen, here is what I do with my time at the conference. Please remember that this is what I do, and should be taken with a grain of salt.

1. Do not attend talks/presentations. Please do not get me wrong. I love the content that is produced for DEF CON, but the issue is that THERE IS SO MUCH CONTENT. Talks and presentations end up on YouTube within the year, and if I can wait (which I usually can), then I wait for those talks to appear on the Internet. This is strictly a matter of efficiency and time management.

2. See any 303 Skytalk that catches your interest. Why? 303 Skytalks are NOT recorded and therefore break my first point. So I see what I want to see in that track. I highly suggest any attendee to do the same, because when it’s gone, it’s gone. Also remember that there is NO recording, and this includes by cell phones or other individual devices.

3. Buy swag early! Usually when I go on vacation I wait until the later part of it to grab any swag. However, I am not on vacation and the swag goes fast! It’s an issue of swipe it while you see it because, with an estimated 24,000-25,000 attendees, it’s not just a “sales tactic”. The swag really is going fast!

4. Spend your time with the hands-on. I am willing to argue that Hackers at large are hands-on learners. This is why I strongly suggest spending your time in the DEF CON villages. Wifi, hardware hacking, IoT, Social Engineering, LockPick, Car Hacking, etc. These villages are focused on subjects that certain hackers may specialize, or want to specialize in. The settings for these villages are more intimate than the main speaking tracks, although this can be due to room size. What better way to learn a hacking concept than by doing the hacker concept? You can read a book on capturing wireless packets, or you can capture wireless packets. Do the hands-on!

5. If you are invited to parties, GO! Keep in mind that DEF CON started as a party, a going away party to be specific. Even today, the conference can be seen as kind of an after party to the more serious BlackHat conference. Parties are important for meeting new people and keeping the friendships of old. As big as the security industry has grown, it’s still a small world and attending these parties can help you in getting your next opportunity. 

6. If you don’t go to parties, still meet people. Meeting new and familiar faces is really what brings out the hacker spirit in this and all other security conferences. We share information online, but sharing experiences in person is what keeps us human in a world where we stay on the bleeding edge of tech. Talk to people when you are standing in the many lines. Talk to people when you are waiting for an event to start. Talk to people!

These points have helped me personally with navigating the con in a productive manner where I feel like I get something out of the week. These are just suggestions of course, but I’d like to know what you do differently. Please leave your suggestions in the comments down below!

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