Its hard to keep growing professionally, particularly in a field as challenging as cybersecurity. It’s a dynamic and complex field with an ever-shifting landscape. Moreover, it’s a field that ironically requires both shared experience and non-disclosure agreements. Security conferences fill this space, providing the chance to learn from leaders and network with peers. A commitment to staying educated and to keeping on top of the latest developments is a crucial part of being a cybersecurity professional. Unfortunately, just that commitment alone isn’t enough to sustain a career. If you work and live in a place where the opportunities to learn aren’t available you might just miss out. It isn’t always possible to leave the province or the country to learn and network. To be clear, when a security professional misses crucial information that represents a threat to their organization.
Travis Barlow was one of many to be caught at the crossroads of the need to attend conferences and the need to stay close to home. Those that have had the pleasure of meeting Travis would not be surprised that he wasn’t content to suffice with choosing a bad option. He ground out a third choice, build your own conference and grow it to attract presenters and professionals from across the country and across the globe.
When Travis co-founded the Atlantic Security Conference (ATLSECCON) began in 2011, it hosted just forty-two attendees. The strength of the event and the demand within the Atlantic security community was such that by the following year it had nearly tripled in size to over 120 participants. This year the event is on course to host more that 600 participants, with eight tracks over two days in a premiere venue in Halifax.
Cautiously managing this growth has been steered through a strict adherence to two principles:
◇ Run a conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia that everybody can attend.
◇ Give back to the community and support other IT security events in Atlantic Canada.
The non-profit nature of the conference allows it to take any additional funds raised and pump them back into the community; such as by funding local groups such as the Halifax Area Security Klatch (HASK) that meets monthly. The commitment to running a conference that everybody can attend is a reminder of the roots of the event as a means to opportunity.
Providing opportunities is a reoccurring theme that it is reflected in so many elements of the event. The pricing is set as low as possible to make it affordable for those without the resources to attend similar profit oriented conferences. Travis shared, “We keep the costs low so that everybody can get in, that is really close to my heart.” For those that have fallen on hard times, there have always been efforts made to make sure they don’t miss out.
The conference this year is hosting 6 tracks of speakers to provide a great range of quality Canadian and international speakers with a great range of presentations. There are training workshops included as part of the event, but not at an additional cost (limited to the first 40 attendees). These workshops are also included within the two-day format of the event so as not to make it more difficult for those that struggle to get time away from the office. Even the selection of presenters is seen as means of providing a start. “One of the things that we look at is if this is the first time that you have spoken.” Travis told me, “If it is, we will give you a chance because we want to give you that opportunity”.
This spirit and the commitment to the open learning of knowledge is one of the reasons that SERENE-RISC will be working with the conference this year to provide a series of presentations by academics from multiple disciplines related to cybersecurity from across Atlantic Canada to be a part of the event. Creating spaces for the professional community to interact with academia is very important to us and we are really looking forward to the kinds of discussion this will surely generate.
At this event there will be more kinds of opportunity as well. There will be a Capture The Flag (CTF) competition to give participants the opportunity to test their skills and compete with peers. This year there will also be a lock pick village so that attendees can learn how to pick locks. Lock picking is a puzzle that requires some of the kinds of thinking as information security work, combined with a particular physical dexterity. There are also plenty of networking events throughout as well as a speaker’s dinner and the annual after party. “There are going to be a lot of fun events.” Travis shared.
Aside from the engaging learning and networking there is a very serious message at the heart of this conference. If those around you have a real need and you are genuinely willing to work for their benefit they will form a community around you to help make things better. The growth of the security community in Atlantic Canada may be a sign of the increasing role of security in society but its tangibility and cohesiveness is as a result of events like ATLSECCON and their commitment to building community. With all the talk of the demand for cybersecurity talent it is important to recognize that those people are going to have to come from your local community, and they will need people around them to guide them. Travis is clear about why and for whom this event exists,
“We are a non-for-profit. This conference is for people that can’t afford to go off to blackhat or secTOR or places like that; this is about building it here. The open sharing of knowledge and doing it right here in Atlantic. “
The Atlantic Security Conference (ATLSECCON) is on April 26 and April 27, 2018 at the Nova Centre in Halifax. Tickets and further details are available at https://atlseccon.com. Information for those looking to sponsor can be found at: https://atlseccon.com/cfs .
Disclosure: SERENE-RISC is a collaborating with ATLSECCON to provide academic speakers for the 2018 event.