RSA Conference 2009 Debrief – Better Late Than Never

This is a little late in coming but better late than never right? My first RSA Conference is over and, I must say, it was a great experience over all. I was able to meet friends that I haven’t seen in years and colleagues (now friends) that I’d only ever known through social mediums such as Twitter or LinkedIn.

The conference itself was well coordinated from the moment you check in at the front desk, to the talks, to the expo floor. Since I was there on a press pass I was granted full access to everything at RSA — including the excellently stocked press room which contained full meals for us press type. I can’t say enough how great that room was for blogging, checking email, and speaking with peers. The entire staff at RSA should be commended for their effort.

The theme for the conference still confuses me, even after returning from RSA. Although the audio/visual accompaniments were fantastic, when I think of security I don’t think of Edgar Allen Poe. Several of my colleagues agreed that it felt like they could have based the theme of
the conference on something, or somebody, more related to the subject matter.

The RSA bookstore was always full of people browsing the titles and thumbing through chapters. I was pleased to see all three of my books in the book store but I’m still not sure if any of them were purchased. In speaking with Syngress/Elsevier they plan on setting up an autograph session for their authors at the next RSA conference. Someone, who shall remain nameless, forced me to pose for this picture in the book store. Sure, I look like a goof and people were laughing, but I’m sure it helped book sales…right….maybe?

The scheduled talks were well organized but, at times, felt a little too spaced out. In fact, some of the talks could have overlapped with the expo floor being open to help with the flow of people. Perhaps next year, more peer-to-peer sessions could be organized during the expo times for those who need a break from the booth hopping. The talks that I did attend were generally good but I wonder if more new talent needs to be introduced to the speakers lineup. Some of the regular speakers were simply regurgitating the same information presented at numerous conferences over the past few years. My suggestion, new speakers and unconventional topics.

Speaking on unconventional topics, the Mythbusters keynote was fantastic and entertained the whole crowd. It was a great way to end the conference. The Hugh Thompson show was also good but I did hear several grumblings during, and after, the show that his stories had also been told several times before and were getting old. The absolute worst keynote of the entire conference was the Microsoft keynote by Scott Charney. It wasn’t so much a keynote as it was a commercial for how great Microsoft is — or would like you to think they are. Look, I get that Microsoft gives the RSA conference a lot of money but marketing presentations cannot be called keynotes. This is something I’d like to see the conference organizers improve upon for next year.

The expo was massive. Having never been to an RSA conference before I was quite impressed by the number of vendor booths. There weren’t as many inappropriate “booth babes” as I expected, but those that were there were more than inappropriate. Personally, I think that the organizers should impose some kind of appropriate conduct standards for vendor booths. I know of one booth that had 3 “babes” — and I use the term loosely, no pun intended — that couldn’t answer a simple question about the product and deferred any and all questions to a female marketing person who was also working the booth. I know several of my colleagues asked how she felt about the presence of the “babes” and she simply shrugged and tried to keep the conversation focused on the product pitch. Hopefully it didn’t get to her too much.

nullThe parties, always the highlight of RSA (or so I’m told), were fantastic. It was great to socialize with both peers and vendors in a non-“buy my stuff, buy my stuff” setting. The Security Bloggers Meetup was probably the highlight of mine, and many others, week. Maybe next year I’ll get nominated for an award. It’s in your hands people! 😉

All things considered it was a great conference and I’d be happy to be invited back as press again next year. What would I do differently? I’d probably bring a camcorder and perform some video interviews with staff at the booths, executives, colleagues, and even conference staff. I’d probably also try to get a hotel a little bit closer so that I wasn’t relying on the shuttle service that, although convenient and helpful, was a pain at times. It would be nice to be able to quickly walk to my room, drop off any collected materials, and then head back to the conference floor. Finally, I’d probably plan for more time on the conference floor instead of attending talks — unless the content/speakers improve. I think I’d get more out of the conference by talking with the actual people behind the products and technology.

If you have any questions about my experiences, please contact me and let me know. I’d be happy to expand upon anything I encountered at the RSA conference. Hopefully, I’ll see you there next year! 🙂

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