Kiwicon 7 came and went in a flash and consumed the entire last weekend. And like the previous three years that I’ve been at the con, it’s been a weekend to remember. The first year I went out of curiosity because lots of people in the office were talking about it, and I saw great posters on the walls. So I thought to check it out. I also went because you can not know enough to keep your digital information secure.
I remember sitting in a lecture theater at Rutherford House of Vic Uni and listening to talks and even understanding some. The demos intrigued me and I could space out a bit when it got too technical. Since it was fun to learn something new and be challenged in trying to understand as much as possible in a field very foreign to me, I was looking forward to 2011 and hoped that The Crüe would put on another Kiwicon. And they did.
This time though, the interest was much bigger and a new venue needed to be organized. Enter: The Wellington Opera House. Attendance doubled if I remember correctly, and jumped to 600 plus speakers and The Crüe. What a success. The talks were great again and it was a fantastic mix of old theater charm and cutting edge infosec wisdom. I asked The Crüe if I could take pictures and wasn’t denied. I just needed to ask individual speaker. What a feat. But all of them were great and so I took some shots. I also helped out a bit doing odd jobs again and before the conference helped sorting name tags and T-shirts. It was a great way to also get to know some people.
Last year, Kiwicon 6, I volunteered again, helping more than in the previous year. The Crüe also mentioned in the conference brochure that some volunteers were taking photos. That made it easier to document the conference. The team had stepped it up again a notch and used the grand stage that we had at our disposal – again in the Opera House – to have a huge projection screen, and one presenter rode his motorcycle on stage. That caused a stir and quite the clapping. The Crüe started offering more options for the social program than during previous years. So besides Te Kuiti Warrior and chilling in a pub, Saturday was also movie night and some others went to a concert.
I also distinctly remember one speaker who was asked to fill in for another speaker before his speaking slot. Because his talk had been moved up by about half a day, he hadn’t had time to double check his live demo or go through his presentation one last time. He was a bit frazzled on stage, and Murphy’s Law kicked in. The “demo gods” were not in a good mood, and his live demo did not want to work.
That may have been bad at other conferences with the audience starting to chat or leaving frustrated and then talking badly about the presenter. Not so at Kiwicon. You had about 700 people in the audience and could have heard a pin drop. As far as I could tell, everyone was sitting on the edge of their seat trying to help the presenter out and make the demo work. Initially, everyone was quiet to give him space to think of the right commands to get the program to work. When that didn’t seem to do the trick, suggestions were shouted out that the presenter tried out. Unfortunately, nobody could get the program to run. Nevertheless, this incident showed me how supportive the community was and how everyone wanted the presenter to succeed and run through his demo so they could also learn how he did it.
This year, the same presenter spoke again, and it was a joy to watch him because he was all collected, and his demos worked flawlessly. He learned from last year that live demos may be cool, but that a recorded demo may take some of the stress away and that it was easier to talk through them. So he had recordings of some more involved demonstrations.
… and continues
And that concludes my little walk through 4 Kiwicons and brings us to 2013. Yet another Kiwicon, yet again as volunteer and photographer, and yet again as part of a fantastic team. This year the con had grown to approximately 800 people that showed up without a fault even after nights of partying: Party hard but also work hard. The Crüe topped previous cons yet again by having a live band as opening act, and of course not to forget the fabulous high roller name tags. Where in the world do you get custom hand-made name tags at a conference? Even regular attendees have a different name tag every year that is custom designed. That shows the love that The Crüe is putting into the organization and running of the con.
Kiwicon is not just a weekend, but it already starts on Friday with free classes and walk-in sessions where anyone can ask questions. And it goes until Sunday night when the beer specially brewed for Kiwicon needs to be tasted over and over again.
But that’s of course not it. Kiwicon starts much earlier with the organization, designing of the merchandise and name tags, assembling the name tags, crafting of more complicated gimmicks, packing of the merch and then setting up the Opera House on the first day. The AV engineers started at 4 a.m. on Saturday this year and stayed until 10 p.m. when the movie finished. That is some serious dedication and deserves a standing ovation. And all finishes with the break down Sunday evening which is really fast with many helping hands followed by more or less serious discussions in the Malthouse.
Kiwicon for non infosec specialists
So why do I still attend Kiwicon? It’s not because I am seeking a job in infosec or want to start hacking. It’s because it’s one of the best conferences. I look forward to it every year because I know I’ll be learning heaps in an area that is still quite foreign to me. I also get a reality check and am confronted with how easy it can be to break a system and what consequences this can have. And it’s just plain fun a lot of times.
When you see 800 people almost all in uniform black coming out of the Opera House, you may be crossing the street if you don’t know what’s going on, but if you actually talk to some of the attendees, you soon realize that they are not threatening, members of a cult or practice dark art (though some may be dabbling in that a bit at times). They are interested in exchanging opinions, discussing new practices and share experiences like at any other conferences. At Kiwicon it’s just the difference that there is a lot of fun and sometimes hackling involved because many attendees have known each other for years and know how they can talk to each other. I am still more of an outsider and often don’t get all the jokes or references and must look quite puzzled. But then I can ask what something means or someone may offer to explain it to me.
Yes, the conference is still attended by a predominately male audience, but the organizers actively encourage women to attend and also present. This year an achievement was unlocked in that regard: There were two occasions when there was a queue to the ladies’ restroom. Normally, I wouldn’t rejoicing hearing that, but at a tech conference that is fantastic.
To discourage any sort of misbehavior or even harassment, The Crüe takes their number one rule seriously: Don’t be a dick. It’s not just an empty slogan, but people have been kicked out of Kiwicon when they misbehaved and it was made known to the organizers. While the con is not PG 13 or for the faint-hearted that detest metal, it is a con that you can enjoy even when you are not a member of that particular culture.
I’m already looking forward to the 8th edition of Kiwicon. Thanks to The Crüe, I have some reading material that introduces me more to the subject matter.