Preparing For The Conference

Ok, here’s some basic concepts that should make sense for most people, but I recognize that us technical folks sometimes get carried away and forget the basics.  Here’s some things that you should think about before you get there and some things that I’d recommend that you consider while you are there.

Pack carefully.  Or rather, think about what you’re bringing with you and what you’re bringing home.  You’re going to bring home some new stuff.  Remote control quadcopter?  Maybe an iPad.  Maybe a new book  Whatever you buy, win, or get as a reward for learning about a new product, has to fit in a suitcase or you’ll be shipping it back.  Leave some room. 

You’ll want to bring:

  • Comfortable Shoes
  • Casual clothes for after the conference
  • Tons of business cards
  • A water bottle
  • Umbrella
  • Map of the local area
  • Portable battery charger (like a JuickPack or a Mophie)

Most conferences these days have a mobile application that you can download to your iPhone/iPad or your Android phone.  RSA is no different and I highly recommend that you download that and get it updated before you arrive so that you are ready to go.

The most important thing that you can do before you get to the conference is to figure out your schedule.  Plan.  Review.  Keep current.  Got it?  That’s the biggest and most important thing that you can do to be prepared.

So, there’s the app and there is the web-site.  I prefer the web-site.  I truly feel like I know the speaker before I arrive and I know all about them.  I’ve read their bio.  I’ve Google’d them.  I’ve YouTube’d them.  I’ve stalked them (on the Internet at least).  Past speakers may still have their archives up on previous RSA Conference pages. 

You’ll need to plan carefully.  Sometimes it seems as if the conference has every talk that you want at the same time.  That’s ok though.  Sometimes RSA has encore sessions for the more popular sessions and you can catch the presentation the 2nd time.  Sometimes if it is popular and you know you want to get to that session, you may have to leave the previous session a bit early to stand in line.

My secret is to choose the speaker by who they are.  I’ll learn more from somebody about a topic that I know plenty about already, than I may learn from somebody presenting about a very new topic.  How is that?  Have you ever walked into a presentation and knew, and I mean, with 100% certainty, that this talk was doomed.  It doesn’t happy often at RSA, but do what you can to do prepared.  Sure, sometimes there are topics that you just are dying to hear about, from a  relatively unknown speaker, that you have to give a chance to.  At least have a back-up plan if you need to escape.

That being said, leaving a gap is OK too.  Sometimes there just isn’t anything good for you at a particular time.  Relax.  Go get a latte.  Network.  Socialize.  Go to the exhibit hall.  It’s ok. and your schedule shouldn’t be 100% full  You need to have some time for spontaneity too.

You should check out the social media components of the conference too:

This will keep you up to date as best as possible.  Each session also starts with a bit of a housekeeping announcement that will inform you of any changes or updates to the schedule.

RSA 2015

Ok.  Here’s some other pointers for this years conference.

There’s a couple of different ways to consume RSA, depending on what you want to get out of it, but you should consider and leverage all of them.

In my opinion, they are:

  • Conference Keynotes and General Sessions
  • Individual chosen sessions in any of the tracks
  • Networking
  • The Exhibit Hall
  • The Parties and Socializing

Conference Keynotes and General Sessions

So, hopefully it’s not a secret, but the Keynotes are not as good as they used to be.  We used to see Bill Gates.  John Chambers.  Larry Ellison would have shown up if he wasn’t ill.  There are still some big names, but if you look at the names and companies giving the keynotes and the list of sponsors, (, you’ll see nearly a 100% correlation.  We all know that isn’t a coincidence and the keynotes are generally a spot that is bought with the top tier sponsorships.

They have to appeal to the lawyers, to the practitioners, the marketing folks, the penetration testers, the executives, and pretty much anybody in the audience.  They’re something to bring you to speed, keep you aware of the broad movements in the space, and see who’s died since the last conference (yes – that’s a topic, honest!).  The Crypto pane is awesome.  The opening sessions mentioned previously is awesome.  And there’s going to be somebody presenting something that interests you at some point.

Individual chosen sessions in any of the tracks

Ok.  This is where the homework comes in.  Study the agenda.  Learn who is speaking and see if they have content and previous presentations on YouTube.  Watch them.  Check out the agenda on-line which has tons of information.  Pick what you want.  Have a back-up plan.  Know which sessions will have an Encore session.  There are generally presenters that have been to many conferences that almost always keep us entertained and educated.  These include:

  • Ed Skoudis
  • Ira Winkler
  • Alan Paller
  • Kevin Mandia
  • Bruce Schneier
  • Trevor Hughes
  • Mark Russinovich

Trust me, there’s a ton more great speakers, and even this very short list of six speakers is but a tiny list of who I’d recommend.  But the fun part of the conference is finding your own!

As a reminder, you should have a gap or two in your sessions.  Its hard to plan for it, but if a time frame doesn’t have something that grabs your attention and you’re not sure if you want to check it out, then consider using that as part of your down time and recharge during that period.  It is perfectly acceptable!

You have to do this part before you arrive at the conference.  Please don’t even think about kidding yourself by saying that you are going to get this done while you are on-site in San Francisco.  Between the sourdough bread, the Sea Lions, and the energy of the city and the conference, you’ll wind up skipping the most important step and selecting your talks by the 3-4 lines in the conference guide.


Ok.  This one is hard for me since I’m not the most sociable guy, but you should talk to some new people.  The vendors might warm you up and get your lips moving (and  maybe get you moving away!), but talk to others.  Talk to people while waiting in line, while waiting for a session to start, while in the bookstore, etc.  Sometimes, it’s hart, but you can always start with –

  • “Is this your first time to RSA” – If it isn’t, ask about their thoughts and tips.
  • “Have you heard this guy/girl speak”
  • “How the food in this line”
  • “How are you finding the conference so far?”

Try it.  I always make it a goal to meet some new people and have made some connections that I see year after year and keep in touch in between as well.  Keep it light initially.  Ask some questions.  Chat a bit.  Relax!

The Exhibit Hall

You have to have a plan.  Review the list of vendor that you want to see and tackle them first.  Chat with them.  Grab brochures.  Read them.  Research them.  Visit them later in the week while still out at RSA.   If you let them scan your badge, you’ll be on their mailing list and you’ll get a list of who scanned your badge so that you can refer back to them.

Sure, you’re going to check out booths that have no immediately interest to you because you want a chance to win the iPad, but save those for later.  The Exhibit hall is the place that you can always return to when there isn’t’ an interesting session going on. 

There’s often an area where new and emerging vendors are showcased.  I always find some interesting new products and services being offered.  Sometimes vendors are part of their partners booths as well – so keep an eye out as you walk up and down the exhibition hall corridors.

As an interesting side note, I read on-line that Juniper budgeted about $405,000 for their RSA Conference 2014 presence.  I think that the number included all of the costs, such as hotel and food, etc for the staff, but wow.  That’s almost half of a million dollars to present at RSA.  That being said, there are some pretty interesting booths and exhibits there.

The Parties and Socializing

Can you believe that in addition to the official RSA Cryptographer’s Gala on Thursday evening, there is close to 90 other parties that are going on that week.  Some are closed to the public, many are invite only, some you have to know somebody.  The official unofficial list is and is kept up to date.  It’s crazy.  If there’s a party that you are interested in, check with your vendor representative or stop by the booth and ask.  Some are pretty small get togethers and others are pretty huge events that are pretty lavish.


Ok.  So, this was longer than you though. That’s fine.  Just remember to:

  • Select the schedules in advance.
  • Get the app and keep up to date on Twitter and Facebook
  • Network.  Chat it up with a few new people
  • Use your time wisely.  Recharge.  Tackle the vendor halls during the welcome reception and other down times
  • Let me know of your thoughts on this – e-mail me or publish a comment.  I’d love to make this better!

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