When I first joined the infosec community back in 2015, I was able to attend some local meetups but one of my highlights for the year was volunteering at GrrCON. GrrCON is a conference in Grand Rapids, MI where the local airport abbreviation is GRR. This conference, it’s staff, speakers, and environment shaped me to be the hacker I am today. In October, I returned for another chance to help out and give back to the community that has given me so much.
What is a hacker conference?
There are many organizations around the world holding events for the infosec industry. While there are some differences like size or topic, a majority share some similar traits. Most infosec conferences will host talks from various speakers on the latest research, trends, and techniques. Beyond that, conferences may offer training or workshops to further extending learning opportunities. One of my favorite villages that GrrCON has is the lockpicking village, which provide a variety of challenges to bypass various physical security devices like handcuffs or padlocks. Another outstanding village is the car hacking village, focused on automotive security, the village provides demos and introduces hackers to the systems that run our cars, motorcycles, and more. This year the car hacking crew brought a semi truck to the conference, I am just thankful that we have a large enough venue for all of that fun.
The biggest key to a conference is the community around it, the people attending the conference that meet up, go out for dinner afterwards, and share their stories become friends across an industry where having support is a vital requirement. If there was one reason for me to suggest attending GrrCON in particular is that it has been refined over the last decade to provide ome of the best networking environments for a hacker conference.
All are welcome to attend these conferences. Experience ranges from young kids and college students trying the basics to Founders and Directors that lead the industry providing their input. Attendees at their first conference can chat with speakers that have been talking at events each month for the past few years. Local groups like college classes or community circles get a chance to meet in person again after covid and participate in competitions like capture the flag (CTF) events. I have seen conferences vary in size from small and personal to massive and pushing the capacity of multiple venues. GrrCON has found a sweet spot where attendees can meet with speakers after their presentation, but also to have three tracks running well with a good sized audience.
The GrrCON difference
GrrCON has been around for over a decade and it’s experience shows. Speakers, Volunteers, and Staff all have a sense of what to expect and any first time attendees have multiple people to ask what to do or where to go. As a returning volunteer, I was happy to see more first time volunteers continue to step up and when they got their roles they were able to run the job smoothly.
The conference has grown to include it’s own mascot, inner jokes, and trends. Bessie the T-Rex is brought to life each year through inflatable costumes that roam the conference to photobomb talks and get some laughs. Extra events like hacker gameshows, hidden missions for swag, a 1k fun run for doughnuts, or even a tattoo palor are some of the more unique qualities that GrrCON brings to the table. All provide great memories that make us anxiously await the next chance to meet the following year.
My experience at GrrCON 2022
I have volunteered nearly every year that I attended the conference. Volunteering was originally my way to get into the conference as a college student that could not afford a ticket. Now it is my way to give back to a larger family that helped to get me the position I am in today. Hopefully this writeup or my impact on those around me inspire you and GrrCON attendees to come back for more each year.
This year, I had the opportunity to help oversee the vendors. It was my responsibility to schedule shifts for the volunteers in that area, even though there were two main roles and most of the other volunteers had a few years experience under their belts already. We were responsible for Vendors finding their booths and attending to their needs, as well as to monitor the VIP area of the conference where some attendees and speakers could relax and get some snacks.
While helping in the vendor area was not new to me and my fellow volunteers on the team, the leadership angle was new and forced me to open up more with new people. Speaking with first year volunteers, coordinating schedules, and checking in with vendors gave me some good experience with soft skills like communicating well and managing a team.
On top of the great time I had volunteering, I was able to spend some time working with GrrCON staff, meeting new coworkers, and reconnecting with #misec friends. A few years ago I moved away from Michigan, so GrrCON doubles as a change to catch up on overdue fist bumps and hugs. This is when I hear about new promotions, life events, and get a chance to joke around with my hacker family. Which is always the the parts of the conference I remember first and make me want to attend again next year.
Do not miss out
One of the #misec members created a git repo on bitbucket to record some notes of the talks they were able to attend. The talks were not recorded this year so I missed out on all but one. If you were unable to join then I suggest checking out the repository as well.
GrrCON will be returning in 2023 on September 28-29th, so be sure to follow them on Twitter and get the early bird tickets once they drop. I am looking forward to meeting up with any readers at the next conference.