It's two weeks until RSA, the biggest security conference of the year. For first-timers, this is the time to start preparing and understanding what lies ahead. It can be an overwhelming experience, with two loud exhibit halls, too many evening events to count on two hands, and so many talks it can be hard to choose what's best for your interests.
To that end, here's some advice for RSA 2015, which takes place April 20-24 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco:
1. The vendor keynotes are not what they used to be
No disrespect intended toward the vendor keynoters, but their talks have become less noteworthy in recent years.
Sure, it's good to hear their take on the latest industry trends, but if you're an IT practitioner with years of experience you already know what they're going to tell you. The mob has moved its criminal operations online? You knew that. A data breach awaits the company who fails to take security seriously? You knew that, too. You also already knew that a data breach can happen if you DO take security seriously.
The problem with RSA keynotes is that the size of the stage and auditorium and the rapid succession of keynotes doesn't allow for the give and take between speaker and attendees that would make these more valuable. But sometimes you have to take what you can get.
2. Don't let the exhibit floors get to you
The people working the booths will hound you aggressively to stay a few minutes and see their slide deck or hear the pitch. That's OK. They're doing their job. But if you're not careful you could easily get sucked into things that aren't going to help you. And you'll miss other booths that may have something more important to your particular security challenges.
Look over the floor plan before you go in and pinpoint the vendor booths you actually need to get to. Walk right past everything else.
3. Spend quality time at BSidesSF
One of the best things about RSA is that a ton of neighboring events take place in the neighborhood around the Moscone Center to coincide with the main attraction. One event that's of particular interest to me is Security B-Sides, and the full agenda is here. This event takes place April 19 and 20 at the OpenDNS offices at 135 Bluxome St., San Francisco.
4. It's more about the networking
The most important part of RSA is the networking. The last two were great because I got to finally meet a bunch of people I had only met up to that point through Twitter. I also made many new contacts who have offered me a variety of helpful feedback ever since. If there's an opportunity to have coffee with a fellow security practitioner at the same time a keynote is going on, go for the coffee.
The keynotes may entertain, but it's the relationships you forge over coffee or a meal that will likely lead to useful collaborations and lines of support in the years to come.