Hallway Con: The Real Reason to Go to Security Conferences

Monday, June 04, 2012

Rafal Los


Recently I was, for the first time in a long while, a spectator at the Chicago-based THOTCON "hacker conference" I spent some time talking to other attendees and once again I was reminded of the concept we conference-goers refer to as "Hallway Con".

For those of you who read this blog who have employees that attend security conferences, odds are this phenomenon is the primary reason those employees are asking to attend some of those conferences.  

What is "Hallway Con" and does it actually benefit your organization?  Let's take a look at this very interesting reason to attend industry conferences and trade shows.

What is it?

Let me first define what the heck hallway con means, for those of you who simply don't know.  The term hallway con refers to the discussions and often informal meetings that happen at conferences between the official tracks.  These are often impromptu, and spontaneous.  

These types of hallway conversations can often happen between friends who haven't seen each other for a while, or between total strangers who simply had a meeting of the minds in a previous session... or between a speaker/attendee or 2 speakers or multiple attendees... the possibilities are virtually endless.

The beauty of the Hallway Con lies in its unpredictability. I can't tell you how many times I found myself walking with a purpose from one room to another at a conference with every intention of hearing the next speaker/topic when I ran into someone casually in the hallway.  

What starts with a simple "hello" inexplicably turns into a 2 hour conversation which covers a slew of topics and turns into a project, a solved problem, or simply more conversation later on.  These types of occurrences are common - and what often starts with 2 people can quickly balloon into a large crowd with some listening, some leading, and some informally participating.

To be completely realistic not every conference out there has the right atmosphere to spawn the Hallway Con.  Some conferences are simply too rigid, or too scheduled, or too confined to provide that right atmosphere... but that doesn't mean that a Hallway Con can't spawn even in the most adverse situations.  

Just like there's no magic formula for fostering Hallway Cons, there is none that can prevent them from happening.

Business value?

When you think of these types of informal gatherings, you may wonder why some conference-goers will claim to go to a large regional multi-day conference and only end up seeing one or two talks.  I'll be honest, sometimes the value of a conference is not in what's being presented in the formal, scheduled tracks, but what is happening in the hallways and on the periphery.

Business value is a funny thing, when you're talking about attending or sending employees to an industry conference.  What is business value and how can you tell that your employee has gotten anything for the price of admission besides access to time off work, and some after-parties?  

While there isn't any definitive measure for any of this - I think there are some things that result which you can ask about when your employee returns from a conference:

  1. Renewed energy and enthusiasm
  2. A new perspective on existing ideas
  3. Possible crowd-sourced solutions to stagnated problems
  4. A new project, or community involvement
  5. A new resource to tap for expertise and information

Can you get business value from a Hallway Con -rich conference?  In a word, absolutely. As the podcast we recorded from THOTCON 0x3 clearly outlines, many of the best, most creative solutions to some very difficult business problems are solved when two strangers randomly meet to find out that they have the same issue and begin to share their perspectives on a solution.  

It's amazing what happens when a crowd of people standing around starts to discuss a common problem they may all be facing and someone who's tackled it with some success starts to share their experiences ... you can virtually see the light bulbs go on.

What's your point?

I'm writing this post because I attend a lot of conferences, and while the formal, scheduled tracks don't always have a ton of value for many of my colleagues - the Hallway Con experience provides value beyond the price of admission.

I encourage everyone who's sending employees to conference, and even attendees themselves - stop and talk to your peers.  Find out who's struggling with the same things you're struggling with - and see how they're solving their problems?  Collectively this is the only way our community will improve.  

Blogs, forums and social media-based interactions are great, don't get me wrong, but there is just something to standing there in person having an intelligent discussion and being able to provide real-time discussion and engagement without the latency or potential confusion that impersonal computer-based communication enables.

No matter how much we push to a connected world via digital mediums - the human interaction, the discussion, and the ability to have a deep and meaningful problem-solving session outside the confines of the office is one of the most valuable things you can ever provide for your organization.

Maybe I'll see you at one of these events in the future, or one of the other countless conferences on the schedule.  Don't be a stranger.

Cross-posted from Following the White Rabbit

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