RSA 2019, and women finally had to queue for the toilets…

If the streets of San Francisco are becoming more cluttered as the homeless problem gets worse year after year, the conference itself seemed to take a clear shift towards a more friendly and inclusive event.

The redesign of the conference wasn’t just limited to the Moscone Centre itself. To be sure , the revised layout meant even more vendors could be squeezed in (where do they all come from?!) and we could find ourselves utterly lost on the expo floor as it was no longer clear if we were in the North or South hall, and what direction we had to walk in for the West hall when we finally emerged, blinking into the weak Californian sun.

This redesign, if it can be called that, came across to me in two distinct ways, both of which are areas that are close to me. Sure, the talks were good, the Keynotes interesting (if occasionally sponsored), and the overall organisation was excellent. But the two areas I thought that stood out were diversity and wellness.

Of course, the more cynical of us will say that it was just a move that RSA made to keep the haters quiet and the ticket sales up, but it really did feel like a corner had been turned here. That is not to say they did it first, as there are thousands of events around the world that are supporting diversity and wellness, but to see it done at this scale is what made it stand out. RSA is undeniably a commercial conference, and many parts of the infused echo chamber deride it for being so, but it is also a litmus test of how the industry as a whole is performing.

 

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Therefore, seeing the demise of the all male panel (or “manel” as I heard it described) and seeing broadly balance panels, and a larger number of talks fronted by women is the direction that the community has been pushing for years. It takes effort to redress a balance like this, but when it reflects is a high profile show like this the benefits are greatly increased. As a direct result of this, my unscientific method of just using my eyes showed me there was a greater number of women attending as well. (I think I even saw a queue for the ladies toilets at one point as well – now if that isn’t scientific proof i don’t know what is). This greater balance is better for all of us in this industry, however you look at it.

As for wellness, I counted at least three sessions on the impact of infosec on mental health, including one keynote. I was informed just today that a straw poll found that 14% of CISOs found the stress of the job “unbearable and unsustainable”, and the associated decline in mental health a very real cause for concern. Our toxic mixture of being measured on failure and the requirements for us to 24×7 “keep secrets” means none of this reported or addressed, and people are suffering. Seeing this addressed by senior and well known people in the field in an open forum can only mean good things and result in better health overall.

Let’s be clear, diversity and wellness are still in the early stages of being addressed, but being addressed they are, and if more shows and conferences like RSA can continue to push the agenda, then the information security industry will become a friendlier place.

Let’s not forget (Will) Wheaton’s Law that applies to all of us here, and a mantra to live your personal as well as your professional life by:

“Don’t be a Dick”.

I was also involved in some media coverage, mainly because of the very fine folks at ITSP Magazine. I helped with a daily wrap up report and an end of show report as well. You will not I hope, dear reader, have missed the quite excellent T-shirts I happen to be sporting…

Thursday’s update was so good, we even did it twice ; if you ever get to meet Sean you can ask him why…

Selena, Marco and Sean did a fantastic job summarising every day, as well as carrying out a slew of other interviews and update. Please do check out their magazine and subscribe, i promise you won’t be disappointed.

I also did an interview with Matthew Schwartz of ISMG, under thier Bank Info Security brand. It focussed on wellness and mental health, and has yet to be published (if at all). This was an interesting choice for me as I do not wish to become the poster boy for this topic, but given the wholly positive response I have recieved from people who not only are affected by the issues I raised, now feel “safe” to talk about them, it is hard to not talk more about it. I have no doubt I will be talking more on this, so I guess i will have to hone the message more to not just get the point across but also avoid being placed in this niche itself.

Hopefully that interview will surface as Matthew is a wonderful interviewer and friend, and he helped tell the story in a very compelling and sensitive way.

Finally, i had the opportunity to knock around RSA with my old mucker Javvad. We absolutely did not plan any filming, and I absolutey did not help him script his film, or even hang around hoping to be filmed. But as luck would have it I happened to be in the right place at the right time to be interviewed.

In it I opine about the huge amounts of negativity aimed at vemndors during RSA, even hearing some commentators refer to it as a “vendor wank-fest” which is both disingenuous and frankly a somewhat disturbing image to conjur up. I will leave you to watch Javvad’s thoughtful film on the topic of vendors, suffice to say that without them we wouldn’t have half of the community we have now.

And then the week was over in a flash. Diversity, wellness, toilets, faulty microphones, vendors and filming, all wrapped up in a blog post, films and a bunch of fun memories.

<edit> Typos