DerbyCon 9.0 – Every Beginning Has an End

By David Kennedy

When we first started DerbyCon, our goal was to create a conference where we could all come together to collaborate and share as a community, but most importantly as a profession. DerbyCon 1.0 was a huge gamble for us both personally and financially, but we believed in what we were doing, and it worked. For those that don’t know the history of DerbyCon, it started off inside of a pizza shop as an idea between a few friends. Our goal was to create an affordable conference that shared a lot of what we had experienced in our early days in security. The ideas of collaboration, community, and the betterment of the industry and the safety of technology were at the forefront. At the end of DerbyCon 1.0, we realized that the conference was a huge success and our dream became a reality.

What an incredible experience.

We had the opportunity to share with others and each and every year the conference got even better. As the conference grew in popularity, tickets sold out faster and faster. What was once a small conference turned into a large undertaking almost overnight, something that none of us expected.

Two years ago, we looked at what we wanted to accomplish with DerbyCon and whether we should continue to grow it or just stay at the same size. We decided to expand a bit to accommodate the increased demand for tickets and training, but after that, we would be done expanding and just keep it the way it was. Mind you, we never turned a profit for DerbyCon, we always either invested more personally (financially) into the conference to make it awesome or used whatever funds we had to make the conference even better. We were even offered a buyout of the conference, which we turned down.

DerbyCon isn’t for sale.

Last year (2018) was an interesting one for us. We moved to a new venue and with that we encountered new challenges, but it turned out to be another amazing conference.

…..This is only what you saw as an attendee.

What we have had to deal with on the back-end the past few years is more than just running a conference and sharing with friends. The conference scene in general changed drastically and small pocket groups focus on outrage and disruption where there is no right answer (regardless of how you respond, it’s wrong), instead of coming together, or making the industry better. There is a small, yet vocal group of people creating negativity, polarization, and disruption, with the primary intent of self-promotion to advance a career, for personal gain, or for more social media followers. Individuals that would have us be judge, jury, and executioner for people they have had issues with outside of the conference that has nothing to do with the conference itself.

Instead of working hard in research, being a positive force in the industry, or sharing their own unique experiences (which makes us better as a whole), they tear others down in order to promote themselves. This isn’t just about DerbyCon, it is present at other conferences as well and it’s getting worse each year. We’ve spoken with a number of conference organizers, and each year it becomes substantially more difficult to host a conference where people can come together in large group settings. It’s not just conferences either. This behavior is happening all over the place on social media, in our industry, targeting people trying to do good. As a community, we add fuel to fire, attack others, and give them a platform in one massive toxic environment. We do this all in fear of repercussions from upsetting others. Until this pattern changes, it will continue to get worse.

This shouldn’t detract from real issues, and believe us, there are _real_ issues that happen. Issues that need to be dealt with when people get in large group settings. As a whole, DerbyCon has far fewer incidents than other conferences that post their statistics, and where conference safety is paramount and the #1 priority. We do listen, we do respond, and we always look to improve and get better.

This year, we had to handle issues that honestly, as an adult, we would never expect to have to handle from other adults. Conferences in general have shifted focus to not upsetting individuals and having to police people’s beliefs, politics, and feelings. Instead of coming to a conference to learn and share, it’s about how loud of a message a person can make about a specific topic, regardless of who they tear down or attempt to destroy. To put it in perspective, we had to deal with an individual that was verbally and mentally abusive to a number of our volunteer staff and security to the point where they were in tears.

This is not what we signed up for.

Admittedly, we had no idea how to handle this person, and in fear of repercussion of removing this person, allowed them to stay at the conference in order to “not upset the masses”. The best we could do was just apologize, for other apologies, and apologize more for another’s actions. This is just one example of many we have had to deal with over the past few years, and each year it becomes increasingly harder for us to handle. We do everything as a conference to ensure the safety, security, and go above and beyond that of others. Maybe that puts us on a different level where something that would normally not be an issue explodes into a catastrophic situation on social media.

Who knows? What we do know is each year it gets harder and harder.

2019 will be our last year of DerbyCon. Please know that this decision was not done in haste, and it was one of the most difficult decisions we have ever had to make in our lives. We looked at hiring third-party crisis management companies to deal with people directly, we looked at having entire companies run the conference where we would become more of the direction and vision, but at the end of the day, that is not why we started DerbyCon. It’s taken a personal toll on our lives, our businesses, and our friends, and it has gotten to the point where we don’t want to manage it anymore.

We started the conference to make a difference in people, to give them an opportunity to share their awesome experiences, and to be a part of history making technology better. We started DerbyCon to be a bright light in the darkness where regardless of race, gender, demographics, or worldviews, you could feel welcomed by a group that would accept you.

We did that, and it worked.

DerbyCon and our attendees raised so much money each and every year for charities, helped families, the homeless, cancer research, worked with organizations for hurricane relief in Puerto Rico, and reached people not just inside the Information Security industry, but outside as well. We really made a difference, and more than any other conference we’ve seen. We’ve started people’s careers, moved the industry forward, inspired others to get into security, and promoted diversity and strength in an industry where there were limited numbers. It’s been incredible and amazing, and we are so thankful to everyone that made this possible. Instead of posting hate towards others, we as a community actually made a difference. An actual difference!

All from a belief to make the world a better place.

While this light may be dimming, it doesn’t mean that we didn’t spark an opportunity for another illumination in the community for the next generation. A few people can make a huge difference in this industry. Difference isn’t how many Twitter followers you have, or tearing others down in order to promote yourself, it comes with respecting one another, being kind to one another, and focusing on making this world a better place. This includes all genders, races, and ethnicity, as we are an industry based on all, not one or the other. We can be so much better than this. All of our experiences make us unique and sharing those experiences whether you are brand new to the security industry or have been for countless years, makes you unique. Those experiences make us better, they make the industry better. This isn’t the end for us, the con organizers either. We’re going to focus on time and effort towards education to newcomers, internship programs, and continuing to make a positive influence on the security community. Our light is far from dim, but instead focused where we can make the biggest impacts.

We can’t thank everyone enough from the speakers, attendees, staff, security, sponsors, and everyone else that made DerbyCon possible. It has been an incredible ride, one that will last in our memories forever as an amazing and positive experience. All we ask is to be kind to one another, respect one another, be inclusive to everyone, and to call out negativity in this industry for people who tear others down. It is not, and should not be acceptable in this industry.

It has been incredible. This year we are going to go out with a bang. We are throwing every last amount of energy into this last conference and making it the best year yet. We also want to leave the door open for the future. Although we currently have no plans, we may consider doing something in the future at a much smaller scale, and with a closer group of individuals that promote positivity within the industry and continue to move it forward.

Thank you to everyone that believed in us, learned with us, partied with us, and for those that were inspired with us. We are truly humbled at what everyone has been able to accomplish, we hope it has forged a light forward for others to do the same.

Logistics: For those that purchased a black badge in the auctions for charities the past 3 years, we will be refunding you, as you made an investment and belief in us. All the proceeds went to charities for these auctions, but we believe we should pay back those that believed in us. At the end of this year, we will be donating any remaining funds to a number of different charities. You can contact us for a refund at info [at] derbycon [dot] com and will get back with you shortly after. Note that your badge will be valid for this year’s DerbyCon as well.

DerbyCon will be held September 4th – September 8th 2019.

See you all soon for one last con!

– The DerbyCon Team