This year I went to the SecTor conference in Toronto, Canada for the first time and I had a wonderful experience. I wanted to write up my trip for those of you who may think about going next year and talk about some of the highlights of my visit and the people I met.
First, some housekeeping: I must have been living under a rock to have only just heard of SecTor. I owe gratitude for my newfound daylight to the inimitable cyber-journalist @kim_crawley who lives in Toronto and who suggested I submit to SecTor's CFP a few months back. She has good ideas and not just because SecTor accepted my talk and invited me to come speak at this year's conference.
Toronto is a beautiful, walkable city, full of cultural diversity and amazing food. Sure you can get food that you can get anywhere else but I'd recommend the POUTINE!
After returning from Toronto's SecTor conference and it will be tough not to compare every conference to this one from now on. The organization, the attention to detail, team's engagement with everyone, and the general sense of competence and care came through in every interaction I had with staff, attendees, and other speakers while I was there for the conference, which also held 2 additional days of training and workshops in the 2 days before the conference began on October 9th.
First of all, the experience wouldn't have been as great as it was without the people behind it. Least of these is certainly not "Queen of the Con" - Jackie Arlen, who's in charge of the speakers, their logistics, and is easily one of the most gracious hosts I've ever had the privilege to know. I told anyone who would listen that my experience was already amazing before I even arrived just because of her. When you go to SecTor, find this woman and tell her how I told you how awesome she is. She truly is.
Opheliar "Ophe (pronounced oh-fee)" Chan, who works with the Speaker Support Team, was a pleasure to work with during my talk. She really helped me out passing the mic to the audience when they asked questions afterwards. Thanks, Ophe!
The schedule was chock-full of so many great talks, which made it tough to choose. I kept running into people in the halls and having conversations that aren't repeatable and certainly aren't recorded so I admit I spent most of my time talking to others and missed many of the talks I'd planned on attending. Not a bad problem to have.
One of the most memorable of these wonderful conversations was running into Derek Lewinson and listening to him tell the story of his tough decision to leave London in the U.K. to raise his family in Toronto. Politics, economies, and all the rest aside, listening to a dad talk about making tough but important decisions for his family, inspired by the strength and courage of his own dad, had me holding back tears of joy and inspiration while thanking the stars for carrying me to Toronto at that place and time to meet someone like Derek. No small thing, Derek. Thank you.
The small talk menu at SecTor, at least for me, was almost bare. Most of the conversations I had were gratefully about more than just the weather.
One talk I actually made it to was Tanya Janca's. I even made it there on the early side, which was an unexpected pleasure to finally meet her IRL, shortly before she spoke. Her talk style is a big hit because it's serious-but-fun and moves at a pace that diverse audiences can follow. This talk was especially memorable because Tanya just recently left her role at Microsoft to start her own gig, Security Sidekick, and this was the first time she said so in front of an audience. A big moment and the room welcomed her new reality with generous applause.
I walked all over that town in the 3 or so days I was there, in the early mornings and late into the evenings. The timezone didn't work in my favor but for some reason I was up early, out for walks while still dark and was able to get a feel for Toronto especially as its blood began to flow, as people filled the streets, as the Sun rose. It's truly an international city, I heard 8 languages in as many minutes while sitting outside at a café with some great coffee and enjoying the morning before the conference got underway.
If you're someone who has gotten burned out from the con thing, the size of SecTor (~5000) might turn you off at first glance. Thing is, it doesn't feel like a big conference. It has all the trimmings of one, though, including global vendor, lockpick village, etc. It's challenging to transmit here what makes it so mellow. Maybe it's the Metro Toronto Convention Centre or mabne it's the Toronto vibe, which is equally balanced in that way. It's a bona fide city without being overwhelming.
Traveling to Toronto from the U.S. is easy, too, which is fun for anyone who likes the international travel experience without the time commitment. My flight to Billy Bishop was only about an hour or so from Chicago.
Or maybe you're someone who loves cons and are looking to add a new one to your line-up. Please consider SecTor! Highly recommended for attending and especially for submitting talks to because the quality of content is high and the experience is truly top-notch. Thanks for reading and please lemme know if you plan on attending next year so we can meet up and enjoy it together. Cheers.