On Community, Conferences & Philosophies of Hackers –

The title of this post was a draft I started several months ago & didn’t make any notes of what I was going to blog about at the time. As of late, chatter around Codes of Conduct has been making the rounds & I think the blog title is quite appropriate.  I feel now is a good as time as any to add my 30 cents of diatribe into the ring.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve never actually been to DEFCON. My involvement with some in the community is by & large through social media & my close friends have all been met through events with an organisation I’ve involved with (see also: Hacked by DEFCON). Throughout, I may make reference to the following articles & posts:  AwfulyPride’s Post on the Matter, GeekFeminismWiki, DEFCON Code of Conduct,   This Reddit post on /r/DEFCON & some stuff here .

My experience with any sort of public display of Code of Conduct goes back a few years to the conference LOPSA-East. LOPSA-East was meant to be one of the main conferences on the east coast for System Administrators, by System Administrators (this was when DevOps was a bit less encroached & right around or before Tom Limoncelli left Google). Note that, the first year I went in

The first year (that I went to) LOPSA East (2012 when it was still called PICC), there was no Code of Conduct that I recall at the conference. Now, keep in mind: these are Sysadmins, not hackers. There are people who geeks & hackers at the conferences & within the community, but by & large, we dressed professionally & acted professional. Also note that as this was the first year, there wasn’t necessarily much of a vendor area.

The second year I went (2013), there was a Code of Conduct right by the entrance of the conference – I was going to include a photo here, but I can’t seem to find the photo. There was quiet chatter & people wondering what caused the necessity of requiring a Code of Conduct, especially considering how few women went to the conference (I recall a decent amount & they are all awesome!)

I don’t know how long LOPSA-East had been going on prior to my involvement, however, it looks like it started in ~2011. Also note, I’ve never seen a photo of the DEFCON physical CoC — just that it is on their website. I’m of the belief a lot of people don’t know this exists.

What I don’t understand is, if a professional conference can get this done in a relatively short order & make people feel safe, respected & comfortable knowing that any issues that arise will be taken care of, why can’t hacker conferences do the same thing? Outside of a conference, you all remain professionals in your daily lives – that professionalism & how we treat others should trickle down to conferences as well.


Taken further, what changes & why when it translates to a hacker conference? The addition of booze? The fact your company paid for it & you get absolved of responsibility due to the high & mighty status of being a hacker with moral superiority of others & thinking the rules don’t apply to you because you have a problem with authority like the kids of yesteryear?

You, the conference attendee have to understand that, yes, despite us being a Nation of Freedom — we have to be adults. This means being respectful, abiding by rules although we may disagree with them, much like law. And the golden rule of treating people the way we want to be treated.  Lastly, it’s not so evil to reassure individuals who may not have the same support networks as everyone else that if issues crop up, they will be handled accordingly.

The post that AwfulyPrideful made here is wonderful because it goes into some facets I hadn’t fully considered & does a far better job of it than I ever will. Keeping all these points in mind thus far & the arguments, backlash & frustrations I’ve seen on social media, I it’s clear there are distinct groups in this Code of Conduct debacle:

The Old Guard – These are people that have been part of the conference/community since the beginning. They may be aware of previous shenanigans but they may have made a name for themselves & are known for being respectful. They treat people the way they wanted to be treated & are very welcoming to the community & welcome people into the fold. These individuals will welcome a CoC but may not have an opinion on it one way or the other.

‘Hack the Planet!’ Types – These individuals may be an off shoot of the group above it. They may not be in for the long haul – they just care about l337 hacking, possibly anarchy & little else. If you aren’t talking about 0-days & amazing exploits, they don’t want to deal with you. They may see a Code of Conduct as oppression to their ideals: Information wants to be free man! Why do I need a Code of Conduct? We didn’t need one for the past 10 years! They may make fun of another group: “Words don’t stop the bad!”

The Next Generation – These people realize that we want progress in the community (read as: disenfranchised groups feeling they can contribute without repercussions & harassment), rules need to be implemented & enforced, much like the rest of society. These people realize the harm we do when women, people of color, or other groups do not contribute or do not feel comfortable being part of the community due to harassment.

If you didn’t see what I did there…

I’m of the belief that, this is on a continuum – a spectrum of thoughts & beliefs, if you will. You may not fit in one small box or you may be a part of multiple groups throughout your life.  The fascinating thing about this issue is, we’re all In This Together – we need to start acting like it, frankly.

I get it: you’re a hacker. You hate authority although you respect it when you are out & about in society. You like breaking the mold. You like doing your own thing & not letting anyone stop you. You probably see a Code of Conduct as some sort of affront to your sensibilities & that you are being oppressed in some way. Unfortunately for you, put your feels aside, be an adult & be helpful to people who need it at conferences: the people these Codes of Conduct were written for.

For all it is worth, you can tell me I’m wrong. I’m generally in favor of balance in all things, so I understand where the “We don’t need a Code of Conduct!” is coming from, but my female peers & other individuals’ comfort & willingness to come to the con is more important. The disarray & varying opinions on this can be seen clearly in the Reddit thread I linked at the top of this post. Hackers among themselves disagree & get into fights about if something is necessary or not.

Again, I see both sides of it. However, I think it makes a lot more sense to have one, both for the protection of the conference & you the attendees. There’s a part of me that wants to say that it’s a mark of a modern society to be all inclusive, as well.

Disagree with me all you want. It’s a free country. I love learning from other perspectives. 🙂

You can feel free to disagree with me or not. Or you can do what your freedom allows & give me one of these. I’ll be pleased either way, as long as you give me feedback on my writing.

Note: I highly recommend checking out AwfulyPrideful’s post above & some links within their post. They have a guide on Code of Conduct if you need one for your organisation. I also linked to a site that had some useful information as well.  There’s also ConfCodeOfConduct.com

Also, I realize that there are many other facets of this issue & there are people that agree to disagree to a fault. People are welcome to their opinion & if they have a solution to the problems we face in the community that doesn’t splinter us further & further or causes arguments, I’d love to hear it. Regardless of your thoughts, we’re in this together.