Hack your brain

Raise your hand if you have ever been personally victimized at a technical conference


I met Dark Tangent!

This year, I went to DEF CON for the first time. I destroyed plastic children’s toys to acquire LEDs! I learned to lockpick! I conducted a robot army! Everything was awesome!

Well, not everything.

You see, I am a Woman in Tech. We are there, easily snatching your hard-earned jobs with our underrepresentation and special treatment. This dastardly business is probably why no one would meet my eye during a technical conversation. I try to have some nice friendly chatter about cell tower handshakes, but as if I were spoofing my source IP address, the person I’m talking to responds instead to my male friend.

(For those looking for tips on how to avoid this, I find that addressing people one-on-one usually helps. Make it very clear that you and only you are the one asking about mixnet timing attacks.)

But we are easily camouflaged. In fact, barely anyone could tell I was In Tech. “Oh, you’re working in tech policy this summer? Are you coming from the policy or law side?” Um, nope, CS major, try again. “So you’re an undergraduate at a technical computer science conference. What are you majoring in?” Oh, you know, German History during the late 1800s, I’m just here for the scene.

The absolute best is when I got asked if I’m this guy’s sister.

Do I look like I’m related to him? See above if you’ve forgotten that I’m white with brown wavy hair.

Seriously, it’s more likely that we’re related than that we’re two computer scientists? Really?

And no, this didn’t happen all the time. I talked to a lot of people, as one would expect when everyone around you is interested in the same nerdy hacker stuff that you are. Definitely talked to at least one nice undercover fed, who happily discussed everything until I started asking too many specific questions. No one tried to grope me or anything, yay! (Hi, Mom.)

But it happened enough — about once or twice a day on average beginning with BSides on Tuesday. Aside from the deep personal affront to my existence that comes with knowing I have to prove myself to be taken seriously, I have some serious FOMO concerns here. What if the person standing next to me on line didn’t start a conversation because they thought I wouldn’t be interested in hearing their opinions on zero-day disclosure policies? You should be worried about missing out, too — I could be Satoshi, for all you know.

Listen, you probably spend all day surrounded by technical guys, so maybe it’s understandable if I don’t automatically pattern match to your idea of a hacker. Come on though — since when do you allow yourself to fall into the confines of a system? Tricking your brain into recognizing females as technically competent people sounds like a pretty cool hack to me.

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