Getting Started with Cybersecurity: A Newcomer's Perspective on BSides Albuquerque

A beginner's guide to getting the most value out of BSides conferences full of hands-on workshops, presentations, networking, and community immersion.

For those new to cybersecurity considering it as a career change or fresh graduates seeking their first role, the prospect of entering such a complex technical field can seem daunting. Many newcomers understandably feel unsure where to start learning the expansive skills needed to succeed as an information security professional. Conferences and communities tailored to connecting beginners with resources, education, and mentorship can help smooth the transition into the industry. 

One event that shines in welcoming cybersecurity newcomers is BSides Albuquerque. As part of the grassroots BSides conference series founded on principles of community building and open collaboration, BSides Albuquerque offers an engaging, beginner-friendly introduction to the information security landscape. By participating in hands-on workshops, absorbing insights from presentations, and networking with seasoned professionals, first-time attendees can get a jumpstart on acquiring knowledge and connecting with the supportive hacker community.

 Preparing to Attend as a First-Timer

While BSides prides itself on an informal vibe where all are welcome, some advance preparation will help first-timers maximize their experience. Taking care of logistics, studying the schedule, and packing properly prevents hiccups.

 Handling Logistics Like Registration

Navigating basics like conference registration ensures a smooth experience:

  • - Register early to secure lower rates – prices increase closer to the conference dates.
  • - Check for student discounts if enrolled at university. Many offer sponsored tickets.
  • - Follow updates on schedules, hotels, parties, etc. as the conference nears.
  • - Arrange travel and local transportation ahead of time. Research ground transit.
  • - Book accommodations or reserve camping/RV spots before they sell out.

 Researching Speakers and Schedule in Advance

Reviewing the BSides website schedule, speaker bios, and talk abstracts helps attendees strategize:

  • - Identify presentations suited to your experience level.
  • - Shortlist talks addressing your interests and knowledge gaps. 
  • - Balance technical sessions with conceptual discussions.
  • - Leave room for spontaneity and discovering new topics.

Even with careful planning, be ready to adapt as exciting new presentations get added.

 Selecting Workshops for Hands-On Learning

Workshops at BSides let newcomers gain practical skills through guided exercises like:

  • - Intro hacking workshops cover finding vulnerabilities, exploiting, and securing systems across various domains like networks, web apps, and embedded devices.
  • - “CTF 101” workshops explain how capture-the-flag competitions work and provide strategies for tackling challenges.  
  • - Forensics workshops teach tools for analyzing log files, memory, disk images, malware, and other artifacts.
  • - Lock picking villages help newcomers learn techniques for physically bypassing security controls.

Choosing beginner-level workshops in domains newcomers want exposure to accelerate practical skills.

 Navigating the Event as a Beginner 

Arriving at BSides can seem chaotic and sensory-overloading for first-timers unfamiliar with the hacker conference scene. Following some best practices will help newcomers find their bearings.

 Managing Sensory Overload

For newcomers, the energy and scale of BSides can seem intense but exciting:

- Hundreds of enthusiastic people sporting creative hacker apparel fill the venue. Conversations and laughter abound.

- Funky hacker aesthetic like neon lights, graffiti art, and cyberpunk music surround you. 

- An air of communal spirit pervades as you identify others just as eager to absorb knowledge.

While potentially overwhelming initially, embracing the immersive atmosphere helps newcomers feel welcome and tap into the hacker mindset.

 Finding Your Way Around Conference Rooms and Tracks  

Navigating the conference layout and agenda can seem confusing:

- Review maps ahead of time to locate tracks, restrooms, food areas, etc. Identify routes between locations.

- Scan schedules and room assignments to minimize time spent hunting sessions.

- Arrive early to locate rooms for talks you prioritized. Grab seats up front.

- Talk to event staff if lost. Volunteer guides happily assist.

 Budgeting Time and Energy

With so many simultaneous events and people to connect with, newcomers must balance activities and downtime:

- Alternate high-energy activities like workshops with slower sessions. Build in breaks.

- Hydrate and refuel regularly. Maintain stamina for 10-12 hour conference days. 

- Set daily goals but deviate as needed. Overbooking risks burnout.

- Make time for both structured and unstructured networking.

Pacing oneself ensures newcomers participate at full capacity all conference long.

Uncover risky misconfigurations  and stay one step ahead

 Presentation Highlights for Beginners 

While BSides offers talks spanning a range of expertise levels, many accessible presentations provide the perfect onramp for newcomers to core infosec concepts. Here are some examples of engaging sessions for first-timers.

 Talks Offering Accessible Insights

Introductory presentations clue newcomers into cybersecurity foundations:

- Cybersecurity 101: High level overview of infosec concepts, domains, tools, and best practices. Essential primer.

- Careers in Cybersecurity: Details different professions, required skills, training, and career paths for newcomers.

- Threat Landscape Fundamentals: Explains types of threats, adversaries, attacks, and vulnerabilities common today. 

-  Cryptography and Encryption Explained: Covers encryption concepts and implementation best practices comprehensible to newcomers.

These talks establish core knowledge newcomers can build on through further learning.

 Expanding Perspectives on Key Topics

Other sessions aimed at general audiences expand newcomer thinking:

- Diversity and Inclusion in Cybersecurity: Discusses challenges and progress in making infosec welcoming to all.

- Physical Security and Social Engineering: Reveals how human vulnerabilities open attack vectors. 

- Privacy vs. Security: Debates tradeoffs individuals and organizations face securing data.

- Ethics of Disclosure: Considers responsible approaches for reporting vulnerabilities. 

Exposure to these multifaceted issues relevant within and beyond technical domains provides helpful perspective.

 Sparking Deeper Curiosity

Some higher level talks inspire newcomers’ passion to keep advancing their skills:

- Offensive Security Panel: Stories from red teams about creative hacking techniques spark newcomer imaginations. 

- Emerging Threats on the Horizon: Early warnings on nascent attack vectors help focus newcomer attention on leading edge problems.

- Inside Major Breaches: Insider accounts of prominent cyber attacks reveal realities of infosec work.

Sessions like these fuel newcomer enthusiasm and curiosity in cybersecurity as a multifaceted, dynamic field full of challenges to tackle.

 Getting Hands-On Experience

While presentations help newcomers absorb infosec concepts, workshops at BSides provide opportunities to gain hands-on skills through practice. These interactive experiences accelerate practical abilities. 

 Testing Skills at Workshops  

Structured workshops allow newcomers to experiment:

- Network penetration testing: Use tools like nmap, Burp Suite, Wireshark and more to find flaws in practice systems.

- Forensics challenges: Analyze memory dumps, log files, network traffic and other artifacts to uncover what occurred.

- Open source intelligence (OSINT): Learn search techniques and OSINT resources to collect data from public sources. 

- Secure coding: Practice identifying and remediating vulnerabilities in code samples using static/dynamic analysis tools.

- Social engineering: Participate in simulations to try persuasion and manipulation techniques used in attacks.

With expert guidance, newcomers actively strengthen abilities in a safe training environment.

 Competing in CTFs and Other Contests 

Friendly competitions like capture-the-flag contests build skills under pressure:

- Jeopardy CTFs: Answer questions and solve puzzles across categories like forensics, crypto, web, binary to score points. 

- Attack-Defense CTFs: One team builds defenses while the opposing team attempts to breach them within a time limit.

- Trivia games: Cybersecurity trivia questions test breadth of knowledge.

- Badge contests: Awards for most creative conference badge hacks.

Trying CTFs even just for fun gives newcomers a taste of infosec challenges.

 Learning by Doing in Beginner Areas

Beginner-focused hands-on areas offer entry points to build skills:

- Lockpicking village: Learn tips and practice defeating simple mechanical locks under locksmith guidance. Build physical security awareness.

- Soldering zone: Create a basic circuit board or badge following tutorials. Grasp hardware vulnerabilities. 

- Meet the Tool Creators: Tool developers demo software and explain how it simplifies tasks for newcomers. 

- Career Fair: Chat with organizations about entry-level job expectations and skill requirements.

Low-stress exercises like these build foundations for future learning.

 Tips for Networking as a Newcomer

Making connections with experienced cybersecurity professionals benefits newcomers long after the conference concludes. Here are strategies for networking effectively even without existing contacts.

 Approaching Conversations

Initiating conversations as an unknown newcomer requires courage but pays dividends:

- Attend receptions, meals, gatherings where mingling occurs naturally.

- Introduce yourself with a smile and firm handshake. Share your interests and goals for attending.

- Ask smart questions that demonstrate knowledge while seeking wisdom. Listen intently. 

- Offer thoughts on talks and activities when you have relevant perspectives to contribute.

- If intimidated, bring a colleague or friend for moral support approaching veterans.

With genuine interest and enthusiasm, seasoned participants welcome newcomers into the fold.

 Connecting with Mentors and Peers

Tailor networking goals based on who can best support your growth:

- Find mentors with decades of experience willing to advise newcomers.

- Meet peers at the same career stage for mutual learning and future collaborations. 

- Talk to speakers whose presentations resonated to dig deeper into shared interests.

- Discuss jobs with HR staff from prominent cybersecurity employers.

Seeking thinkers at various career levels accelerates newcomer growth through relationships.

 Making Connections to Support Growth

Cultivating a professional network creates lasting support systems:

- Request informational interviews to gain veterans’ advice tailored to your aspirations. 

- Exchange contact info to enable future conversations by email or phone.

- Connect on social media to share interesting infosec articles and continue conversations.

- Follow up with new connections periodically to grow fledgling relationships.

Ongoing mentorship from those further ahead smooths newcomers’ career progression. 

 Immersing in Hacker Culture 

Beyond educational content, BSides conferences provide newcomers a welcoming environment to experience and adopt hacker culture. The community embraces newcomers who approach with open minds and attitudes.

 Embracing the Distinctive BSides Vibe

From funky badge designs to spirited debates over drinks, BSides surrounds newcomers with hacker culture:

- Chat about the innovative electronic conference badges many attendees design themselves and proudly wear.

- Check out demo areas where participants share the latest gadgets and tools they created or hacked.

- Linger in lounge areas like hacker villages to soak up the communal maker spirit. 

- Attend evening events for socializing over games, entertainment, and alcohol if you wish.

Immersing oneself in experiences like these helps newcomers feel connected to the community.

 Bonding During Social Gatherings

Conversations flow freely in social settings outside regular conference hours:

- Meals, parties, and informal meetups provide relaxed environments for getting to know fellow participants.

- Swap stories and hacker nicknames so familiar camaraderie develops.

- Join groups wandering the city finding adventures. Spontaneity thrives.

- Discuss shared interests beyond work to form genuine personal connections.

The welcoming atmosphere helps newcomers make lasting friendships with infosec peers.

 Identifying Shared Values

Through BSides experiences and conversations, newcomers recognize the community's core values:

- Collaboration: Participants eagerly share tips and welcome questions. Knowledge spreads.

- Ethics: Respect for being lawful and causing no harm is essential. 

- Inclusion: Space welcomes underrepresented groups and thinking.

- Anti-authoritarianism: Community encourages respectfully questioning norms.

By embracing these values, newcomers demonstrate belonging in the hacker community.

 Key Takeaways to Jumpstart Progress

After an enriching BSides experience, newcomers to cybersecurity return home brimming with new perspectives, knowledge, and connections to propel their growth as infosec professionals.

 Core Lessons to Accelerate Learning 

Fundamental teachings newcomers can immediately apply include:

- Infosec requires constant learning and humility as the field evolves rapidly.

- Develop breadth across domains like networks, systems, applications, cryptography, etc. before specializing. 

- Offensive capabilities inform defense strategies and vice versa. Understand both.

- Beyond technical skills, cultivate business alignment, communication, and creative problem solving.

- Open-source communities and conferences provide collaborative continuing education.

BSides immersion crystallizes foundational building blocks for newcomer education.

 Establishing a Blueprint for Next Steps

The conference provides direction through: 

- Contacts made who can advise which certifications to pursue next or skills to hone.

- Gaps identified in knowledge of key domains to guide ongoing learning.

- Inspiration and model examples from presenters early in careers pivoted from other fields.  

- Job openings, internships, and training programs discovered at the career fair suited for various experience levels.

With personalized guidance, newcomers leave with a roadmap for skill development.

 Applying Inspiration to Stay Involved

Ideas sparked at the conference help cultivate ongoing participation:

- Join BSides forums and social media groups to stay engaged year-round.

- Attend local meetup groups and hacker cons for continuous hands-on learning.

- Set a goal to submit a talk next year or volunteer at a BSides event. 

- Experiment with tools and techniques covered in workshops through self-directed projects. 

- Sign up for security newsletters and blogs to absorb the latest threat intelligence.

- Consider open-source contributions to tools and projects needing help.

Sustaining the momentum and inspiration beyond the event speeds further development.


For cybersecurity newcomers, BSides conferences like BSides Albuquerque provide the perfect launching pad through hands-on skill-building, mentorship connections, and motivational inspiration within a welcoming community. By participating fully, newcomers gain foundational knowledge, relationships, and direction to confidently embark on an exciting infosec career path.

The open, collaborative, and community-driven spirit of BSides facilitates accelerated growth in ways newcomers could never achieve learning alone. Experiencing talks, workshops, competitions, and networking events alongside hundreds of fellow cybersecurity devotees fosters a profound sense of belonging to this passionate group united by a shared mission to advance the industry. 

Newcomers leave BSides events feeling like they took immense strides from outsider to insider thanks to the community’s eagerness to impart wisdom to aspiring practitioners. The conference undoubtedly plants seeds that will fuel continued progress for years to come. Whether just starting your cybersecurity journey or transitioning from another profession, joining BSides provides an unforgettable opportunity to immerse yourself in the culture and connect with people who will impact your trajectory. See you at BSides!

Frequently Asked Questions

What should I pack to maximize my time at BSides?

Bring comfortable shoes, laptop/tablet, chargers, business cards, hoodie, water bottle, notebook, pen, snacks. Have a backpack to carry items between sessions. Keep medications handy. Bring extra business cards for networking.

What are the best strategies for navigating my first BSides conference?

Review the schedule and maps ahead of time to plot your plan of attack. Arrive early each day to get oriented. Balance intense sessions with lighter ones to stay sharp. Leave time between activities to process and recharge. Don't overschedule yourself. Ask others or staff for help navigating if needed.

How can I get the most value from workshops?

Before attending a workshop, ensure you have any prerequisite knowledge needed. Arrive early to get a computer and seat up front. Review provided resources in advance. During the workshop, focus intently, take notes, and ask questions.

How can I stay connected with the BSides community after the event?

Follow BSides social media accounts, join forums and Slack workspaces, participate in virtual events, submit to newsletters, attend local BSides meetups, and keep in touch with contacts made. The community continues all year long online.

What is the best way to leverage my alumni status at future BSides?

As an alum, share your experience and recommend BSides on social media. Consider submitting a talk proposal or volunteering next year. Support newcomers by answering their questions if they reach out afterwards. Give back!

As technologies evolve, so should your security. Discover the difference with ThreatKey and schedule your demo today.

Never miss an update.

Subscribe for spam-free updates and articles.
Thanks for subscribing!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.