Ramblings of a Tampa engineer
black chair lot
Photo by Jonas Jacobsson / Unsplash

On April 6, 2024 I attended two conferences at the same time on the same day speaking at one while attending the other.

  • BSides Tampa 2024 (Attending)
  • DevCon Tampa 2024 (Speaking)

Conveniently they were both at USF (University of South Florida) between the Marshall Student Center & Engineering Building II. So my plan was going to be:

  • 7-11am - BSides
  • 11-3pm - Devcon
  • 3-7pm - BSides

I got lucky and the buildings (black dots above) were not far apart - with a few tricks of cutting through buildings I could move between conferences in under 10 minutes of walking.

My plan was ready to roll and I started the day at BSides Tampa.

BSides is a type of conference that historically started as a conference for talks not accepted at DEFCON - aka "B talks". Over time due to large amounts of submissions it just became a regional conference supported in areas all over - volunteer ran for the community.

This conference seems to be growing massively every year - they mentioned nearly 500-700 people more than last year which had 1,600. A few years prior and it was barely 1000 people - this explains the new space as they kept outgrowing venues.

The larger a volunteer conference becomes the more difficult it probably gets to organize. Your options dwindle of locations you can host and the price probably goes up for reserving it. However, to that point the larger a conference gets the more sponsors that probably want onboard.

Saying all that - this was a large event hosted directly at the student center of USF. It had 3 floors for the conference to utilize:

  • 1 - Food & Shops
  • 2 - Theater (Keynote), Sponsor Hall, CTF, Registration
  • 3 - Talks & Training

It had outgrown the hotel conference rooms and was now an oiled machine in terms of conference organization. With signs all over the road to direct to parking, an entire parking garage that was free next door to the building and over 100 staff to guide the estimated ~2,000 attendees it worked well.

Unfortunately the conference talks itself started out a bit rough. The opening remarks went well, but then the keynote speaker was seemingly not there yet. They brought up the CTF guy to stall some time and explain the new theme of the CTF, but we were hitting the 10 minute late mark now.

The audience stayed quiet and the organizers announced a holding position (ie bringing people off the stage) while we waited on keynote to arrive. Once we hit the 18th minute - there was some rustling going on the stage and changes were being made. However at that point the theater was loud with people coming/going.

They changed the order of the talks to put the 2nd talk as the keynote, but made the call at the 20~ minute mark. So the 2nd talk jumped up and went through a talk which probably needed the full hour and shoved it into 39 minutes of time. This of course went right up to 10am and slightly over which was the start time of all the different tracks - so I had to rush up the stairs to make it to my next intended talk.

This talk was about Android reverse-engineering and I was very happy to hear what this one would be about. As the maintainer of Apktool I was curious if the tool was going to make an appearance. Sure enough it didn't take long as the APK structure was explained and the process to get some of those files within an APK using Apktool.

Screenshots of Apktool were shown and for some reason that just felt great to see. Having a conference talk utilize your tool probably unaware the maintainer is sitting in the audience listening to it. I slipped a question into the end to ask about the tool's stability to see if I could get any raw unfiltered rants, but Apktool worked in their use-cases.

BSides "Swag"

It was now time for me to escape to the other conference, but first I took a second to see all the swag I obtained when showing up. The Stranger Things theme was pretty great when paired with all the magnets, stickers and more you obtained. The badge, much like DEFCON, is probably filled with secrets and puzzles but this year with balancing two conferences left no time to mess with it.

Once I got over to the Engineering Building - this was a much smaller conference really intended for the engineering students of USF. They were performing a hackathon with an AI theme and were looking for a few speakers for the students.

Of course when I submitted a talk I was not aware of this - I incorrectly associated Devcon with the huge events I previously spoke and went to. This was a much smaller event with probably under 15 people in my talk. Even worse I did not realize it was the same weekend as BSides until my speaking engagement was already locked in.

However, a really small group of students plus a few co-workers made the audience much easier to interact with. It became a far more personal talk up close with the listeners than it might have otherwise been with a couple hundred. As my talk ended lunch arrived and we continued to dive into discussions with some students & faculty.

I felt a bit odd that I got pulled from the line waiting for food to cut everyone since I was a "speaker". I say that because back at BSides someone in line for drinks introduced themselves as I introduced myself as Director of Engineering @ Sourcetoad and they thought it was weird I was waiting in line for a drink.

I didn't understand - There was a CEO who was like 4 people behind me - what did the position matter for a drink line? They came from a military background which apparently dictated a bit more than I knew in terms of lines and ordering of folks.

Back at the Engineering building I declined helping out with the judging of the hackathon and started my walk back to the student center to re-join BSides.

I was now back at the closing keynote in the large auditorium at the student center. A talk about web apps and AI which I had mixed feelings on. The videos didn't work and the screenshots were very difficult to see from afar with poor contrast. The screenshots then told a tale that skipped a bunch of steps and I presume might have mislead the crowd. Since I'm positive ChatGPT is not directly visiting any URL you give it - its inferring details about the URL and/or writing code for you to scrape it manually.

BSides & Devcon shirts

The closing keynote was over quick, arguably too quick, and it was roughly 20 minutes before the drinks & food would open up. I took a break to look at the shirts I obtained until I ran into the presenters of the Android talk and talked to them about the real world of running open source projects. It was a good discussion about businesses using tons of free & open tools and how they can contribute back.

A few glasses of wine, some dessert, some networking and the double conference day was over. A great day to add a new slide deck to my /slides page with just a few speed bumps along the way. It just helped further reinforce my belief that some extremely talented individuals are in the same city I live. Listening to someone talk about something that blows my mind will never get old.

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