Last week I had the opportunity to go to BSidesLV and afterwards to Def Con in Las Vegas for the very first time. It was a really great experience, and I learned a lot through presentations, talking with people, and hands-on experiences. However, I have to admit it was also at times quite frustrating as a woman.

In theory, it seems like everybody agrees that the technology community needs to be more inclusive and accepting of women. Almost everybody will talk about how it is important to encourage and be more conducive to women, in a largely male-dominated field. To that I couldn’t agree more. There needs to be more women in technology, and particularly in information security. And I appreciate the sincere efforts of everyone trying to promote that.

My frustrations from BSidesLV and Def Con as a woman aren’t from crowded rooms and hallways full of men and body odor or even from being sized up for sex-appeal everywhere I went. It was more from the attitudes of people (and not just men) when I said I was looking to transition into a career in information security where the response was largely “oh that’s cute.”

Apparently, my biggest mistake was telling people that my husband was an infosec professional. When I mentioned to recruiters that most of my experience in infosec was from projects with my husband, they were all to eager to switch the conversation entirely to him and his job prospects. And I have to ask myself, if roles were reversed, would he have had the same experience?

In talking with other people at the conferences, when they found out I had come with my husband they made comments like “I can’t believe he dragged you to this,” and “You are such a good wife,” and “I would never bring my wife to Def Con.” What’s implicit in these statements, and so aggravating, is that it seems as a woman I couldn’t have chosen or wanted to attend the conferences for myself. They even underly an attitude that women don’t belong at Def Con if someone “would never bring his wife.”

Maybe instead of assuming a woman is at a conference simply as a supportive partner, ask her why she came. Ask her what interests her. And encourage her in a field where she probably already feels out of place.

I went to BSidesLV and Def Con because I am passionate about privacy and online freedom. I have a growing interest in AI and Machine Learning and am curious about how those fields apply to information security. I am also fascinated with malware and exploitation techniques. Probably my favorite part of the week was the Social Engineering Village at Def Con where I hope to participate next year.

It seems wrong that I have to assert that my reasons for wanting to go to BSidesLV and Def Con are just as valid as anybody else’s. So I’ll do it instead for all the women there. No matter what their reasons, women belong at Def Con too.