Like many industries, the cybersecurity community is full of smart, dedicated, and curious people that deliver surprising results in unusual times. When presented with unique circumstances and limitations, these minds start finding creative and innovative ways to not only maintain the norm, but often to advance it. There is no more recent and shining example of this than PancakesCon 2020: Quarantine Edition.

The challenges leading to PancakesCon 2020: Quarantine Edition sound like the basis of an apocalyptic paperback - how does a curious and motivated mind influence their virtual community for good when faced with weeks of quarantine? For Lesley Carhart (aka @hacks4pancakes), the answer was simple - announce an ad hoc security conference, put out a request for proposals, and hope everything can come together in under a week.

The reason for the aggressive timeframe was clear in Lesley’s mind. “As cybersecurity professionals, we desperately want to find a solution and fix the problem. Unfortunately, this pandemic is not a problem which will be primarily solved by technologists. The most important thing we can do at the moment is stay home, keep other people engaged and home, and support the medical community in whatever way they ask.” When it became clear that she could influence the cybersecurity community in an overwhelmingly positive way, Lesley acted. 

Those actions enabled the strength of the cybersecurity community to take over. Within two days, the event had 150 proposals for 25 speaking slots. Hundreds of people signed up. Then a thousand. Then thousands - nearly 4,000 in total. Sessions became dually focused and split between security teaching and the sharing of personal passions. Hundreds attended hands-on sessions, including a car hacking village and Capture the Flag (CTF) event hosted by us. 

Six days after the initial concept, the virtual conference was a huge success. So many more people participated than expected that Web Meeting apps hit their upper limits, and shadow streaming sites were rapidly stood up. The CTF sites hit their limits and were quickly updated to accommodate the impressive demand. At one point #PancakesCon was even trending on twitter. All because of an idea, some motivation, and overwhelming community response.

Lesley deserves a huge thank you. Without her optimistic outlook under challenging times, the conference would never have happened. Let’s also extend virtual applause to the community that rallied around PancakesCon 2020: Quarantine Edition and made it a smashing success. Every presenter, proposal submitter, admin, and attendee put their best foot forward during unusual times and delivered on a community event that existed in no way just one week prior. Even better, the attendee participation noted by organizers was overwhelmingly positive, given the circumstances. “I was truly impressed by the positive response from the community. There was little need for moderation of behavior or chat. The feedback I got was useful and considered.”

Congratulations to the conference, and thank you to everyone involved!


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