8 minute read

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Attending BSides Cape Town left me with a lot of overwhelming emotions, and in as much as me playing a ‘tiny’ part in its success created an exquisite feeling of satisfaction, having to leave after the event invoked emptiness – why did it have to end just like that? Now here I am back home 4 days after the conference with only memories to hold on to, still hungover, trying to reminisce on how this all became possible for me.

It’s 11:45am CAT (06/12/2023) the very moment I’m writing this, and I’ve literally spent twenty minutes trying to find a compelling introduction to my story, but I give up, I’ll just be plain and articulate - a few clichés wouldn’t hurt (I hope).

Where did it Start?

Just like any other hacker or infosec enthusiast, I already understood the concept behind Security BSides – there was a time when I went on a rampage of following social media accounts for the majority of BSides organized within other regions of the world. Even though at that point I knew I had very little chances of attending security conferences from far regions of the world, I eagerly followed their pages and scrolled through their posts just to get an artificial feel of what it would feel like to spend a whole DAY in a room filled with “cyber humans”. Around June (winter season), I was casually scrolling through my LinkedIn feed and saw a colorful “Call for Volunteers” post by BSides Cape Town – and I obviously got excited. With no hesitation at all, I filled out the google form as quickly as I could. There weren’t that many infosec conferences close to (or within) Zimbabwe, and now there was an opportunity three hours away (by plane) – I just thought to myself “I really need to be a part of this”.

So, there I was fantasizing about attending a conference that’s over 2500 kilometers away and across the border – with literally nothing but just hope. The BSides Team reached out after a few weeks with regards to my volunteering request, and as expected their main concern was my proximity to the conference location. Eager as I was, I assured them that I’d be willing to help even virtually if it was possible, as long as I got to be a part of it.

email exchange with Charles

I was happy because the BSides team considered my request, despite the hurdles I was bound to face ahead, they remained supportive and always made follow ups on how best I would be able to get to Cape Town. I started saving up in August, preparing for this event, and at the same time I approached the company work for BDO Zim with a request for them to fund my trip. I tried as best I could to articulate the significance and importance of my attendance – but as any organization would point out in such a situation, they needed to be convinced about the value I was adding to the firm by attending an event so far away. After a series of follow up questions (and a looooot of convincing), the company finally decided to cater for 50% of the trip expenses, which was the boost I needed to assert my attendance at the conference.


venue balcony

Fast forward to the 30th of November – I land in the breathtaking sunny cape in anticipation of the event. I was a little nervous, but my excitement overshadowed a lot of the fears I had. I was faced with attending and coordinating an event with so many prominent security professionals and enthusiasts around South Africa and beyond when I literally didn’t know anyone attending. Of course, I had conversed with several of the organizers through Discord or email exchange, but I had no idea what to expect of these personas in person (makes sense, right!?).

I shot Charles (the Director) a text notifying him of my arrival in Cape Town the day after I landed, and he was kind enough to send me an Uber Voucher for my trips to the venue. Weird personal thoughts at this point “This is a good sign – I’m off to a good start – Now all I have to do is find the venue on my google maps and go meet the team!”. I reached out to the one friend I had in Cape Town, a former schoolmate from Zimbabwe now studying at the University of Cape Town – to accompany me to meet the BSides organizing team for the first time.

Meeting the team for the first time was an absolute bliss, they all seemed happy to see me – and what stood out the most for me was the fact that we spoke as though we had always been acquainted (I guess it’s the power of the internet, or maybe the Hack South Discord Server to be specific). Another random thing happened when I stepped into the room – the team ended up making my friend a volunteer as well, so now we were guaranteed not one, but TWO Zimbabweans roaming on BSides 😎.

The Event Itself!

I got to the venue by 06:58am, geared for the tasks that awaited me as a BSides Volunteer (volt). What I loved most was the friendly dynamic we instantly shared as volts the moment we met each other for the first time. I would shyly interact with a fellow volt, try making a few jokes until you get to that, “ohh, by the way my name is xx” moment. The more tasks I got on any of the 4 floors we used for the event was an opportunity to work with a completely new person and get to interact, and that made the work less hard – and more of an opportunity to network with new people. The general ambience of the event, even before attendees started showing up was all excitement, anticipation, and curiosity. The entire time I was conversing with fellow attendees, sponsors, speakers or volts I forgot the fact that I had travelled such a long way for this – it was at those moments when people would give a reference to something local when I’d be reminded (which I really didn’t mind considering the awestruck faces people pulled when they realized I travelled that far).

Just Chilling

My goal was to try as best as possible to be a part of every single activity during the event, to get the MOST out of the experience. I started off the day with volunteer tasks I was assigned and proceeded to take on any ‘help wanted’ tasks as given by the organizers. Prior to my trip to Cape Town, I had signed up for the CTF challenges and I had earned myself 9th place under the username ‘0xStash’ before I abandoned the CTF to manage my travelling timetable. I especially loved the OSINT challenges that made you spiral in a deep rabbit hole, but I guess I’ll need a separate article for that.

CTF Scoreboard

During the event, I also got a little curious about the vending machine web app, found a few new people to try figuring out its hidden weakness or at least bypass security mechanisms – we booted up our machines and hacked away. After having made little progress (not that I gave up or anything – LOL), I decided to try out workshops (which, obviously, was the focus point of the conference) - and again amazing, compelling, and informative sessions from both local and international security personnel. Then lastly, I ended up obsessing over the Scavenger Hunt, which was admittedly the one activity that literally doubled my acquaintances at the event – I got this weird adrenaline rush I was literally flying up and down the stairs greeting, conversing, and negotiating with everyone that came my way.

Scavenger Hunt Scoreboard SynStalker, Dillon & Blessing Blessing with Cyberlogic team

It was at the last keynote speech in the auditorium that I took time to breathe a little and absorb all the series of events that led to my presence at the event that very day. As I listened to Charles give an account of how Hack South came to be, that is when I really appreciated the great and exquisite work that is BSIDES CAPE TOWN. In all honesty, the main reason why I really pushed to attend the conference was to feel IN TOUCH with the field of cybersecurity, and the wonderful humans that make it possible. There were so many ‘important’ people present at the event I hardly thought that my presence would be of any significance. It was at that moment when I was called to receive recognition for 3rd place in the Scavenger Hunt that I really saw how proud people were when they hear about my trip from such a far place - what an EMOTIONAL moment that was!!

3rd Place Recognition with Christo

My main realization from the conference was that cybersecurity communities even on a global scale are all essentially at one – and as enthusiasts we all speak the same nerdy language regardless of geographical location on the map. I took a chance to attend BSides because of my passion towards cybersecurity and tech communities in general, and what I got was THE experience of a lifetime – new friendships forged, new skills attained, a BIGGER network established and a lifetime worth of memories to cherish.

Closing Words

Sometimes it doesn’t require out of this world technical proficiency or some fancy background in the field to land opportunities, just a YES attitude is enough to get you places. Persistence and a drive to accomplish set objectives is enough to make it a reality. I wrote down attending BSides Cape Town on my to-do list in June – and I proudly tick one off the list even if I had no idea how I was going to achieve this at the point I set the goal for myself.

Blessing's Balcony Picture