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Swag, Buzzwords and Women in Security: Conversations at RSA 2019

I was walking down 4th street last week in San Francisco heading toward the Moscone Center for the biggest security conference of the year when I overheard someone say, “My company pays a lot for me to be here to collect swag.” I have been coming to this show for quite some time, so I was curious if the impression from the younger generation coming in really felt that this was just a “swag show.” So, as I worked my way around the expo floor, I listened intently to the young voices around me and asked questions where I thought appropriate. This line of research yielded 3 big results: 1) swag is just swag but branding is beautiful; 2) we have a house divided; and 3) women are present but not present.

Swag is just swag, but branding is beautiful

During the downtimes I had walking the expo floor, I had the pleasure of talking with visitors to our SailPoint booth. Because we have such a giving culture, we chose to donate to a charity this year, GirlStart, rather than hand out swag. After explaining this to one visitor, imagine my surprise when he replied with,

“What?!? No swag? You have the coolest logo and no swag?”

I asked him why a t-shirt with our logo on it would be any different than one he could pick up at another vendor – he replied with “swag is just swag but when a vendor has a cool logo and a cool product, we want to wear it. We have limited space in our suitcases, so we make it count. Own your logo! I love your charity, but we can save the world and be beautifully branded at the same time.”

Time and time again, I heard similar stories on the expo floor – everyone wondering where the cool swag was and overlooking anything that was not. There did not seem to be a huge focus on what was going on in many of the booths; which leads me to my next point.

RSA has become a house divided

On one side you have the technical sessions taking place and on the other, you have the business expo taking place. The two of these used to be more connected. If you want to focus on quality meetings with security professionals, this is the place to be. A lot of these connections are happening off the showroom floor in meeting rooms or outside focused events. This part of the show is invaluable and always has been. If you are looking to get educated, the technical sessions were being discussed among peers as being “pitches rather than instructional.”

If your goal is to sort through contenders in the market, my advice would be to come prepared with a list of vendors and specific questions in order to pull out what you need in a sea of chaos. I sat through several demos across both halls, and the hype was there but the value fell short. I noticed a lot of product-specific talks that led to more questions. Nothing felt big in terms of announcements. As in years past, the words endpoint protection, threat intelligence, and protect the cloud were all out in abundance.

One thing was clear, attempts at explaining and valuing machine learning on a deeper level were being made. This was exciting to see since we owe a large part of successful identity management to machine learning.

Women are present but not present

Switching gears just a bit, a topic near and dear to my heart is women in security. Good job ladies! There were definitely more women at RSA than in years before; however, we still have a long way to go. In conversations with other women, it became clear that while we seem to be making headway with panels and industry-specific talks, we have some work to do when it comes to being acknowledged. For instance, early in the show, I was speaking with a female executive from another company and she referred to being introduced to other male executives who gave her the “nice to meet you” and moved on to other conversations. Another female executive I spoke with said she was asked to leave a meeting by a partner because he assumed she was not the executive in the room. Since SailPoint has a culture that works hard at diversity and inclusion, I started paying attention to this while there and let’s just say that I am very proud to now be a part of the #SailPointCrew! I was told about a female CISO who attended the T.E.N. & ISE® Sales and Marketing Breakfast, who acknowledged the way to sell to her is to bring a diverse selling team – kudos to you!

RSA is a valuable tool, but there are conversations that need to be had that are not happening. I know there are literally thousands of products out there looking to solve problems, and identity governance is one of those – the most important, I would argue since this is a human issue. The conversations being had with me were not concerned about my problems or my questions. They were concerned with telling me that they do solve problems, just maybe not mine. Here at SailPoint, we want to hear from you on issues you are trying to solve so that we can work together to solve them.