>It's a booze-fueled learning, partying and networking event unlike any other
Is there any way to get use out of it that doesn't include 'booze-fueled and partying'. I have no problem with booze, but I definitely dislike partying. Yes, I'm a wet blanket, but if the partying atmosphere is where the use comes from, I would seriously be uninterested.
I know that actually does limit the networking part too.
I went to "theSummit" last year as a speaker. The speakers were all asked to wear blinky badges so people could find them and ask about their talks. Unfortunately, in proper party fashion, they had the DJ playing crap music so loudly that any real discussion was impossible. There was little of interest in there, really, so I took my leave pretty quickly.
I much prefer to hang at the bars on the casino floor and talk to whoever comes around. They let you smoke, the music is better and less deafening, and you'll meet more interesting people.
There's a big element at DEFCON of people who read way too many Neal Stephenson novels, got a utilikilt and a mohawk, and are roleplaying as haxxors. Escape that. Find interesting talks. Find feds, because they're getting paid to do security work and are often damn good at it. Don't feel like you have to go to every talk.
>Is there any way to get use out of it that doesn't include 'booze-fueled and partying'.
Sure, you can check out the talks, wander around the venue (CTF, vendor booths, etc), talk to people. The "partying" isn't as rampant as some may have you believe. Sure there are parties, but it's not like you will be dragged into one. They also appear to be non-inclusive. I know I wasn't invited to any last year (and I'm no wet towel! ;). In fact, I was uninvited to one (you can't come; it's "private"). There is still plenty to get out of going and plenty of fun to be had.
I like all the competitions and games you can join before or during the con (check the forums for official contests etc). Hacker Jeopardy is by far my favorite con event. On Thursday there's the Atomic Barbeque, which is a great way to network with people and chow down. I don't know if they still do the Hacker Iron Chef, but that was fun to watch.
Getting into parties is half the fun! I remember the times I social engineered my way into the Ninja party. Humans are so insecure...
p.s. even if you don't drink, the quickest way to make friends at defcon is to give someone free alcohol. the goons also appreciate free beverages.