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Wearing Many Hats: Maxine Franks Turns a Chance to Volunteer Into an Opportunity to Lead at the Black Hat Conference

Organizers of the world’s largest information security convention noticed Franks’ leadership qualities and dedication to customer service in 2018. When they were searching for team leads for this year’s event, they knew they could count on her.

People  |  Nov 4, 2019  |  By Nicole Johnson
Woman sitting in front of a computer

Maxine Franks, applications security agent and supervisor for the Office of Information Technology (Rakitha Perera/UNLV OIT)

When Maxine Franks volunteered to work at the 2018 Black Hat USA cybersecurity convention, she never thought it would lead to anything more than just a learning experience.

But it did lead to an incredible opportunity.

From Volunteer to Leader of the Pack at Black Hat  

You see, the applications security agent and supervisor signed up as a conference associate last year after learning about the volunteer opportunity through the Women’s Society of Cyberjutsu, an organization that advances women in the cybersecurity field through training, mentoring, networking, and other professional opportunities. In her role, Franks was responsible for helping nearly 19,000 security-savvy professionals navigate one of the biggest information security conferences in the world.

If you ask anyone who has had the pleasure of working with Franks in her 20 years at UNLV, they will tell you that she is an upbeat, positive person who is dedicated to providing the best customer service possible (without compromising security, of course) - not to mention a great motivator. And for exactly this reason, Black Hat organizers took notice.

“She made such a profound impression on the organizers that this year she was asked to be a team lead for the conference associates,” said Vito Rocco, senior information security analyst and supervisor for the Office of Information Technology (OIT). “Most leads have been coordinating teams for five to 15 years, so being promoted to that position in your second year is quite an accomplishment.”

To prepare, 160 people, including Franks and her team, endured intense exercises a week prior to the 22nd annual hacking convention, which took place on Aug. 3 through Aug. 8 at Mandalay Bay Convention Center. And like last year, this year’s event was on track to break attendance records, with over 20,000 cybersecurity leaders - spanning academia, research, and public and private sectors - projected to attend. 

Being a conference associate is not an easy job - by no stretch of the matter. The crew of seven, with Franks at the helm, worked 12-hour days (most of which was on their feet), providing directions to conference attendees, scanning badges, and helping with other customer service-related duties in the nation’s fifth largest convention center.

“Because I worked as a conference associate at last year’s Black Hat conference, I understood how grueling it can be,” said Franks. “I wanted to make sure that I supported my team to the best of my ability - whether that was being their cheerleader, getting them water, or helping them find solutions to problems for guests.”

Her cheerful attitude and leadership had a positive impact on her fellow conference associates.

“She made it much more bearable to work the conference,” Rocco said about his team captain. “I heard several people who were not even on our team remark that she helped them get through the day.”

A Normal Workday Leads to Security Advancements

Franks is a great leader.

According to Forbes, effective leaders have specific traits that they exhibit consistently. These attributes include honesty and integrity, passion and commitment, effective and strong communication, positivity and confidence, and empathy and humility. 

And Franks embodies all of these, serving a vital role of ensuring her team is motivated, engaged, and equipped to perform their best - ask anyone.

“She shows initiative to learn new things, is eager to work with other people, and loves to be involved - without hesitation and purely voluntarily,”  said John Dudley, associate director of enterprise applications in OIT and Franks’ supervisor. “She naturally steps into a leadership role, instilling her values of doing what is best for the customer and organization to her colleagues.”

From volunteering to work as a conference associate for the first time last year to running a team at this year’s Black Hat conference is just one example of how much Franks’ leadership skills - and who she is as a person - is admired and valued by so many.

Dudley remembers Franks’ impact on the Workday launch that took place last year. There were a lot of nuances with the new application, which included questions about access, and Franks was determined to enhance security measures. 

“She saw that improvements needed to be made to Workday when it came to security,” said Dudley. “She worked with the Nevada System of Higher Education to make the security of the application better. Because she pushed for it, she can now verify credential requests, ensuring private information is protected and that procedures meet appropriate security regulations.”

Taking a Peek Into a Future in Information Security

Without a doubt Franks is respected not only by her fellow coworkers and bosses, but by the cybersecurity experts of the world. 

“Information security is my passion, and I try to find new and interesting ways to get involved,” said Franks. “I was happy that I had the chance to attend the Black Hat conference. I went to learn about the latest security trends, so that I could be a source of knowledge for my coworkers. I never thought it would lead to such a critical role as running a conference associate team.”

Franks closed the interview with a look into the future - hoping to take advantage of more opportunities like the Black Hat leadership position to advance her career in the cybersecurity industry.