Profile: Christopher Keith, Director of IT, Dean of the College

Christopher KeithIn this edition of “IT Profile”, we feature Christopher Keith. As Director of Information Technology at the office of the Dean of the College, Keith works closely with Brown’s Computing and Information Services department to ensure a secure and reliable computing environment for the Dean of the College and affiliate offices. He provides leadership and vision for the use of web applications in support of the various academic and advising missions of the College.

As Director of Information Technology for the Office of the Dean of the College, what are some of your responsibilities and challenges?

As the IT Director for the College, my main responsibility is to serve as a liaison with CIS, ensuring that the College’s technology initiatives are implemented in accordance with University technology strategies. In this time of significant resource constraints, my challenge is to find creative and innovation solutions that are achievable within the technology landscape at Brown.

What are your specific security concerns and actions you take to protect DOC information?

Because I work in an administrative office, my main concern is the protection of all data required to execute the College’s mission. Any new technology solution must be rigorously evaluated to ensure it conforms to established security standards. Whenever possible, I try to involve the Information Security Group to help audit any new systems we bring online. This way, members of the community can be assured that their data is safe.

What skills and experience do you bring to your position?

I have been an IT professional for the better part of 10 years. During my time as an Information Warfare officer for the U.S. Navy, I developed a deep appreciation or data security and a keen attention to detail. This experience helps me view each new project through the lens of security.

Were you always interested in computing? What drew you to it?

My interest in computing began in high school. I took programming classes during both my junior and senior years and have been developing software ever since. I find it extremely gratifying to use my creativity and problem-solving skills to design software systems that are both dynamic and useful.

Besides your DOC position, you are also a master’s degree candidate in Brown’s Computer Science department. What is the focus of your work?

To date, my coursework has centered mostly on database and distributed systems, and computer security. As Brown enters the age of cloud computing, I hope I can apply the knowledge I have gained through my studies to real world distributed solutions on campus. I intend to focus my research on communications protocols between computers in a distributed system. More specifically, I am interested in investigating new approaches to securing RESTful web services.

In 2009 you were one of the recipients of Brown’s Excellence Award in Innovation. Describe the work you’d done that prompted this honor.

I received this award for my work on two web-based applications: Course Evaluations and Advising Sidekick (ASK). Both systems leverage the advantages of IT, improving the quality of data while reducing administrative overhead associated with generating said data. It was especially humbling to receive individual recognition for what were really team projects. Dean Bergeron provided the verarching vision for both, while working groups helped refine system requirements. I translated these needs into useful data systems.

What do you like most about your job?

I work with an amazing group of talented and dedicated individuals who have great ideas for improving the quality of the undergraduate experience at Brown. Each of these ideas is an opportunity to apply my creativity in developing an effective solution. Ultimately, I like to think that the work I do makes others’ lives better.

What would be the most important piece of information security advice that you’d like to share with our readers?

Use a strong password and do not tell me what it is. Through my coursework in computer security, I have learned how easy it is to compromise a weak password. No password is easier to break than one given away.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Each member of the Brown community must take ownership of security. I’m reminded of an old Navy saying, “On the strength of one link in the cable, dependeth the might of the chain.  Who knows when thou may’st be tested? So live that thou bearest the strain!” In other words, we must all remain vigilant. By educating ourselves and adhering to security guidelines, we will ensure the safe and effective use of IT at Brown.

Posted in Fall 2010 Edition, Safe Computing | Comments Off