Speed and Security: My talk at HighEdWeb 2016

This week, I had the privilege of speaking at HighEdWeb 2016, held in Memphis, Tennessee. As usual, it was a great conference full of informative sessions and even better people. For me, that’s really the highlight – seeing people I’ve known for years, sharing our successes, our struggles, and a drink. Or three.

This year, I talked about the new HTTP/2 protocol. Modern browsers require HTTP/2 to be served over TLS, so an SSL certificate is needed. While many of our .edu sites have SSL certificates, they can be a pain to install on other servers, test sites, and other projects we work on. I walked through installing Let’s Encrypt certificates.

Here’s the excerpt of the session:

When it comes to web pages, speed is always important. Users leave if a site takes too long. Google ranks faster sites better. Our browsers, computers, and smartphones have all evolved, but HTTP/1.1 was last updated in 1999. In internet years, that’s 5 lifetimes ago. Now, HTTP/2 has emerged as a modern update for serving content to users, quickly and securely. In this session, we will discuss HTTP/2, its improvements, challenges, and opportunities for web developers in higher ed. This speed comes at a cost – HTTP/2 is, for now, only servable via HTTPS, so we will explore easy SSL generation with Let’s Encrypt, a new certificate authority offering free SSL certificates.

You can view a PDF of my slide deck.

Highedweb DO IT LIVEIn my nearly 20 years of working in higher ed, I’ve been fortunate to have given dozens of conference presentations, but this year’s HighEdWeb presentation broke new ground for me. I’ve sat in many technical presentations where the presenter showed their tech, or their code, but not too many where some of the work was done live at the podium.

So I challenged myself – I thought what better way is there to show how easy it is to install a Let’s Encrypt certificate, so I took a big risk and did it live, in real time, on a real site, in front of 60 people.

I practiced many times, and most times it worked, other times the process was full of errors. On Tuesday, however, it went flawlessly and I generated and installed an SSL certificate successfully. Man, what a huge relief.

The Twitter backchannel was great:

Since the SSL certificate creation process went so smoothly, I also decided to turn on HTTP/2 on one of the test sites I included in the talk. Luckily, turning on HTTP/2 in Nginx is just a matter of adding a few bits to a config file. I did that, restarted Nginx, and showed that we were now serving HTTP/2 traffic. It was cool to have a bunch of folks in the audience testing the sites for me as we went and confirming the results.

All in all, the session was a lot of fun to put together and present. I learned a great deal during my research process, and based on the feedback, it resonated with folks as well.

If you’ve been thinking about submitting to do a presentation at a conference, such as HighEdWeb, I strongly recommend you give it a try. Presenting is exciting, rewarding, work-intensive, scary, and fun. This year’s talk was my third full session at HighEdWeb and my first solo presentation (minus the poster I did ’05), and it’s exhilarating to be up there sharing your experience and adventures.

Looking for some presentation tips, here are two great presentations from the Management and Professional Development track I co-chaired with my friend and colleague Aaron Rester from Roosevelt University.

The first, given by Genevieve Howard, talked about 5 public speaking skills you can incorporate into your presentations. You can view her slides here.

The second was given by the great Karlyn Borysenko and the great Jeff Stevens. Entitled “The Art of the Presentation,” it was full of tips and best practices when it comes to giving an engaging, memorable presentation.

These two presentations should arm you with the knowledge you need to be able to share your expertise and knowledge with your higher ed colleagues. It’s taken me around the world, so I strongly endorse giving presentations.

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