Erik Coleman Behind the Screens: The Apple II to Access Architect

Erik Coleman taking a photo of a train
Erik Coleman and his love for photography and trains

Entrepreneur Steve Wozniak, an inventor of the first Apple personal computer, ushered in the PC revolution and consequently inspired a generation—a generation including a young Erik Coleman. From an early age, Erik was taken with computers, fascinated by his junior high school’s Texas Instruments 99/4A computer and Apple II computer. Wozniak’s work and Erik’s early interaction with computers deepened his interest and set him on a career path that would follow suit. 

What do you do as an Identity and Access Architect at Tech Services?

I am a technical lead that works with upper management in setting technical strategy related to our identity and access management systems like directories, authentication systems (who are you) and authorization frameworks (what role do you have and do you have access). 

I’ve been with Tech Services since September 2000, involved in some sort of identity management aspect for nearly all of that. I moved to my most recent role in 2021. 

What role does being an Identity and Access Architect play in the larger Illinois campus?

Identity is foundational to everything we do in IT. To access computing resources, we need to know who you are and whether you are permitted to access the resource. The design decisions I make potentially affect nearly everyone on campus, both staff and students, and how they interact with applications every day. We have a lot of work to do in providing future tools for our campus strategies with cybersecurity and data privacy. We have some very large projects looming that should have some great impacts. 

What’s the best thing about your current role?

It is never boring. There is such a variety of things to work on, problems to solve, new technologies or tools to learn. I still have an advisory role in our IAM (Identity & Access Management) and security operations, but otherwise I’m planning, consulting, diagramming, or developing a proof-of-concept for a new technology that we might want to use as part of an IT service to campus. 

What is an accomplishment in this role that you’re proud of?

We recently integrated the web single-sign-on systems used by campus to greatly improve the login experience for browser-based applications. While I drove the original design, it was a whole team effort to actually pull it off. As you can imagine there were lots of moving parts! 

Best Tech Tip?

Always have a backup strategy! Do you want to keep those cherished family pictures forever? Where will they be saved? “Cloud storage” isn’t a backup strategy. Follow the 3-2-1 principle—3 copies using 2 types of storage with at least 1 copy offsite. 

What led you to this career?

I studied Computer Engineering at UIUC. I was fascinated by computers at an early age when my junior high school got one Texas Instruments 99/4A computer and one Apple II computer. I spent as much time in the lab as I was allowed. With the computer and IT industry just beginning to blossom, it was a natural choice to study that. My father picked up on that and opened a computer store. I graduated with my BS in Computer Engineering in 1990. My first choice, though, was to become a Civil Engineer.

What’s one hobby you have outside of work?

Photography. I love taking landscape photos, outdoor subjects (barns, windmills, vehicles, etc). I’m also a huge train buff, so I especially love taking pictures of trains and railroads, with several photos published in books.  

I also enjoy everything about trains—from the logistics of routing freight, the controlling of traffic, the mechanical physics, even the history. I have some model trains, too.  

Current Favorites:

  • Book: 1984 by George Orwell 
  • Movie: The Blues Brothers  
  • Place to vacation: Someplace new I’ve never been (I like to explore new places) 
  • Musical artist: Billy Joel 
Erik Coleman standing in front of a train

“Behind the Screens” is a series of stories highlighting a different member of Technology Services each month so that you can get to know who we are and what we do for our university.