Steve M.

Senior Application Developer, Identity & Access Management — ISC Technology Services
Steve M. portrait photo

ISC service(s) or programs/projects: Identity and Access Management (IAM), operations for Penn WebLogin and related authentication functions

Length of time in ISC:  Joined ISC in 2017 and Penn in 2016

Previous work experience:  I worked in the School of Nursing for a year and a half doing web application development. Prior to that I was at FMC for five years as an application developer, working in the corporate office to maintain corporate and marketing web presences. Prior to that I worked for third-party help-desk support company. I had joined the military at 18, where I was part of the Army’s airborne infantry brigade in Italy. After that I started college at Penn State, met my future wife, moved to Philly, and used GI Bill funds to finish my degree before joining FMC. Through my history of web development there and at Nursing, I learned enough about authentication and security to make the move to ISC.

Tell us about a challenge at Penn that made you proud to be part of ISC.

I had very little Linux experience when joining my team. But I was absolutely ecstatic to learn new things, and the team has enabled me. They’ve helped me all along the way. It’s been a great experience personally, and it says a lot about the team and their willingness and desire to help each other. I’ve worked elsewhere on teams where there was a gatekeeper mentality: “If I let you in on how to do this, I become less.” That mentality is just not present on this team, which is so refreshing. I think that’s pretty much true across ISC, at least the people I’ve worked with.

Coming from the military, it was just drilled into me that the team and the mission come first. You lower the priority of your own personal needs for the betterment of the team and the mission. In ISC, I see that same concern for the good of the University and the Schools and their mission. Let’s get this service done because the students, the staff, the University community as a whole are depending on this to work. We put aside any disagreements to resolve later and we get the job done. It does make me proud of ISC in general, because it seems that way across the organization.

What’s an interesting technical or business problem you’ve faced with ISC?

The Penn WebLogin service uses custom two-factor authentication code that I wrote. Before I wrote it, I had no experience in Java, and what we built was not a standard implementation. But it works exactly how we want it, and it has only needed a single code update in four years! I’m really proud that I was able to write robust custom logic that worked with our existing ecosystem. We were able to get it working exactly like the service it replaced, but it’s easier to maintain. There have been no issues with it. It feels polished. So I’m especially proud of that product.

What do you like best about working with clients?

I like the diversity of ideas and the different challenges that they present. Our clients are really good at their jobs, but a corollary is that they don’t need to know much about our security. As I guide them, I can learn a lot about what Schools and their vendors are doing with application and business solutions. The goal is always to achieve a quality product or service for the community. Attending some of the meetings, discussions, and decisions lets me see how the sausage is made on the business side.

How has the pandemic changed the way you approach your role?

The pandemic has reinforced that we do things pretty well in ISC. From my personal experience, the pandemic has not affected our team’s work, or our availability. Just the collaboration tools we use. That tells me that in the past we made good decisions about design and infrastructure, thanks to the work of the architect and the whole team. If this is a once-in-a-century event, some would say we couldn’t have planned on that. But here, even through we didn’t see a pandemic happening, we planned for the possibility that we might have to work remotely for extended periods of time. So my team’s work quality is unaffected. It gives me confidence in my team’s leadership, and all the way up.

What are you passionate about in your free time?

I’m a video gamer at heart. I’ve been playing video games since I was six. Starting with Nintendo in the 80’s through every console since — about 36 years now. I still play games with friends that I made in elementary school! My relatives always told me I’d outgrow these games. But I’ve proved them wrong. During the pandemic, there were some electronics shortages. Because of my web and gaming experience, I was able to source computer components for friends and family, even consoles. I don’t think that will continue, but that was a fun little year of fame.

What else would you most like people at Penn to know about you?

I’m a foodie. I really love food. I grew up bonding over a lot of different types of food with friends and family. When I was a kid, my parents ran a restaurant in Massachusetts. As I got older, I used to help with a lot of the prep work. I’ve been around food and cooking for a long time. I cook at home. I have young children and I don’t want them to grow up to be picky eaters, so I try to cook things that will mature their palates. We went through a pizza-dough-making phase. I struggled, like any home pizza artist, with the lack of a professional oven! But we had a lot of fun as a family.