Ambrose Li

How people in IT don’t understand failures

(updated )

Originally posted as a pair of tweets.

More and more I think of myself as an OCAD grad, not a Waterloo grad.

It’s the little things. OCAD doesn’t love us, but UW’s IST is like “f--- you alumni you can all die”.

When UW switched over to a new authentication system, my second immediate reaction was “OCAD ITS did better than UW IST!”‍[Note 1] but I thought I’d give them more time. Things only got worse, until everything stopped working without notice.

(They claimed alumni accounts have been deactivated due to “inactivity” well, of course: we are alumni, of course we don’t log in often. This is so obvious it can only mean they failed right at the design stage when they were doing requirements analysis: They either had no personas or use cases, or their personas and use cases were not research-based but fabricated out of thin air.)

(They claimed to have sent notices I’ve never seen. That means either their systems were not working but they don’t know, they didn’t make their notices stand out, or committed some other mistake in communication but are not aware of it. They clearly did not involve a graphic designer, copy editor, or sensitivity reader in their communication design process.)

Alumni addresses are useful because they provide us with a stable point of contact; we don’t touch them until we change our real email providers. So merely switching to WATIAM was disruptive unacceptably so.

How is kicking out random people for no reason not a complete failure? How is affecting an unknown number of alumni not a failure?

Well, IST, if you say “There wasn't a failure”,‍[Note 2] then prove it: Show me WATIAM’s design docs. Show me your personas, use cases, lit search, impact analysis.

Show your alumni your uncensored design docs. Prove to us this isn’t a design failure.

Show us your implementation plan too surely you had one?‍[Note 3]

This speaks volumes of the state of computer science practice at Waterloo. I will not recommend Waterloo for UX, HCI, or even computer science.

PS: Did you do any lit search, even, by the way, dear IST? Obviously you didn’t? Otherwise you’d have known what OCAD was doing.

Update on October 8, 2023

A little while ago OCAD made an alumni portal, and “invited” us to update our own records. You know, address and email and phone numbers, like, you know, things I used to be able to do on my Waterloo alumni portal.


  1. My first immediate reaction was “Why are these userids so ugly? Why didn’t they ask MFCF to do this?”
  2. Dakota. (2022, December 7), live chat with IST, 4:12 PM.
  3. I was a system administrator too, so I know with rollouts this important and this disruptive, there’s no way you could afford to not have a very detailed plan.