My experience – Masters in Digital Transformation and Innovation (MDTI) with a Concentration in User experience design at uOttawa

What a mouthful for a program name! Digital Transformation and Innovation (MDTI) with a Concentration in User experience design at uOttawa. It’s been a pretty good conversation starter when people ask you about your degree. They kind of understand innovation, but it’s sandwiched with two concepts that might pique curiosity.

This post is under construction. I wanted this information to be available since I get requests for sharing my experience!

Planning for graduate studies

I worked at the University of Ottawa close to 11 years. My first job there was at the Telfer School of Management’s Career Centre. I acquired plenty of knowledge and ideas as to how to plan for a career. Many of the workshops included objectives-setting.

I also received great advice from Dana Hyde about approaching graduate schools pragmatically. It’s both about the network (new school means a new network, or, where do you want your base-network), but also what you get out from it.

My professional 5 year plan about 5 years ago:

  • Short term
    • Research certificates or programs
    • Develop skills to become a tech-marketing unicorn
    • Job hunt
  • Medium term
    • Apply to programs, visas, or work permits
    • Layout a plan for a lucrative project
  • Long term
    • Studying MBA
    • Starting a major project

I studied for the GMAT (didn’t do as well as I had hoped), and perused MBA schools graduate program. I applied to an interdisciplinary program in the U.S.. I even looked at European and Asian graduate schools. It didn’t culminate to anything further, but at least I understood admission processes. MBA was geared towards business leadership and consultancy, and I felt like I already had a good business base, and it wouldn’t make me a better tech generalist.

Years later after forgetting about about drawing this plan, I launched the Ottawa in Colour project with Jason Cobill, another milestone I had forgotten about was subconsciously reached. It did seem like having established some loose goals had given a far away target, or at least confirm motivation towards it.

Finding the interdisciplinary program for me

Full disclaimer, I was a permanent uOttawa employee. This meant that I could get mostly free tuition there as part of work benefits (exclusions may apply). Throughout the years, I had considered taking advantage of this, but hadn’t been a program that seemed to match my interest beyond information studies. That was until the MDTI program popped-up. The refreshed eBusiness program now offered a concentration directly related to my interests: user experience design.

Now this was exciting, but I wanted to learn more about this program and what was involved. Yes the program was free, but it was a significant time investment and I wanted to make sure it would be both rewarding and interesting.

Evaluating value

The economics bonuses were evident:

  • Very affordable for my situation
  • No relocation required (this was before remote learning was offered with the pandemic)
  • I could keep working full-time on a work-project that I was passionate about
  • Proximity to classes and work (same location)
  • The University of Ottawa is very supportive of continued education as an employer and offers flexible work schedule to accommodate for classes

The program was very appealing:

  • A full official graduate program (rigor, critical thinking, and academia) which had more depth than a certificate or private program
  • Program and classes from three faculties (Arts, School of Management, and Engineering)
  • The core topics were interesting
  • Aligned with my passion with user experience design
  • A very diverse cohort

Streams – Thesis or applied

The program options had two streams, thesis (towards doctorate) and research project (non-PhD) stream. I knew right away that although a thesis might feel more complete and thorough, the main draw was general learning. I did not intend to pursue a PhD, so opted for taking more classes… no surprises for a generalist.

The MDTI program has flexible core courses, with additional open categories from a very large list from three faculties! This was exactly what I wanted: interdisciplinary studies, and yet again, something that scares me. I had taken a large diversity of classes in undergrad and really enjoyed the variety. This felt like a program that would connect me with engineers, business folks, designers, artists, etc. Although a new network/university would have been nice, the overall value was worth embarking on this adventure.

Part-time studies as a Canadian professional

I value critical thinking beyond just applications. I found that my undergrad in management and marketing was useful, but not only for the applied portion. The applied skills were used right away, but as I progressed and changed disciplines, most of the long-term value I ended up using from my undergraduate were once theoretical.

Throughout my career, I ended up applying critical thinking and theories, that were once nebulous, into my work to approach problems pragmatically. A graduate program would act as a refresher and booster for this mindset, and a top up for applications.

As a professional that gained operational efficiency, it seemed like graduate studies was a lot easier to manage for a schedule and deliverables. Grades felt easier to obtain, but I did put in as much effort as I could. I was also more passionate about this program. I wanted the top grades. Most of all, I wanted to learn more than anything else. This was a program for my curiosity.

Diverse classmates

I’m fully aware that my context is different than some of my peers. This diversity was actually quite refreshing. I had full-time students that were able to suggest certain classes and professors. Part-time peers that shared tricks to manage work-studies-life balance. Students in every stage of their program (years of study). International and Canadian students with varied cultural backgrounds. Parents, new grads, working professionals, PhD students… Quite eclectic! On top of that, inter-faculty students, inter-faculty professors, and even industry veterans or other professors co-lecturing with the class! It just seemed to work.

Course load while working

Working full-time, going through life-changing events, changing jobs, throwing in a pandemic, training for ultramarathons, and studying part-time was intense.

Most of the time I was taking a course or two per term. One course (3 credits) was manageable. Two courses (6 credits) was very demanding. You could also take half-courses (1.5 credits) to mix and match (1.5, 3, 4.5, or 6 credit). These are the amounts that I would recommend if you are working full-time. At 6 you will be kept amply busy. My eyes took a toll during full-time remote work and full-time studies. Being on-screen on high-focus was very demanding.

I’d highly recommend considering your capacity and adjusting as necessary. Stuff happens.

At one point I took a term or two off to re-energize and explore the Canadian Rockies and working remotely out West.

At another point I did full-time work and full-time studies for a term. I was also finalizing my research project (6 credits). I can’t recommend this course load (of 9~12) to anyone. This was an educated and extreme endeavour that I requested willingly. I did this to align finishing my program at a specific time and was fully aware of the energy cost (and sanity?). I was so exhausted that I had to stop running (just kept rock climbing to continue fitness). My nights ended regularly past 1 or 2 a.m.

Difference with my undergraduate and graduate studies

The student-professor relationship was very collaborative. The size of classes were on average medium to small which, depending on class structure, really develop engaging dialogue. Teaching styles were very different between professors which kept things overall fresh.

Professors are also interacting with people with more life experience and a greater shareable knowledgebase. The students in their classes are now academics and perhaps even peers in the future. Critical thinking, learning, and knowledge are part of the objective. The passion of the professors permeates through the classes.

I would take things I learned from my classes and bring it in directly in my digital transformation work.

How the program adapted to the pandemic

I might be dating myself, but when I was starting my undergraduate studies, I had to share power outlets because I was part of the few who brought laptops to classes. Digital learning tools have progressed tremendously!

  • Superior in general but a very mixed bag
  • Convenient for remote learning for work schedule to pack in more classes, but in person was nicer for mingling
  • Teams helped a lot to mingle, so projects and assignments helped foster that pretty well actually

Courses that I liked

No it’s not a perfect program. Like any other, there are some good and bad professors. I can only recall one class that I disliked (both in delivery and material). All other classes were good or great.

Research methodologies

A boring game-changer for research and reports

Are you all ready to get excited about citations? I wasn’t.

The first course I had to take was the Research methodologies as a special student. It was so dry! Sometimes incredibly boring. Also, incredibly useful. It forced me to pick a research project right away and do a deep-dive in overdrive. It shook the rust off the notion of academic research, and dove thoroughly on how to conduct and present research.

In hindsight, I would recommend this as a second term/semester class to give you the chance to find topics you’d like to research if you don’t already have something in mind when you enroll. On one hand, taking classes will help you find topics you might like, and some professors might offer to supervise your research to go further. On the other, taking this class earlier-on will help enormously for research-related and report formatting/citing, improving research speed and course grades.

This is the class that helped me find a research project topic for Persuasive systems design for smart sports training technologies for runners.

What I liked:

  • Library advanced search and terminology shortcuts/filters
  • Approaches and types of research
  • Dry-run for a research project or thesis

Web services

Welcome to the deep-end (of web)

A great introduction to how the back-end of web is designed and operates. As a professional who was mostly front-end, but interacted daily with back-end colleagues, this class really helped me understand technical limitations, design choices, and vocabulary.

I was concerned at first that this class was going to be too technical. It wasn’t. Terminology was defined as we started with a brief history of internet protocols, to http, to defining hyperlinks, then progressing towards servers.

Work-wise, it had an immediate impact to further improve my translation between tech and business teams. I was also able to contribute at deeper levels such as helping out with the IT architecture review board reports, system design decisions, or teaming up with developers on more technical sprint issues.

What I liked:

  • Little applied exercises implementing what we learned like API calls
  • Learning distinctions of design choices, architectures, and protocols.
  • Learning about blockchain

User experience – Principles and Practices

This class was expanded into multiple courses since there was so much content. What a treat for future cohorts to spend more time delving further. Envious to say the least.

Shaun Illingworth on LinkedIn: Awesome first class teaching in the University of Ottawa Digital… | 14 comments

Awesome first class teaching in the University of Ottawa Digital Transformation and Innovation graduate program. Looking forward to this… | 14 comments on LinkedIn

One our professors post with our class during our online classes.

What I liked:

  • Two professors co-teaching the course, one academic and the other industry (both with seasoned experience).

More classes to be added eventually

  • This post is work in progress!

Draft notes

  • The program structure has a few mandatory core courses, but everything else is à la carte (choose your own courses)
    • This gives you plenty of flexibility with variation
    • A large offering of technical and non-technical courses
    • Learn areas of interest, weaknesses, and career alignment
  • History of communications techonologies
  • Philosophy – past, evolution, and peak (chat bots nlp, SASS, innovation from conception to commercialization, and market capitalization
  • Class structure has been very mixed

Communications classes:

  • Brings the humanities. UX is very user focused, but not as a culture, or the whole perspective of history, anthropology, sociology, and the economic and technological adoption history as a society. Foresight, and shape next-generation designs by avoiding pitfalls of the past.
  • Ethernet: a cable that brings you into the ether (CMN)

UX classses

I also felt much better equipped for the UX c

  • Vocabulary – equipped – some notions after attending CanUX, reading about it, and subsribed to NNgroup.
  • Holistic approach
  • Sitting beside a firecamp, some are very modular (don’t even need to show up), some was reading a book and then jamming on some ML, (yes one class was not optimized for digital on the onset),

Planning for your course schedule

Heads up: part-time, plan ahead carefully, like undergraduate programs, some classes aren’t offered every term (semester). When planning your first term, take note of the which classes are and were offered to plan ahead. Talk to your academic advisor for insight on course planning! They are usually aware of cycles and worth a chat.

Maxime to do: insert link or screenshot here


I really wished there had been more arts students in the non-arts classes. They add so much value to their perspectives and questions.

Doing the research project

Love hate relationship with research. Ultimately very rewarding if you enjoy the topic.

Could see this being a bigger struggle with thesis track, but also being just way more specialized about the topic.

If you are curious

If you feel like this would be a program for you, or even interesting, my advice would be to contact the program directors after reading the program description. They’ll be able to provide more context and fit. This is what I did and it helped me make a decision to invest my time and energy in something I found rewarding.

For more information there’s also:


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