The Eternal PlacePro Struggle.

Well, I spent most of the day fixing our PlacePro single signon. Again.

PlacePro is the ultimate example of why I hate doing single signon to remote webapps on third-party sites. It’s a pain doing it in the first place, and when it’s done, it becomes an ongoing maintenance hassle. When it works, it’s nice, and one could make an argument that it enhances the end-user experience. But when it breaks, you end up reinventing the wheel to make it work again. And of course, it always breaks at the most inopportune times. My opinion: If you’re not going to do it right, don’t do it at all, and spare everyone the hassle. But anyhow..

PlacePro is an online service that allows students to post resumes for consumption by potential co-op and internship employers. They do this in conjunction with The Shriver Center. I’ve been dealing with PlacePro for, oh, 4-odd years or so. The usual iteration goes something like this:

  1. We set up a single signon from myUMBC into PlacePro’s system. It works and the world is happy for, oh, a year or so.
  2. The PlacePro people make a change on the back-end that breaks the single signon.
  3. I get a frantic call from the Shriver Center.
  4. I talk to the tech guy at PlacePro, and tweak the single signon process to work with whatever changed on their end.
  5. Go to 1.

We’ve been through this loop 3 or 4 times now. The good news is, it now looks like UMBC is going to be dropping PlacePro. The question is, will the new vendor be any better? Time will tell I guess.

Basic PlacePro workflow, for anyone who wants to commiserate:

  • A student decides they want to use PlacePro to find an internship placement. The student goes to the Shriver Center, and the Shriver Center staff enters the student into PlacePro’s system using the PlacePro Coordination Module.
  • As part of this process, we put the student into a database table on the Oracle shadow, AUXIL.PLACEPRO_ACCESS. The table is indexed by student ID, and includes an access code field. NOTE: As of 3/22/2006, this access code is NO LONGER USED. This table is now used SOLELY to determine whether to display a PlacePro link to the student in myUMBC. If the student’s ID is present in the table, the student sees the link; if not, not.The script that puts the students in the table lives at:
  • The student should now see a PlacePro link in myUMBC. The link is currently generated by the legacy Perl myUMBC codebase, in the file /myumbc/src/myumbc/ This code builds a link that posts the student’s ID and last name to The JSP opens in a new window, and displays some verbage from the Shriver Center as well as a link to the actual PlacePro site. To generate this link, we run the student ID and last name through an encryption routine provided by PlacePro. All of this happens in the JSP. The last name does not seem to be case sensitive.
  • The student clicks on this link, and is automatically logged into the PlacePro system (until it breaks again).

That’s about it, for now. Oh, one last caveat: The student’s last name in the PlacePro system MUST match the last name on file in SIS. Otherwise, this will pass an incorrect last name, and the signon will not work. Students in this situation should be referred to the Shriver Center. The change can be made via the PlacePro coordination module.

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