Trying to figure out this mysterious combination of numbers like

Ever wondered why your friends’ UNIs are all super cool and yours is lame? Or vice versa? So have we. There’s not much rhyme or reason to the assignment process, it turns out. Senior staffer Sarah Dahl got the scoop from Chris Dowden, Directory of Identity and Access Management for the Columbia Information Security Office.

My UNI is sd3005–which is unique not only because it slyly refers to the Childish Gambino classic, but also because it’s only two letters, instead of three. Luckily, as I’ve learned through my investigation, UNIs only include three initials if your middle name is registered with the university. Thank god mine wasn’t, because my initials are SMD.

On to the facts!

UNIs are given out by a computer, according to Mr. Dowden. “When a new student, faculty member, or employee arrives at the University, their name/information is entered into either the Student or HR system which in turn is transmitted to the system that manages and creates UNIs (the “Identity Management System”). When the Identity Management System detects a new person, it generates a new UNI.”

Answering my question over why my UNI only has two letters, Mr. Dowden clarified, “A person is assigned a UNI that consists of their first initial, their middle initial (if a middle name or initial has been entered into Columbia systems) and the last initial, followed by the next number that is sequentially available for that letter combination.”

And those UNIs your profs have–where it’s only their name and no numbers–are actually email aliases. Even your profs have to log into courseworks with their regular old UNIs. “With very few exceptions, a person’s UNI follows the convention of abc1234 or ab1234. A handful of people have UNIs that are of the format name0. This is due to some historical anomalies that occurred in the system,” Mr. Dowden explained. “UNIs must be used to log into online services, whereas email aliases can only be used for sending email. Email aliases are typically in a format that includes 2-3 names or initials separated by the period (.) character, e.g. Older aliases might not have the period, although the new policies require the period. Some aliases might consist of only a first or last name, and these are either very old or related to VIP requests.”

Which Columbia VIPs have cool UNIs? PrezBo, for one, has the alias Let us know if you find any more…

The UNI system is probably older than most of us. According to Mr. Dowden, “UNIs were first assigned around 1993. Email services and the Internet were rapidly growing. Institutions such as Columbia and its higher ed peers required an orderly way to assign and distribute online credentials. The UNI naming convention for Columbia was established at this time. Not surprisingly, some of our higher ed peers selected the same basic naming convention.”

Finally, if you’re graduating soon, rest assured that your UNI will never be recycled and given to someone else.

“UNIs are kept for a lifetime,” Mr. Dowden assured. “When students, faculty, and employees leave the University, their access to services is removed. However, alumni and retirees continue to access services available to those populations, via their UNI. If a person leaves and subsequently returns to the University, they will be matched up with their old UNI and services will be provided via that UNI.”

So if you leave for a couple years and decide to come back for Law School, Columbia’s got your back.

Zach Galifianakis Math via KnowYourMeme