Lessons Learned as a Programmer for the Government of Canada

Madhav Malhotra
3 min readApr 28, 2023

Summary

  • Go beyond your day to day tasks. Learn what others are doing and start helping. You’ll learn more and be valued more.
  • Reflect on inefficiencies in day today work to suggest new ideas which might help your team in the long run. You can phrase suggestions as questions if you’re nervous: “What do you think of trying…?”
  • Send thoughtful questions ahead of time and show up early for EVERY meeting. This especially helps if you’re seeking feedback. It shows you’re valuing others’ time.
  • Bring tiny sparks of humanity. Ex: posting one extra joke in your team messages, hosting a games lunch, checking in with a colleague even when you clearly don’t have to (ie. not as just small talk).

More Context

I was recently lucky enough to join a small team in the Canadian government that has an outsized impact. I worked as a data science intern at the Public Health Infobase team within the Public Health Agency of Canada.

This small group of a dozen people was responsible for publishing hundreds of websites that the public sought out for information on healthcare. During my time, I contributed to two sites that aimed to informed the public about pesticide concentrations in humans and the environment.

A dashboard to explore pesticide concentrations in medical test results. The dashboard isn’t yet released, but the data is publicly accessible here.
A dashboard to explore pesticide concentrations in the environment. The dashboard isn’t yet released, but the data is publicly accessible here.

That said, it wasn’t too long ago that I was just surprised to even have the job. I was interviewing for a different position with the government seven months ago and I decided to really share what I value above what’s on my resume. I must have said this like five times: “I value helpfulness, resourcefulness, and reliability.” 😁

My interviewer was impressed with a prototype website feature I prepared in 15 minutes to show my skills ahead of the interview. It turns out, another colleague of hers heard the interview and reached out to offer me the job at the Public Health Infobase!

People say government jobs are very bureaucratic/inflexible. Luckily, this stereotype turned out to be wrong. I chose my role because I saw that my manager would be supportive in helping me explore the skills I wanted. I’m glad I made this decision over just pursuing money; my manager made my job a lot more fun by helping take care of the bureaucracy so I could focus on programming and learning new skills. 🙏

Personally, I thought that I would do a good job because I’d learned about the importance of good documentation from my university professors. This certainly helped and it let me make unique/lasting contributions like building documentation on the team for coding best practices.

All credits to David Pepin (and likely ChatGPT :D) for the technical implementation of this site :-)

Surprisingly, however, my colleagues were more happy with my personal behaviour than my code. In feedback, they mentioned tiny actions like consistently giving others feedback or self-starting initiatives like the above documentation.

This shows me the importance of just being a good human that others want to be around and have on their team. 😊 Many people have equivalent skills in creating a websites, but there is more diversity in who you’d want to work with.

Of course, there are also technical lessons that I learned as a programmer. Feel free to check out the links below to learn more about those:

Thank Yous

(In a randomly arranged order determined by Python’s random.randint() function 😅), thank you to

  • Jean-Paul Soucy,
  • Jennifer Crain,
  • Scott Van Millingen,
  • Cody Douris-Peeke,
  • Alice Dove,
  • Owen Smith-Lépine,
  • Cassie McLean,
  • David Pepin,
  • Camilla Strickland,
  • Jeff Willey,
  • Tyler Pollock,
  • Johic Mes,
  • Benoit Tremblay,
  • Merdod Zopyrus,
  • and Christine MacKinnon-Roy

for your continued encouragement throughout my time at Infobase! It’s been a very unique period of growth that I’m not bound to forget anytime soon :-)

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Madhav Malhotra

Is helpful/friendly :-) Wants to solve neglected global problems. Linkedin: linkedin.com/in/madhav-malhotra/