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Reflections on a co-location experience: From IRCC to CDS

I originally heard about CDS from my manager at IRCC, and, before you knew it, I was stalking their GitHub repositories and learning about a front-end library called React. I was excited to get out of my silo and collaborate in what seemed to be an environment working with newer technologies.

I co-located at CDS for sixteen weeks, three days a week, which was still enough to keep me on my toes, especially with how involved developers are in the process. I ended up learning a lot while I was there. I know this sounds like a totally generic statement but it’s genuinely true. Keeping me involved in the process allowed me to see exactly what digital design principles can do for the quality of a project.

The most important thing I am taking away from working here is actually something simple: the value of conversation. Now, I know that makes me sound like some kind of cave dweller, but something valuable emerges when you have interdisciplinary teams talking back and forth with iterative feedback. Questions come up that you never thought of and it gives you a better picture of why you are developing and for whom.

At CDS, developers, designers, policy, and product are all closely knit. I wouldn’t say that this will make you into a Michelangelo, but the real value is knowing what you don’t know. So, when I had a question about something, I knew who to go to and how to prod them for more information. As developers, we can tend to neglect some things when making websites that designers would catch immediately. For instance, I only know the very surface of colour theory but that allows me to go to the design team and ask them about the colour usage of a field, and they can usually give me a really informative answer.

At the end of the day, it’s difficult, and maybe even unfair of me, to compare CDS to the entirety of the Canadian government. It’s important to understand that every department has their own reality with micro-cultures and ways of doing things. It’s easy to get googly-eyed and carried away with autonomy since the Government is such an unfathomably complex system, so I try to be as pragmatic as I can be. Heck, there are even quite a few things that I found that my own department (IRCC) did better (than CDS): streamlining deployment and making the translation of official languages into a more deterministic and predictable process, for example.

Would I recommend someone else co-locate? Absolutely. I was really fortunate to have worked with such talented people in an environment that fostered and enabled it. Now, I can go back to my team at IRCC a little wiser and with a slew of digital design principles in mind.