Alumnus - Class of 2018

professional headshot of class of 2018 alumnus Aleksandr EngCurrent position: Senior Systems Analyst, Ontario Ministry of Education
Co-op position: Economic Development Coordinator, City of Waterloo
Academic Background: Bachelor of Environment and Sustainability, Governance and Community, University of Waterloo

Why did you choose Waterloo’s MPS program?

I chose MPS because I was in the middle of a different career and felt unfulfilled; I felt I  was not doing enough to give back. So I decided that I wanted to shift career paths and join the public service to try and do something good and productive toward a better society. After some effort and attempts to get into that kind of career, it became self-evident that I required a higher level of education to gain an edge over the extreme competition. MPS not only offered to expand my knowledge base around policy development, but also in areas of project management and navigating the complexities of the interaction between the public service and political branches. To add to the allure, the option of paid co-op went a long way to helping me finance my studies and get a foot in the door to get some experience, which is frankly worth more than anything else in today’s world.

I cannot say enough good things about my time in the MPS program. The professors are excellent and break things down for you in a manner that makes it easy to understand and to relate to. Their professionalism and extensive knowledge of the subject matter really helped me to prepare for the work I do today. In the beginning, the amount of work seemed intimidating, but it is introduced to you in such a way that it was both manageable and dare I say fun at times. Apart from the academics, the friendships I have cultivated during my time in the program are something that I value above most other things. There is a sense of comradery that forms after many long nights of group study, program events, sharing time in the trenches of exam prep. Not only are these your peers, they are also your network and we all work together toward finding success.

Tell us about your current position.

I currently work for the Community Services I&IT Cluster (CSC) as a Senior Systems Analyst. We are a branch of the Ontario Ministry of Education, although my work largely focuses on the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities (TCU). Principally, I act as a liaison between businesses (ministries) and our internal technical teams that develop the digital and data based solutions to business problems. For example, when a Ministry wants to begin collecting data on post secondary enrolments or program approval processes; we develop the tools and digital architectures to facilitate that collection and processing. I work with ministries to develop their ideas and translate them into real solutions. It is gratifying work and is a true marriage between soft policy understanding and hard technical skill work. I am learning something new every day.

How did the MPS program, including your co-op experiences prepare you for a career?

The MPS program offered me a diverse background in skills and information that would help prepare me for a life as a public servant. Work within the public service is diverse and the variety of roles and opportunities are vast; so while the program could not prepare me for everything, it gave me the basic aptitudes to learn and adapt quickly to almost any role. The co-op experience was vital as it gives you the opportunity to try different pathways available in public service, as well as prepare you for what the real work will be like. It also gives you the opportunity to build your reputation and network which often times leads you to your next opportunity. While not everything you learn will necessarily apply to the role you ultimately land in, the knowledge and skills you have gained through your studies will give you an edge over others and make your ability to move up or around that much easier.

What are your favourite MPS moments?

Some of my favourite moments from MPS are based around the personal and social experience. Late night study sessions with my colleagues where we filled the white boards edge to edge to understand the complexities of economics and statistics. The communal sense of terror at memorizing all the terms of project management final (which ultimately was not that bad but we sure psyched ourselves out for it). That sense of solidarity and support as we all were applying for co-op interviews, preparing each other, doing mock interviews and CV reviews. This is to say nothing of the many shared meals, 1am pizza sessions, sleeping on the MPS couches because we had been at the study space until 2-3am the night before. MPS did not feel like your average postgraduate program, it felt like a team sport where we all wanted to win.

What have you learned about yourself as a result of the program and your career?

I learned a lot about myself during my time in MPS. I discovered that I was not a complete failure with economics or statistics; they actually turned out to be my best courses and the ones I most enjoyed. I also learned how easy it is to apply myself when I am surrounded by others who shared my passion for policy, politics, and the desire to make a contribution to the future of our communities. Through the co-op experience, I learned what I had a passion for in terms of work but also what I did not like; which is equally valuable. I also learned a lot about nuance and the complexity of the decisions we make. There is so much to consider when approaching a problem and often times the solutions I thought were blatantly obvious were far from the right ones. The program challenges you to reflect on your preconceptions and your biases; this has become the greatest lesson that the program has taught me.

What has been your most interesting experience working in the public service?

The most interesting experience that I have had in my working in the public service so far is related to the fast pace at which the work comes in and how quickly you learn. There isn’t always time to get a full explanation of a task or a problem and you have to think on your feet and work quickly. This has been both difficult and gratifying as the skills you learn from MPS begin to play an active role in whatever you are doing. The soft people skills are invaluable as you often have to talk to 10 people to get the full picture to 1 answer. You will find that this is a skill in short supply and, if you apply what you learn, it helps you to navigate the often complex structures of the public service. This is particularly helpful in my role as technically focused people are not the best at explaining themselves and business minded people are not the best at understanding how complicated their requests are. Bridging that gap and getting people speaking the same language, seeing them work together, and ultimately developing an effective solution is the most satisfying thing about my work.

What advice do you have for someone interested in taking the MPS program?

I have often been asked what advice I would give to potential MPSers, and I think there are a few things that would be helpful. First, it is asking yourself if you want to be part of the problem or part of the solution. It is all too easy to be complacent in this life, to say that it is someone else’s problem or that it is just too hard to figure out; but if you are someone who wants to be an active part of shaping your community, addressing the problems you see, and being part of a community of like-minded people who want to help; then this the program that will help you get there. Second, but equally important, if you want a career with opportunity and the chance to try many different roles, then the public service might well be for you. MPS will give you the skills, the network, and the real life experience to help you get there.

University of Waterloo