Notes on Code for Canada’s 2017 fellowship recruitment

(Or, how to find awesome, talented and diverse fellows)

When we launched the inaugural Code for Canada fellowship in June, we were operating with a lot of assumptions. We believed Canada’s technology and design community were looking for opportunities to make a positive impact, and we had learned as much as we could about recruitment from our colleagues in the Code for All network. But we couldn’t know for sure how many people would apply or what their backgrounds and experience would be until we put out the call.

By the time recruitment closed, 304 people had applied! We were thrilled at the level of interest and the calibre of applicants. We were also sad we could only hire six.

Recruitment was rigorous, designed to find applicants who weren’t just technically skilled, but also experienced in driving change and passionate about the potential for technology and design to improve the lives of Canadians. By the time we had selected the final six fellows, each had gone through a skills test, two personal interviews, one technical interview and a group challenge.

The process helped us validate a lot of our assumptions, and taught us about who wants to be a Code for Canada fellow. So, we thought we’d collect some of the data about recruitment and share what we learned from it with you.

Diversity in gender, geography and race

From day one, we made diversity and inclusion a key priority for the fellowship program. We think it’s just the right way to build teams in any sector. On top of that, we know diverse teams build better products; research shows teams with more women and people of colour are more likely to question their assumptions and more likely to apply expertise from one field to another. Those are exactly the kinds of teams we want to send into government to build better digital services for Canadians!

In the lead-up to recruitment, we researched best practices about diversity and inclusion in the tech sector, and interviewed board members, partners, colleagues and others who have experience doing just that. Here’s what we did, based on what we learned:

  • We were told that women and people of colour were less likely to self-nominate, so we included a call to action that allowed people to nominate others who they felt would make great fellows.
  • We conducted targeted outreach to meetups, community groups and organizations who bring together diverse voices in tech. We gave groups like Women Who Code a heads up and posted the fellowship on the Ladies Learning Code job board.
  • Our partner, Shopify, played a key role in helping us design and refine the recruitment process. Among other things, they provided training on hiring bias for both Code for Canada staff and our fellowship selection panel.
  • We reviewed the wording of the fellowship job posting with an inclusive hiring expert to ensure a diversity of candidates could see themselves reflected in its language and requirements.

Those efforts were well worth it. Over a third of our applicants were women, and nearly 60 per cent were people of colour. And by the final stage of hiring, there was gender parity between applicants, and 66 per cent were people of colour. It’s no secret that the tech industry still struggles with diversity in recruitment, so we’re proud to be able to share numbers like these with you!

We also heard in interview after interview that candidates applied because they wanted the chance to tackle the complex challenges that governments face, and the opportunity to work for the betterment of others. The Code for Canada fellowship combines real problem-solving with real impact, and we believe that’s part of what attracted such a large and diverse pool of applicants.

We also achieved a measure of geographic diversity. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of applicants were living in Canada, but 10 per cent came from abroad, including Asia (4.3%) Europe (2.3%) and South America (1.3%). Among those international applicants were many Canadians who saw the fellowship as an opportunity to return home and use their skills to make an impact.

Code for Canada received applications for the 2017 fellowship from candidates located all over the world!

We knew that fellowships being hosted in Ottawa and Toronto would attract a disproportionate number of Ontarians, but we’re thrilled to see applications come in from nearly every region in the country. There was strong representation from major cities like Montreal, Edmonton and Vancouver.

The data also shows that we still have more work to do. In particular, we’d like to see more applications from rural and northern Canada, and that’s something we’ll try to work on in future recruitments.

Designing for impact

We expected developers would represent the largest pool of applicants — after all, “code” is in our name — but were delighted when designers turned out in big numbers for the fellowship. Code for Canada shares a lot with the ethos of modern UX design: putting users first, emphasizing research and discovery, and iterating on products with the people who will use and benefit from them. Those are the skills and ways of working we want to bring into government, and it’s great to see that designers want to be there too.

Private sector, public outlook

The goal of the Code for Canada fellowship is to build digital capacity in the public sector and deliver better services for Canadians. Fellows will work to improve residents’ experience of government, help get them the information they need — when they need it — and to make it easier for them to access and benefit from public services.

With that mission, you might expect aspiring fellows would have experience in the social sector, or perhaps even government. We did receive applications from technologists working at nonprofits, universities, and even the British government, but the majority were seasoned corporate pros. They came from startups, from major Canadian companies like Telus, TD Bank and Critical Mass, Silicon Valley firms like Medium, and global brands like IBM.

Just some of the companies that prospective fellows had listed on their CVs. Overall, they had worked in small startups to large global enterprise firms.

Ultimately, the most important assumption that we validated over the course of fellowship recruitment is this: it’s now clear that many technology professionals in Canada are looking for and excited about opportunities to make a positive and lasting impact.

Fellowship recruitment is about reaching them, and enabling them to follow through on that desire. As we build out the fellowship program in the future, we’ll be taking the lessons we learned this year and incorporating them into our strategy, ensuring we’re sending the most talented and passionate designers, developers and product managers into the public service.