Skip to main content

Harsmeep Mahun

SFU Student Undergraduate
Science › Data Science
Co-operative Education

Position Title
Experience Faculty
I am truly grateful for this invaluable opportunity that has equipped me with practical skills applicable in the real world. It has empowered me to believe in my abilities and take on new challenges with assurance.
Experience Details
Introduction + Preparation
Previous Experience

It's completely okay not to have relevant previous experience. Every journey has a starting point. I've worked in retail customer service and a call centre before, and even though it didn't involve data-related tasks, it enriched me with valuable interpersonal and communication skills that now greatly benefit my current role.

Interviews might seem daunting, especially when your experience doesn't match the job description perfectly. However, don't let this discourage you. Your willingness to learn and your never-give-up attitude will pave your path to success, regardless of the circumstances.

If I could offer advice to myself when I first started searching for my first coop, I would say: Don't allow your lack of experience to dim your confidence. Instead, let it ignite your determination to learn, adapt, and grow. Everyone's journey is unique, and your determination can lead you to places you never imagined possible.

So, embrace your past experiences, even if they aren't directly related to your desired field, and approach new challenges with a positive mindset.

Preparation Tips for Future Students

Being an SFU student provides us with access to numerous resources that we should take full advantage of. Personally, I've made sure to inquire about the primary applications a company uses during interviews so I can be well-prepared. When it comes to data analysis, Excel stands out as a powerful tool suitable for various data-related tasks.

In my experience, I find myself relying heavily on functions like VLOOKUP, DLOOKUP, XLOOKUP, pivot tables, and I've recently uncovered the potential of Power Pivot. This feature is especially valuable for managing larger datasets from multiple sources. It allows for data integration and relationship-building, enabling tasks like comparison analysis. I personally used Linkedin Learning to develop these skills and still use it to date to do various kinds of stats and reporting.

My advice would be to thoroughly study the job description, look up people on LinkedIn from the same division you'll be working with, and see the skills they have highlighted. Try to get a basic grasp of the applications mentioned for a smoother start.

My work desk
My work desk
During my Experience
Orientation and First Weeks

Working in a government job that deals with taxpayer information, important security awareness courses are required at the beginning. These courses help you become familiar with the extensive data being collected. What I found most valuable was a training and learning plan my supervisor provided. It allowed me to explore progressively as the training went on.

In any company, there are various departments dedicated to the steps needed to achieve the ultimate goal. I was given a comprehensive view through a detailed flowchart explaining the hierarchies of how things operate. This process helped me define my roles and responsibilities within the team environment. This is where I learned that I would be involved in utilizing data for risk assessment, which includes handling a substantial amount of data from taxpayers within the entire Western region. This experience has provided me with insights into the intricate world of data and its application in real-world scenarios.

Another important aspect is team interaction and asking questions, no matter how trivial they may seem. During initial team meetings, the emphasis was on active involvement and the availability of support when faced with challenging tasks. They encourage reaching out for assistance when needed.

Day to Day

Being a member of the analytics team, we're the first to receive external data in our department. This means a lot of our tasks involve cleaning and researching to identify cases that should be passed on to screeners and auditors. This process taught me the importance of feedback on our workload. It's amazing to see how this feedback significantly improved our database management techniques and made the application more user-friendly.

Most of us students, including myself, manage the mailbox. Here, we handle general requests, feedback on various forms used by auditors in the database, and reports of issues end users encounter.

We expect data to keep growing in the coming years. With more data comes a higher chance of discrepancies. Part of my role was focused on reducing those variations and duplicates in records, which is where I used Excel. Additionally, there are monthly reports on leads added to the screener inventory for further analysis. This gave me the chance to create new forms and reports using Microsoft Access with VBA coding, which was new to me. But my experience has shown me that learning comes with each task, even when using something for the first time. You don't need to know everything from the beginning. There are team members to guide you through uncertainties, and errors can always be fixed.

Accomplishments and Challenges

My initial challenge was understanding my team's jargon and abbreviations during meetings. Although I'd regularly ask for explanations during job shadowing, it was still tough to keep up. Luckily, during a one-on-one with my supervisor, I discovered they had a resource page for these terms.

When I was hired, two co-op students who started a semester earlier were a huge help. I could turn to them whenever I got stuck. They even trained me on the Western region database that CRA uses. With so much data, there was a time when the backend crashed for various reasons. It was fascinating working together to restore the database and get it back online for front-end users.

Our department is transitioning to PostgreSQL for the backend database. Learning it alongside my colleagues has been an enriching experience. We're also guiding non-tech team members without a computer science background by creating simple presentations and examples. Sadly, former co-op students will leave at the end of August, but I'm excited to step up and help the new co-op students. I've gained a bit more experience over these past 4 months and I look forward to sharing the methods and techniques I've learned.

Wrap Up

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) is an excellent place to work if you're looking for hands-on experience with real-world data. What makes it even better is the unique bridging system they offer. Depending on openings and timing, they often welcome back former co-op students after they complete their degrees. This opportunity is valid for 5 years after graduation. So, even if you're curious about exploring other data-related fields, you can return to CRA if you find this experience particularly enjoyable. My current team leader, who oversees and assigns tasks to the students, was once a co-op student herself in 2019.

Furthermore, CRA provides a flexible hybrid work model that allows you to balance working from home and the office. This adaptability ensures that you can maintain a comfortable work-life balance.

Beyond that, being part of the CRA team means contributing to the government's compliance efforts across Canada. It's an important role that ensures the proper functioning of the country's financial systems.

All in all, CRA offers a valuable experience, exposure to practical data applications, and the potential for ongoing involvement – all within a flexible and meaningful work environment. It's a great opportunity for students interested in making a difference while working with real-world data.

Reflection & Tips
Most Valuable Aspects of This Experience

I've had a great experience learning new tools like Aginity, PostgreSQL, R for data work, and Microsoft Access with VBA. Even though I was familiar with R before, I deepened my data skills here. I'm also getting the hang of SharePoint through resources like W3 Schools. All these skills are fantastic additions to my resume.

In addition, I've learned how to collaborate in a virtual setting, and I've made some wonderful friends along the way. Starting my day at the desk I set up has been a fresh experience, especially since I've never worked in a professional setting before. This has been my introduction to the corporate world, and I've genuinely enjoyed every bit of it. I eagerly anticipate the countless doors that will open as a result of this experience.

Connection to Academic Studies or Career Goals

My transition from computer science to data science was further affirmed by this experience, strengthening my determination to build a career in the data science field. I've nurtured a keen interest in the healthcare industry, and I'm now focused on harnessing data in the realm of medical science. This journey has not only enhanced my technical skills but also reinforced my interpersonal abilities, which I'm eager to apply to meaningful projects.I'm arranging my courses in a way that helps me learn more about medical data science when I'm ready to explore it. This way, I'll be well-prepared to dive into the field. Moreover, this co-op experience has shown me the power of effective teamwork and problem-solving in a professional setting. 

Advice for Future Students

Here's some advice for future students based on your experience:

  1. Embrace New Experiences: Be open to trying new tools and technologies. Your willingness to learn will set you apart.

  2. Use Resources: Take advantage of resources like W3 Schools for learning new platforms, and LinkedIn Learning for skill development.

  3. Build Relationships: Collaborating virtually doesn't mean you can't make friends. Forge connections and build a network that lasts.

  4. Highlight Your Skills: The applications you've learned are valuable resume additions. Showcase them confidently when seeking new opportunities.

  5. Stay Curious: Keep your curiosity alive. The world is full of learning opportunities; never stop seeking them.

  6. Adaptability is Key: The transition from academic to professional can be a challenge. Adaptability is your ally in navigating this change.

  7. Make Your Desk a Happy Place: Create a workspace that you love, even if it's your first. It sets a positive tone for your workday.

  8. Appreciate Every Step: Your entry into the tech world is a milestone. Embrace it with enthusiasm and remember that every step counts.

  9. Enjoy the Journey: Your journey is just beginning. Embrace the ups and downs, as they all contribute to your growth.

  10. Pass the Torch: As you move forward, consider mentoring or helping newer co-op students. Your experience can guide and inspire them


Harsmeep Mahun

SFU Student Undergraduate
Science › Data Science
Co-operative Education
visibility  279
Aug 15, 2023

Posts by Author

An image of Harsmeep
How I Discovered the Power of Power Pivot While Creating a Report

Ever wonder how to get the most out of Excel? Tools like Power Pivot, Power Query, and Power BI helped me see how accessible data analysis is for anyone from industry professionals to beginners.