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Diversity in Leadership: GoGeomatics Interviews NRCan’s Will Mackinnon

Diversity enhances more than just innovation and creativity.

To show the importance of diversity, GoGeomatics has created a series highlighting diversity leadership in the Canadian Geomatics community. GoGeomatics was able to interview Will Mackinnon, Senior Engineer Ground Segment of NRCAN as part of the Diversity in Leadership series.

GoGeomatics: Where are you from, and where are you now.

Will Mackinnon: Grew up in Brampton, ON. Moved to Ottawa for university. I live in Russell now.

GoGeomatics: Why did you become an engineer, and where did you go to school?

Will Mackinnon: I was always interested in STEM, but I wanted a job that directly helped people. I went to OttawaU for Computer Engineering (… sold as “between” Electrical and Software… I liked that)

GoGeomatics: What interested you in working for CCMEO/NRCAN? How did you get hired? How long did it take?

Will Mackinnon: I started in Government right out of school. My first 15 were in Intelligence / Defense and the last 4 at NRCan. The NRCan allure was the climate crisis – I wanted to be part of something that was helping. I got the job off jobs.gc.ca and it took 4 months.

GoGeomatics: What does a senior engineer on the satellite ground segment team do on a day-to-day basis?

Will Mackinnon: Engineers here are like any other engineers in that we plan, design, test, deploy and support the different systems used in NRCan’s satellite ground segment. There are systems to control the antennas located at our 3 satellite stations, systems to decode the data from bits pulled down from space into satellite images you can see with your eyes, and systems to archive satellite images so they can be accessed from the internet.

GoGeomatics: What are your responsibilities?

Will Mackinnon: I work on the archive and access system for satellite images, called EODMS. Here is the URL, https://www.eodms-sgdot.nrcan-rncan.gc.ca.

I work with a team of IT specialists and vendor programmers to make sure EODMS keeps running smoothly.

GoGeomatics: Why is your job important?

Will Mackinnon: My job is about keeping the lights on in EODMS so that “the right people, get the right satellite data, at the right time”. The government as well as public/private industry rely on the satellite images from EODMS to do their jobs (many which are time-sensitive) and range from emergency flood mapping, land claims, ship detection at the borders, and monitoring ice for safe navigation in the North. EODMS requires a lot of people and technology to work together and my job is to maestro the whole thing like an orchestra. I push vendors for software fixes and new features. I work with the internal EODMS team to design and rollout new operational software capabilities. I listen and speak about EODMS at different user forums to ensure EODMS is staying helpful and relevant.

GoGeomatics: Are you bilingual? Is being bilingual an important part of your job and career advancement?

Will Mackinnon: No, not really. Being bilingual is a requirement of the Government of Canada for any manager in an area of Canada designated bilingual which includes Ottawa. NRCan offices in Vancouver and Toronto are not considered bilingual, for example.

GoGeomatics: Are you working from home or the office?

Will Mackinnon: I work in the office (2) days a week and at home for the rest.

GoGeomatics: What challenges did/do you face and how did/do you overcome those challenges?

Will Mackinnon: Through a diversity lens, coming to NRCan was difficult for a few reasons. I was relatively young compared to the rest of my team, but I had a lot of prior experience which I think caught a few people off guard. As such I had to navigate a couple of difficult personalities. I also found NRCan to be introvert-heavy which was also an adjustment (but welcomed change) from the extroverts often found in Intelligence-Defense. There are a lot of smart people at NRCan and I found myself talking less and listening more as time went on.

GoGeomatics: Can you explain the importance of diversity leadership in organizations like CCMEO/NRCAN? How does this affect you?

Will Mackinnon: Diversity leadership is hugely important to me. I am of a mixed Filipino/Scottish descent and have experienced my share of racism in school and the workplace. My personal experience with government leadership has been historically dominated by white men. Over my 17 years in guv, however, I have watched management become more female, with more visible minorities. It is important for me that management lead with accountability (do what they say), and I believe diversity i.e. different points of view – helps with staying accountable to the people you lead through uncertainty and advocate for at boardroom tables. In the end, I suppose it’s good when the people who represent you, also look like you. Beyond just myself, I believe diversity in leadership at NRCan is important as they will shape the future of how Canadians navigate climate change, the electrification of cars, greener homes, management of Canada’s forests/lakes/minerals.

GoGeomatics: For those interested in creating a career with CCMEO/NRCAN, what advice can you give, and what should interested people expect? What is needed for a successful career here?

Will Mackinnon: CCMEO is awesome, actually. We have GIS professionals and scientists collecting and publishing methods/data to navigate climate change. We have engineers and IT pros working on systems on the ground and in the cloud. We have policy people who shape the rules around open data and open science. People can expect a culture of openness and friendly people here at NRCan. A lot of CCMEO work directly engages in the open with the Public, in fact. Work-life balance has always been great and has remained so through the pandemic. NRCan HQ is physically located on Booth Street and is a short walk from Dow’s Lake and Little Italy (and all its restaurants) which are great options for a social lunch hour (or after hours)! I would say a successful career at NRCan requires a good ability to work in team environments of varied disciplines. NRCan is not like IBM or Google where you might be a programmer and your manager, and all your friends are all too. My immediate team is composed of radio/mechanical/electrical/computer engineers, lawyers, policy makers and remote sensing scientists – men and women – of all ages and backgrounds. It has benefitted me to listen to the diverse wisdom of my team but also speak my mind when it’s my turn. “It takes a village” to download satellite images from space and we are certainly a diverse one.

GoGeomatics: Is the CCMEO hiring? How should people find out more about jobs with CCMEO?

Will Mackinnon: CCMEO is always hiring. Jobs are always posted under “Natural Resources Canada” at this link,

https://emploisfp-psjobs.cfp-psc.gc.ca/psrs-srfp/applicant/page2440?department=114.

To learn more about CCMEO, people can visit:

https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/maps-tools-and-publications/21448


GoGeomatics wishes to extend a deep, heartfelt thank-you to Will Mckinnon for his time and knowledge.

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