Dal students take part in innovative government co‑op program

- April 24, 2020

In a photo taken prior to the pandemic, left to right: student Matt Peachey, Tyler Parrott with CSE, student Ethan Foss. (Danny Abriel photo)
In a photo taken prior to the pandemic, left to right: student Matt Peachey, Tyler Parrott with CSE, student Ethan Foss. (Danny Abriel photo)

In winter 2018, Tyler Parrott from the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) interviewed the organization’s first East Coast-based remote co-op student.

Fast-forward two years and he has recruited close to 15 students to work out of CSE’s first and only remote outpost outside of the capital.

An East Coaster himself, Parrott recognized a disconnect between the government organization and the increasing digital talent coming out of institutions in the Maritimes.

“I always found that I had to explain who CSE is and what we do on the East Coast,” says Parrott. “I did some digging and realized that despite the digital programs here, there isn’t enough representation of graduates working within CSE. I pitched the idea of creating a talent pipeline out here rather than making students move to Ottawa for co-op.”

Significant projects

CSE is Canada's national cryptologic agency. Unique within Canada's security and intelligence community, CSE employs code-makers and code-breakers to provide the Government of Canada with information technology security (IT Security) and foreign signals intelligence (SIGINT) services.

Matt Peachey and Ethan Foss are two Dalhousie Computer Science undergraduate students currently working with CSE. Their co-ops started in-person but have since continued remotely given the current pandemic.

“I am part of a small team that is developing a web application that will allow organizations to run scans on their domains to ensure that they are maximizing their security profile online,” explains third-year student Matt, who has been on co-op with CSE since January.

“I have learned a lot during the first part of my work term with CSE. I have been introduced to many new programming paradigms as well as the modern technologies they rely on.”

The tool Matt and his fellow co-op team members are working on is one of the first fully cloud native applications developed by CSE in collaboration with the Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS) and will be employed by all 106 government departments.

Parrott stresses the importance of providing his co-op students with significant projects like this to give them a realistic insight into life at CSE.

“One thing I’m often asked by students is why I like working for CSE and my main response is that the organization’s mission is unlike any other,” he explains. “Co-op students get a taste of that mission and why it is important.”

Life-long learning

CSE hires between four and seven remote co-op students a term in Halifax from Dalhousie and Acadia University. Students often work part-time in between co-op terms in order to continue working on projects.

Once Matt completes his co-op term, he will continue working for CSE part-time, something which fourth-year student Ethan is already doing following his own co-op terms with the organization. He is also progressing through CSE’s Talent Acquisition Program (TAP) which bridges students from co-op into full-time employment.

“I knew that I wanted the opportunity to make a positive impact with my work. The ability to work on tools and applications to aid in ensuring the security of Canadians in our perpetually-evolving digital world is something in which I personally place a great deal of value,” says Ethan.

“Looking ahead, I know for certain that I would like to continue exploring the field of Network Security. The ever-changing nature of this field necessitates life-long learning.”

Life-long learning is something Matt echoes as one of his key takeaways from his time with CSE.

“They (CSE) have provided me with resources to gain skills and greater knowledge in cyber security topics,” he says. “We are able to take time out of our work week to learn about different techniques for protecting services online, as well as learning about cyber security issues that people currently face and how to resolve them.” 

Future opportunities

Ethan isn’t the only former co-op student on the path to full-time employment with CSE, one of the first Halifax-based co-op students is due to start a full-time role at HQ in Ottawa in the fall.

It’s no surprise when students who go through a co-op with CSE speak so highly of the experience and of Parrott.

“I think it’s important during co-op to work for a supervisor that understands the co-op program and how to get the most out of students,” says Peachey. “I could tell as early as my interview that Tyler has a well-oiled co-op machine working for CSE here in Halifax.”


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