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Member of the Week: Tariq Piracha

Over the last few weeks, I noticed some great content being shared by Tariq Piracha, a Content Strategist for the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Government of Canada, and thought it would be great to feature him as the GovLoop Member of the Week so that we can all learn a bit more about him. The interview is below – be sure to check out his blog as well!

I see that you started your career as an Editor for Natural Resources Canada – how did you decide to make the switch to public service?
Actually, my first job was as a Marketing Officer back in 2001. Truth be told, my entry into the public service was simply because I needed a job. At that point, I didn’t work in the most positive of environments, so my first five years were spent trying to figure out how to get out. I then started working with a manager who pushed me to get up from behind my desk and engage. I was reluctant at first, but then I started to gain some momentum and I have never looked back. Nowadays, I’m constantly trying to find new ways to engage in public service and facilitate change, even if it is only a matter of changing one mind at a time.

Can you tell us more about your role as Content Strategist for the Government of Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade?
The department manages a network of web sites for all its missions around the world –- about 100 sites in 30 languages. There’s so much that Canada is doing around the world, and my job is to write about it and get it up on the Web. The challenge is that Web content, particularly when it is produced by government, is not always very reader-friendly. We tend to focus on hierarchies and figureheads: so-and-so who works with this program, in this division of this sector, etc. Who cares? What’s the benefit? How are we helping? Why does this matter? Those are the questions that I’m trying to answer when creating new Web content. It’s an insane amount of work, but my job is to tell success stories -– and that is easy to feel good about at the end of the day.

What are 3 tips that you’d offer related to writing good content for the web?
Actually, I did a blog post about that on GovLoop, not too long ago. It mentions 5 principles to think about when writing good Web content. But if I had to narrow it down to three: be concise; be compelling; be clear.

It looks like you are obtaining a degree in political science. Do you have political aspirations in the future or is there another driver for this degree?
This is what I affectionately call my 16-year degree. I started it in 1993 but never finished it. I never could quite figure out what I wanted to do when I was younger. After 8 years in the public service, I’ve had a little taste of what policy is all about and decided to push my career plan in that direction –- a direction that typically requires a Master’s degree. So, I first need to finish my Bachelor’s degree. That said, the more I learn about political science, the more attracted I am to politics. As odd as it may sound, I find the history of the Canadian Constitution absolutely fascinating. Luckily for me, most of my friends are nerds as well, and are happy to hear me ramble off about senate reform, or how the rulings of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in Britain has led to the decentralization of Canadian federalism. (That’s a non-partisan ramble, for the record.)

What do you do in Ottawa when you’re not working and studying?
Truthfully, those two pursuits pretty much take up most of my time. There are some amazing Canadian public servants who are so engaged in so many ways, and I can’t help but want to spend a lot of my time with them. And much of the work on which we collaborate involves getting together outside work hours. I’m actually having trouble balancing the hours I spend with public servants versus the number of hours I should be spending studying and essay-writing. Any spare time after that, you’ll find me glued to my wife, goofing around like we’re 7 years old.

How did you learn about GovLoop?
I discovered GovLoop through the network of Canadian public servants on Twitter. After seeing mention after mention of GovLoop on Twitter, I finally decided to check it out.

What’s been the biggest value of membership in GovLoop?
I like the diversity of the membership. It provides an opportunity to connect and network with people who have information or ideas of value, no matter what area of government you work in. It gives you opportunities to bounce ideas and/or find alternative solutions to problems. Personally, I derive a lot of value in reading about the difficulties and successes that other public servants are having; it’s a reminder that there are many other like-minded people out there who are supportive and need to be supported.

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