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Meet the team: Sarah Spencer has a head for numbers and a heart for community giving


Sarah Spencer, Data Science Team Lead with the engineering team at TELUS Agriculture & Consumer Goods, had always planned on becoming a teacher. But when she began studying math education at university, she realized she’d rather spend her time crunching numbers than marking papers. “I really liked learning all of the complicated math more than learning how to write lesson plans and those sorts of things,” she recalls. She decided to follow her passion, eventually earning a master’s degree in mathematics from North Carolina State University, where she became intrigued by the growing field of data science and analytics. After graduation, she landed a role with TKXS, a data analytics firm working in crop and animal agriculture, which joined TELUS Agriculture & Consumer Goods a year later, in 2021. “The fun part about data science is that you’re not just calculating the answer to a math problem, but you’re producing information that people can really use,” Sarah explains. “Whether it’s helping someone internally in our business or helping a customer, the solutions we provide have real impacts on people’s daily lives.” For example, her team created an image analysis tool that can quickly determine the size and field boundaries of a farm using satellite imagery. “That information can be used for all kinds of things, like calculating the amount of material needed for planting or treating the crops. It can get hard to calculate these things manually if the land runs up against roads or rivers – and we’ve done something similar for determining where cloud cover is.” As passionate as she is about her work, Sarah is equally passionate about helping her community. She and her husband are enthusiastic supporters of their local food bank, and have been mentoring the same group of youth through their church for six years. “We went from hearing about their field trips to helping them with homework, and now to helping them through all the angst that comes with being a preteen,” she shares. Sarah brings that spirit of community and mentorship to her new role as a team leader at TELUS. “I've tried to really cultivate an environment where everybody feels like they are important and valued,” she says. “We all work well together, and they support me in trying to learn to become the best leader that I can be, and I do my best to support them.”

Five things to know about Sarah Spencer

What she loves about math and data science

I like the problem-solving element of it. You start out in basic math with a problem that you can work out an answer to. Then you move into word problems, like, “Susie wants to buy a new pair of skates and she’s selling lemonade. How many glasses does she need to sell?” On a very basic level, that's what data science is – it’s taking information you have and using it to get the closest answer for what you want to know.

What she’s enjoying working on

I’m really excited to be able to dive more into consumer goods, where there are a lot of opportunities to do things like forecasting and predictive modelling, and to enhance and combine our tools to give customers and our team members a wealth of new consumer forecasting information.

What TELUS value resonates most

The one that always resonates with me is, “We grow together through spirited teamwork.” As data scientists, we do quality work when we partner with people who are subject matter experts. When I meet somebody who’s passionate about their field and knows what information they want to go after, the answers we get are so much more rewarding, and so much more valuable to the wider community and our customers.

The best piece of advice she’s received

Early in my career, I used to be really hesitant to contribute in discussions. Then someone told me, “Their invitation is your permission.” It made me realize that if somebody's asking me to be there, they'd like to hear what I have to say. So I try to make sure that I don't let self-doubt hold me back from contributing.

Her favourite pastime

I love to read, and enjoy hosting my book club for discussions over dinner. One of the best books I read recently is How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water by Angie Cruz, about a woman who immigrated to America and lost her job, and wants to work. It was very well-written and creative, and it also showed me an experience that is very different from my own.

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