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- Meet the team: Dr. Shari Van de Pol
Meet the team: Dr. Shari Van de Pol
September 16, 2022
Meet our team members who are empowering and connecting our customers, from producers to consumers, for a more sustainable future. Dr. Shari Van de Pol is a Solutions Architect on our Animal Health Development team.
Dr. Shari Van de Pol grew up in an idyllic setting across from an old stage coach inn: century-old barns nestled in rolling green hills and surrounded by Ontario, Canada farmland. Since her first childhood job at the age of 7 – raising bunnies for a neighbouring farmer – she’s been fascinated by farming, nature and animal agriculture.
In 2015, she became associated with Feedlot Health, now part of TELUS Agriculture & Consumer Goods, in her role as CEO of CATTLEytics. As a Solutions Architect, Shari and CATTLEytics act as the software development and R&D arm for the Animal Health Development team. Their work supports research and development that enables feedlot and dairy operations to enhance productivity, animal health and operational efficiency. She also is part of TELUS Connections, a team member-led resource group dedicated to fostering workplace diversity, leadership and mentorship opportunities. Based in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada with her husband and two daughters, in her rare spare time, Shari enjoys painting and playing Irish music and a handful of instruments like the fiddle, guitar, mandolin and tin whistle, a nod to her time spent living in Northern Ireland. During the pandemic, she fulfilled her dreams of being an architect by designing a cozy cottage treehouse in Muskoka.
What is your role?
I lead a team of very talented professionals who have skills in hardware, software, data analytics and animal agriculture. I myself am a veterinarian and an engineer and through using a cross-disciplinary approach, I look for opportunities where data and technology can improve animal agriculture. This can be fascinating and rewarding work. For example, the software we use to collect and recommend health interventions can improve welfare and environmental efficiencies. By having strong systems to collect data and carry out research, we can then know which health interventions are the most effective, and we can choose the best ones when facing a similar situation in the future. Through the efficiencies made possible through this work, our larger Animal Health team has very unique opportunities to make a real impact on the UN Sustainability Development Goals, specifically helping support more sustainable land use and consumption and production. I also enjoy finding and curating people’s talents, working hard to bring out the best in my team. I’ve been lucky to find talented, innovative people – one of whom is my brother, so he wasn’t too hard to find – who have a passion for serving our customers, improving animal health and impacting sustainability. What’s your day-to-day like?
My work varies day by day, but one thing that remains constant is collaboration. Prior to the pandemic, I travelled at least once a month to visit customers and do hands-on work with live animals. To me, it’s important to see and understand the real-world applications of the work we’re doing. Most mornings, I check in with my senior team members, then I take stock of what I would like our team to achieve that day, that week and that month. Sometimes the most pressing issues aren’t the most important ones. I still spend a portion of my time doing practical development work but a lot of time is spent working through the details, planning and strategy for projects we are taking on. Our team has some really exciting research and development work happening, on top of the new key features we are developing for our Animal Health software solutions, the maintenance of existing software and systems, as well as client support work. I also try to take as many opportunities as possible to connect with our clients in order to stay in touch with what is needed in the field.
What drew you to this business?
Although my parents weren’t farmers themselves, the backdrop to my childhood home was always a place of wonder. It was surrounded by farms and fields, oak trees and creeks. I spent all my spare time either outdoors or in the local 100-year old stone barn that housed the animals; always feeling my best when surrounded by nature.
After high school, I studied Computer Engineering with the unusual combination of Fine Art – getting a chance to spend time on both sides of the university campus. I then spent almost a decade in software development, working up from software developer to a team lead at a company that is a global software leader. I didn’t naturally gravitate towards leadership roles, but I fell in love with that feeling you get when you bring a team together to build something great.
I had a turning point when I realized that the work I did had too distant a connection with the world I cared about. I wanted to make a tangible difference in the everyday for both animals and humans. I can’t say it wasn’t scary taking the leap – quitting my job to go back to school for veterinary medicine – but I’ve never looked back. I went from hours spent in meeting rooms and cubicles to carrying out post-mortems at -40C below and everything in between. When you find yourself chasing a heifer with a dart gun you definitely question how you got to that moment in your life. When I met the Feedlot Health team, I immediately found a connection with their data-driven approach to animal agriculture and ended up joining to initially lead their data reporting projects. From there I went on to begin forming a team to continue development on their software systems as well as create new systems and initiatives.
What’s something people would be surprised to learn about livestock management?
A lot of preconceptions and limited media information about the industry can lead to incorrect conclusions depending on the market or country. For example, in Canada, the average dairy farm is 96 milking cows, extremely large dairy farms aren’t common and most cattle operations are owned and operated by families. Canada is a leader when it comes to rules and regulations that prioritize health, safety and sustainability, helping drive its reputation for quality standards when it comes to beef and dairy and producing world-class products. How did you first get involved in diversity and inclusion work?
Diversity and inclusion have always been important to me. Going to a grade school where everyone else was ethnically different from our family gave me some small insight into the subtleties associated with difference. Being in the minority as a female in computer engineering in university, the difference actually rarely crossed my mind.
Earlier in my career, I had the chance to co-chair an IBM E.X.I.T.E camp for girls to learn about science and technology. Seeing a room of enthusiastic, bright girls taking on tech challenges in their own way really solidified how good it can feel to rewrite the script on how tech can be done. I continue to take opportunities with mentorship and programs like “Let’s Talk Science” whenever I can. When Feedlot Health became part of TELUS, I was impressed that they were really trying to prioritize ways to promote inclusion. As part of the TELUS Connections group, I’ve met some incredible women and created some strong relationships. It’s one of the places that have helped me feel like I can give back to those just starting in their careers. What career advice do you have to offer?
There are set paths in life that are easy to follow and seem to be well laid out for you. But chances are, these will never fully suit you. It’s like the difference between ready-to-wear clothing and something custom made to fit you. If you want a life that really works well for you, you have to be an active designer of that life because no one else is exactly like you.
Sometimes we feel envy for the careers of other people – whether it is an exciting job, a fabulous location or the chance for autonomy and fulfillment. Instead of feeling envy, try to pinpoint exactly what it is that you want and work towards building that and doing that.
Finally, regarding confidence, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that if you lack confidence, you need someone to help build you up and reassure you. Instead, I think it’s better to build internal confidence by having skills and expertise to actually give you something to be confident about. If you can spend proper time on your craft, have the resources of a mentor, teacher or some education source and have a situation where you can see the outcomes of your actions, you can build up a solid set of skills.
Since we’re talking about food and agriculture, what do you like to eat?
Having lived in the north of England, a good Yorkshire pudding is top on my list. That and a big bowl of strawberries.