Karen Stewart

Karen Stewart

Senior Manager Geomatics

City of Abbotsford

Sector: Architecture and Construction, Business, Management, and Administration, Government and Public Administration

Location: BC

Education: University

Type: Career Profile


Business & Economics, Computer Science, Earth Science, Geography, Technology & Engineering

Careers, Geographic Information Systems, Geography, Management, Mapping, Technology

Karen Stewart
Karen StewartSenior Manager Geomatics
I am motivated by

I love solving problems! I find it fascinating to look at the trends GIS software can show and use that to solve problems. Solving problems, creating efficiency using technology and helping people make data-driven decisions is what I enjoy most about what I do. This career is right for me because I am a creative thinker – a technical artist and problem solver. My career enables all of this. GIS helps us see what others cannot.

Working in local government and making an impact in the community is personally rewarding to me. In 2019 I won the ASAP Award for Innovation at the City of Abbotsford. In 2012 I received a Service Award from URISA for my dedication and faithful service to URISA. In 2011 I received an award of appreciation for sitting on the board of directors for URISA. In 2005 our URISA BC Chapter won an outstanding chapter award.  In 2004 I received an excellence in leadership award from URISA BC.  I have also presented at various conferences, trade shows and meetings to advance the use of GIS and technology, including at Women in Public Works and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities events.

I am motivated by
My career path is

I did not expect to get into this field when I was in high school.  When I was in high school, I wanted to become a marine biologist. Instead, I started out in the Arts (Graphics and Communication) and then moved into Geomatics. I was fascinated by the analytical capabilities of the technology.  I graduated from BCIT with a Bachelor of Technology Geomatics Degree.

Instead of an apprenticeship or internship I completed a practicum.  My career started out in utilities with BC Gas.  Then I moved into local government, followed by work in the private sector.  I am back in local government engineering for the City of Abbotsford. Soon I will be moving to a new role as CIO (Chief Information Officer) for the City of Maple Ridge. That is a bit of a twist and turn. I did not think about the fact that the industry I chose was male dominated when I started out.  It proved to have some challenges. However, I have always been determined to succeed so I did not let the fact that I was one of very few women in this industry hold me back.

My career path is
My advice to others

I would say go for it!  There is so much opportunity in this field. If you love problem-solving, technology, making the world a better place and creating sustainability then a career in Geomatics/GIS/Information Technology could be for you.  To be successful you should make sure to get an advanced diploma or degree in Geomatics/GIS.  Having your Applied Science Technologist (AScT) designation is helpful for career placement.  I also have a Geographic Information Systems Professional (GISP) designation, which I believe is valuable to have in this field. Belonging to various trade associations and getting involved is helpful to grow your network.  People love to help people and you never know when you may need a mentor. Always start with why? Do not take anything personal. Learn from your mistakes. Be compassionate. Have integrity. Be trustworthy and support your team. Always focus on continuous improvement.

My advice to others
How I affect people's livesA career in GIS/Geomatics enables you to help solve issues in your own community. These issues can relate to such things a health, zoning, services, greenways, crime, trash, traffic, and more. It allows you to bring data, technology, people and processes together to improve a community need. To be effective solving community needs there has to be collaboration across government agencies, citizen communities and businesses. GIS is an enabling technology that improves this entire process.  With the use of GIS, goals become actionable, real-world initiatives that create safe, well-run, livable, healthy, prosperous and sustainable communities.  I believe there is nothing we can’t solve using technology as long as we can manage the people, data and processes required to implement the solution.
How I affect people's lives
Outside of work I

I love to travel and see how people work, live and play in other countries. It is great to meet and experience how the local people live.  I like to take jewelry that I made (handmade in Canada) and give it to a local to say ‘thanks’ for the kindness they show.  Over the course of my career, I have volunteered for numerous trade associations (e.g., URISA, URISA BC, MISA BC, GITA, PWABC) as well as Toastmasters.  I also belonged to a semi-professional acting troupe that raised money for different charities.  We raised over $200K during a span of 14 years of volunteering.  I love hiking, walking, cycling and weather permitting - snorkeling.  I have also been known to do some welding and silversmithing from time to time.

Outside of work I
What I do at work

I manage the day-to-day operations of the Geomatics Division for the City of Abbotsford. I provide leadership, insight and strategic direction to the GIS, survey, asset management and drafting teams. I support the City’s strategic direction and processes. I am a thought leader and innovator. I use geomatics to improve communication, operations and decision-making. My goal is to improve the services provided by the City of Abbotsford through the efficient use of geographic technologies, information and connected workflows.

In my work, I use skills related to information technology, geographic information systems (GIS) and management of people, resources and services. I use a variety of tools including GIS enterprise software,  survey equipment, mobile devices, GPS units, computer aided design software (CAD), Microsoft Office software and other specialized software tools.

I make decisions every day. I am responsible for recruiting and training staff. I also assign projects and provide management, supervision and direction to the people working in our Geomatics Division. I work with all of the City’s departments to help them improve their business processes by making use of GIS and other tools. I analyze daily requests and assign the projects based on priorities, staff skills and availability. Large projects are tracked in a project tracking system and are assigned based on priority and availability of data.  I also create geomatics strategies to help set goals that have clear direction, milestones and deliverables. This improves the success of these goals.

A background in STEM helps me solves problems because it gave me the knowledge, skills and ability to see the big picture. My STEM skills help me think logically about a problem and at the same time be creative in my solutions. I always start by asking “why”.

What I do at work
About me

I was born/grew up in:  Regina, Saskatchewan

I now live in:  Langley, British Columbia

I completed my training/education at: British Columbia Institute of Technology, Bachelor of Technology, Geomatics

About me

When I was

When I was a student, I enjoyed:
  • Art
  • Computer Science
  • Drama
  • Foods & Nutrition
  • Foreign Languages
  • Geography
  • Home Economics/Family Studies
  • Industrial Arts/Shop Programs
  • Literature and English Language Arts
  • Math
  • Music
  • Physical Education
  • Technology
When I was a student, I would have described myself as someone who:
  • Brought people together
  • Liked helping people
  • Organized activities for my friends
  • Enjoyed working with my hands
  • Was motivated by success
  • Engaged in volunteer activities
  • Liked reading
  • Felt at home in the outside, natural environment
  • Was really creative
  • Felt great satisfaction in getting good grades
  • Wasn't sure what I wanted to do
  • Liked to design or build things
  • Engaged in activities such as fishing and berry picking

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Advancing Women in Engineering and Technology

Let's Talk Science would like to thank the Applied Science Technologists and Technicians of BC (ASTTBC) for connecting us with the individual profiled above.

Applied Science Technologists and Technicians of BC (ASTTBC) is leading the Advancing Women in Engineering and Technology Project, a Sector Labour Market Partnership project, funded through the Canada-BC Workforce Development Agreement. The project’s goal is to increase the participation of women in the engineering, geoscience, technology and technician occupations through the implementation of diversity and inclusion strategies to recruit, retain and support career development of women to lead a system level cultural shift within these professions.

ASTTBC Technology ProfessionalsFunding provided by the Government of Canada through the Canada-British Columbia Workforce Development Agreement