Karen Stewart

Chief Information Officer (CIO)
City of Maple Ridge



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
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 and then to the private sector.  I came back to local government as the Senior Manager of Geomatics for the City of Abbotsford. Now, I am the CIO (Chief Information Officer) for the City of Maple Ridge, which I am absolutely thrilled about!

 

My career has had a few twists and turns. 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.  I did not let the fact that I was one of very few women in this industry hold me back. As CIO for the City of Maple Ridge, I hope to inspire many young people to thrive on innovation, solve issues using technology, while keeping people, processes, data and the big picture in mind.  Keep it holistic!

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


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


I am motivated by

I love solving problems and innovating! I find it fascinating to look at the trends in Information Technology and how new innovations can be used to solve problems. I enjoy solving problems, creating efficiency using technology and helping people make data-driven decisions. This career is right for me because I am a creative thinker – a technical artist and problem solver. My career enables all of this. Technology can help us solve problems and create better ways of doing things. It can also help connect people and workflows. To do this,  people, processes and business outcomes have to be considered holistically (i.e., as a group of interconnected parts).

 

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
How I affect people's livesA career in Technology/GIS/Geomatics gives you the tools 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 a 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
What I do at work

I manage the Information Technology (IT) team for the City of Maple Ridge. In this position, I am responsible for directing all Information Technology functions in the organization. I do this within the framework set by the corporate and Council strategic plans. I provide leadership, insight and strategic direction to the IT team. I support the City’s strategic direction and processes through technology.

 

I am a thought leader and innovator. This means that I bring in new ideas and ways of doing things. I use technology to improve communication, operations and decision-making. My goal is to improve the services provided by the City of Maple Ridge. This is done through the efficient use of information and geographic technologies, data and connected workflows. All this has to be carried out using the available budget.  To do this I also provide advice and direction to staff throughout the city. I do this by making sure the Information Technology team and other business areas are in regular contact.

In my work, I use skills related to information technology  and geographic information systems (GIS). I also use skills related to the management of people, resources and services. I use a variety of tools to review current processes and recommend technology upgrades. I also provide advice on planned initiatives to make sure the City gets the best from its technology assets.

 

I make decisions every day. My main tasks include recommending, developing and implementing approved information systems. I also lead the development of policies and strategies to support the City’s current and future business information and data needs.  I am also responsible for directing the analysis and development of information systems requirements. To do this I have to keep up to date with technical innovations, and develop short, mid and long-term information services plans. When necessary, I also recommend hardware and software changes and upgrades.  I work with the IT team and all of the City’s departments to review technology applications and business practices. The goal is to help city staff, the public and businesses improve what they do by making better use of the technology tools we have available.

 

A background in STEM helps me solve problems. These skills provide me with 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”. I focus on the business process and required outcomes first. Then I investigate technology solutions that will provide the needed changes. Mostly, I have fun!

What I do at work
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

Partners

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

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