Geek looking at data


Geek Of The Week: Sandra Albanese

Oct 23, 2012, 04:00 PM by Jack DePoe

“Soccer Mom and Spatial Analyst”

For most people, the question, “What do you do for a living?” is easy to answer. But for Senior Research Analyst Sandra Albanese, her varied work responsibilities and wide-ranging projects prompts an internal debate.

“I usually say I’m a professional geographer or that I do research involving demographics,” says Sandra. “I rarely just say ‘marketing’ because there’s so much more to it than that.  It’s really a tough question to answer.”

Now in her sixth year at Environics Analytics (EA), Sandra has always thrived on variety and change. After graduating from the environmental sciences program at the University of Toronto, she enrolled in the GIS Certificate program at Mohawk College in Hamilton to pursue a deeper interest in geography. Near the end of her studies, a job search led her to Compusearch, where she started out mapping neighbourhoods in the U.S. for product development. Sandra eventually took maternity leave and moved to Windsor, where her then-husband worked at the University of Windsor.  But after four years in Windsor, where she served as a consultant helping the municipal government launch its 311 system, Sandra grew restless for GIS work. She contacted Peter Pavlakidis, a former Compusearch colleague who was then director of Standard Research at up-and-coming EA, and the company offered her a job working remotely as an analyst.

Sandra spent five years in the Standard Research department, energized by the quick turnaround of client work and the variety of short-term assignments. But she recently joined the Custom Research team where she’s involved in building products and designing new ways to look at data—projects that may take weeks or months to complete. It’s a change of pace, but Sandra finds that her previous experience means she better appreciates how the databases and products that she produces now become the underpinnings of Standard Research projects.

“I really like working on the Adjusted Census that we produce,” she says. “I like to take charge of something and make it my own. I feel responsible for it, that it’s my baby.”

“It seems like I’m always driving him and his friends to or from practice.  I don’t have a mini-van—I drive a little Mazda M3—but I’m definitely a soccer mom.”

But that’s most certainly not the only baby in her life.  Peter, Sandra’s nine-year-old son, is at the top of her list when it comes to being “her baby.”  An avid soccer player, Peter is a member of the Cherry Beach Surfers, an under-9 community team from Sandra’s Urbane Villagers neighbourhood in Toronto’s Beach area.

“It seems like I’m always driving him and his friends to or from practice.  I don’t have a mini-van—I drive a little Mazda M3—but I’m definitely a soccer mom,” she laughs.

And it’s no surprise that Peter is an active boy, given that mom is also a bit of a fitness buff who enjoys running, cycling and generally keeping physically active.  Their proximity to the beach and waterfront trails helps her stay fit and also offers a tranquil setting for days out or just to sit and relax with a good book—another of Sandra’s favourite pastimes.

“I like to read books for fun, rather than anything too heavy,” she admits. “I’m in a couple of book clubs with friends.” Check the list at the end for Sandra’s top picks.

Book club meetings, according to Sandra, usually consist of a few friends getting together with a bottle of wine and some snacks to discuss what they’ve read, unwind and just enjoy each other’s company.  With busy schedules often focused on family activities, the book clubs offer neighbourhood moms a rare chance to kick back and enjoy themselves. And it’s quintessential Urbane Villagers behaviour.

But family plays a large role in Sandra’s life—EA’s family-friendly culture is one reason she enjoys working for the company—and this characteristic even affected her neighbourhood choice when she returned to Toronto.

“My mom and my sister both live within a couple of minutes of me, so that’s really nice” says Sandra, the daughter of Italian immigrants. “Family is very important to me.”  Visits with her sibling and mother are common and Sandra knows she can often count on “la Nonna” to take care of Peter when she wants to enjoy a night out.

“It’s great to be so close,” she continues. “Peter really enjoys spending time with his aunts and uncles and grandmother and I get the support of having family there when I need them.”

With neighbourhood amenities close by, Sandra often shops locally for fresh fruits and vegetables, though she will venture to the larger Loblaws for dry goods.  The Leslieville market is close enough that Sandra confesses it’s helped turn her into something of a “foodie.” “I love to cook and have an appreciative audience,” she says. “Whether it’s something fancy or just a simple pizza dinner at home, when Peter says ‘it’s good,’ then I know I got the job done.”

And getting the job done well, she says, is important—both in terms of what you do for others and for yourself. Her latest endeavour in personal improvement—pursuing a Masters in Spatial Analysis degree at Ryerson University—has made managing her time even more important.  But she is adamant about making time on a quiet Sunday morning for reading or doing puzzles with her son, or just going out for a walk before returning to her studies.

So whether it’s developing new data products, hitting the books, running on the waterfront trails or chauffeuring her son’s friends to the next soccer game, there’s always something keeping Sandra busy. It’s no wonder she’s often stymied by that seemingly simple question, what do you do?

Sandra’s Top Book Picks:

The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer – beautifully written 
Paris, 1937. Andras Lévi, a Hungarian-Jewish architecture student, arrives from Budapest with a scholarship, a single suitcase, and a mysterious letter he promised to deliver. But when he falls into a complicated relationship with the letter”s recipient, he becomes privy to a secret that will alter the course of his-and his family’s-history. From the small Hungarian town of Konyár to the grand opera houses of Budapest and Paris, from the despair of Carpathian winter to an unimaginable life in labor camps, The Invisible Bridge tells the story of a family shattered and remade in history’s darkest hour. When God was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman. Spanning four decades, from 1968 onwards, this is the story of a fabulous but flawed family and the slew of ordinary and extraordinary incidents that shape their everyday lives. It is a story about childhood and growing up, loss of innocence, eccentricity, familial ties and friendships, love and life. Stripped down to its bare bones, it”s about the unbreakable bond between a brother and sister.

A Song of Ice and Fire Series by George R.R. Martin (A Game of Thrones et al)

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver 
The Poisonwood Bible is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it — from garden seeds to Scripture — is calamitously transformed on African soil. What follows is a suspenseful epic of one family’s tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa.

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen 
Jonathan Franzen’s third novel, The Corrections, is a great work of art and a grandly entertaining overture to our new century: a bold, comic, tragic, deeply moving family drama that stretches from the Midwest at mid-century to Wall Street and Eastern Europe in the age of greed and globalism. Franzen brings an old-time America of freight trains and civic duty, of Cub Scouts and Christmas cookies and sexual inhibitions, into brilliant collision with the modern absurdities of brain science, home surveillance, hands-off parenting, do-it-yourself mental healthcare, and the anti-gravity New Economy. With The Corrections, Franzen emerges as one of our premier interpreters of American society and the American soul.