Geek looking at data

Geek Of The Week: Stephanie McIssac

Published Jun 19, 2015, 10:50 AM by Jemicah Marasigan

stephanie-mcisaac“Pursuing Perfection On and Off the Ice”

For Stephanie McIsaac, skating has always been as effortless as breathing. From the moment she could walk, Stephanie began taking skating lessons and, by 13 years old, she was a member of Canada’s national synchronized skating team. Four days a week, she escaped from her small-town life in Keswick, Ont., to attend team practices in what seemed like to her as the cosmopolitan city Brampton.

Later, as she skated in international competitions, Stephanie would collect passport stamps from places like the Czech Republic, France, Italy, Switzerland, Finland and Croatia. And in 2010—her final year with the Canadian national team—she won a bronze medal at the Senior World Synchronized Skating Championships in the U.S.

“I loved to skate for a number of reasons—the competitiveness, the friendships of the team and being able to travel the world and represent Canada,” says Stephanie. “But I also learned a lot of skills that have help me at work today. I became a team player from having grown up on teams with more than twenty girls. I learned to manage my time from skating many hours each week. And I learned to work towards an end goal after practicing for eleven months a year for only a half-dozen competitions. This taught me how to be patient, work hard and appreciate small victories.”

After nearly a decade learning the fundamentals of teamwork, multitasking and time management—not to mention precision and focus—Stephanie applies all those skills as a Client Advocate for the Retail, Media, Real Estate and Manufacturing (RMRE) team at Environics Analytics (EA). In this role, she analyzes data, creates detailed reports and produces compelling presentations so that clients can better understand their customers and markets. But she’s also a talented graphic artist who’s produced a number of data-based infographics that have graced EA’s website. Defining her job as a combination of project management, data work and creative presentations, she jokes that she lives in Excel and PowerPoint on a daily basis. But her favourite part of it all is the chance to “make things look pretty while conveying meaningful insights.”

“It sounds so silly, but I like that we get ugly data from clients,” says Stephanie. “Then we do whatever it takes to create the end result—a one-pager that has to have a bunch of info on it that’s clearly understandable. We’re often dealing with real estate people and retailers who don’t exactly look at numbers every day. So our data has to be pretty enough for people to look at and understand what they’re seeing.”

Stephanie admits that disorganization is her biggest pet peeve and notes that her need to be creatively organized began at a young age. She recalls that her parents were once called in to school because her teacher felt she was spending too much time colour-coding everything.

And while she initially thought she wanted to be a lawyer, her math-focused and pattern-making brain instead led her to pursue a Bachelor of Business Administration degree, majoring in marketing and finance, from Guelph-Humber University in 2012. At Guelph-Humber, Stephanie fell in love with the study of consumer behaviour, and she went on to attend an eight-month research analytics post-graduate program at Georgian College. There, she met Michelle Sexsmith, EA’s Vice President and Practice Leader for the RMRE team, who’d come to the school to talk about the analytics industry.

“Michelle was part of the university’s advisory committee,” recalls Stephanie. “She was really involved and would come and talk about EA, and I was very interested right from the beginning. I started at EA on a one-year contract to cover another staff member’s maternity leave. Now I’m full-time.”

To keep up with the pace of work at EA, Stephanie’s coffee intake has spiked from nonexistent to two cups of iced venti, non-fat caramel iced coffee or grande blonde a day. But she says she enjoys every hectic minute. “There was a project that we worked on for endless hours and people in my outside life, kept asking, ‘What are you doing? Why are you at work so long?’” she recalls. “But the days would fly by. And I feel that’s a really good sign. I couldn’t imagine working somewhere where I was bored all day.”

"Talented is too understated for Stephanie’s creative and analytical mind, but she really is talented in a lot of different ways."

At 25 years, Stephanie seems almost embarrassed to say she’s got little to complain about: she has a job she loves, her own place, a boyfriend of almost a year and loving parents. She’s not at all bothered when her mother calls her four times a day, nor when her construction-worker father pops into the office occasionally to say hello.

“I love the way that she loves her family, that they’re super important to her,” says Claire Plaxton, the Director of Client Advocacy for the RMRE team. “She’s a very kind and generous person, and always inclusive. She wants to make sure everybody’s on the right page and things are getting done right. She has an excellent focus on quality.” Asked to come up with one word to describe Stephanie, Claire struggles. “Talented is too understated for Stephanie’s creative and analytical mind, but she really is talented in a lot of different ways,” she says.

Although Stephanie dreamt of leaving Keswick as a youngster, today she often visits her family there. Doting on her two young nieces and younger brother—who she describes as her best friend—Stephanie says her ideal day would be enjoying a barbecue with her friends and family, or simply sleeping the whole day away in Keswick. 

While she says Keswick will always occupy a special place in her heart, Stephanie confesses that she’s happier living in the heart of Toronto. This past December, she acquired her first mortgage for a condo located at Bathurst and Fort York. The PRIZM5 segmentation system classifies the neighbourhood as Urban Digerati (younger, well-educated city singles) and she admits that it captures her lifestyle fairly well, noting her affinity for going clubbing with her boyfriend and his friends, her online shopping habit and her occasional visits to the gym or a yoga class. She especially likes that, as a sports fan, her home is walking distance from the ACC and Rogers Centre.

Although Stephanie occasionally returns to competitive skating to help coach her old teams, she had thought her days of glittery costumes and skates were behind her. Then one day her old and new life collided to her great surprise. “We have a client that’s really involved in sports in Canada,” she explains. “I went to a client meeting, and as we got off the elevator, I saw this giant picture of a bunch of girls I used to skate with. The picture completely threw me off.

“If I had continued to skate while working,” she laughs, “I probably would have seen my own face staring back at me.”

—Jemicah Marasigan

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