Barb Carra, PhD
Chief Operating Officer
Cybera in Calgary, Alberta
When Barb Carra returned to Calgary after completing a doctoral degree at Wilfrid Laurier University, her professional career took an unexpected turn. With very few jobs available in her domain, Carra successfully ran two municipal election campaigns that focussed on the need for more transportation-oriented community development initiatives. Her advanced training in spatial statistics and mapping led her to develop a door knocking strategy that identified high visibility areas linked to roadways. Since then, Carra has worked for Cybera, a not-for-profit technology-neutral agency dedicated to accelerating technology adoption. Her current role focuses on strategies that push Information and Communication Technology (ICT) policy forward in Alberta and the rest of Canada.
1. How do you incorporate geography into your work?
Now that I work in a technology field, geography underlies a lot of what I do. For instance, my company and I intervene at the Canadian Radio Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) on the importance of Internet as a fundamental basic service right for all Canadians. Our country is geographically diverse and difficult to connect, so understanding concepts like space, scale and time are important. When the CRTC generates a decision stating that a certain percentage of Canadians are going to be connected by a fixed year, it is understood that there are massive geographic barriers they have to factor in to achieve those goals.
2. In what ways did your program prepare you for your career?
My statistics and mapping courses were the most useful because they helped me understand how to visualize and understand data. Being able to describe what I am doing and displaying that information appropriately is something that comes up in my work everyday.
3. Looking back, what would you have done differently?
If you are working on a dissertation that requires coding and model building, you need to ask how to preserve your work so other people can reuse your data and information. There is value in generating open data for reuse. I wish I could have gone back and evolved that aspect of my research so others could have carried on my work beyond what I accomplished. Granting councils are implementing data management plans to fill this gap, but that mandate wasn’t common practice when I did my dissertation.
4. Do you have any advice for students wishing to attain a fulfilling career in geography?
Having a good understanding of data analytics and science is foundational. Developing some expertise in coding is useful if you are doing anything quantitative. Skills like mapping and visualization are also very valuable. What most people should focus on, though, is the ability to link these competencies together and apply them in a variety of different sectors. Geography can be found anywhere. You can be in regulation or intervention and geography still plays a major role. Bridging gaps and recognizing how these skills can be used in a variety of environments is very important.