Inspiring answers by Nora Kensington, one of our STEM Ambassadors on her life and working in Information and Data Management.
Name and job role
Nora Kensington, Manager Information and Data Management
What is something about you people might not know?
I dropped out of high school.
In my teens, I identified as a member of the LGBT2SQ+ community and during that time societal attitudes towards the community were less than accepting. It was difficult to be open about my sexual orientation and to bring my whole self to school. I started showing up less and eventually just stopped showing up at all. It was a really challenging time as I loved learning and socializing with my peers but I lost my attachment to my school because I did not feel like I belonged or was welcomed.
After a few years of being away from school, I eventually found my way back by completing an academic bridging program that provided an access-to-university channel. That program changed my life – I felt accepted there and it was important for me to feel this sense of community in order to excel academically. I worked hard, showed up every day, and ended up finishing top of my class. It is my life’s “rising like a phoenix from the ashes” moment.
What are your hobbies?
My go-to hobbies are hiking and word puzzles and in a way, they have a lot in common. You can do both any time of year and anywhere in the world, you can do them alone or with others, they have a variety of difficulty levels, and both help me stay sharp and ready to overcome any challenges that come my way.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I wanted to be a writer. I come from a family of voracious readers, my father worked in publishing his whole life and my mother went to the library daily so our house was always peppered with piles of books beside chairs, tables, and bedsides.
But what I think was unique about my aspiration is that I actually did not care if I produced anything publishable. I just wanted to spend a lifetime learning and writing about people, places, and things. Writing, to me, would be a textual way of capturing my encounters or what was swirling around in my imagination.
I did manage to publish a few short stories and was a humour columnist in a special interest magazine for awhile. They were both side hustles at the time. I still do like to write and am currently working on a new project but it is mostly for my amusement.
Who was your biggest influence growing up?… who were your role models?
No hesitation on this one – Dian Fossey and Jane Goodall. The contributions these two gave over their lifetime in an era where female scientists were marginalized or often kept out of the conversation altogether was simply remarkable.
I mean the fact that neither had any formal scientific training when they entered the field and were able to provide stunning insights, make numerous high profile discoveries, and publish multiple articles within their field of primatology was nothing short of inspiring to me.
They simply pursued their passion and let nothing be a barrier to that pursuit.
What were your favourite subjects at school?
I truly loved all subjects and was infinitely curious. As such I wanted to learn about everything and all things.
I even remember at one point I was consumed with trying to find the first instance of a mention of a particular subject in Canadian politics. Because I wanted to know where it all began and how it evolved over time. I needed to know everything about the item from origin to the current day.
I was educationally obsessed.
What were your least favourite subjects at school?
This is a tough question. I suppose if I had to pick one it would be French. But it is not because I did not find it interesting, it is because I struggled with learning a new language.
I recall being so frustrated with myself for “not getting it”. To would see and hear my peers sail through readings and verbal tests and I was stuck spinning in the beginner stages. I was so embarrassed and wanted to hide my failure from others.
I did manage to find my way through it by practising often, practising with others, practising the difficult things, and most importantly learning to laugh at myself through the process.
How did you come to choose your current career path or were you led to it?
I actually fell into this career (mostly) by accident and with a dash of encouragement from a mentor.
I never even took a technology class in university or really considered it as a career. I’d studied to be a social scientist and was trying to get established as an ethnographic market researcher. However this was before the UX Research explosion, and traditional qualitative research like in-person focus groups was the defacto standard.
In my mid-20s, though, when I had some spare time on my hands some friends of mine were involved in building a few databases for their post-grad projects. I offered to help them out, building taxonomies, classifying data, and developing the entity-relationship diagram. I found I actually liked database development and had a knack for it. By the end of my 20s, I was a self-taught DBA building database for whatever I could.
Working in Information and Data Management
At one point I was in a meeting and my Executive Director said she was finding it challenging to effectively analyze the evolution of policy instruments. So I went home that night and for the next few days built out a very robust database for policy actions that allowed for both quantitative and qualitative research on the long-term evolution and effectiveness of specific policy matters. She loved it! In fact, she said “you should do this for a living” so I decided then and there that I would more seriously commit myself to a career in information, technology and data management.
I also wanted to work with openness and transparency to improve the way citizen and sector engagement occurred and connect with others working in related fields across the world. My thought was, “the more you share, the more you gain”.
I like the space I work in as it has a good balance between technology, innovation, and inclusion.
What are the biggest changes in the world of work (for women) that you are excited about?
Inclusion and Diversity. Period. Full Stop.
Now when I meet new peers or attend conferences or participate in workshops I see more and more diversity and that is incredible.
Technology can be an enabler of advancing diversity and inclusion in any organization or institution. For example, if we did not apply a diversity and inclusion lens to something like AI or machine learning we risk developing a product or solution that reflects a narrow and out of date vision of our society and intentionally or unintentionally leads to a reinforcement of long-standing biases and stereotypes.
Would you say having a degree is the only path to a successful career?
Absolutely not. Academic qualifications don’t necessarily equate to strong work ethic, grit and talent.
“Forget everything you learned; we will show you how to do the job.”
While it might be challenging to get your foot in the door without a degree, it is not impossible.
Working in Information and Data Management
We are so fortunate to be living in a time where we have so many options with how we can also demonstrate and showcase our capabilities and experiences. From participating and volunteering with Civic Tech groups to Kaggle projects and competitions to personal websites. There are so many ways one can show what they are capable of beyond obtaining an academic designation.
Would you say there are opportunities for women entrepreneurs in your career?
Absolutely. If you want it, you can make it happen
(see also Dian Fossey and Jane Goodall :))
What advice would you give your younger self and school leavers today?
If you ever feel lost and not sure where to go. It’s okay. Don’t give up but instead go out there and try as many different things as you can. Don’t ever feel like you’re wasting your time. It will all come together and maybe in ways you never expected. Enjoy the journey
Working in Information and Data Management
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