Applied Science Technologist help ensure a safe and reliable natural gas supply for BC consumers
Like many immigrants coming to Canada, Mary Lu’s qualifications were ideal for a tech sector clamouring for skilled workers. She had a degree in computer science from Heilongjiang University in the city of Harbin in northern China and years of experience working in the telecom and computing industries.
When Mary arrived in Vancouver in 2003, she had no difficulty understanding the technology in a new country and had hoped to continue a career in IT. However, like so many other newcomers to Canada, her lack of English-language skills was a barrier to the jobs she was more than capable of doing.
Undeterred, Mary spent the next two years studying at Vancouver Community College to hone her grasp of English and became proficient enough to be accepted into an advanced diploma program at the British Columbia Institute of Technology to study Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and Highway Design.
It was a new career direction in geomatics, and it led Mary to jobs as a GIS specialist with companies involved in the construction of the new Sea-to-Sky highway and the Port Mann highway expansion. Then, Mary moved to FortisBC where she has been for the past 10 years and is currently a senior system capacity planning technologist after obtaining the Gas Distribution Systems Certificate.
Using cutting-edge technology and computer models she created, Mary is now one of seven Applied Science Technologists in the FortisBC SCP (System Capacity Planning) Department who evaluate and maintain natural gas distribution systems in BC and respond to emergency gas pipeline leaks.
It sounds complicated – and it is – but Mary says she enjoys the work.
“The technical side is not a difficult part of my job,” she says. “My knowledge base is really broad and I’m a quick learner so I can consolidate what I learned in the past with what I learn now and develop new skills. I really enjoy what I do.”
While Mary does not regard her job as stressful, she says it can be challenging for just seven technologists to keep track of all they are responsible for across the entire province. Nevertheless, she encourages young people looking for an interesting career in being an ASTTBC certified technologist.
She says there can be a high level of satisfaction in being part of a major project and seeing it come to fruition. For example, while working as a CAD Operator on the Port Mann Highway Expansion Project, Mary used her knowledge and experience in computer science and GIS to independently create a new set of pavement structure drawings. She also created a new set of CAD drawings that replaced the old standard known to crash Civil 3D and delay work in the entire project.
Her newly created drawings were so succinct that the company kept using it as the template for other critical areas of the project as well.
“I was very proud of that,” she says.
While much of her work at FortisBC is focused on providing gas system capacity information to engineers and technologists on new natural gas developments, she and her colleagues also play a key role in emergencies where gas lines have been accidentally damaged.
Shutting off the gas valve to repair the damaged line affects customers so Mary uses her hydraulic model to determine where those customers are and if there are ways of rerouting gas supply to them in the interim and avoiding disruption to other areas.
“I do a quick analysis and give the repair crew the information they need such as which valves to shut off and which areas have been affected – and that’s all in my model,” she adds.
Mary says she was encouraged to come to Vancouver by a former classmate from China and although the whole of Canada was open to someone with her qualifications, she decided to stay on the west coast because – of all things – the weather.
“I like it here,” she says.