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Mar 16 2020

Meet Maria: Data Analytics Wiz, Long-Distance Runner

Posted by TC Energy

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In recognition of International Women's Day (IWD), we're celebrating women making an impact at TC Energy. We recognize IWD as part of our commitment to an inclusive and diverse workplace.

Maria Sylte grew up in Houston playing classical piano in the hopes of one day becoming a band director. But she also enjoyed math and physics and wanted to explore a career in engineering. Her approach when she entered college: Why not do both?

Today, not seven years since she graduated from the University of Texas (UT) with degrees in music and mechanical engineering, she does neither.

A team lead in TC Energy's Core Reliability Group in Houston, Maria owns a critical role in the company's embracement of the rapidly evolving discipline of real-time data analytics. Her job entails leveraging copious amounts of data to ensure the company's pipelines, equipment and processes perform at an optimal level and keep the natural gas moving. When Maria was growing up, this field barely existed.

Her ascension to where she is now has been both a sprint and a marathon, with a circuitous path involving several changes of course—from serving as a completions engineer out of college at upstream giant ConocoPhillips to moving midstream to become a fleet manager at TransCanada where she was preparing to become a subject matter expert on Clarke engines, to pivoting to the Core Reliability Team where she shifted her focus to data analytics following the purchase of Columbia Pipeline Group.

Combining her experience in engineering and data science—part of a broader theme among engineering disciplines—has allowed her to challenge existing mindsets by "looking at old problems and tackling them in a smarter, more innovative way," she said. The result is improved workflows in the office and safer, more efficient operations in the field.

 "I like to seek challenges day-to-day—I'm always trying to improve myself," Maria said.

High-energy and driven, Maria gets joy from setting new goals and indomitably pursuing them, much like a top-tier athlete. Outside of the office, she's an avid runner, with perhaps her most impressive achievement personal or professional coming in February when she finished the Rocky Raccoon 100 marathon in Huntsville, Tex., in less than 19 hours. It was her second straight Rocky Racoon 100 first place finish.


Sticking to a routine is very important to me. I feel off if I don't get a run in every morning. Getting out of bed and squeezing in a workout makes me feel accomplished and energized to tackle the rest of the day.”

Maria Sylte
Team Lead, Core Reliability Group


 
A day in Maria's shoes

Maria's continual personal and professional improvement can be attributed to a jampacked daily routine that keeps her on her toes. An early riser, she's out of bed before 5 a.m. and spends up to 90 minutes running Memorial Park's most scenic route along Buffalo Bayou.

After running, Maria returns home to get ready for work before embarking on her 10-minute bike ride to the office. Once she arrives at the office at 8 a.m., she dedicates the first hour of her day to anomaly detection.

This entails “looking at enterprise analytics through our condition monitoring system and going through any trends that our system has flagged as abnormal,” she explained. She then determines if any issues require action or if the models need to be retrained, or corrected. If action is required, she will then reach out to someone in the field to quickly examine and solve the problem. 

The rest of Maria’s day “ranges a lot” depending on the demands of her job, she said, but she does make sure to reserve time each week to meet with her team to go over the key tasks each person is tackling for the week. 

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From there, her tasks may include a two-hour working session with the enterprise analytics development team to come up with a new functionality within the enterprise analytics platform. Current initiatives include creating a Compression Unit Health Dashboard and building new analytics to summarize compression unit behavior that might compromise the long-term health of equipment.

When she’s not working with or dreaming up new tools, she’s spreading the gospel of data science, preparing and delivering the occasional presentation for senior leadership and industry peers at conferences. Most of the presentations aim to raise awareness of the tools and capabilities of the company’s enterprise analytics platform.

While Maria tends to take working lunches, she does enjoy the occasional post-meal escape underground in the downtown tunnels to Boomtown Coffee to help power her through the rest of her day. Any stress for the day is burned off after 5 p.m. with her bike ride home.

“I love integrating this into my daily routine—it’s stress relief and a great way to sneak in extra time outdoors,” she said.

 

The rest of her waking hours are dedicated to both productive and nonproductive activities.

Every other Friday or Saturday, Maria attends class in pursuit of her MBA through the UT McCombs Working Professional Program. “It’s been a blast because it’s with people between the ages of 25 and 35 who are really excited about their careers and where they’re going. And I get to learn about aspects of business that I haven't really been exposed to as an engineer,” she said. Her favorite class? “Marketing analytics.”

 

These days, when she’s not doing homework or on a call with her study group in the evening, she’s tuning in to “a guilty pleasure”—The Bachelor. Though, given her busy schedule, she has some catching up to do on Season 24.

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