Lisa Pinheiro: Recognizing the Power of Data Analysis

Lisa Pinheiro kicked off her executive seminar at the International Conference by setting down a small gift bag stuffed with tissue paper on the back end table, along with her papers and bags. She rummaged about, pulled out a box of Belgian chocolates, turned around, and set it down in the center of the table, directly in front of the attendees. “Go ahead, take some!”, smiling warmly and offering up the candy in her French-accented English. Her kind and thoughtful attitude was immediately made apparent by the gesture, and the feeling was only intensified throughout the course of her talk and our interview afterwards.

Of Portuguese descent, Belgian upbringing, and stints in London, South Africa, and now Quebec, Ms. Pinheiro is a perfect embodiment not only of the international nature of the conference she was generous enough to speak at, but also of the globalized world we now live in. Furthermore, as an undergraduate math major who has worked extensively in quantitative analysis and data science her whole life, she is an equally perfect embodiment of the conference’s theme, The Future of Work.

Although she began her career at CIRANO, conducting applied research projects, she entered Analysis Group in 2005, a leading economic consulting firm. Working there from 2005 to now, she has held a variety of positions, but now serves as a managing principal. It’s the dream position for someone who is as passionate about statistics, math, and practical application as she is. This passion is made evident by her advocating for considering these subjects not just in terms of the workplace, but truly in all aspects of our education and world space.

With two young children, Ms. Pinheiro lamented that their education doesn’t include subjects like coding and typing, noting that the current education system in Canada doesn’t sufficiently prepare the children for the future workplace. When one of the attendees asked how to best prepare kids in a school setting for a future that no one can anticipate, she laughed and nodded in concession, noting that it’s a fair point. However, she argued back: although no one can predict the future, it seems non-negotiable that data science is (1) a valuable skill, (2) one that will be increasingly valuable, and (3) a skill that anyone can learn to be familiar with.

Indeed, the variety of work that Ms. Pinheiro has been able to take on is remarkable. She has been a player within the Apple versus Samsung lawsuits, financial cases, and medical healthcare cases. Perhaps my favorite example that she brought up was Deflategate: she and her team actually froze footballs and carried them into warm air to mimic the exact conditions that the Patriots’ footballs had been under during that infamous game and scandal! Perhaps technology cannot solve every problem, and it should be viewed more as a tool than itself a solution, but even so, the power of technology cannot be denied.

As someone who is not as technical as Ms. Pinheiro, it was admittedly a bit daunting to hear the world she projected into the future. She even at some point mentioned that physical writing is a dying art, and the side of me that makes handwritten notes every holiday was shaken. However, it was incredibly refreshing to see the level of commitment that she maintains to her work and to her perspective, as it reflects a true belief in the power of what she’s pursuing. It made me realize just how valuable her line of work is, and even more broadly, the need for statistical modeling and better data comprehension that we need in the future.

I wonder what it would’ve been like to grow up in the world that Ms. Pinheiro is envisioning for her children: one where they type answers in their classes, and where they code before recess in addition to finishing their history worksheets. Perhaps I did not, but she is confident that the next generation will. And after hearing about the incredible impact of her work and the breadth of topics she is able to help approach, I cannot help but be incredibly excited to see what this new world of ours will bring.