Jan 28, 2014, 16:31 PM
Michael J. Weiss
The Patience of a Geek
At first glance, Greg Schreiber doesn’t seem like a wild and crazy guy. He speaks in calm, measured tones. He brown-bags a sandwich to work so he doesn’t have to wait in line for the lunchroom microwave. Though he describes his desk as “organized chaos”—with several stacks of old projects arranged around souvenir magnets from his travels to Asia—his colleagues give him high marks on the neatnik scale. “He’s very neat and very focused,” says Philip Tananka, Director of the Standard Research team. “The pen should be on the right, the paper on the left and everything in its place. But that’s how a researcher should be.”
As a Research Analyst in the Standard Research team at Environics Analytics, Greg would concur with the virtues of control and order. “The secret to being good at my job is having patience with the data,” he says. While other researchers might take one glance at a customer data file and perform a fast age-by-sex-by-income classification, Greg works the data to unlock nuances and insights. His brand of slow-and-steady analytics—typically on behalf of EA’s finance, insurance, telecommunications and travel practice—often involves advanced custom modelling, data mining and lifestyle-based segmentation analysis.
“I think of myself as a data miner looking for the nitty-gritty insights that aren’t always obvious,” he explains. “I may find issues with the data that we have to work around. And if the values fall outside the expected range, I’ll look for a way to explain what’s happening. I have to dig down to manipulate the data in certain ways—twisting and bending it—to visualize it in an effective manner.”
Sounds like your standard, data-obsessed geek, right? But talk with him long enough, and you realize Greg has the soul of a Walter Mitty—adventurous, impetuous and—dare we say—audacious. Seven years ago, he placed an ad on a dating website and included a photo unlike all the other guys’ in their metrosexual poses. Greg’s photo was of his entire family—including his parents and three younger siblings—on a beach vacation in Ft. Myers, Florida. That homey shot caught the attention of Vera Soegianto, an Indonesian-born accounting student who’d been living in Canada for three years.
“Vera was also family oriented and we started writing each other,” Greg recalls. “I guess if I’d chosen a different picture, it could have turned out differently.”
How it did turn out was a marriage, though even that was atypical. After they’d been dating for a year, Vera learned that her applications for refugee and humanitarian
Greg and Lukas enjoying one of
Lukas’ favourite things: swings.
status had been denied. Unless she had a sponsor, the government would deport her in a matter of months. But Greg had another idea. “I was planning to propose to her that summer,” he recounts. “But the night after the humanitarian interview about her leaving the country, we became engaged.”
Three weeks later, they married and celebrated their nuptials with a reception in a roped-off area of the restaurant in the Novotel hotel in North York Centre—the only place they could arrange on short notice. Five years after that, Vera became a Canadian citizen. And just last year, Greg and Vera became the parents of Lukas, now 14 months old. “To me,” says Greg, “the whole sequence of events makes a heartwarming story.”
No one would have expected a boy from the small town of Acton, Ont., (pop. 10,000) to act so impulsively, but Greg grew up eager to dive headfirst into the world beyond the borders of his mostly homogeneous community. His favourite classes were geography, history and anthropology. “I’ve always loved learning about different groups and what
Greg and Vera on the edge of the Ijen stratovolcano in Southeast Java, Indonesia—not far from where her family lives
differentiates them from one another,” he says. He fondly remembers his first trip to Toronto, a daylong visit that left him wide-eyed over the city’s cultural diversity—“so many different people and customs and foods,” he recalls.
Greg earned a bachelor’s degree in urban planning and a diploma of excellence in GIS from the University of Waterloo and, before a co-op program at the Ajax (Ont.) Town Planning Department, he considered going into architecture. But after taking a number of GIS courses, he discovered a passion for mapping, geographic analysis and geodemography. He entered the Master of Spatial Analysis program at Ryerson University, where he earned his master’s degree and wrote his major research paper on geodemographics. Over the next three years, he worked a series of short-term jobs: a research assistant for St. Joseph’s Health Care, a research and assessment associate for the Thames Valley District School Board, and a GIS specialist for the County of Lambton. “I learned a lot about working with data and databases,” says Greg of his early post-graduate career. In 2010, after Vera finished her studies in accounting, they took off on a four-month trip to visit her family in Indonesia, the sights in Singapore and China. When they returned, Greg found his way to EA, where a Ryerson classmate, Philip Tananka, had taken a job as a Research Analyst. Today, Philip is Greg’s immediate supervisor. “It’s nice working with someone I went to school with because there are no surprises,” says Greg. “I know him, he knows me. There’s already a working harmony there.”
In the two-and-a-half years since joining EA, Greg has become expert at providing micromarketing and data mining services—including customer profiling, trade area reporting, custom mapping and data analysis—for an array of clients. For him, extracting customer insights from databases is like solving a puzzle. After cleaning the data, he turns to a number of
One happy camping family—Greg’s
extended family at Balsam Lake Provincial Park
tools—like Alteryx, ArcGIS and Excel—to conduct the analysis. “The process often requires the perfect configuration of tools and parameters to get from point A to point B,” explains Greg. “You can do some things with one and not with another.”
The final analysis demands mental concentration and the patience of, well, Greg. “The hardest part of my job is having to work quickly while still maintaining a high degree of attention to detail,” he says, noting that lately getting eight hours of sleep a night is a challenge with a toddler in the family.
Not long ago, the Schreibers bought a house in suburban Ajax, settling into an older neighbourhood that PRIZM classifies as Blue-Collar Comfort (middle-aged, upper-middle-class blue-collar families). While Greg concedes his own household does not reflect the broader segment characteristics, he notes that his neighbourhood is undergoing rapid gentrification. “People are demolishing these old cottage homes and building new multi-story homes typical of the 905 (area code),” he says. Greg and Vera particularly like the area’s older homes and shady streets filled with oak, birch and maple trees. “You have to wash your car a lot from all the sap dripping from the trees,” he laughs.
“The funny thing is that people see me as more Asian than my wife because I’m so interested in the culture and she aspires to more of the Western lifestyle.”
In fact, the Schreiber household is typical of a young multicultural family. Their home is decorated with souvenirs from China and Indonesia, the floor is scattered with toys and trucks, and the kitchen, in Greg’s words, is “a disaster zone. Lukas likes to blow bubbles when we’re trying to feed him,” he says. “And his arms are always flailing and knocking things off the chair.” On warm weekends, the family likes to go camping at nearby provincial parks or head to sprinklers near Lake Ontario. During the winter, they’ll stroll through a mall for the exercise and window-shopping entertainment.
The family is also active in the Indonesian Pentecostal Church, where Greg is one of only a handful of Westerners among mostly Chinese and Indonesian Canadians. “They call me ‘Bule’ (pronounced boo-lay), which is an Indonesian term for foreigner or Westerner,” he says. “The funny thing is that people see me as more Asian than my wife because I’m so interested in the culture and she aspires to more of the Western lifestyle.”
One thing they share—and that hasn’t changed over the years—is their love of family. Last summer, when Greg finished a big project for a travel association that involved months of modelling, he celebrated by going camping with his family—including parents and siblings—at Balsam Lake in North-Central Ontario. Nearly a dozen relatives converged on a campground with an RV and a handful of tents for a weekend of camping, canoeing, swimming and cooking—including pizza and pie cooked over an open fire. And while some young couples might think a vacation with parents is a recipe for disaster, Greg enjoys relaxing with his extended family. But you never know what adventure he’s mulling over as he watches his son play on the beach with his pail
Recent family portrait of Greg, Vera and Lukas
and shovel. After all, it’s the quiet and controlled geeks who always surprise you.
—Michael J. Weiss