Turning spatial data into travel
Natasha Spokes, BSc (Eng)'05, graduated with a Minor in Entrepreneurship. She is the CEO and co-founder of FarCloser Travel, a tech company that connects travelers seeking authentic, life-enriching tours with the companies providing them. She is responsible for leading the company's mission of becoming a leading online marketplace for touring. Prior to founding FarCloser, Natasha worked in a variety of roles in the geomatics industry both in Canada and abroad in Australia. With professional experience as a surveyor, spatial analyst, GIS consultant and business development manager in a wide range of industries, Natasha turned her focus to disrupting the travel industry in 2017. She is the chair of the Geomatics Engineering Advisory Committee and loves mentoring students who are interested in pursuing their entrepreneurial dream.
Engineering can be a pretty intense program, so you're often head down, putting everything into your courses. But, once you graduate, so much of the real world is based around your network and the relationships you've built.
CEO and Co-founder, FarCloser Travel
What is your favourite memory from your time at UCalgary?
It's a toss-up between the year I spent in the US on internship and Engineering Week in my final year. Working for an aerial survey company in Colorado, I had the chance to travel all across the states operating aerial survey equipment in the company plane. On the other hand, the Department of Geomatics Engineering is usually an underdog when it comes to interdepartmental challenges, so it was really fun to put up a good showing for our Geo-st Busters theme.
What was your favourite campus hang-out spot?
The Geo 'fishbowl' homeroom was a great place to connect with other Geo's and decompress, and the Den was always a good time when you needed to get out of the engineering building.
What advice would you give your student self, knowing what you do now?
Have more fun. Engineering can be a pretty intense program, so you're often head down, putting everything into your courses. But, once you graduate, so much of the real world is based around your network and the relationships you've built. It's likely that the people you go to school with will cross your professional path down the road, so it pays to get to know them while you are all 'living' under one roof.
How did your engineering degree help you get to where you are today?
My engineering degree gave me the ability to travel and work abroad for six years after graduation, providing me with a whole new perspective on what it meant to be a geomatics engineer. I "learned how to learn" during my time at university, which has given me the courage and skills to try new things and take on challenges that weren't part of the "engineering brochure." Although the technical skills I learned at school were important, gaining the foundation to approach opportunities with a problem-solving mindset has opened doors I never would have imagined at convocation.
How has your career path evolved and changed since your graduation?
I've been fortunate to have had a wide variety of career experiences since graduation and, although it hasn't been a traditional path, it has been highly fulfilling. From being the lead surveyor on a brand new rugby stadium in Australia to managing a fishing lodge in the Gulf of Carpentaria, and now being CEO of a travel tech company, I've been able to use aspects of my degree in every role I've had. Starting in junior roles in the field and working up to more senior positions allowed me to gain a full appreciation for the work required at each level and the importance of data quality. Now, being part of the startup-ecosystem in Calgary, I get to learn from leaders in their respective fields and develop new skills every day.