Joana Sousa believes there is a lot of opportunity for mining right now, particularly the role that technology can play in making coal mining more effective for business.
Joana, originally from Portugal, is the Data Science Lead in Queensland for mining giant BHP.
Her love for technology started when she was still in Portugal and joined the country’s first-ever digital-only insurance company as a Data Analyst.
“I knew I wanted to pursue a data science career to tackle problems that had never been solved by applying data in new and unique ways.
“Everything started back in Portugal. I was working for a digital insurance company and my partner was working in Australia so I blame him for my move to Australia,” laughed Joana.
“I had been living in Australia for one year when I joined BHP.”
Joana joined BHP through the BHP Female Talent Acceleration Program. It’s aimed at creating pathways for diverse talent into the minerals industry and by the end of it, Joana became a Data Scientist.
“It was the first year that the program was going. It provides a lot of support, leadership and mentorship for the first few months.
“In male-dominated industries like technology and mining, it can sometimes be difficult for women to feel supported. By having female mentors and role models, women can feel encouraged and empowered to pursue their careers and see that there is a place for them here.
“After I graduated from the program I joined a project analysing data and programming and then launched the logic behind the PASPO project.
“It helps our wash plant controllers to optimise the coal and the way we wash it so we can have more yield at the end of the process and achieve the business’s target quality.”
Joana created the algorithm for the PASPO product which is BHP’s first ever machine learning application which provinces optimised wash setting recommendations to achieve target quality specifications in the company’s coal handling processing plants.
PASPO has been rolled out at all of the coal mining sites in Queensland and at BHP’s other coal mines in Australia.
The PASPO project has been recognised on a national level too.
This year, Joana won the national award for technological innovation at the Women in Resources National Awards, hosted by the Minerals Council of Australia in Canberra at the start of September, for her work on the PASPO project.
The Minerals Council said Joana’s win was only the second time in the event’s 10-year history that a Queenslander had won the Women in Resources Technological Innovation category.
“I always say that the award is based on the whole team’s effort. We built something that helps our business every day. We’re not just building a program, we’re building something that we can put into practice that will help our operation,” said Joana.
Queensland Resources Council Chief Executive Ian Macfarlane said Joana was an inspiration for women with a passion for STEM and a determination to succeed in their chosen field.
“The sky really is the limit when it comes to hi-tech career opportunities in the resources sector because companies are looking to recruit people with a STEM background to help drive the massive transformation needed to achieve Australia’s net-zero emission targets,
“Our industry offers diverse and well-paid career opportunities for people of all ages and stages of life.
“People, and particularly young people with a passion for innovation, can be part of something bigger and make a difference to the world every day you go to work.”
Joana said that winning the award has opened her up to new opportunities in the industry and she’s excited for whatever comes next.
“It’s hard to say what’s next. The awards have given me the opportunity to be surrounded by some amazing people, both men and women who are trying to change and bring the resources sector to a better place.
“I’m currently leading a team not on the wash plant side, but more with people management so I am leading a digital product that will help our leaders to better support their teams.
“I want to continue to mentor and help and bring other people along with me. I think what excites me the most is mining and coal has so much opportunity right now. I think we can really build amazing things to help our people and enable our people and our operation.
“I appreciate the opportunities for growth and the chance to work on exciting projects. I feel that my skills and experience are valued and that I’m constantly learning and challenging the limits of my capabilities. It is a great time to be part of BHP’s digital journey.”