How is Niels doing now? ‘Sometimes you have to jump into the deep end’
You have got your degree in the pocket, now what are you going to do with it? We asked four recently graduated students from Tilburg University that question at the end of 2020. Now, one and a half years later, we speak to them again. What were their first steps into the labor market like? And what has come of their wishes and ambitions so far? This week: Niels de Klerk has just started a new job as a sales assistant at a company specialized in machine learning.
What has the past year and a half been like for you?
“Still different than expected. I worked as an account manager for medicine transportation at the company E. van Wijk and thought I would stay there for a while. Things turned out differently. I recently started working in Rotterdam, at Crunch Analytics, an organization specialized in data science. I’m still in sales, but in a very different, challenging sector.”
Why did you decide to take this step?
“I saw the vacancy come up and in a crazy mood I sent a cover letter. After the first interview, I became enthusiastic, after the second even more so and after the third I thought: I really want this! Partly because of the culture in the company, which is so much fun. It really is a scale-upculture with all young people.
“Crunch Analytics employs about twenty data scientists and engineers, most with backgrounds in mathematics, econometrics, or ICT. They are at the forefront of applying the latest innovations in machine learning. It’s really something I don’t know everything about yet myself but would like to learn more about.”
So, you choose a sector that you feel has more future?
“Exactly. In my previous job I couldn’t learn as much about the product itself because at the end of the day it’s truck transport. Of course, you can develop on small points, but the big picture was clear. If I really want to develop further, learn new things about a new product or different sector, the best thing I can do is do it now. In my new job, for the time being, it will be a surprise when a techie comes up with an intelligent new use case or solution. That makes it very interesting and dynamic.
“Machine learning is a fairly new field. In college, I was among the last cohort not to be taught the econometrician programming language Python. The cohorts after me do get that. You can see that this technique is being used everywhere now whereas, ten years ago, there were far fewer people working on it.”
What exactly does Crunch Analytics do?
“We offer smart AI and Machine Learning applications that can directly help a company make more returns with their data. For example, in the area of mark-downs. We can use algorithms to calculate what the ideal mark-down is for a dress or cardigan, using data from years past. So, you can calculate what percentage discount you will make the most profit with.
“I think these kinds of new techniques are of great value to the slightly smaller retailers, who have to compete hard with the big players like bol.com, Zalando, and Amazon. They need this to survive in the coming years.”
Can you give a concrete example?
“Suppose a customer has ten stores, 500 pants, and a web shop. A company then has to make choices: how many ‘green pants’ should be in one store and how many in another? At what point am I going to send them from one store to the other?
“You can write an intelligent algorithm for that. It monitors this kind of current data and knows, based on previous years, how many pairs of green pants in size 38 were previously sold by one store or another. If that algorithm then makes the connections itself, you can make predictions that humans would not be able to make on their own. In doing so, it works even if you have to do it for hundreds of different products. It makes a hip and new technique very concrete and tangible, which is what I like about it.”
What role do you have in the company?
“I work as an Account Executive, or sales. I approach potential companies that would be a good fit for Crunch. I contact them, and if they are interested, I give a presentation or a demo showing what we can do for them. Then I write a proposal and negotiate the terms.”
How do you feel about changing jobs?
“I find that quite exciting. I’m a bit risk averse. At E. van Wijk, I was given many opportunities and chances and it was a very nice organization in terms of atmosphere. Of course, I’m going to miss that familiarity. You know what you have, but sometimes you have to jump into the deep end.”
What do you find most exciting about this step?
“In sales, of course, new customers must come in or existing customers must continue to grow. Before I started, I sometimes thought: what if I can’t do that at all? If it doesn’t work out, I’ll have a problem. But fortunately, it has gone well so far.
“The guidance is good, there is a lot of information to read up on and understand things better. Still, in the end I will have to do it myself. You start at zero. Nobody knows me, so I just started e-mailing and calling around. Actually, to all retailers. Everyone who sells something to consumers and has a little data, I try to interest in our product.
“Once I find companies and start giving presentations, the most fun part of this job comes. Really being in contact with people. And then writing very detailed quotes because in the end a lot of time goes into that too.”
Besides these exciting developments, do you still have time for your other great passion, (organ) music?
“Due to the coronavirus, there has been little to do musically recently, so I was able to continue studying vigorously. I will probably graduate from the Tilburg Conservatory sometime this fall. When the last lockdown ended, concert invitations suddenly flooded in. I am very happy with that.
“I work just a little less than full time, so I can play on the one day I have left and in the evenings and at weekends. Music hasn’t taken a back seat, but it has become clear to me that there is one thing I want to do more than anything else in that field: play great concerts.
“Playing for an audience is something I enjoy immensely. But I don’t want to depend on music for my livelihood.”
Translated by Language Center, Riet Bettonviel