Meet Anchormen: Dennis

“I always like to get to know my colleagues better, so every now and then I sit down with one of them and ask some questions. So, let’s meet Dennis!” – Naiyara

Hello! My name is Dennis, I’m a Senior Data Scientist at Anchormen and also one of the first Data Scientists to join the team in the beginning of 2016, so I’m looking forward to sharing my perspective of our work here and the progress we’ve made throughout the years!

I’m originally from the South of the Netherlands and grew up near Maastricht, but I’ve spent a large portion of my life in or around the Amsterdam/Utrecht region. I studied Physics and Astronomy at Utrecht University, which then grew to Theoretical Physics during my master’s program. Although I really loved the theoretical side, I felt that writing papers and doing research about soft condensed matter was a bit too narrow for my liking. Back when I graduated, around 2009, Data Science didn’t even exist as a field, so I started a job at an IT company. The work was much more practical, albeit less programming than I would have liked. Working there for a couple of years and gaining a lot of experience I still felt that something was missing. So, I decided I needed to do a bit of soul searching.

I quit my job and hopped on a train heading East. I made my way through Europe and entered Russia, trying to avoid the tourist traps as much as possible. Once I was in the Asian part of the country, I headed South towards Kazakhstan, then Kyrgyzstan, following the route of the ancient Silk Road all the way through China. All the time exploring the local way of life and visiting some of the most remote locations. During my travels I got the opportunity to explore and talk with a lot of people, as well as meet someone. I really got the opportunity to reflect about what I want and where my strengths are. It was then and there that I decided I want to become a Data Scientist. But without any experience and constantly on the road, my only chance of diving in the field was to do online courses whenever I could squeeze in the time. I can still vividly remember going through an uneven, rocky road in the mountains of Nepal, doing an online Data Science course. I left Nepal in 2015 just before the big earthquake but my then girlfriend was still there, so we decided to get involved and help. We did some volunteer work and set up a fundraiser, bringing food, clothes and medicines to heavily affected mountain villages and building shelters for people whose houses had collapsed.

After getting back to the Netherlands I intensified my preparation. I started going to meetups and bootcamps until one day I stumbled upon a training organized by Anchormen and met some of my future colleagues. After the training we stayed for some drinks and we got talking about what I was looking for. Back then Anchormen was just starting their Data Science & A.I. department, so they offered me to come over the office to see if there is a fit. Couple of meetings and assignments later and I was part of the team!

I think I was the 4th or 5th Data Scientist to join the team. The field was relatively unexplored, and very new to a lot of our customers, so it was quite a challenge to find our groove. It felt a bit like a playground, or a science project with room for trial and error. But we got our bearings quite fast. More people joined the team and we started picking up more and more projects. I think I’ve worked on almost all of the initial projects – Strukton, Belvilla, Brabant Water, the Royal Dutch Airforce, Kramp, Mosadex, etc.

In the same year, the Anchormen Traineeships were introduced, and I was tasked with preparing materials for some of the classes. Initially, we were developing it in collaboration with university professors from Amsterdam and Groningen until we were ready to stand on our own two feet. Eventually, processes became more structured and we even launched the Anchormen Academy, parallel to our customer solutions. I became more involved with it and just last year we started our second traineeship – the Accelerator Program; just recently we did a Hackathon at the Tweede Kamer with our newest class.

After all this time, Data Science is still my main passion. For me it has always been about solving problems in society with data and machine learning.  I’d like to think we’ve done some positive change with our work and improved people’s lives even a little bit. Anchormen has grown a lot since I first joined. Our mission and vision are more focused now and we still try to nurture our playground mentality. Having the freedom to think outside the box, and to keep experimenting is crucial for a data scientist and for our customers.

Although the road can be rocky, the view from the top is definitely worth it 😉

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