I had to do my graduation thesis and I had decided that I wanted to do it at a company. I took a look at my options and decided that I wanted to do it at the research institute of a large consulting firm. I had also sent a letter to dutch department of the firm and they responded. They offered me the position of working on an EU research project. And actually that was how I got into Machine Learning, which was a bit more exotic at the time. It was a project concerned with a library and evolutionary algorithm and we had to look for business cases. At the time we were mostly thinking about marketing and credit ratings. Back then everyone thought of you as crazy if you told that you were going to see what advertisements you would offer certain people based on data. This was thirty years ago.
Within the firm, me and a few people kept working together on related topics, which at the time meant walking ahead of the troops. Within the firm we needed to write everything ourselves, we couldn’t use libraries so we programmed our asses off to get the tools we wanted. At some point we realised that we could not do it the way we wanted within the firm, so we decided to start something for ourselves, which we eventually ended up selling. You know my take on this is that these things usually hang together by coincidence. You always encounter this in life, you get opportunities, some you do something with and some others you try that do not work out.
I started off doing something that I found extremely cool. I started with Machine Learning and the evolutionary algorithm, which I found awesome at the time, nobody uses evolutionary algorithms anymore right now, haha. And I was just extremely motivated, exactly by the thing I was doing itself. There was not a second that I thought about what I wanted to do with this thing when I was going to grow up. Even when I was doing my promotion at the University I was just thinking about what I wanted to do at the time, not that I wanted to have my own research group later. What I realize now is that the things that you do in life always stick to you in some way. From the time I was working at the research institute there are all sorts of things that are connected to the work I am doing right now, so you carry all these things with you. The most important lesson is, if I can give you one, is that nothing you do now means that you have to do it for the rest of your life. It used to be different but throughout your career you have a lot of opportunities to switch, so don’t worry too much about what’s happening in five years, just look at the thing you want to do now.