Big data and Amazon Web Services: meet the Ordina expert

Aron Geerts

A warm, open company culture, an excellent training programme and the opportunity to start working as a data engineer at a major sports brand: what more could you want as a newly qualified civil engineer and ardent sports fanatic? Aron Geerts was excited to join DataDriven, the data team of Ordina, in August 2018 and still is: ‘It’s wonderful to see how many opportunities juniors get here.’

Aron has laid a strong foundation for his career: he has a master’s degree in computer science, with a major in artificial intelligence (AI). ‘AI is an incredibly exciting technology, which you really can apply in any field,’ according to Aron. He proved this in his master’s thesis, in which he managed to cleverly combine his interest in AI with his passion for football. ‘I designed a model that maps and compares the playing style of footballers,’ he explains. ‘This enables clubs to select their professional players based on objective criteria. And not on gut feeling, which still happens way too much today despite the fact that there is so much money involved.’

Unique training programme

‘The benefit of AI to any organization, in any sector is enormous, but there is still a lot of unexplored potential,’ Aron continues. Keen to help change this, he immediately started looking for a job in AI after graduating. And, he found one, at DataDriven. ‘I got to know Ordina during the Young Professional Day, an open day for newly qualified graduates, and instantly felt at home. There was an open, warm atmosphere and I had a great chat with the HR team. But what really sold it to me was the unique training programme for new recruits. When I was given the opportunity to join the Young Professional Programme, I grabbed it with both hands.’

Gaining practical knowledge

Before he knew what was happening, Aaron found himself back in the classroom. This time, at his new employer’s. From August to mid-September, he was immersed in the world of big data. ‘At university, we had learnt a lot of theory and concepts around big data, but I had very little practical knowledge. During the Young Professional training, I was introduced to tools and methods and was taught how I can use these on a client assignment. Thanks to the classroom lessons, everyone is involved and you learn very quickly. That makes the training programme so incredibly valuable.’ In addition, Ordina also gave Aron time for self-study. As a result, he obtained the necessary certificates in October to start gaining work experience as a fully-qualified AI expert on his first client assignment.

At university, we had learnt a lot of theory and concepts around big data, but I lacked practical knowledge. I gained this during the intensive Young Professional training.

A data lake for distribution centers

‘To a sports fanatic, a famous brand like this is a dream client, of course,’ Aron laughs. ‘It’s great to see how such a sports giant operates. Robots in warehouses, VR applications to train employees. Those first few days, I was really impressed with all the innovations.’

Aron himself got to work on data to optimize the operation of the distribution centers. ‘All sports shoes and clothing that is sold in Europe, the Middle East and Africa passes through the European Logistics Campus of my client. This campus consists of six distribution centers. When I started there, they were struggling with a multitude of data silos, each center had its own system, which led to inefficiencies and errors. We were tasked with migrating all logistics data and bringing it together in a data lake.’

Thrown in at the deep end

Where do you start such a job as a junior? ‘It was a bit like being thrown in at the deep end,’ Aron admits. ‘But fortunately, I wasn’t alone. Two more experienced colleagues had already mapped the requirements and technical solution. Together with another new colleague, I helped them with the implementation. That was quite tough, but I learnt a great deal about big data, data migration, Amazon Web Services (AWS) etc. The big advantage of a field like AI is that it’s relatively new, which means no-one really has years of experience to fall back on. So, as a junior, you don’t have to make up that much ground. You can become a specialist very quickly.’

Competence center lead

And, that is exactly what Aron did. After 18 months, he became the competence center lead. He helps colleagues with questions about big data and AWS and gives internal training courses. ‘It was a huge boost to be given that kind of responsibility barely two years after graduating,’ according to Aron. ‘Proof that Ordina looks at the effort you put in and your expertise, not at how many years you have clocked up.’

Barely 2 years after graduating, I became the competence center lead. Proof that Ordina looks at the effort you put in and your expertise and not the number of years you have clocked up.

80 DataDriven colleagues at one client’s site

Obviously, Aron still spends most of his time working as a data engineer at a client’s site. He now uses the insights he has gained while working on the data lake project to develop a platform that helps other client teams with data management and analysis.

‘This company wants to become a real intelligent data-driven organization,’ Aron says. ‘Since the coronavirus crisis, their investment in analytics has increased even more. Meanwhile, about 80 DataDriven people now work at this client’s site. I, myself, mostly work with DataOps: we monitor, carry out quality checks and organize, structure and automate data. While other colleagues are more involved in data visualization and data science. Of course, we also work very closely together. If a colleague from the Data Science team wants to use AWS, they come to me. You learn a lot from each other like that.’

Continuous learning

All Ordina employees must be committed to continuous learning. And, Aron is given a lot of opportunities to do so. ‘I keep saying how unique the Young Professional Programme was. But even now, Ordina continues to encourage us to take training courses. And, my current client’s work environment is so innovative that you learn something new every day. What’s more, as a competence center lead, I’m increasingly involved in other client projects and get the opportunity to coach colleagues. In time, I think I would like to do more of that kind of thing. I know that Ordina will support me in this too.’