E004 From PhD in Mathematics to Software Development. How Does Life in Consultancy Companies Look?

May 31st 2020

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Dr Leonardo Morelli has worked as Scientific Software Developer at Alten Nederland in Rotterdam since February 2020. Leonardo completed a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Applied Mathematics at La Sapienza University, Rome (IT). Then, he moved to Leiden, the Netherlands for his PhD program in Mathematics. Although he insists that his PhD research in Mathematics concerns how the “Hola!” waves at football stadiums propagate, his research employed highly technical mathematical tools both on the theoretical and the computational side.

Halfway through his PhD program, he decided to switch his career path to the industry world — yet still, it took him another couple of years to find a topic he would be passionate about. In this webinar, Leonardo told us how he got his first job outside academia, made his first steps in the consultancy world, how to recognize a good employer, how the scrum technique work, and how he feels like – an Italian in the Netherlands.

Leonardo’s LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/leonardo-morelli-math/

The episode was recorded on May 31st, 2020. This material represents the speaker’s personal views and not the opinions of their employer(s). 

Natalia 00:14 Hello, everyone. Today, we are having a great guest Leonardo, who is a PhD in mathematics, and who is now working as a scientific software developer at Alten Nederland in Rotterdam. I’m very pleased to have you, Leonardo. Thank you for accepting the invitation. Today, we will talk about your career path and where you are now, and about your great future.

First of all, please tell us a little bit about your background. What is an Italian guy doing in the Netherlands? How this came about? That you arrived at the Dutch soil? About your background and your PhD? And what brought you here to the job of a software developer?

Leonardo 01:20 The first thing is I never had any doubts about mathematics itself because it was the one thing I was kind of good at. That one thing interests me. After high school, I went straight to the university, and it was super smooth. I would say I was very happy that I found something that worked.

Towards the end of the master, I’d manifest with the world’s doing very well. They were all going for PhDs mostly in the UK. And in general, most of them are abroad in Europe and a few in the US. Since I didn’t know what to do after my master’s, I thought, okay, maybe I can keep doing the same. I just get paid. I also started looking for PhD’s position for doctorates.

I also started looking at the beginning for abroad, because emitted the result of bureaucracy and the time to get into that field is quite late. If you don’t get one by then in Italy, you’re kind of screwed for the whole year. Not very wise. There are certain looking countries where one could just get by with English. In Europe, the first one that comes to mind is England, you know, the Kingdom Hall. I didn’t find good opportunities over there, even at the universities where my friends were staying.

I started thinking. In Europe, there are also other countries as well, where English is widespread. They also have things like Euro metric system and reasonable driving sites. First looking into Denmark, the Netherlands, I found great research, broke the record on the team, and eventually actually got through offers from University.

I ended up accepting one of them. I was really happy about it. Everything was working smoothly. I started in September 2014. The research group was in dynamical systems and mathematical modeling. It was quite interesting. It’s commonly known as a theory, applied parts of mathematics. Although what I was dealing with was the theoretical part. Credit meetings are making new theories and using quite a lot of numerical simulations with MATLAB in the last two years.

Ideally, I had some sort of mixed background. Let’s say, I could do theory. I could develop theory, and I could also apply mathematics. I guess that this is quite a good advantage over some other colleagues that can come from a more theoretical background. Although in general, a mathematician is a mathematician, so an employer. An employer will not understand or be interested in what you do. They just know you can do some sort of black magic. That’s it.

Natalia 04:44 You know, I also have a master’s title in mathematics. But I always felt that for me, applied mathematics is so much easier than theoretical, like fundamental mathematics. I don’t feel strong enough to develop new theorems and prove new theorems. I thought this is like even harder. And it was so abstract sometimes, especially some branches of mathematics, like functional mathematics and functional analysis, and something like group theories.

I was losing myself completely at the coordinates. Classical analysis was fine. And probably calculus was fine. For some reason, I liked it, but in some parts of it, I barely passed. I never felt that I’m good enough to be like this second mental mathematician that proves my freedom. I think it’s just so much harder than applied mathematics.

If you can prove theorems, you can also do applied mathematics. But if you do applied mathematics, I don’t think you can easily switch back. What I’m wanting to say is that I think what you do is harder.

Leonardo 06:04 We’re also applying mathematics as theorems in probability. Many dynamical systems are so different that they will not be as abstract. But it’s still valid mathematics. And they’re often more powerful and more useful. A certain model behaves the way it behaves. It is also a theorem. It’s our rule to discover and that’s it.

Natalia 06:34 Right. So that was your PhD? Can you tell us very briefly, what is the main finding of your PhD?

Leonardo 06:47 What I’ve investigated is, that there are mathematical functions called traveling waves. They are the solution to differential equations. This describes the way some profile moves in space, time, and the changes in space in time. In the case of traveling waves, what they see is that they travel. They keep the same shape, but they just drift in time. That’s why it was kind of a wave in the sea or something like that.

I was studying this kind of wave. Yeah, let’s say a surface. But I was mentioning in the introduction, that in the stadium, why the stadium because it’s made, you can only see that it’s made of single people, single elements. They all combine, cooperate and respond to the stimuli from the neighbors usually. In my case, I made four neighbors in most mediums. But they still behave currently, and they create a pattern. You can see that local coordination in local cooperation can bring to global patterns, global events.

I was studying exactly this kind of discrete, pointwise locally connected surfaces, the way these waves travel. And in particular, if we have, for example, a wave that is not only as perfectly straight, for example, as a wedge or a corner. Then how does it travel? What’s the speed, depending on the effect and on the angle?

Does it change the speed? Does it change direction? Can it exist for every direction or only some special ones? This was my first project that was supposed to be simple six months warm-up, and it took the first three years. It was a huge struggle. I suffered a lot. At some point, I was crying in my supervisor’s office because it was a full semester thrown in the garbage. It was hard at some point.

Luckily, in the fourth year, we had three papers published with some collaborators. It was super fun with lots of colorful programming. That was much more enjoyable. By the end of three years of really hard theory and technicalities, we’re harsh. That was the time when I decided that I will not continue with academia. This is only because I was slamming my hand on this project so much.

I think more because I was seeing other presentations of professors and people that have built a career in academia. Their presentations were I made this toy model. It works the way I wanted it to work. Academia gives me money. It gives me money to keep working on my toy. And I found that most of these models have meanings. But sometimes, these were just not really helpful, not even in a theoretical way. It was just people playing and pulling strings of a toy and claiming that it was important. I didn’t see value in this thing.

Natalia 10:40 To a problem in mathematics, you know, very often, there is some solution. Let’s say, It’s some nice dynamical system that has interesting properties. People try to find an experiment or some application where this model fits and explain something. Instead of starting with a problem, they try to model it like a phenomenon happening in nature.

They take a model and just try to come up, like what these variables can stand for, and just try to squeeze this model into applications. I see it often. I still keep in touch with my former colleagues from the Faculty of Mathematics in Warsaw. I see that some of the people, just have one specialty, which is one type of model. Their whole literature, like their whole scientific achievement, is basically to squeeze this model into as many applications as possible.

They kind of mold the same model in 50 different aspects and 50 different contexts and produce previous publications by changing a few parameters every time. They just, you know, they spend their whole career doing the same model. They just changed the rhetorics every time.

Leonardo 12:09 I find it some sort of more practice. Finding my practice in mathematics is harsh because I can’t make up data and it is not that easy to cheat in a mathematics paper. Regarding the content, I find it sometimes that it’s just bogus. It got me disillusioned, about pursuing a career in academics.

Natalia 12:41 I have a question because, for myself, it also worked in this way. From what you were saying, I see that for the first three years, you had a frustrating hard Project, and then you decided to leave academia, and then at some point projects start working for you, right? I feel like I had the same.

I stopped thinking about a scientific career. I publish much more than I used to before. I’m thinking that this is true like sometimes we are just to remind and don’t think about plan B and other options, and sometimes just getting more distant and being more relaxed about it helps. Which is hard, of course.

Leonardo 13:29 Surely, taking a breath, taking a step back really helps also for security with your productivity. I guess the moment you decided that this is not going to be my career forever, then you can be a bit more relaxed. But also, the more effort you put in now, the less time you will expect you will have to spend tomorrow. That also can help.

Natalia 13:56 Before I ask you about your current job because I’m very worried that I will forget this question. I want to ask you now, what do you think about the Italian cuisine in the Netherlands?

Leonardo 14:11 I have to say that one of the biggest accomplishments I had in the Netherlands was learning to cook well. Before coming here, I was living with my family. I didn’t need to learn how to provide for myself. But I have to say that it’s questionable. I guess that cooking in the kitchen in the Netherlands has its appeal. There are plenty of Italian restaurants than Dutch restaurants. I have found that for any dish, I can have I know a good restaurant to go to when I have cravings?

Natalia 15:06 I was just curious because I heard about pizza in the Netherlands.

Leonardo 15:13 That’s the worst. I’ve seen, a pizza in Brazil can be worse, for example.

Natalia 15:18 Okay.

William 15:23 I had a pizza in France when I was there. And this pizza was really simple but it was delicious. I found it in the main market, in the center of the city. It was great and not comparable with the pizza’s hearing.

Natalia 15:47 Just I wanted to know, because like, some Italian people I asked this question are quite rough.

Leonardo 15:58 There are good places also. Many Italian cuisine places are owned by Italian. You know, there is a good knowledge exchange or anytime, you know, the good place where to find these or that. In general, we can only spot which menus have been written by Italians and which are not. That’s also a good indicator, like no amount of spelling mistakes. It’s a good predictor of the quality of the food.

Natalia 16:32 We know more about your PhD story. Once you took that decision, what steps did you take next?

Leonardo 16:54 In the beginning, I knew because my whole future was planning. I did that project. But everything at that moment was just about making me to the next day. I was pretty much research-oriented. I told Okay, the earlier I finish research, there came to think of finding a job.

I always start to take things one more time. First, I finished my research PhD then I will start looking for a job earlier. I will start working if it’s possible after I’m done with other things. Perhaps, I should have started thinking earlier. Once I made up the decision, I will surely start thinking more seriously about what I would like to do after research.

In my first year, I went to mathematics within the streets. It was some kind of workshop that happens every year. But I didn’t have some great experience over there. I did this one project in one year. I think it’s valuable. It was a valuable experience for many people, in the scientific sciences in the Netherlands and these yearly events.

I know there are some for chemistry, some from computer science, and some from physics as well. And I would recommend you to just know about companies and to know a bit about industry works. I started in my third or fourth year going to some job fairs mostly in universities. And eventually, in the fourth year, I also took a couple of courses by the author from the university about what to do after, so they were called the motivation fields for PhDs.

Now, I don’t remember what it was. Motivation for PhD is something one of them that was focused on how to find what you like because it was my case. It was also a case of many other people. We’ve been so focused and close in our search. It took five minutes to decide what I like. In academia, I’m interested in these topics.

Most of the topics are the ones you understand. You get by what you have to realize, what do you appreciate, or what gets you going. That was after three or four years almost into the PhD. Our first collection was empty. I didn’t have much passion for things outside of academia.
Natalia 20:10 It’s very important what you’re saying. In graduate school, most people are so overworked. When you’re so overworked and sleep-deprived, your intuition no longer works properly. It has to have some rested mind to feed on itself. You can’t listen to your gut and have insight into yourself. And it’s true.

There are two problems at the end of PhD. One problem is that you don’t know enough about the job market, you don’t know what is out there. What are the options? The second problem is that you don’t know enough about yourself. Because with the same skills, you can go to many different environments on the job market, you might be very happy in a startup and very unhappy in a corporation or vice versa. Maybe, you should create your own company like you should know, what is your personality also in the store? What do you enjoy?

That’s also what we do. In the courses that we do, we kind of combine both. It’s a 50 50 like self-discovery exercise, combined with about the job market because I think you cannot do one without the other indeed. Great that you did these courses. You’re saying that this helped you, right?

Leonardo 21:36 I took them in my fourth year. I have to say that it took me a few months after taking this course to start having positive feelings about careers and job openings and companies. I would say that doing this in the fourth year might be already a bit late for mentors. That helped me.

I started thinking about, what do I want to do? What do I like about technology and community work? It helped me in looking through all the NGOs in the region. But a mathematician only knows how to do mathematical research. I thought what can I offer to today’s two European organizations? For example, there’s plenty in the Netherlands and in general in Europe, or United Nations organizations.

Surely, they could use somebody with this specific talent, not mine, but a Ph.D. talent, that how to talk to these people, how to proceed to approach them. That’s something I found, and some are unsolvable. I think we’re all Maybe looking for the perfect job, the perfect position as the first shot is that it would be too easy. Let’s say, If it was that easy, then I’m sure it wouldn’t be there.

I figured. Okay, I can take a few years to get what the market was asking. Let’s say, what I was lacking the most. I was learning how to talk to people in companies or also after work. If you end collaborations, there is nothing like working in a company. For a couple of months, I’ve been working with this agile structure.

I think it was mentioned already a couple of weeks ago in one of those other talks and it’s really quick feedback. After a couple of weeks, you start getting really into the gears and you start working. You start discussing your life. You learn from people every day. You teach people every day. It’s a completely different pace than what is academia.

That was it. I always thought at the end, I can never learn it. I mean within two weeks, I have to be ready for this project to work to be an active member of the team. I cannot do it in two weeks. Things will take me four months and two and five books to read slowly and insert slowly. First, I started doing some paired coding with a real colleague who is more experienced. He was showing the screen online and there was no problem in working from home.

He was telling me that it was C++ programming. And this is a class. I had some courses from my company that they provide. There was a very nice program from Alten. Even after that, I still had no clue about what was the professional level. I was extremely scared of this. It will take me months, and you have to give me intensive courses because I don’t know what’s a professional.

I see it after two months. Some professionals have been writing awful cold emails with no documentation, with no pieces that have no reason of existing, and experienced members of our team just made something up. And there was a questionable idea because it was not properly taught. It will be cycled for months on this and some designs issues.

I saw that a professional does not have to be scared of professional level, because professional just means you’re paid for it. It doesn’t always correlate shoot button. It does not always correlate to top quality. It could be that your professional experience is in Python, and they’re asking you to work in C++ or C sharp, and then you don’t have a clear vision of how things work then.

You are professional but they can’t expect from you deep knowledge on how you should structure a project in another language. That is something outside of your field.

Natalia 26:42 My feeling is that being professional in the industry means not doing things perfectly, but having the best quality to price ratio. Do as good a product as possible in a certain amount of time and given the resources which don’t mean perfect or this is true for like startups, startup face, maybe not as true for Google. These are developed companies where they have to care about quality and special cases.
They care about quality much more, but at least for like most small and middle-sized companies doing as much as possible in as little time as possible is the most important.

My last week’s guest speaker worked for a few years in the industry. His view is that in industry, it’s important to, make a product work. It’s often, the projects are simple but you have to think about all the possible modes of failure. Whereas in academia, it’s a much more complex problem.

In case something goes wrong, you can always debug and just relaunch the project. You don’t have to care that much. It’s also understandable. You’re alone on a very complex project. You can always overlook something. In the worst case, you just have to correct.

Leonardo 28:24 It can happen during the revision of the paper itself or in a company. If you screw up big time, it means hundreds of thousands of euros burnt. There won’t be a problem. But ideally, there are many stages and things are controlled. This kind of mistake doesn’t happen. Because they could just bring failure on a whole company. But it still happened. So that’s it.

Natalia 29:00 What does your daily life look like? Do you have group projects? Do you have the scrum scheme? Or what’s the working style?

Leonardo 29:11 This project that I’m assigned for the moment follows the scrum development, incremental development, and flow. It means that in our case, we have two weeks for our sprint. A sprint is a cycle of development. At the beginning of the sprint, and on Mondays, we decide next two weeks, we are going to work on these kinds of tasks, on this kind of ticket.

We estimate the time needed and the resources needed. People just kind of organize themselves like, I will start doing this, I will start doing that I cannot deal with this. The very vital component of this development plan is the daily meetings that happen once or twice per day where people say, I’ve been working on this, we are working on that, and I’ve been having problems in this aspect of the development or the review or something.

In that case, some other members can help. There is a steady flow of at least learning because then the person will start to learn how to overcome the problem. There will be always something moving, they will not be left by themselves for three days, thinking, only thinking, and smashing their heads on the keyboard, literally.

Natalia 31:02 Right. How many people do you have in a team?

Leonardo 31:08 That is called the idle project. Consultants that don’t have a project in a company are assigned to these Agile projects. We just have some projects by the company to train a bit and to keep us busy too, or to share our knowledge with new members to help them out and to coach them sometimes.

It’s a kind of priority. It is a bit lower on this project because of the only people with free time. At some point, there are two people in the team three weeks ago, now we are up to 10. With time, it fluctuates a lot. I have to say now, it’s nice because there are people that are moving again. Some people are coaching us.

They’re also learning while working. I’ve been learning a lot. It’s nice. It’s a kind of an unstable project. Can you share some details about your role and your current company? Yes. Since February, I’ve been working at Alten. It’s a consultancy company. It’s whereby some big offices in Brazil. It’s all over the world.

I’m an IT consultant. I’ve been hired as a scientific software developer due to my specific knowledge during my university time. I took many courses on numerical analysis, and also a bit of programming not the engineering part. It’s mostly a writing code. I was mostly writing these files that would do anything. It would be obscure that I will do what they were doing, but nobody else.

That’s also what the common practice in, in academia, I have to say, there is not really because you work on it. You have to know what it does. Here, it’s different because many people are working on them. They will have to modify them after six months or after six years. You have to write things that are easily modifiable, updatable, and clear. You have to write a quotation and you have to test them.

That’s the thing that you don’t think about in academia, the software engineering part and I was new to it. I see the benefit of doing things that are in academia. They have to be reproducible. Codes have to be understandable, and clear. It must be possible to modify them. In some sense, they have to be not obscure, like in academia, the research cannot be obscure. You have to publish. You have to make your data available and conduct.

Everything must be clear. In some sense, this is the industry risk corresponding to good practice in developing whether research or just a product?

Natalia 35:10 Please continue.

Leonardo 35:15 Regarding my company, I’m really happy about it, because it’s of great quality. They also hire many PhDs more than 10%. Now, I don’t know, because I haven’t been to the office for two months. Before then I’d been in the office only for barely two months. But they’re about to some 20% of people with PhDs and along with all levels. I’m really happy that there are people that are also managers, mentors that can know, what are your strengths, also your shortcomings and say, when you’re new, so they know that you need their attention. And They know how to speak to you.

They know that they can talk this one word, and you pick it up? They know, for example, I don’t know if you did some numerical analysis, right? So if a manager came to you and asked you, is it possible to precondition this problem? Or what is the advantage of being able to choose between different numerical methods to solve, this matrix? You know they are talking, and they know what they’re talking about. They also know some of the points you tell them so that you can see the value in what was being discussed. That is something nice.

Natalia 36:55 You mean that your manager is also an expert? They are not these managers, that only manage people, but they also know the subject?

Leonardo 37:03 Exactly. I can speak about my experience in my office in Rotterdam in the Netherlands. I think I’d be looking around. I’ve been reading about the company before accepting a job. I see it, at least in the Netherlands. There are very good reviews about it. There is this website Glassdoor where you can see reviews for companies. I guess they are everywhere all over the world for many companies.
I saw that for my company there were only great reviews about treating workers.

Natalia 37:56 Okay, but it sounds to me like you are not naturalized yet. Because, you know, when people spent a few months in a company, that’s what I see from a lot of friends who are like former academics, when I work in the industry. They often start talking about like, buy our product, or our mission, our office, you know. But you didn’t switch to that mode yet. So you still speak for yourself.

Leonardo 38:29 What I like to think, I know that when I’m working I have to represent the company. I also know that I am myself. I always put myself and my well-being first. I will always act professional, providing the professional way. So I have respect. And I admired the policies of my company. I am Leonardo and I am my own stakeholder.

For most of the time, the office has been my own house. I talk daily to my colleagues. I like them and everything. But I always think that I am myself and I work for them. We work together in the company. They have a mission and I support that mission, but I am not that mission.

Natalia 39:40 I have a question about the way you were evaluated because when you work in a team of 10, Isn’t your whole team evaluated for the overall performance, or do you also individually get evaluated in some way?

Leonardo 39:58 There is not much performance because there’s not a performance to be evaluated. Sorry, let’s say, let me express a bit better, there is no evaluation on the performance. An ongoing project is generally just for us to keep busy and keep learning and keep practicing. If people are not competitive so they mostly try to deal. Some people are not competitive. There could be some knowledge or some capabilities that can happen.

I just try to talk within the team to save things before bringing them up to management. We try to see if there’s something we can do to come to a common solution. We asked if there are troubles within the project. If so, let’s take 15 minutes after the meeting to talk about it. 15 minutes, half an hour, one hour, the whole day, as much as it takes. Sometimes we have days with six hours of meetings, for example. And it also counts as developments as team building.

Helping a colleague also helped in the development of the project. It doesn’t matter if I didn’t write code for two hours. What matters is the team if it works well.

Natalia 41:49 I understand and how did you get the job? Was there anything in the recruitment procedure, or was that surprising to you?

Leonardo 42:04 Quite a bit. First of all, I got it through LinkedIn. I spent months and months writing cover letters and working a lot on LinkedIn. Also, I have a lot of content from the website. Eventually, it was just a sort of an open position on the open application. I just sent the CV and didn’t even send a cover letter for them, which was quite a wide disappointing because of all the effort demanded spelling and perfection, finding the precise sentence to put in this precise paragraph eventually get a really good job offer.

On the other hand, it was very much needed. I guess writing a lot, practicing a lot of job interviews really helped even if you don’t pass these exact steps. It also worked a lot on the CV. They just contact me. It was very quick. They asked me if I was up to come to Rotterdam.

I was at the office for the interview, where the first interview in the morning was about one hour, one hour enough interview with the HR. In the afternoon, they would talk with a technical manager, a guy who would have a PhD. This guy would also give me test parameters.

In my case it was C++ but they also had other options. After that, they would make me an offer or everything in one day. However, after the first interview, I told them that I also had other job applications that went on. I asked if they could postpone the final part of the interview for a couple of weeks. They have been very forthcoming and said, Okay, then let’s schedule the second part of the interview and it was three weeks later.

We kept in contact. When I showed up for the second interview, it was a great experience. I had a great feeling about it. They also signed me up for a sort of training program for the first two months, where I would get a lot of extra training in programming because I had the engine. I just didn’t know how to drive in Sunset. They told me, okay, we’ll get you on this project for the first month. I don’t know that it was very fun. For other people, it was really interesting.

By the end, it was enough experience to start working on the microphone. I did learn a lot. It was really fun doing courses and projects.

Natalia 46:23 You said that they made a very good impression on you, on the first day. My question would be, what was the reason? Like, was it because of the people you talk to? Or because of the offer, you got? What was the most appealing thing for you?

Leonardo 46:40 I saw that they were respectful. And they were representing workers and caring about their well-being and their working life balance. I read a lot of positive things about them. They were known for high-quality performance and high-quality job work. It’s is nice to hear it. They’re not hired because they’re the cheapest company around but because they’re good at what they do. That makes you feel good and feel proud.

That’s something that could make me feel part of them. Also, experience with a second manager was the best opportunity for me to get experience in the industry, and in a company that values people.

Natalia 47:57 By the way, I think from what you were saying about motivational letters, this practice of asking for the motivational letter is quite outdated and answering and writing motivational letters is a bit of a game. It’s like a bit of ping pong. They don’t offer usually is written in some pseudo-language. The company doesn’t reveal all their cards.

They don’t say much about in detail what they offer.They use these keywords to describe what they want, like highly motivated, enthusiastic team player.

Leonardo 48:33 Willing to die for our company.

Natalia 48:37 Yes. You have to guess what they want and write a motivational letter, not to show yourself as you are but more about what they want you to be and use the same keywords that they used in the offer because they have this algorithm to filter the application. You have to speak the language. It’s like you try to guess what the demand and then the recruiter who is reading your motivation letter tries to guess what you are saying but not what is underneath. It’s a kind of a mutual game.

It’s really from both sides. A lot of time wasted and miscommunication happens there. I think this tendency of basically dropping completely motivational letters and proceeding straight to the recruitment of the company office and prolonging that part and spending more time with the actual candidate to test them from a different angles and talk to them in presence of multiple representatives of the company.

It’s probably going to be the trend because, at the end of the day, this is when you can test whom you’re talking to and not based on the motivational letter. I think this is going to be more common in the future.

Leonardo 50:00 The problem is that then you have to pay for one hour to interview the person rather than 20 seconds for them to skim through the core, the motivational letter. That requires much more resources investment.

Natalia 50:17 You have to spend one day on the company then. In the end, I think if I was employing people for my company, I would do the same. I would rather spend time with them. Let them write essays about themselves first.

Leonardo 50:38 That’s only if you care about it. If you care about the people that you’re going to work with. That’s it. It depends. If you see them as people you want to know or just workers. In some sense, I could have to say that motivation can be good. I have a friend also a PhD, who is specialized in capturing and studying birds with asthma, especially the colds.

And capturing a few of them, she was applying actually in the right hands for a job where she would have had to do the same things, but with bats. Similar animals, similar tasks, but completely different. So one might say different field because, in the end, one are birds, the other are mammals. It’s a bit strange. But in a cover letter, she wrote I can do this with birds. I know how to use these types of equipment. You just give me a book about bats and I’m ready to go.

She would have been hired on the spot, during Coronavirus and she had to work to stop them. I think there is an opportunity in the motivation letter to make clear what you can offer and what they were not expecting from a candidate. Just saying, I want to work because I like not dying of hunger, or starvation under a bridge. Then a motivational letter is not very informative.

Natalia 52:40 It’s true. In motivation letters, people who have some skill for self-presentation and negotiation skills to convince someone, they kind of flourish. And modest people just want to get the job and start working. They don’t already have that. Not everyone has the skill to put their thoughts in the text. This is like a specific type of intelligence. Some people have it and some people don’t, and they can be really intelligent, but they still cannot persuade someone to invite them. I see that a lot.

I read a lot of motivational letters, while working for the company like reading people’s letters, helping them with improving and I see that even very intelligent people often have this lack . You have to use a lot of mirror neurons to figure out what the other person might feel valuable in the letter and you have to kind of take a perspective from the recruiter. Some really smart people just don’t have that.

It’s great that this worked for you and you got the job. And apparently, you are really happy now. That’s great. I would like to ask you a little bit about your future. This is a very cliche question. But I like asking this question. The question is how do you see yourself in the future? Do you have a long-term plan? Or do you just want to first enjoy the life you have now and you don’t think about what will come in 10 years?

Leonardo 54:37 Usually, I try to think to take things slowly. For the moment, I don’t have that many plans for the future. I think I know how will I stay in this company at least for a few years. That’s my opinion or my idea for a moment. A good thing is they don’t require necessarily to get through management. You can just keep being a software engineer or a consultant and keep doing that thing, while also getting higher in the company, which is nice.

If somebody doesn’t have the skills, and he wants to develop them,
that’s a good opportunity. Let’s say if in case I enjoy the job. But yeah, I don’t know for anyone. I will see there are other companies that I liked for which I also applied in the past.

Natalia 55:54 Recently, I read an article from Harry Arons, who is a former professor of philosophy, who went to IT industry and now is a consultant and data scientist. I think I’m not entirely sure, but he has some position as a specialist in the IT industry. It was very interesting what he said. Because before he switched careers, he had a tenure position.

A lot of people were thinking he was crazy because he left his tenure position to go to the industry. But what he said was I left the safety of a position to get the safety of a career. I don’t have a tenure position anymore, but I can change and go wherever I want. I will always have jobs with my skills. I feel much safer in a sense.

I think there’s a lot of truth to this. You can go anywhere with your skills and working in a good company. There are a lot of opportunities. I guess it gives some sense of safety. I hope.

Leonardo 57:08 I completely agree especially at the moment where if you have any aspect, at least it is knowledge, some programming, some data science, they will throw job offers at you. It’s impressive. There are also other people, many PhDs might also want not to be in the IT sector. It’s also very modern. There are many friends just doing normal consultancy, or working, a few working in banks, or just finance. In some sense, it can still be what quantitative jobs are.

Natalia 57:50 It’s also not a lot of people who go to consultancy. They don’t take it as a career, but more as a way of training into other possible careers in the industry. It’s like, for many people, a way of getting a lot of industry experience in the short time after the PhD, to get themselves more opportunities for later.

Leonardo 58:21 In my company’s case, they invest on the workers. They don’t want them to leave. Many colleagues have been working for 10 20 and more years. If a company for which our consultant has worked on tries to hire the consultant himself or herself, they would like to pay a big fine. If you quit Daniel for at least six months, you cannot go to work for a company you recently worked for. Okay?

They invest a lot on knowledge and experience of the workers.That’s understandable. Many other companies, for example, are just there to foresee that after a couple of years, the workers are just hired by the client itself. It’s a business model. We’re just taking them by giving them some members of classes every once in a while and selling them to the main company.

Natalia 59:44 I heard a lot about this. It’s a steal. I mean, even though the crisis game has come. I think the market, at least in this sector, in data science and machine-like is still dominated by the employees. If you’re a good specialist, it’s still that companies fight for you.

I think the crisis didn’t reach employees yet. The demand was so high that even with the crisis, it’s still good enough to be wanted on the job market. It’s not as true about some other industries, like in pharma these days, in biotech, and pharma in the Netherlands. There are various reductions. Most companies postpone their development plans.

There are much fewer positions than used to be. On LinkedIn, the number of applicants per position in like past few weeks even went up by factor 10. That’s true about biotech. It’s not necessarily true about it. It is a bit different. It’s very domain-specific. What do you want to say? I think I lost track.

Good for you. I think you already saved it now. We were talking about how Alten treats employees and what is the rotation?

Leonardo 1:01:30 Now, really low?

Natalia 1:01:32 It’s really low. That’s the advice I got from people working for consultancy companies that if you are applying to a company like this, you have to always check.

Leonardo 1:01:45 Yeah. You have to see what’s there. The company policies are kind of diligence for yourself. You want to know a bit about them.

Natalia 1:01:56 Do you feel that you might have some entrepreneurial spirit? You might also think about your own company one day, or do you think this?

Leonardo 1:02:04 I don’t think so. I still have this crippling doubts about my knowledge and skills. At the moment, I don’t think I’ll be feeling ready to go out on myself, or at least for this? I don’t know.I don’t see myself as an entrepreneur.

Natalia 1:02:30 Does anyone have some questions, William, maybe? Because if not, then we will slowly wrap up.

William 1:02:40 I think I have one. As an Italian do you have the same benefits and the same conditions as the Dutch people in the work?

Leonardo 1:02:53 I’m a European citizen from the Schengen area. I don’t have tons of paperwork. I also had the luck that my university paid me for four years for a lot of Dutch language classes. I’m not fluent but I have knowledge of Dutch language. I’m not that confident in speaking every day, especially at work.

I can more or less understand reading emails right back. I would say that at least in my company, we like funny jokes about me being Italian also because there are many international people are there. I received very few but not any kind of stereotypical jokes about me being Italian.

A coach at the university wondered why I wasn’t drinking wine for lunch during the day of class, and look, I’m not an alcoholic. You know this thing or there was this kind of pretty racist course, the university, now shut it off. I believe international people have to learn or have to change to be able to come apart or to be able to work together with the Dutch people. It was something like those sort of Southern European and South American people. You just have to stop chit-chatting and do the job.

My faculty was going around asking us what we thought about these mandatory courses? I was very happy to share my opinion about some of those.

Natalia 1:05:23 Surprised to hear.

Leonardo 1:05:26 I mean the thing is everybody must improve their mindset to come and be able to work with the Dutch efficiently.

Natalia 1:05:49 I can imagine. I know that there are stereotypes in Polish too, but I’m always trying to kind of understand those stereotypes, and where they come from. Because 90% Polish people coming to the Netherlands are very low qualified and are doing physical work. You can pick a random Polish person in the street in the Netherlands.

It’s typically a construction worker or nurse or someone who likes doing low-key jobs, and only tiny percentages. People who have high university degree and they come here to do research or some other highly qualified jobs. People encode that in the process. If you meet someone polish then there is 90% chance that they are alcoholic or troubled in some other ways. They learn that in the process.

I’m trying to understand them also. This is how it is. I once upon a time found myself in like a group of Polish people that were just people living in the municipality. We all got invited to get vaccinated for free because there was some action in the hospital to give away vaccines to people from third world countries. I went there. And there was a gathering of Polish people in America and I wouldn’t like to find myself there in a dark street.

Leonardo 1:07:36 I was on another way regardless of nationality.

Natalia 1:07:39 I can understand the stereotype.

Leonardo 1:07:44 I have a good Polish friend. And once he was told in his face, that he was actually how was it? That he couldn’t complain now? I think he was at his work. He couldn’t complain, because he was a Polish person who was doing well. Literally, but you are as a Polish doing well.

Natalia 1:08:15 I mean, I don’t complain. I don’t feel like I was mistreated because I’m Polish in any way.

Leonardo 1:08:21 No. They were just basically telling that you are qualified. You are worth being treated as a Polish.

Natalia 1:08:34 That’s That’s the way of patronizing?

Leonardo 1:08:39 Pretty much. I will say patronizing.

Natalia 1:08:44 It didn’t happen to me, but I can imagine. To be honest, Dutch people also have a lot of negative stereotypes about Dutch people. Right? They also talked about that people are rude and they’re hard on themselves too.

Leonardo 1:09:11 Yeah, there is also the difference between people from Randstad, the West, and the people from the fields, the East. They are working much slower, and they don’t have two months appointments on the agenda.

Natalia 1:09:30 I live in the village. I can imagine that we are the most creepy city in the Netherlands. It’s very different here. If there are no more questions, I wish you the very best. Thank you so much for your insights. It was very interesting. I think we will wrap up here. If there are any further questions for longer, then you can find him on LinkedIn. Thank you so much, Leonardo.

Leonardo 1:10:07 It’s been a pleasure. 

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Please cite as:

Bielczyk, N. (2020, May 31st). E004 From PhD in Mathematics to Software Development. How Does Life in Consultancy Companies Look? Retrieved from https://ontologyofvalue.com/career-development-strategies-e004-from-phd-in-mathematics-to-software-development-how-life-in-consultancy-companies-looks/

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