Female Tech Heroes role models #5 – Jeroen de Haas: ‘Data can save lives’
Apr 8, 2020 11:52:40 AM. By: Anna Mazur
Since his sabbatical in Nepal in 2015, just after the country was hit by an earthquake, killing thousands of people, Jeroen de Haas wanted to dedicate his passion and expertise – mathematics - to non-commercial projects. Now, in a diverse team of passionate data scientists, his company Pipple provides intelligent services to business and non-governmental organizations.The coming months we will introduce female and male role models who act upon increasing diversity in the tech industry. By telling their personal and career stories, we can inspire and learn from each other.
How did your entrepreneurial idea of Pipple and the motto 'data science with the purpose' develop? Arriving to Nepal shortly after a disastrous earthquake, I thought: 'What can I do? How can I help? Of course, I could and did collect some emergency goods, and money to help. But what is there I can do professionally as a mathematician in this situation?' This was really the moment when I thought: It would be great if mathematics were applied not only to business – for finance, supply chain, optimization - but also to help NGOs with more intelligent services. That is how the idea of ‘data science with purpose’ was born.
The challenge, then, was to find a way to work with NGOs which don’t have a budget for this kind of innovation. Commercial companies, operating in a very competitive environment, have more urge to innovate on data science and artificial intelligence. So, when establishing Pipple in 2016, we found a solution: 90% of our time we help commercial companies to innovate on data science, and 10% - we help NGOs with techniques that are available, voluntarily. For about three years now we’ve been working for 510 Global, An Initiative of the Netherlands Red Cross. Starting from this year, we’ve also started to work for the Ocean Cleanup. And recently we’ve received a request from Jeroen Bosch Ziekenhuis, to help during the corona virus pandemic.
Now, more than ever, the motto ‘Data Science with Purpose’ is so topical. Can you tell us about your project for the hospital? Within the hospital, there is a special “corona hospital”, that needs doctors, nurses, beds and other equipment. We’ve developed a tool that forecasts a demand for their five corona departments. And also, we’ve made a scheduling solution for doctors skilled to work in the different departments. The process went really fast. On Monday 16 March, I got a call from the hospital with the request, and the next day we’ve started. Within a week we co-developed the first Corona forecasting and planning solution which has already been implemented at several hospitals now.
What is the role of data during the pandemic? During this corona crisis information is everything. A lot comes from data and patterns. In this example, we see that data could save lives. If we have a good prediction on what capacity and skills are required, we can make a good forecast and planning for these processes to prevent shortages. Hospitals are now in a new reality, where you cannot operate in a normal way, based on previous norms and experiences. You need a clear real-time information, and this is not possible without data.
How is it for you to help people in corona times? A a mathematician, I am not among the vital professions within this crisis. And we need to be humble to all the people who are and getting us through this crisis. Therefore, it is really satisfying that we are able to support these people in vital professions during this crisis. For me personally it was a flashback to 5 years ago in Nepal. The dream I had back then and now seeing it being turned into reality.
What is in the name ‘Pipple’? Our DNA is in our name. First, there is a Pi-number (π) signifying our expertise in mathematics and A.I. Second, we characterise our culture with Pippi Longstocking: creative, brave and looking outside of the box for new challenges. And there are also 3 Ps: people, planet, profit. We are a commercial company, so we have to ensure to develop good-quality profitable services for companies, so we can pay our bills. In addition, we help humanitarian and ecologic initiatives, so the planet, voluntarily by sharing our expertise with NGOs.
Why did you decide to be the ambassador of Female Tech Heroes? Because I believe in diversity. As a mathematics student, there were 90 percent of men in my education environment, and it should not be like it. I strongly believe that diverse teams are essential for success. Diverse on age, gender, character, background. You don’t want 10 copies of a ‘perfect employee’.
It is similar in personal life. I’ve been happily married for many years. My wife is very different from me, and I’m very happy she is. In regards to Pipple, we don’t have a 50-50 gender division, that’s because of the business we’re in where men are still overrepresented. But I think we have a good balance in our team, with young and old, male and female. I’m proud with the diversity we have. We are also organizing the conference Women in Data Science in Amsterdam to give some spotlight to female role models within data science. Due to the corona-virus situation, it will be postponed from April till June.
Why is it important to see more women in data science? I think that technically there is no difference whether a man or a woman does the job. But I see women have special talent when it comes to personal skills, social skills, leadership, empathy and sensitivity. Of course, these characteristics are not a binary, it’s a scale. But I am very happy to have some power women within Pipple’s team. One of the examples is our female employee Roos Rooijakkers, who will also be the ambassador of Women in Data Science. She is a extremely talented woman, very socially intelligent, but also one of the top professional rowers in the Dutch National team. For me, she is a role model.