KlaasIn addition to his work with The unbelievable Machine Company, Klaas Bollhöffer is father of the Data Science Day (DSDay), coordinator of the Big Data Week 2013 in Berlin, and member of several program committees for Big Data / Data Science conferences in Europe.


We are proud to have Klaas presenting at Data Natives 2015!


You come from a background of project management and user experience design, how did that lead you to working with data?

In 2011, Ravin Mehta, founder and CEO of The unbelievable Machine Company (*um) approached me and asked: “Klaas, do you wanna initiate and develop Big Data at *um?”. Honestly, at that time I didn´t know anything about Big Data and said “Ravin, what exactly is Big Data?”. He replied: “Well, I am sure nobody really knows!”. And I was hooked!!

I am engineer by studies, a creative guy by heart and at that time a manager and concept designer by profession. For me, especially looking back today, the ideal fit to create a new business, new service offerings in probably any IT-related field or industry. But especially in the groundbreaking field of data. Of course I studied computer sciences and mathematics but I have never been a fantastic coder or machine learner. I am an allrounder and bridge business requirements to data and back. Exactly what a concept or UX designer is actually doing. ;-)

When did you first recognize that working with data was your passion?

To be honest here, working with data is not my passion. Music is, creating ideas and new solutions is, managing change and cultivating digital pieces of land is. I see myself as a learner, a teacher, a communicator, an initiator and as a kind of “dog fly” when it comes to really getting data projects done.

What kind of problems do you tackle at The unbelievable Machine Company?

All sorts of. We don´t have a special industry or technology focus. A lot of problems we tackle are machine learning (even deep learning) or operational intelligence issues. But we also deal with search engines, optimize human-data-interfaces by creating visualisations or business dashboards, develop custom machine-learning as a service solutions in our *umCloud infrastructure, do trainings, design thinking workshops and C-level one on ones or – at the moment – focus a lot on the industrial internet and automization.

Of all the projects you’ve been a part of, do any stick in your mind as being particularly challenging or taking exceptional creativity to solve?

Dealing with deep learning techniques is of course really challenging (and fun) at the moment, and working on first projects this year for an international client of ours was not always that easy. We did 2 steps, 1 step back, 2 steps, 1 step back for quite a long time and failed quite often talking e.g. about quality metrics… but in the end we came out with a really groundbreaking application for our client (strong NDAs here, sorry…) and learned an awesome lot in applying deep learning to different real world problems.

What have been the major turning points in your progress as a data scientist? Any particularly valuable lessons or epiphanies along the way?

Good question and difficult to answer as I have the feeling that I am always changing in my day to day business. By far the most relevant turning point was as we saw that data science as a service was working and was generating sustainable business. That happened roundabout middle of 2014. My team started growing (from 3 in the middle of 2014 to 15 at the moment, constantly growing). The projects got bigger and more and more interesting. Machine learning was (at least a bit) more and more understood and in demand and we successfully started new teams in data engineering, consulting and operations. Pretty amazing year actually. The most valuable lesson for me was: “If you really believe in something, it will happen!”. It might take more time than you expect, but if you go on, work hard, be creative and open to change and have a – let´s call it – data (or digital) mindset you are able to become an enabler and a person others trust. We entered a spaceship some time ago and so far it didn´t even start. 2016 will be really amazing and crazy, trust me.

'If you really believe in something, it will happen!' - @klabol Click To Tweet

What advice would you give to young professionals looking to find their feet in data science or related disciplines?

Start today! Do not do a master or PhD for a few years (you can do later if you really feel you need it), go to meetups and other community events, talk to data scientists and people in the field, do a coursera course or become part of e.g. Data Science Retreat, learn, play and fail in Kaggle competitions and so on and so on. Just do it! And do it yourself! DIY – the old punk attitude is what´s needed. Add a few months, a few good people you’ll meet and you can start doing data science in an interesting field and company very, very soon!

The old punk attitude is what´s needed. - @klabol Click To Tweet

Which companies individuals inspire you, and keep you motivated to achieve great things?

I am a musician by heart and get inspired by great artists, writers and musicians. Lemmy, Turbostaat, Thomas Bernhard, Wittgenstein, Banksy, you name it! But most of my motivation is intrinsic and just a part of me. I am a natural born curiosity-seeker.

(image credit: Francisco Huguenin Uhlfelder , CC2.0)

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