21 Apr 2024

Life at Inimco

A day in the life of a data engineer

Provide Kristof Speeckaert with a heap of data from different sources and a couple of questions to answer using that data, and you will make him perfectly happy. He has been fascinated by data, databases and the value you can get from them his entire career. That makes him the perfect person to have a conversation with on what it takes to be a data engineer at Inimco.

Kristof, how old were you when you got your first computer?

Kristof: At age 10-11, I was already asking my parents to buy a computer. I am talking about the late 80s of the previous century, when a computer still cost a lot of money. My parents agreed to buy one on the condition that I only did ‘serious stuff’ on it. Gaming was out of the question. Mind you, these were the days of DOS and OS/2 as operating systems, so it was hard work getting the computer to do what I wanted. Especially as the manual that contained all the commands came in French only. As a teenager, most of my spare time went into working with the computer. I took every course that I could and sometimes found myself as the youngest person in the group: a 12-year-old, surrounded by people in their thirties or forties who wanted to get to know Lotus 1-2-3 or dBase. I started helping out in a local computer store at a young age. So it was no more than logical that my studies were in IT too, and  I have never considered a career that was not in IT.

What is the job of a data engineer?

Kristof: You can compare it with doing a jigsaw puzzle but with different sets of pieces that don’t really fit together. It starts with collecting all sorts of data, for instance from sensors that measure temperature, energy…. We integrate this data with data from other systems, for instance from third parties, internal order systems… And then we turn this into one coherent system and visualize the data through an easy-to-use interface so that people can use the data.

A data engineer will check if we get a good quantity of data, see if the quality is sufficient and devise a way that people can use that data, based on what they want to do with it. In fact, raw data in itself is not interesting, so you need to reduce the mass of information and translate it into something that is actionable and delivers value. As a data engineer, you have to keep an eye on both the technical aspect and the usefulness of the data from a business perspective.

You clearly have a passion for data. How do you keep up with all the evolutions?

Kristof: Indeed, I have always worked with data. From the days when ‘business intelligence’ was a thing and the advent of big data, to the current situation. I like working with databases. I keep my skill current by reading a lot: blogs, articles, anything really… And I am surrounded by colleagues who also have a lot of knowledge, so we constantly learn from each other.

Do you have a lot of variation in your job as a data engineer?

Kristof: Every day is different. As a data engineer, you get involved in all stages of a project. At the start of a project, there will be a lot of interactions with the customer, trying to find what data is available and where it will fit in. At the end of a project, we will be working mainly on the visualization aspect. And, of course, there’s the excitement of putting things into production and checking if everything functions the way it should. These tasks are all very different, and I love that variety.

On your LinkedIn profile, I read that you have a fondness for integration challenges. I guess you find them here at Inimco?

Kristof: I certainly do. Often inside companies, data don’t talk to each other and sit in different silos. That information needs to be connected to get the big picture. Collecting data, integrating them and making them available, that’s what I like best. The challenge lies in making data talk to each other that normally would not do that, for instance production data with financial information. 

When are you satisfied with a job well done?

Kristof: that’s hard to say. I am a perfectionist. I am very critical of myself and am not easily satisfied. The most satisfying thing is when a customer confirms that we delivered value to them. One of our customers had a lot of success at a trade fair when they demonstrated a proof of concept that we had built for them. I am also quite critical of what others do too, which does not always make me the easiest person to work with. But I have learned to become a bit more empathetic, as I work with a lot of different people. Typical of Inimco is that everyone will help each other.

Looking back on 18 months at Inimco, I am quite pleased with the know-how I acquired about Azure. I had always worked in an on-premise environment, so that was completely new to me. I think you can never stop learning. Things evolve very fast in IT. Just look at Artificial Intelligence. Where was AI a year ago and where is it now? 

What skills does a data engineer need?

Kristof: From a technological point of view, analyzing is key. Sometimes you need to go and find data and analyze where it fits into the bigger picture. That’s also important, knowing what the goal of the project is. Inside a customer, people will all be responsible for one specific task or process, without knowing what their colleagues do. It’s our task to bring these pieces of the puzzle together and make sense of them. Data quality is sometimes an issue. There will always be situations where data do a perfect job inside a specific application, but lack quality when they need to be reused in another app. Data may perform a perfect job, but that does not necessarily mean this data is perfect.

Throughout your career, you have worked in different types of companies. Consultancies, systems integrators… and now you work in a software company. What do you like best?

Kristof: I have enjoyed each of these jobs and companies equally. But circumstances change, for instance your personal situation may make a good work-life balance more important, and require a shorter commute. That can be a trigger to switch employers. At this moment in time, I am very happy with how I can work.

Would you recommend friends and family to come and work at Inimco? And why?

Kristof: If I could not recommend it, I would not keep working here. We have a great atmosphere, with a bunch of great colleagues. As I said earlier, everyone will always jump to help a colleague. There is hardly any hierarchy, everyone works with everyone. Everyone is accessible. That is something that I have not experienced before. It’s amazing that Inimco keeps finding people that blend in so well in our corporate culture. I also like the fact that we can choose where we work, at home or in the office. There’s a good balance.

If you could put a message on a giant billboard on the marketplace of where you live, what would your message be?

Kristof: Look at yourself. Don’t compare yourself to other people. I know that because of social media people have the tendency to measure their success by looking at other people’s success. I have learned not to do that and simply be satisfied with what you, yourself, are achieving. It doesn’t always have to be bigger and better. If you compare yourself to others and think they are doing better, that’s mainly because you don’t see their whole picture and focus only on their successes. Remember: things will never be 100% perfect. And you will always have good days and bad days. If all days were equally good, they would also all be equally bad…