'Innovating is stepping over your own shadow'

News | 11 January 2016

He literally works 'behind the scenes' in the high tech industry and offers solutions by bringing science and technology together. He himself calls it putting software engineering at the center in a scientific way. Paul Hiemstra, data analyst and software engineer at S&T, gets his inspiration from helping people who want to improve themselves. "I teach people to work with tools where only their imagination is the limit."

By Berend Henk Huizing 

Harmful particles from the sun and from the universe attack the earth every day. A large magnetic field protects us and stops these particles. Without this shield, the earth would have no atmosphere and therefore no life. Scientists have found that this protection is getting weaker. To find out how and why, the European Space Agency launched three satellites simultaneously in 2013. Known as Swarm, they carry out measurements and collect data for four years. S&T developed a system for this to test the quality of this data. Hiemstra: ,,The operators want to know whether the measurements are going well and that you do not find out after six months that your data is worthless. Scientists devised reports to check the quality of this data. Our software system brings together all the checks and balances from these reports and gives the operator a grip on the quality of the data that the Swarm collects''.

Due to his scientific background, Hiemstra understands that scientists mainly want to make analyzes of the collected data and do not want to be involved in solutions for a software program that has stalled. “Pure software engineers look at a software solution very differently than a scientist. We have people who are somewhere in the middle. Our employees have done a technical study and, moreover, excessive interest in software. For example, they write their own software. We not only understand what the customer wants, but also express this in professional software. That is a unique skill. This combination of data analysis and software engineering is nowadays also known as data scientist. The great attention these days for data science and big data opens doors, for example when you talk to senior management from Philips, for example.”

"The ICD is exposing yourself to opportunities so that something new can emerge." 

In total, about 100 people work for S&T. The northern branch of S&T is still modest, but the company is eager to grow. According to Hiemstra, this growth is also possible, because the business is growing. ,,Large companies need us because they want to do more with data. Some are not sure what they want and can do with their own data. They need help and we ask the questions: what do you want to measure, how do you want to measure and what do you want to do with the data? In the Northern Netherlands, we focus on the industry with methods to get even more out of data collected by the customer.”

Hiemstra studied earth sciences and remote sensing. "You try to say something about the condition of a forest from a distance." In 2011, he obtained his doctorate with research into how radioactivity spreads after an accident. ,,How can you provide responsible technical information about, for example, the weather conditions for people who make decisions?'' He didn't feel like going all out in science. After working for two years as a researcher at the KNMI, he wanted to do something different. ,,I couldn't really find anything with which I could distinguish myself scientifically, I didn't have a niche. I am born in Friesland and my wife lived in Groningen. I wanted to go back to the North if I could. S&T set up business in the Northern Netherlands, and I wanted to help build that. At Delta Instruments, they were looking for someone with scientific experience who could keep up with the technical experts and write software at the same time. Moreover, he had to be able to coach and train people to use special software tools in their daily work.” That was made for him. In a few days he built a tool with which data can be analyzed. “At first such an analysis took a day, now it can be done in one minute. Time is money. With a few mouse clicks, an analysis can now be performed again and again, which previously took a lot of time. That is my added value. I find it inspiring that we can help people improve themselves. I teach people to work with a tool where only their imagination is the limit."

Innovation cluster

Hiemstra has found his place within Innovatiecluster Drachten because there is a great need to do smart things with data. “That is exactly what is happening within the business cluster. If you do the specific things we do, working in the Northern Netherlands is difficult, but as a member of the Innovatiecluster Drachten it is completely different. Companies tend to establish themselves in the west of our country, while there is so much potential in the north. I can see that in the synergy between the companies within the Innovatiecluster Drachten. Creating an atmosphere together in which your employees are familiar with each other and there is a basis to move forward together. I see initiatives from below, so beautiful things can arise. If you're not in the cluster, you kind of do your own thing, but as a participant in the Innovatiecluster Drachten you can do things together and you can progress." 


Science & Technology Corporation was founded in Delft in 2000 by three people who worked at research institute TNO who wanted to start their own business. Their first assignment was for ESA. Of the 100 employees, 50 are seconded to Philips, ASML, Delta Instruments, Fokker, Astron and other leading clients in the aerospace, oil and gas industry, defense and security and life sciences. Since 2011, S&T also has an office in Oslo, from where it works for the Norwegian oil and gas industry.