MDS Spotlight: Meet Nico Van den Hooff, MDS Vancouver, Class of 2022

While working at KPMG, Nico Van den Hooff was working on a project where he utilized data analytics and data visualization techniques which introduced him to the world of data science.  

“I saw the value that data science could provide to companies, and after some time found my true passion which is machine learning,” said Van den Hooff. 

Nico Van den Hooff Master of Data Science Vancouver

Van den Hooff recognized that if he wanted to perform a successful career pivot from finance to machine learning, he knew he needed to pursue further formal education. He looked at various online Data Science programs and other formal Masters programs from a selection of Canadian universities, but ended up only applying to the UBC Master of Data Science (MDS) program. 

“The UBC MDS program offered a great balance of the skills needed to succeed in machine learning and data science,” explained Van den Hooff.  “In addition, the 10-month duration of the program was very attractive as it was really the fastest way for me to gain the required knowledge to pivot my career.”

Not only was the 10-month duration a selling point for Van den Hooff, he also really liked the structure of the program and the capstone project.  “The curriculum was well balanced between machine learning, software engineering, statistical inference, and data visualization, all of which are important skills in the field of data science.” 

Van den Hooff was also excited at the chance to learn machine learning from MDS faculty like Mike Gelbart and Arman Seyed-Ahmadi. 

“The opportunity to learn from experts in the field was very attractive,” he added.

As well, Van den Hooff enjoyed being amongst a diverse cohort and thinks it is one of the things that makes the MDS program unique. 

“A diverse cohort was important to me since it was essential for networking and for ensuring that different perspectives existed when solving data science problems during the program,” he said. “A diverse data science team is essential for correctly framing a data science problem and it’s respective solution.” 

The top benefit of the MDS program for Van den Hooff has been the capstone project, where it allowed him to apply the skills he learned in the program to a real-life project. “My capstone project was focused on solving a particle physics research problem and was completed in partnership with TRIUMF.  We built two state-of-the-art graph neural network models that are used to classify sub-atomic particle decays with high accuracy.”

After program completion, Van den Hooff will be starting a role with Vancouver-based Patriot One Technologies as a Junior Machine Learning Scientist. Van den Hooff notes that the interview tips from the MDS career workshops, the advice received from the MDS Career Advisor Angela Pau on his resume, and the strong programming skills he developed in the program were instrumental in successfully landing his role at Patriot One.  In addition, Van den Hooff first found out about the job posting on the UBC MDS Alumni Slack channel, which he stated was a great resource during his job search.  

Nico’s Top 3 Tips on Succeeding in the MDS Program:

  1. Make sure that you are prepared (or even overprepared) in terms of the program prerequisites (especially programming).  In addition, if you have time I recommend taking a course like Andrew Ng’s Machine Learning course on Coursera which will help you get ahead a bit before the program starts.  Since the 10 months of the program go by very fast, it is in your best interest to ensure that you have a strong base skillset, which will help you absorb the materials in the courses more efficiently and therefore succeed in the program.
  2. The cohort will be very diverse, so make sure you network and build relationships with your fellow classmates.  There are people from all backgrounds which can really help in building your professional network (and can also pay dividends in terms of future interview referrals!).  Related to this, make sure to opt into the MDS mentorship program, in which you will be paired with a data science professional working in industry for the term of the program, who will provide career advice and help you achieve goals that you set.
  3. Make sure to take time to relax during the program, as it really is a marathon and not a sprint.  Personally, I found that taking one full night off during the weekdays, and one full day off on the weekend helped maintain a good work/life balance during the program.

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