From trainee to big data expert


From trainee to big data expert

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From trainee to big data expert

/ Author: Miriam van der Sangen

Diane Confurius is conducting PhD research at the University of Amsterdam into the situation of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa on the Dutch labour market. A former trainee and researcher for Statistics Netherlands (CBS), Confurius has also founded her own big data company. ‘I have always loved numbers and I wanted to channel that passion into something that has real social relevance.’

Tricks of the trade

Confurius was born and raised in Gabon, and moved to France at the age of 16. There she graduated from the prestigious agricultural university in Clermont-Ferrand. ‘Mathematics, biology and physics were key subjects in my degree programme. That was my basis when I came to the Netherlands, where my partner lived and worked.’ From 2002-2003, Confurius was a trainee at CBS, where she learned the tricks of the statistics trade. ‘I carried out research at three different CBS departments: communication, agriculture and care. This experience gave me a broad perspective on what is possible with statistics.’

Social relevance

When her traineeship came to an end, Confurius landed a job as a statistical researcher with CBS. In this role she gained experience of linking files and data analysis. In 2007 she left to go to Gabon, where her husband was stationed for his job. There she went to work for the French oil and gas group Total, teaching mathematics as a sideline. Three years later, with the political situation in Gabon becoming increasingly unstable, she returned to the Netherlands with her family and took a good look at her career options. ‘My heart has always been in research. But I also want to do something with real social relevance. I decided to pursue a PhD, studying migrants from sub-Saharan Africa on the Dutch labour market.’

First publication

Confurius’ PhD studies led to a renewed connection with CBS. ‘Thanks to remote access (conducting research based on CBS microdata under strict conditions in a highly secure environment, ed.) I was granted access to the System of Social Statistical Datasets. After more than 18 months working with over 60 files on areas such as jobs, wages and migrants, I was able to create the file that now forms the basis for my research. It was pioneering work, because this is not a subject that has been tackled before.’ Confurius is very satisfied with the results to date and has already published her first scientific article in the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies <link>. A second article will follow shortly.

‘My company’s expertise lies in the field of labour market issues’

Big data company

In 2017, Confurius founded her own big data company. ‘I wasn’t looking for a standard career. My aim has always been to use my knowledge and expertise for society. I don’t come from an entrepreneurial family, but setting up my own company is giving me the opportunity to deepen my knowledge of data analysis and data science.’ Her business is doing well, carrying out assignments for the government and cooperating with companies such as SMIT Legal and City Solutions. ‘My company’s expertise lies in the field of labour market issues. We offer a unique method for solving unemployment problems by making the untapped potential on the labour market visible to companies. We achieve this using data science. For example, our aim is to match vacancies in the Employee Insurance Agency’s online portal with the data of jobseekers with a technical background. I want to make invisible talent visible.’

Big data for Africa

Big data is being fully utilised in various parts of the world. But is big data booming in the continent where Confurius grew up? ‘Big data in Africa is mainly in the hands of banks and mobile telephone companies. The government still lacks awareness and expertise in this area.’ Confurius believes that big data could play an important role in Africa in terms of agriculture and the labour market. ‘The population is increasing explosively. How are we going to feed all those people? Sensors in agriculture now make it possible to measure weather conditions with greater precision. When these data are linked to soil information, for example, farmers will be able to intervene more accurately. This can generate higher yields. In addition, 200 million people in Africa aged between 15 and 24 are unemployed. Big data can be used to quantify and describe this workforce more effectively, bridging the distance that exists between job seekers and employers.’



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