Building a user-friendly, semantic search engine for recruitment
Five development teams are working hard to build Textkernel’s recruitment solutions: creating user-friendly products that can be integrated into many different systems. Chris Dekker is currently team lead for Textkernel’s semantic search and matching engines. Chris answered a few questions to explain what his daily tasks involve and what he likes about working in the agile development environment at Textkernel.
By Chris Dekker
When did you start working at TK and how did you find out about the company?
Chris Dekker: I joined the Search! team as a Java developer right after finishing my master’s thesis. My girlfriend was actually working for Textkernel as a Technical Consultant at that time. Her stories about the open company culture, the dynamics between different technical and non-technical teams, as well as many social activities, piqued my interest and motivated me to finish my thesis. Two months after she left the company to pursue a traineeship I graduated and promptly joined Textkernel as her referral. It was nice to finally meet all those people I just knew from her stories and after a couple of months I was part of the Textkernel family.
What does a typical day in your team look like? Do you usually know in advance what you will be working on or do you have a lot of ad-hoc tasks?
CD: At Textkernel our development teams work in agile scrum teams with two-week sprints. Therefore, every morning starts with stand-up where we discuss what we did yesterday and what we plan to work on today. This way everyone stays up-to-date on what everyone else is working on and blocking issues can be solved quickly with a team effort.
Despite every two weeks a plan being made collaboratively for the entire sprint, this hardly ever fully holds up in practice. Critical bugs come in, last-minute high-profile client demands take priority and new additional ad-hoc requirements are sometimes unavoidable. But that’s why we work with Agile methodologies and, for me, it definitely adds a challenge to an otherwise potentially monotonous job.
What do you like the most about your job? What’s your favourite task?
CD: Our hiring standards are quite high. While this makes recruiting sometimes resemble finding a needle in a proverbial haystack, it also establishes a certain positive expectation of your colleagues. Everyone I work with is passionate about their work, good at it and willing to learn more, which is an incredible motivator to me.
Because of this, and the fact that we work in small agile teams, our responsibilities are diverse and open-ended, granting us the opportunity to fill a niche that we are comfortable with, outside of our regular responsibilities. For me, this means transcending the keyboard and monitor every once in a while and maintaining close contact with colleagues from other teams, especially those working directly with the products my team develops. It is incredibly inspiring and rewarding for me to observe the effects of my work, for better or worse, which is made easily attainable in the open, almost hierarchy-less company structure.
On the other hand, my background is still a technical one, which means that I absolutely love occasionally isolating myself and intensely focusing on a single complex problem, abstracting it and solving it piece by piece. Seeing the final product then make someone’s life easier is just the icing on the cake.
What technical challenges do you like the most about the product you work on?
CD: The best and most challenging days are those where I end up with a negative number of lines of code written. Refactoring existing code to make it faster, easier to read and removing duplication of logic is always invigorating, even though it does not yield any direct functionality that makes sales happy. On the other hand, building a new isolated complex piece of software, confirming it works, and then integrating it successfully into the existing project structure is also always a welcome challenge.
What did you want to be when you grew up? Is your current job your dream job?
CD: Depends on how far you look back. At some point in my early life I desperately wanted to become a fire truck (not a ‘fire fighter’ but an actual truck) when I grew up, which is ironic, given the amount of figurative firefighting my daily work now occasionally brings. I always had an affinity with technology, taking apart electronics, studying how they worked on the inside, more often than not being unable to put them together again. When our first family computer entered our home, it became pretty apparent what my logical career path would become in the future.
After obtaining my bachelor’s degree, software development work didn’t allow me to be creative or develop enough personally. I more or less blindly decided to pursue a master’s in artificial intelligence, including a semester abroad, hoping for greener pastures in my future. While I am not using the coursework I studied on a regular basis here at Textkernel, it is the mindset and soft-skills I picked up in university that I now share with my colleagues and which allowed me to be where I am now.
If you received your current salary anyway, what kind of job would you do? The same one or something completely different?
CD: I went back to university to be able to be more creative and independent in my work. Textkernel allows me to be that. I tried to broaden my impact here by maintaining close relations with not only the technology but also the colleagues and clients using the product, which allowed me to become team leader relatively quickly.
Ambitions and circumstances change, but right now, every day I happily go to work, just as I look forward to being able to go home again at the end of the day. I don’t see a reason to change that!
About Chris Dekker
After a degree in software engineering and a semester spent abroad in San Diego, Chris obtained a master’s degree in technical artificial intelligence from the VU in Amsterdam. He started his career as a researcher at university and changed to a more practical field as a Java developer at Textkernel. In his free time he likes to play video games. When he is not sitting in front of a screen Chris enjoys playing tennis or attending dress-up parties.
Are you curious about Textkernel? We are growing and hiring! Check out our career website.