"TNO encourages you to step out of your comfort zone". Robert Muller is junior scientist & innovator in the Electronic Defence department of TNO. He had never thought beforehand that he would work at TNO, but he soon realised that he could really flourish there. It gives him great satisfaction to be able to combine theory and the development of practical application in one job.
"Electronic Defence develops techniques that allow Defence and other customers to get a head start on an adversary. We are a broad department and we have five pillars of research, from protection against roadside bombs to electromagnetic signatures. We improve techniques, but also do fundamental research and come up with solutions ourselves.
I'm active in the communication pillar. I am currently researching the needs in the field of machine learning and deep learning when it comes to communication protocols. At the moment it is mainly about knowledge building, the practical application is a longer term objective. I get inspiration from other departments at TNO that are involved in machine learning and deep learning, such as intelligent imaging. They're just two corridors away and there's a lot of knowledge there.
But making the link to communication protocols is still quite difficult. The usefulness especially lies in modulation recognition, because it is already very difficult for a trained eye to recognise different types of modulation.".
Making theory tangible and palpable
"I have developed the fascination for machine learning and deep learning at TNO. My background is in electrical engineering. After my studies at The Hague University of Applied Sciences, I went to many companies and had many conversations. In many instances I was cast aside quickly since I don't have a master's degree. At TNO it was different: here they saw potential and offered me the opportunity to grow.
What we're doing here, you don't learn in any other study. And we need everyone from across the higher education range, including PhDs – there’s a role for everyone. I never expected to end up at TNO, but I got an interview and there was an immediate connection. TNO has a wide variety of projects and expertise in-house, I realised that this could be the place for me to flourish. This is mainly due to the balance between theory and application. That's hard to find at other companies. You often do one of two things. I like to work on theory and give a starting point for others. But it's also nice to finish the project yourself by making the theory tangible and palpable."
Not only innovate on paper
"TNO is really broad-ranging. After more than two years, I am still regularly amazed by the existence of some disciplines and domains: are we working on that too? Nevertheless, we are all working towards one goal: knowledge expansion. We do not only innovate on paper, but at the same time look at applicability. As an employer, TNO is truly top notch. You get the means to develop yourself, and it is appreciated if you show commitment to it. In addition, you are encouraged to step out of your comfort zone.
I've done a few projects that were not entirely in my field of knowledge. After all, you can't know everything. That's why you have to learn to ask. It's no problem here to call on someone else's specialism. That's what your colleagues are for and they often like it a lot. I've learned so much here, more than I ever learned at school. The department's in a strong growth phase, so we're all very busy. Yet the door is wide open everywhere."
"I love to get stuck into a problem and immerse myself in it for days on end. But I also like sparring with colleagues, the so-called coffee moments. Then you find out what others are doing and that gives me energy. The days when I can combine both, that makes me happy.
In this department I want to develop myself into becoming the specialist in machine learning and deep learning. In addition, I want to focus more on system integration: bringing projects together into one whole. And, of course, obtaining that master's degree after all! After that? Who knows, maybe I'll make room for the new guard and play a more connecting role. But I'm 30 now, and if there's one thing I've realised, it's that I want to learn."