Karim El Assal, Junior Scientist Innovator

“I like turning science fiction into reality”. Karim El Assal is a Junior Scientist Innovator in TNO’s Networks department. As a software developer, he feels at home in a network department as he’s working on the communication applications that will be implemented in the network in the future.

“In Networks, we work on a daily basis on improving digital networks. Additionally, we’re involved in the media which is sent via these, such as virtual reality, augmented reality and the new means of communication that these altered realities enable. That last part is where I come in. I’m now working hard on a large project called ERP Social XR, in which I lead the software development at the integration level. This is about linking components that are developed individually, such as the recording, distribution and displaying of 3D video. By integrating these, we can realise the entire pipeline from camera to display. Initially, it’s all about business applications, especially for meetings. Examples include meetings in which you can look at a 3D object together or really want to feel like you’re in the same room. But there’s also healthcare applications, through which can you be ‘in the room’ with the elderly, so to speak. Or ‘remote expertise’, where you allow an expert to be present virtually.”

FROM TODAY’S FILM TO TOMORROW’S WORLD

“I first did a bachelor’s in Advanced Technology at the University of Twente, followed by a master’s in Computer Science with a focus on Software Technology and Data Science. I began working at TNO immediately afterwards. I came across TNO in 2017 at the Career Days in Utrecht. Shortly after, I received an email from one of the recruiters asking whether they could send my CV around to various managers. My current manager in Networks was immediately interested. I went into the interview with an open mind, but as a software specialist I did wonder: what can I do at a networks department? That was, until he told me about the Social XR projects. I was enthusiastic right away as I like turning science fiction into reality. Extended reality is one of the steps that will ensure that we can live in a future which we now see in films.”

FIND YOUR OWN PLACE

“On top of that, innovation is central at TNO, as is the desire to contribute something to society. That’s the kind of organisation I want to work for. The size of the organisation also played a part: it offers so many opportunities to actually shape innovation. And TNO’s flexibility appealed to me immediately: you can choose when you work and what you work on. When you’re just starting out, you have to find your feet because things are not automatic here. At TNO, they don’t say: here’s a job, go and work on it for 40 hours a week. You have to find your place yourself. To me, that’s completely positive as it gets you to where you want to be. That focus on what you want for yourself is something I really like. You can simply say no to a project, not that I often do so. Instead, you’re asked for the projects you want to be asked for because you’ve shown yourself to be enthusiastic about the subject.”

THINKING ABOUT THE LONG TERM

“I look back on a working day with satisfaction when I’ve been able to fully orchestrate how my day looked while also achieving a lot in collaboration with others. My work now revolves around software development, but I’ve also become the open-source manager for the entire ICT unit. Networks is one of the five departments of this unit. Together, we’ve opted for a more open-source strategy in projects where this is possible. I help guide the projects that now want to work open source. This involves more than just making the results public; there’s more to it than that if you want to do it well. My job is to connect people so that they don’t all have to reinvent the wheel. Of course, there are differences in project content, funding, commercial interests and legal aspects, so the outcomes are not all the same. But by giving people a roadmap, they can still follow a structured path. What do I want in the future? To be honest, I have no idea yet. That’s actually the phase I’m in now: thinking about what I want in the long term. I’ll spend some time on that in the coming period, and TNO is giving me all the space I need for this.”

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