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Olga Zeijpveld is a senior project manager in the Electronic Defence department at TNO. She has been working there for less than a year, but was immediately in awe of the enormous breadth of expertise at the research institute. The variety between short- and long-term projects is also really appealing to her.
"Our department deals with the use and misuse of the electromagnetic spectrum. On the one hand, we come up with clever things that help our clients optimise the deployment of their radar and communication systems. On the other hand, we want to detect and prevent an adversary from interfering with the signals. I work on multiple projects at the same time, like everyone here. Soon I will be working on a four-year research programme in the field of Radar Electronic Warfare and Communications Electronic Warfare. This is where we build up knowledge that we can put to concrete use at a later date.
Shorter projects are running in parallel for the Royal Netherlands Navy, the Royal Netherlands Army and the National Police. For example technical advice on system procurement. Our work ranges from drawing up the technical part of the programme of requirements to advising on the selection of suppliers and testing their systems. In addition, we build our own simulators and prototypes. In short, the work ranges from exploratory research to preparing the results for practice. In the latter case, we sometimes respond to needs that have to be met within a month, for example because a new mission is imminent."
"As project manager, I keep an eye on the big picture and look further ahead. The first step is to translate customer demands into what TNO needs to do – and always with an planning and budget in mind. What is the customer's priority? And if it's a bulk question: how can we divide it into manageable pieces for ourselves? As a link between the client and the project team, I then make the translation back to the client in a way they understand.
Some customers want to know the ins and outs, while others are a little less involved in the technical content. This means that I have to be able to understand and explain all matters up to a certain level myself. That's why it's important that I can always rely on the team for questions. How exactly does that work? Is that really necessary? Maybe there are more roads that lead to Rome? I regularly play the devil's advocate to challenge the project team. It makes a difference that I have a technical background: I did Electrical Engineering at Delft University of Technology, specialising in Telecommunications."
"The funny thing is that my thesis was about calculating radar cross-sections, the radar-reflecting surface of ships – and that's one of the areas our department also deals with. So in a way I've returned to my old field of work, because I haven't worked at TNO for very long yet. Prior to my studies in Delft, I first did the officer training at the Royal Netherlands Naval Institute. After that, I worked in the Navy for 13 years in total. Five years of which were in training. After that I worked at KPN for seven years.
I joined TNO in July 2019. It happened to cross my path as I hadn't immediately thought of TNO myself. But once the organisation was in the picture, I saw how innovative TNO is and what relevant projects they are working on. I also enjoy working with highly educated colleagues, people who are smarter than me! No, my switch isn't a seven-year itch. If an employer offers enough variety, I can keep working there for a very long time. As far as that is concerned, I'm all right here. TNO is super diverse: 15 expertise groups in the field of Defence, Safety & Security alone. Let alone outside of that field!”
"I had a well organised beginning. I was able to find all the information on the website beforehand and on the first day my laptop and phone were there for me. It felt like a well-oiled machine. Even as a senior I was assigned a mentor! Maybe not necessarily for coaching, but very useful for practical matters: where do you find what, how do you fill in certain forms?
Now that I'm working at TNO, I notice that you are given a lot of autonomy – along with a lot of responsibility that comes along with it of course. The same goes for young people in the department. All projects have to be done, but TNO also looks at the background and personal preferences of people. What kind of work suits you? What motivates you? That's what I always ask myself when I'm working together with a project team."
"I've had a good day, when I've had a lot of contact with colleagues and clients. I'd rather not sit at the computer all day. The other day I got stuck writing a project plan. Luckily I was able to join a few other seniors who were happy to make some time for me. That helped so much, and I was able to put my thoughts back on track.
How do I see my future? I never look far ahead, often things just come my way. And I've just started this job! Maybe someday I would like to work in a different field, but project management is the thread that runs through my career. And I'm in a good place at TNO. One project may take a few months, another sometimes years – there's so much variety in that alone".