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Joining VITO as a starter

“With a junior profile, you have endless possibilities to extend yourself and, at the same time, develop a broad base. This gives – both starters and customers – the chance to assume several different tasks and spheres of action,” recalls Hans, DevOps Engineer at FlowFactor. VITO, the Flemish Institute for Technological Research, relied on the technical support of FlowFactor for their pilot study on medical data for the prevention and early detection of chronic diseases. As a starter, Hans Habraken got the chance to expand, with the right tools, his knowledge of important, personal and sensitive issues, followed by further assimilation or the processing thereof. In this way, he was able to delve deeper into the fascinating learning environment that VITO has to offer.

logo flowfactor

The first career steps of Hans at FlowFactor

After an internship in which Hans learnt, via DevOps, to develop apps that were updated and monitored automatically, Hans was sure that he wanted to specialize in automation and the cloud. He soon gravitated, therefore, to FlowFactor. Before long he was applying his know-how at VITO – a project with several disciplines, where he rapidly acquired new skills.

VITO – for research and prevention of chronic diseases

VITO (the Flemish Institute for Technological Research) is a strategic testing station and research center of the Flemish government. As a research organization with a sharp focus on sustainability, solutions are sought to a multitude of social challenges, such as an ageing population and the increase in chronic diseases. VITO focuses on the prevention of chronic diseases and looks for early, tell-tale patterns in the data of people, both clinical and molecular data, as well as in environmental- and behavioral data. Data is collected in order to identify and track the development of a disease or, via a behavioral pattern, to detect the parameters of early alarm sig­nals. VITO’s role is to study and monitor these indicators; they determine the need for a preventative adjustment as regards someone’s diet, physical exercise, etc.

Pilot study ‘I AM my health’ as a starter’s project for Hans

The ‘I AM my health’ program focuses on research that expedites the transition from a disease-oriented to a predictive, personalized and participative healthcare system for the prevention of noncommunicable diseases.

 

For the ‘I AM Frontier’ pilot study, about 30 VITO employees were closely monitored over a period of 18 months: blood-, urine- and other samples were collected and analyzed, both the person’s activity and the heart rate are measured using portable trackers (aka wearables), questionnaires are filled in and retina photos are taken. A major challenge in this project lay in the Data Management; all the different kinds of data, collected at several labs at different times, were relayed to a single server. To be molded, there, into a single coherent data-infrastructure, and then processed and reported back to the participants and investigators.

 

VITO already had an IT department of its own but, for this project, it sought external support and consultancy in the field of IT development capacity. The long-term objectives of this project are (i) to scale up the research and (ii) to eliminate human interventions during the processing of data, as much as possible, through an automation process.

Full-time learning pathway with the necessary supervision/technical support

Hans spent about seven months at VITO to support the project further. Early in the project, Hans would meet up every fortnight, with FlowFactor and VITO’s IT-experts and researchers, in order to swap notes, and fine-tune the project. Hans could also rely on VITO’s own IT department and on the expertise of FlowFactor; senior staff providing the supervision. They advised on which process or which methods would yield the best result. On the other hand, Hans has a fresh, flexible and youthful attitude so that his efforts are not confined to one, narrowly-defined specialist field. This allowed him to respond fluidly to ever-evolving requirements which – in a research setting – cannot always be set in advance.

 

FlowFactor offered Hans supervision in the automating of processes for sensitive, medical and personal data, drawing on the requisite tools such as Apache Airflow and scripting in Python. The technical support from FlowFactor was vital to VITO for the risk analyses of the security and privacy of data. Together, they sought a solution to keep the risks as low as possible while observing the ethical and legal regulations.

“Hans was always very attentive. He focused on the data, something which he didn’t do at first. He saw the small ‘red flags’ or anomalies in the volumes of incoming data so that erroneous data could be sent back to the lab.”

Jan Theunis - Project Manager Sustainable Health bij VITO

Cooperation between VITO and junior-profile Hans

Both parties can look back with satisfaction on a pleasant and trouble-free cooperation. VITO was looking for a real ‘man Friday’ and ‘Jack-of-all-trades’. In this way Hans was able, as a starter, to grow along with and through the project. The medical sector with exciting, new aspects such as the programming languages ‘Python’, ‘Apache Airflow’ and ‘R’, and the building of databases, gave Hans the energy to learn new skills and conduct new research.

 

His future plans, both within and outside VITO

 

In the space of just a few months, Hans – together with VITO – has built a data management system. This will, over time, be extended, in order to scale up to bigger projects with more study data. At present, FlowFactor mainly lends remote support; if certain things aren’t working properly, Hans steps in and rectifies these. Hans looks forward to pursuing the project. Meanwhile, he is focusing on self-study in order to stay abreast. That way he can continue to build a broad base of skills. This is what makes VITO so appealing to him as he doesn’t need to specialize in just one field. Here’s to a challenging future with many interesting and potentially lucrative plans!

Author: Johan Janssen, 30 sept 2019