Data science is a team effort

Ilkka Kosunen has been a data scientist at imec at Holst Centre since 2019. He chose the research world of imec over the purely academic one. "I want to work on prototypes that will actually mean something to society." He calls himself a typical absent-minded scientist, who thinks of a thousand things at the same time. Amongst other things, he started a community for 'data researchers' because for him data science is a team effort. "I am very grateful to imec for giving me the freedom to choose my own path. " As of 1 January 2022 he works at imec at OnePlanet Research Center

"I have a long background in computer science. It all began in 1999 at the University of Helsinki, where I got my master’s and Ph.D. Along the way I became an expert in psychophysiological computing. That roughly means developing systems that adapt to your physiological signals such as heart rate, brainwaves and pupil-size in real-time.”


"After ‘playing around' in academia for fifteen years - sometimes we really made ‘unrealistic' prototypes - the question of what to do next came up. Most of the prototypes never meet the real world. And I wanted to make a social impact and finish a product. In addition, imec provided the opportunity to concentrate fully on research without the responsibility of lecturing classes and other university duties."

"Imec brought everything together. I already noticed it during my job interview. There were so many different projects I could choose from. I immediately felt that this was an environment for me, where I could grow organically. It turned out that way, too. "

Huge laboratory

"From the beginning, I was set free to find my own path. That's really unique. Imec has the resources and there is so much knowledge from other researchers. There are many different people working here - in total about 5000, from 95 countries - from different backgrounds. From biological engineers to electrical engineers. You can combine all those areas of expertise. It's a fantastic environment to try out all kinds of ideas. For me, imec really is like a huge laboratory full of fantastic scientists and engineers. I've been able to start collaborating with them very  fluidly, resulting in some ideas of my own.”

“All these collaborations also called for modern data technologies and for the latest approaches in machine learning and artificial intelligence. This often involved deep learning and large data sets for which your basic laptop was no longer sufficient. That's why I started to spearhead a movement towards adoption of modern cloud-based technologies. At the time nobody around me at imec had the expertise to do this. So, I started to educate myself. I made myself an expert in that very complex field. And, I wanted to share that knowledge with others.”

Bringing the data revolution to imec

"There is often only one data scientist within a project. That can be very stressful. That's why I asked my teamleader if I could make my ‘cloud’ competencies available to everyone within imec. That way I could connect with others who work with data and also learn from them. I believe that data science is a team effort. My management supported me in this. It started small. But it became a real community. Now, about a hundred people across imec are participating. Last December, the whole community received the imec Connected Mind Award. I hope together we can revolutionize how we praktice data science, both by changing the working paradigm from single data unicorns into agile data science teams, and by employing the state-of-the-art Mlops and cloud technologies.

To keep his analytical thinking skills in balance with his creative side, Ilkka spends his free time in a more artistic way: he has been playing classical guitar since he was seven, he writes and reads, and he knits. "My work also requires creative solutions. I am eighty percent technical there and eighty percent artistic in my free time. I think we should all be proud of our small quirks and peculiarities. One of mine is that I really like to knit when planning, it really helps my mind to concentrate. Instead of being ashamed of this hobby, I have decided to embrace it and brand myself as the Data Knitter!”

Who: Ilkka Kosunen

From: Finland

What: Data Scientist

Where: September 2019 - January 2022: Holst Centre, as of January 2022 OnePlanet