For this edition of Into the Business, the Estimator has interviewed Maarten (29) and Anneke (28) who both work at the Belastingdienst (the Dutch Tax Administration) in Utrecht. Both finished their studies Econometrics and Operations Research in Rotterdam, where Maarten did a Quantitative Marketing Master and Anneke followed the Econometrics Master. Maarten even is a former member of the Estimator! Since 2016, they both work at the data & analytics department of the Belastingdienst, a governmental organisation which regulates the taxes of all Dutch citizens. They both started off as consultants, Anneke at Gibbs where she worked for 6 years. During this time she was asked for a project at the Belastingdienst, through which she then got a fulltime job. Hearing the positive stories, Maarten joined the Belastingdienst as well.
Can you tell some more about the work you do?
Maarten: "We work at the department Datafundaments & Analytics (DF&A) of the Belastingdienst. Simply put, our work consists of analysing data to come to efficient solutions for problems posed to us by other departments of the Belastingdienst (clients). The core of our work is data-analysis. We transform the data to make it operable and try to find the potential in our data. The type of work we do is really comparable to the cases you work with during the Quantitative Marketing master. We start out simple, with explainable but simple models. When the client is convinced of its value and power, we build towards machine learning models which perform even better."
Anneke: "Our clients are other departments within the Belastingdienst, which are often not yet used to a more data driven way of working. Most of the time, the people are used to do a lot of manual work, not always in the most efficient and effective way. We, as a relatively young and new department within the Belastingdienst, then try to change their ways of working to help them become more effective. It can be really fun to figure out how to win their trust and how to find a solution to their problems."
How does a typical workding day look like here at your department?
Maarten: "Our work provides a good balance between deskwork and meetings. It consists of data preparation, analysing, modeling and working on presentations. The other part we will be deliberating with colleagues and clients."
Anneke: "Our department was only established about five years ago. The average age of our DF&A colleagues is about 32 and we have a lot of colleagues who just graduated. Around 200 people are working at our department of which around 50 are data scientists. Besides data scientists we have, amongst others, analytical programmers, analysts, project leads, management, IT and data workers."
What is the structure of your department?
Maarten: "The Belastingdienst is made up of four big components: customs, FIOD (anti-fraud agency), benefits and taxes. The work most relevant for econometricians can be found at our department, with the taxes. You get assigned to a project team, however you get some voice in deciding which one."
Anneke: "We work on various projects. One project team is usually build out of 4-8 people. Every project has a different team working on it, and when you start a new project, you also shift teams. In this way you constantly work with different people, who each have their own specialism. Some people work on multiple projects at the same time, while others work full time on one single project, depending on their personal preferences."
Can you tell us a little more about your career opportunities?
Maarten: "Together with your team leader you discuss your personal development plan. I experience that they really listen to one’s concerns and the balance between private life and work is valued. I appreciate this. Concerning your career opportunities, you can choose to specialise yourself deeply and dive into the programming part. On the other hand, you can also choose to develop yourself further on other parts, such as becoming a team leader or manager. There is more than enough space to determine your own personal development plan."
Anneke: "When you start working here just after graduation, you start off as a junior. After a couple of years of working experience, there will be chances to grow into medior and later on to the senior level. Each level comes with more responsibility and opportunities."
What kind of themes do you work on?
Maarten: "Basically, we can divide our work into four big themes: income tax, sales tax, fraud and the recovery of the taxes. Besides that, we sometimes have to deal with questions coming from the House of Representatives. These kind of questions are really topical and have to be dealt with in a short period of time. One example is the matter around taxes for solar panels owners. The secretary of state must be informed well about such matters. In our department, the data from all other departments comes together, which allows us to research these questions."
Anneke: "Personally, I have worked on several risk models related to income taxes and fraud detection. Next to the four big themes that Maarten mentioned, we also have a team within our department that builds so-called datafundaments. In these datafundaments, the source data is cleaned and the data is set up in a more logical and consistent way. By putting effort in these datafundaments, everybody works consistently and with the same data. This is important since we get data from so many different systems, and it is important to use it in the correct and same way across all different projects. I think that within our department, we have the largest collection of relational databases amongst all companies in the Netherlands."
What are the characteristics you are looking for in someone who wants to work here?
Anneke: "First of all, we would like someone to fit in our team. We are a close group of people who like to do fun activities outside the office sometimes. For example, we go on ski trips and we play ‘Weerwolven’ on a regular basis. To keep the atmosphere as nice as it currently is, we are searching for sociable individuals. Apart from that, you have to be good at programming and you must be creative. We are looking for people who can make the translation from what our client tells us to how we need to treat the data. Our clients did not study econometrics or a related subject, so you must be able to explain your ideas to people with another background. This requires good communicative skills."
How does the application procedure work?
Maarten: "You go through 2 rounds of interviews, an assessment and then an employment conditions interview. A data scientist is also present at each interview to judge the skill and knowledge level of the candidate. Additionally, a team leader and someone from HR will be present.
Doing an internship here is difficult to arrange, since we handle sensitive information at this department."
Lastly, what do you like most about this work?
Maarten: "Consultancy often is very fast and competitive. Here we work with the same group of people and you get the chance to deepen your knowledge about a certain subject. The atmosphere between colleagues is informal, which I like. We are all very ambitious, but I feel everything here is much more easy-going than in pure consultancy companies."
Anneke: "People who work here are concerned with the social importance of their work. That is something you notice about everybody who works here. Like Maarten mentioned, everything is much less hasty and ad hoc than where I worked before. In addition, the focus lies much more on collaboration than on competition. I work in a quite young and nice group of people, which makes the atmosphere in our department really pleasant."