A day in the life of a Business Expert at Miles Ahead

‘Lifelong learning’ is the motto of Beatrice Toussaint, business expert at Miles Ahead startup Nextrans. “You can only get expertise in something to a certain extent, and then it’s time to learn new things.” Beatrice sees herself as ‘an explorer’. A good description for someone who combines Human Resources with Artificial Intelligence, juggles a full-time job at Miles Ahead with two side jobs, and wants to pursue three business ideas in the next five years.

What led you from studies in psychology to a job in technology?

Beatrice: What intrigued me most during my studies was the workings of the brain, and the crossover between psychology and physiology. I wanted to understand what happens in the human brain when we see something, feel something and how we store thoughts and memories. I find that fascinating. When I graduated, I considered taking additional courses on artificial intelligence. But knowing myself, I learn most from working on something concretely, rather than just studying it. So I decided to find a job where I could combine both. That was not easy, because I graduated just in between different Corona waves. Not a lot of companies were looking for my profile.

But you did land a job at Miles Ahead?

Beatrice: I came across a job posting on LinkedIn for Miles Ahead and when the Nextrans project was described to me and its combination of human resources and artificial intelligence (AI), I realized this job was right up my alley. I was really amazed that I landed a job that was exactly what I was looking for.

Are you also interested in technology outside of your job?

Beatrice: I am not really a gadget freak, except for when it comes to deep sea diving. I just want to know everything about underwater photography and video technology… I have become a fangirl in that area. However, technology has always been of importance to me, as I needed it to keep in touch with my family abroad. I left my little island, Mauritius, when I was a young girl and wanted to stay in touch with them.

You have always combined technology with creativity. You are also a composer and you are involved in movies?

Beatrice: I always describe myself as a connoisseur. Especially when it comes to music, I prefer world music, which mixes different music styles. And now I am indeed involved in making movies, more specifically a short film musical. But my interest in finding out how creativity can interact with AI is growing by the day, which is why I particularly like the image of Miles Ahead as a creative studio, and all the references to Miles Davies and music. It confirmed to me that I had made the right choice, choosing a company where you can be creative, think outside of the box, play with technology and definitely learn about it.

Concept Validation

Technology to objectify human thinking

How do you see the role of technology in society?

Beatrice: The question is: can you imagine society without technology? Technology is unstoppable. It allows us to keep growing and keep exploring. To me, technology is there to simplify human work and, to a certain level, objectify human thinking. Some people are afraid robots are taking our jobs, but technology also creates a lot of new jobs. And just consider how globalization has allowed us to hear different views and beliefs. This tells us there is more than one world view.

How would that apply to your work at Nextrans?

Beatrice: Everyone tries to build HR processes in their own way, and every company interviews job applicants in its own way. The danger is that companies only recruit people who are just like them and think just like them. In the end that leads to discrimination. Nextrans aims to make HR processes more data-driven and excludes these human heuristics and biases. We try to build an objective relationship between work and human beings. That’s why Nextrans is so important, as it tackles this societal problem.

Tell us a bit more about Nextrans. It was compared to me as the Mendeleev Periodic Table for HR, is that a correct description?

Beatrice: That’s a good comparison. Wouldn’t it be great if we could describe all jobs, job skills and curricula in the same language, so that we objectify the way we think of jobs. If every job was described as a backpack of atoms, that would make it much easier to match jobs with job seekers who also carry a backpack of atoms. It allows you to focus on the must-have skills that someone needs to perform a job. At that moment, you no longer discriminate based on degree or education. If you have the right backpack of atoms, you can get the job. And if you miss some of these atoms, you can work on acquiring them. Nextrans helps you break away from old-fashioned classifications of degrees, industries…. So long as you have the skills, or can acquire them, you can perform a certain task. Why are we making it so difficult still?

And that is where AI comes into play?

Beatrice: The AI here looks at what education and experience a person has and breaks that down into activities. All these elements are translated into one language, which makes it easier to compare and decide what a person lacks, to move from A to B. But I see AI and human intelligence as complementary, you can’t leave everything to technology, you always need a human in the loop. You need the right balance between human intervention and AI. Nextrans is a SaaS solution for anyone working in HR, who integrate our library of jobs into their system. We are currently building a minimum viable product and proof of concept, and we aim to have a pilot project next year.

Why working at startups is great

What does a typical day look like for you?

Beatrice: My job consists of making the conceptual analysis, and I work closely with our data scientist Maurits, who automates my analyses. So here too, you notice the collaboration between HR and AI: I am the HR piece, Maurits is the AI piece of the puzzle. I make manual analyses of data and build rules of how to translate the input into output. And then Maurits examines if this process can be automated, and we have a constant interaction between us. We meet both virtually and in-person. And we also meet on a weekly basis with the three founders of Nextrans to show the progress we are making. They have a lot of expertise in HR and keep us focused.

What do you think of the concept of a creative studio, and the interaction with other startups?

Beatrice: I like to socialize and learn from other people. So I really look forward to working with the other startups that will join Miles Ahead. We already get a lot of support from IMEC iStart, as we use offices in their facilities in Ghent. I always learn a lot from experts, for instance from the founders of Nextrans, and from Leen at Miles Ahead. They know more about fields that interest me, like cognitive science, but where I don’t have the time to stay on top of all new evolutions.

You have worked in larger organizations, now you’re in a startup. Which do you prefer?

Beatrice: They are really different worlds. I like to start at the bottom of the ladder, but I don’t really like it if all the other rungs on the ladder are already occupied, as is the case in larger companies. It takes much longer to get ahead. In a startup you get more creative freedom, and by performing different tasks, you can explore a lot more and get more experiences. It’s much easier to take ownership of a task and define your role at a startup than in a large organization.

Diversity is a must

How ambitious are you?

Beatrice: I am very ambitious. And I like doing different things. Beside Miles Ahead, I also coach students with concentration issues, and I have another side job in the music industry. Working in a small firm gives me the flexibility to do all these different things. I want to learn a lot of things to build expertise and share that with the world. I have a five-year plan: I have three business ideas that I want to work out and hopefully realize in my future.

Miles Ahead puts a lot of emphasis on diversity. I guess that appeals to you, being a woman of colour yourself?

Beatrice: Diversity is a must in a work environment to me. I appreciate it when companies integrate diversity into their corporate culture. Miles Ahead took the risk of hiring a young female graduate without experience, and with a background in a different culture, into a male-dominated tech culture. That is not something that happens every day, as I experienced in other jobs that I applied for. And family members that also come from Mauritius have a lot of difficulty in finding a job that suits them. That’s why I believe in Nextrans, as our solution takes away that type of bias, and focuses on a person’s skills, not the colour of their skin. As an anecdote: my first interview at Miles Ahead was with a woman with a pink Mohawk hairstyle. That convinced me this was a good place to work and with the right values for me, after six months of interviews with corporate suits.

What is the worst advice that you were even given?

Beatrice: People sometimes say: “just accept it”. That goes against my nature. I want to know why decisions are taken. As a psychologist, I want to analyse things and I want to know how people come to a solution. Otherwise, I feel encaged.

What advice would you give to a young graduate who is about to enter ‘the real world’?

Beatrice: When I graduated, it took months to find a job. Sometimes it’s tempting to take on any job, rather than going for what you really want. So my advice is: don’t compromise. Be patient and don’t settle for less. As a psychologist, I have learned what damage a mismatch between your personality and an organization can cause emotionally. I did take a temporary job as a Corona contract tracer, to earn some money and do something useful. But I did not give up on finding the job that I really wanted. It was worth the wait. I also tell my students: Be patient and don’t settle for less, but also: do your research!

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