It was a beautiful day after the summer. The month of September was ending. A European Robin was singing his song. Everything was pointing out that this would be a great day. And it became a great day! At 28th of September 1982, I was born in Lüdenscheid. That’s in Germany. What do you say? No, my father was not in the Belgian army (located in Germany). My mother was a teacher for the children of the soldiers over there. They had their own school, where of course I also went to. I don’t remember a lot of that time in Germany. I do remember making an igloo at the beginning of the winter, which remained until spring time. I remember living at a dead end street, on top of the ‘hill’ next to the parallel street that went higher on. And our street parties with a big round beer tent. The smell of beer still makes me think of those times. There was also an excellent Balkan restaurant, where you could order a meat dish with a giant pineapple in the middle, surrounded by all kinds of meat and vegetables and French fries. At the age of seven I came back to Belgium.
From the 2nd till the 4th year of elementary school I went to a little school with a big play garden and some farm animals, like a donkey. The 5th and 6th year, I went to a larger school and I spent high school in yet a larger school. My teenager days were exciting, funny and careless days. I loved going to school. I was a real buffoon and my grades proved this many times. But I never came in trouble and always passed the year. I enrolled in almost all programs of ‘ASO’: from Latin to Greek & Latin in 1st and 2nd, to Economics & Mathematics in 3th and 4th and finally to Science & Mathematics in 5th and 6th.
When I had to pick a university (no application needed in Belgium), I found it hard to decide. I had to choose between university and college, between economics, mathematics, science, etc. To keep as much options open as possible, I ended up studying Master in Industrial Engineering, Computer Science at the University College of Ghent. I liked this a lot. The choice for college was the right one at that time. I would have had no problems with the more difficult, theoretical university, but the relatively more practical approach of college suited me better and motivated me more. There was a lot of math and sciences, my favourite courses. Or wait a minute. There was another favourite course: informatics. This was what I eventually specialised in. I had rather good grades and finished without any problems. Then there was the question: go to work or go for another master degree? Which masters were interesting? Two of them came to my attention: specialising in Artificial Intelligence in Leuven (‘far’ away) or a master in Business Economics in Ghent. I’ve chosen the latter one. It couldn’t be better! I only needed to attend a selection of courses of Applied Economics, so I saw it as the Applied Economics without the nasty side courses. A fun year and a masters degree further it was time to search for a job.
After quite some time of looking around I started in education. First as helping hand in the administration, but quickly also as a teacher in adult education. Soon I found a fulltime job as an analyst-programmer in Zwijnaarde, but I kept teaching after the hours. To have a good salary as a teacher and to have more job certainty, you need the proper diploma for education. So I swapped one evening of teaching for the necessary teaching courses. It was a very busy time: combining a fulltime job with teaching and getting the degree. Busy but very interesting. After almost three years it became too much. I resigned both jobs and aborted the studies to go looking for another job. I worked for about one year as a programmer in Sint-Niklaas. But I didn’t like this job very well, so I gave up this one as well. I allowed myself a short sabbatical to finish some projects: I finished the teaching courses, did some photo shoots, made a first website and I started writing a book. After two and a half months I went back to work.
Since that time, I work at Ghent University, at the faculty of Economics and Business Administration at the department of Management Informatics and Operations Management. I started as a teaching assistant, where I spent 50% of my time at helping out the professor (weekly exercise lectures, about 1.500 students each year) and the other 50% I spent on my Ph.D. studies. I taught Excel, MySQL and Java. My research first focused on process mining and later on process modelling. Nowadays, my research is shifting towards the generalisation of my PhD research in the field of differentiated problem solving. More information about the research can be found at www.janclaes.info.
As a child I tried out lots of activities: boy scouts, karate, music school, table tennis, drawing and gymnastics. After quite some years I didn’t like scouts anymore and I searched for another youth association. That’s how I ended up in JNM. It’s an association for youth till 25 years old who are concerned with nature and environmental issues. That was my kind of thing. At the beginning I only joined for summer camps, but later on I worked for Bertram (the nature journal of JNM) and I was a member of the board for a while. It’s a pity I had to quit the board early, because I then started my first fulltime job. Since 2009, I was a volunteer in Red Cross Youth, AJOK and Bloemenstad. They organise activities and summer camps for poor children, disabled children and other children with difficult home situations. From the start, this has always made a huge impression and it helps me to put into perspective the stress I am experiencing in my job and my life.