Photographer:Fotograaf: Own archive
Alumni about their dreams: did they come true?
Knowledge Engineering alumnus Frans van Egdom
After being buzzed into the building where Frans van Egdom (34) lives, I almost trip over a large bookcase filled with second-hand books and DVDs for communal use. A notice board in the entrance hall invites me to the daily ‘coffee with the neighbourhood’ moment. “It’s an attempt by the municipality and the housing association to cultivate connection in the neighbourhood,” Frans tells me later. It’s not a bad idea: two young people were recently shot dead in front of this block of flats in the neighbourhood Kattenburg in Amsterdam.
Given this information, one might wonder if Kattenburg is the best neighbourhood for a family with two young children to call home. Frans likes living here, though. He and his wife bought their flat cheaply from a housing association in financial trouble. The drug dealers around the corner were thrown in for free. “We live in the heart of the city centre. My electric bicycle takes me to work in Amsterdam Zuidoost within twenty minutes. It’s good for me and the environment.” This statement is reminiscent of what he told us in his interview sixteen years ago, when he said he didn’t want a car: “Trains can take you anywhere, too.” Should we take this to mean he hasn’t changed a bit in all these years? “Um, maybe you shouldn’t mention my expensive leased car or the fact that my political views have changed along with my income.”
Frans works as a data architect for Davinci, an IT company that provides services for lenders. He develops software that can combine various data sources to help clients take more automated lending decisions. It may not sound like a very flashy job, but it’s a good fit for Frans, a self-proclaimed nerd (“I think I conform to the stereotype, but I see it as a badge of honour”). This actually isn’t all that surprising, coming from a knowledge engineering alumnus who dreamt of developing a Lord of the Rings-like game sixteen years ago. He still likes to disappear into fantasy worlds. “Me and my friends can spend hours playing Dungeons and Dragons, a fantasy role-playing game.” His wife (“We’re not married, but we’re registered partners for practical reasons”) doesn’t share his enthusiasm. “I still haven’t managed to convince her to join in.” Their differences are the driving force behind their relationship. “We agree on the important things, but we’re very different people. I’m more of a science person and she’s very much a humanities person. In a pub quiz, we’d be the perfect team.” They have two children together, Julia (3.5) and Samuel (1). “I was born to be a father. I’m clear and consistent, but I’m also able to put myself in their shoes and I’m interested in what’s going on in their minds.”
His current state of happiness isn’t the first topic my conversation with Frans touches upon, though. Yes, he had a great time during his first few years as a student. Fresh out of secondary school with some catching up to do when it came to making friends (“As a teenager, I rebelled mostly against other teenagers”), he absolutely loved being in a fraternity. “It was a wonderful time. Being part of a small, tight-knit group of like-minded people was exactly what I needed at that point in my life.” But he neglected his studies, which eventually became a problem. “I suffered badly from procrastination.” He was in a bad state, gaming for days and nights on end. “It was the worst time of my life. I reached the point where I found it difficult to even face my parents. I could sense their disappointment.”
His eyes abruptly fill with tears. We stop talking for a moment. “My father suffers from Alzheimer’s. Soon after he was diagnosed, he told me his greatest fear. He was worried he would be too far gone by the time I graduated. It was a very confronting moment for me.” Fortunately, it didn’t come to that – although Frans didn’t take his parents to his bachelor’s graduation ceremony after eight(!) years of studying. “I didn’t really feel like celebrating with students who were all at least five years younger than me.”
Frans eventually got back on the right path thanks to Tom, a good friend of his father’s. “He saw me spiralling and empathised with me. He twisted my arm and got me to stay in university. He didn’t accept my messing around and making excuses.” Tom, who worked at Davinci, arranged an internship for Frans. Without it, he would never have had his current job. “Without that opportunity, they would never have hired me, with nothing but a bachelor’s degree to put on my CV after all those years.”
His father’s condition is slowly deteriorating. Frans still visits him at the nursing home every month. “They’re courtesy visits, to be honest. Neither of us gets much out of it. My father is no longer aware of his surroundings.” Again, Frans falls silent for a moment. “I still find it difficult to come to terms with the fact that I couldn’t share getting my children with him.” The topic of conversation shifts to his mother. “My father is thirteen years older than her. She’s much too young to effectively be a widow. That’s why, when my father could no longer live at home, I told her, ‘Make sure you find someone. Life is better together.’” Touched by this open-minded gesture, his mother quickly found a new partner. “He’s completely OK with the situation. It’s not like he and my father are romantic rivals, really,” says Frans, smiling through his emotions.
What else does the future have in store for him? “We’ll see. Some doors automatically close as I get older. Take becoming a millionaire by age thirty – that’s no longer possible for me. I’ll probably start dreaming again when I hit my midlife crisis.”
Niels van der Laan