Solmaz Karami
The rise of an international ‘beta-girl’

To say that Solmaz Karami is driven would be an understatement. Born and raised in Tehran, this Maastricht University (UM) Knowledge Engineering alum has gone further than she thought possible. “When I first came to the Netherlands I couldn’t speak Dutch. I didn’t even know what I wanted, but I just thought, ‘go for it’ and look where I am now!” she exclaims. Now working as a business intelligence specialist for Vodafone in Maastricht, this 28-year-old is exactly where she wants to be.

Growing up, Karami knew her strengths from an early age. When she was 12 until she was 18 her studies centred on maths and physics, which later led to computer studies. In Dutch, sciences like these are known as beta subjects. And Karami was a true ‘beta-girl’ at heart.

Change of scenery
After completing a two-year software engineering programme in Iran, Karami needed a change of scenery. Venturing to the Netherlands as a tourist to visit her uncle, who had been living here for more than 40 years, she toyed with the idea of studying abroad. “I went to one of the open days at UM and initially decided I wanted to study International Business, because the Problem-Based Learning (PBL) programme was amazing. I figured as an international girl in a foreign country, and because my father and friend both own companies, that International Business was my future.”

As luck would have it, the International Business programme didn’t work out for Karami. “When I was accepted into the programme, I was happy, but I realised it wasn’t for me after taking my first Marketing Management and Quantitative Methods exams.  Contrary to my classmates, my strong side was quantity methods, so I thought I should do something else. My roots are as a ‘beta-girl’ and I have to go back to the sciences. Then I discovered the Knowledge Engineering track at UM, and the rest is history!”

Work  experience
After entering Knowledge Engineering, Karami completed a voluntary bachelor internship at Vodafone. There, she worked on simulated magnetic interaction, doing research to find an efficient approach for visualising social networks. “While my friends were studying abroad I wanted to gain work experience instead, because after all, I was already abroad”, Karami says. “That’s what led me to Vodafone.”

After receiving her bachelor’s in Knowledge Engineering, Karami did a master in Operation Research at UM and completed a one-year internship at Philips. For the first six months of the internship, she interned in the marketing department and worked with a team that defined the mathematical model used to calculate the online sentiment of Philips in different areas. The second half of the internship focused on Karami’s master graduation project at the research and development department of Philips where she performed her own experiment that aimed to improve the automatic physical activity recognition based on acceleration data.

Even before graduating, Karami had two jobs lined up: one at Philips and one at Vodafone. “Making a decision was difficult”, she says. “In the end, what it came down to was that Philips was PhD focused and Vodafone wasn’t. I didn’t want to do a PhD, I wanted a career, so I chose the best fit for me and signed on with Vodafone.”

Tehran versus Maastricht
Moving from Iran to the Netherlands was no small feat, but for Karami, it was something she knew she wanted to do. “If I’d stayed in Tehran I would’ve found a job just like here, but I would’ve missed out on a lot of great experiences. My internship at Philips allowed me to do research surrounded by machines and experiments and I could work directly with the professionals there. That was something I’d have missed had I stayed at home.”

While moving to the Netherlands proved exciting, there were some things she had to get used to. “The main distinction between Maastricht and Tehran is the PBL system. In Tehran my studies were theoretical and involved more lectures. The faculties were also bigger. Here, I could approach my teachers and work directly with them. In Tehran you had to make an appointment two months in advance and it was all very formal”, she explains. “The population difference is also huge. In Tehran there are about 10 million people and this makes personal development difficult. Because Maastricht is smaller, it’s easier for a person to grow.”

Go for it
“My future plans? I can’t say”, says Karami, when asked about her five-year plan. “I’m happy with Vodafone. I’m not planning on leaving any time soon. I’ll go back to Iran as a tourist, but I won’t move back there. I now have my Dutch passport and this is my home. Maastricht is a great city. And my job is the perfect mix between people and programming. I interview business people and build a bridge between them and the data so that they can do their jobs better. It’s the best of both worlds and at the moment, I wouldn’t change it for anything.”           

For other ‘beta-girls’ out there trying to follow their dreams, Karami has some advice: “Don’t think you can’t, because you can do a lot more than you think. You have to believe in yourself. That’s the biggest thing for everyone, especially girls abroad and in general – just go for it. Don’t be afraid to dive in. Just do it!”

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