Career: As A Chemist at a Computational Software Company

Career: As A Chemist at a Computational Software Company

Author: Fedor Goumans, Gian Giacomo Asara, Vera Koester

Dr. Fedor Goumans is Chief Customer Officer at Software for Chemistry & Materials BV (SCM), Amsterdam, The Netherlands. The company develops computational chemistry software. Its software package, the Amsterdam Modeling Suite, can help to solve real-life existing and emerging research, development, and innovation (RD&I) challenges. It contains a wide range of tools such as density functional theory (DFT) software for both molecules (ADF) and periodic systems (BAND, Quantum ESPRESSO), fast and approximate electronic structure methods (MOPAC, DFTB), a reactive force field (ReaxFF), and a continuum fluid thermodynamics module (COSMO-RS).

Fedor Goumans talks to Dr. Gian Asara and Dr. Vera Koester for ChemistryViews about his drive for customer satisfaction and emphasis on advancing technology. He is responsible for marketing, sales, and business partner management.



How has your career developed?

After an M.Sc. in organic photochemistry at Leiden University, a Ph.D. in computational chemistry at VU University Amsterdam, and a three-year post-doc in surface astrochemistry at University College London, I won a three-year independent fellowship from the Dutch Research Council (NWO) talent program Veni, which I took up at Leiden University to work on the development and application of new theoretical methods for interstellar chemistry.

At the end of this fellowship, I was ready to apply for another independent fellowship—an ERC Starting Grant from the European Research Council and a Vidi fellowship from the NWO. However, this met with some friction from the scientific director in Leiden, so I also started talking with SCM. Finally, I took up a position as Business Developer there in 2012. As SCM grew significantly in the next eight years, I now have a slightly broader role as Chief Customer Officer.



What do you do in your current position?

Overseeing and actively working on the sales and marketing of the Amsterdam Modeling Suite, as well as working on growth and partnering strategies. This includes discussions with researchers worldwide about how computational chemistry and materials modeling can help them tackle their problems and advance their research in many different application areas. I kind of act as the liaison between the customers and SCM’s team of scientific software developers and support scientists.



How closely is your job related to chemistry?

Very closely. A major aspect of my role is technical sales. This means I have to understand the chemical research problems of our customers, how our software could help tackle them, or how we can improve our software to tackle these in the future. Also, the content on our website needs to be chemically relevant and accurate.



What other skills do you need?

Interpersonal skills—towards customers and developers—, skills for the translation between problem, product development, and solution, project management, team management, data analysis, and software and website development.



What problems or decisions do you deal with regularly?

I like to be helpful to all our (potential) software users. I also like to be friendly and helpful to scientists in general and think along with their problems. Sometimes that takes too much time as I’m trying to help researchers who may never be a (major) customer and I have to focus on the most promising and/or important users.



Please tell us something about your daily routine.

When I’m in the office I usually spend most of my time looking at software evaluation and price quote requests, new scientific questions, follow-ups, and keeping in touch with our user base—together with our support scientists. I also update our website with the latest events, developments, etc., and keep updated on the latest use cases and relevant developments in different application areas, and related software and hardware developments.

When I am traveling, I mostly visit (potential) users of our software to discuss their current and future challenges, attending conferences to keep updated, present our developments, or be present with a booth at the exhibition to meet new people and learn about their research projects. Also, hands-on workshops are part of my work.



Can you give examples of typical questions you deal with?

I could be dealing with interesting questions from our current or potential researchers such as:

A company is, for example, interested in a new class of molecules displaying interesting thermally activated delayed fluorescence behavior for future OLEDs. How well can we describe their luminescence properties with our methods? I dig into the papers and run some calculations on a few molecules, using standard and unique methods in ADF, and report back to them.

A government lab is interested in understanding the mechanical properties of epoxy polymers. I set up a web meeting with them and point them to papers and existing tutorials on this and let them try out our software and defer them to my colleague support scientists for scientific questions and our developers for expert technical support.

An academic researcher wants to know if they can run periodic simulations on charged unit cells. I let them know it’s not possible yet, but it’s work in progress and we hope to have this by the end of the year and we’ll keep them posted.

A company wants to know how they can predict the solubility of electrolytes and polymers in battery systems. This is a tough one, so I again let them know what is currently possible, and that it may not be sufficient and we’re working on improving that. I let our developers know that this company is also interested in that, so we keep them in mind as end-user and potential partner in collaborative projects.



What do you enjoy most about your job?

Talking to so many different scientists in so many different fields and learning about their exciting research.



Are there any aspects you would like to be different?

I would be very happy if we could have a fast-moving software development pathway in order to satisfy the market’s needs more quickly. This would ultimately help all of us to solve more relevant problems in a shorter amount of time. However, the truth is that software development and testing just takes time. It would also be great if I had more time to discuss and think about research problems and spent less time on inevitable tasks related to sales and marketing.



Why did you decide to move from academia to this job?

It was a combination of looking for more job security, staying in the same place with my family, and having some doubts about how much politics and marketing are involved in keeping your academic career up and running.



Is there anything you miss from your time in the lab?

Having more time to really dig deep into a singular challenging problem.



What is the most challenging part of your job?

Dealing with the many different aspects involved in successfully growing a small scientific software company. Since there are so many different things (sales and support, website technical aspects, content, off-line marketing materials, being involved with the product development strategy, managing sales and other partners, field sales, workshops) – the focus can be a bit scattered sometimes. This is sometimes a challenge, especially if seeming trivialities are getting in the way.



Did you need to specialize in a certain field or is a general chemistry background sufficient?

Since in our case we sometimes get really technical in terms of pre/after-sales, a background in computational chemistry is necessary. Also, having some hands-on experience in programming in quantum/computational chemistry codes helps to appreciate what the experts can and cannot do in terms of product development.



What advice would you give to students pursuing a job in this area?

Keep in mind that whatever you learn as an academic is so much more than expertise in your field of research. You learn valuable skills that can be transferred to many different types of roles. Recognize and embrace them. Find the aspects you enjoy most and use them to your advantage.

And a general tip: Don’t get caught in an environment where you’re not happy. Yes, you sometimes have to make some sacrifices and make unfair decisions, but keep in mind what makes you tick and enjoy the ride.



Thank you very much for your insights.

Theodorus P. M. Goumans received an M.Sc. in organic photochemistry from Leiden University, The Netherlands, in 2000 and a Ph.D. in computational chemistry from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands, in 2005. After post-doc positions at the University College London, UK, and Leiden University in surface science and theoretical chemistry, he joined Software for Chemistry & Materials (SCM), Amsterdam, as a business developer in 2012.


Selected Awards

  • 1997, 1998, 1999: Royal Association of the Dutch Chemical Industry (VNCI) prize for excellent Dutch chemistry undergraduate students
  • 2000: Franchimont prize for best chemistry undergraduate students, Leiden University
  • 2000–2011: 4 High-performance computing (HPC) Europa travel and collaboration grants, many travel and HPC hour grants
  • 2009–2011: three-year independent Veni fellowship of the Dutch Research Council (NWO)


Selected Publications





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