CEO Martin Kersten receives royal decoration

MonetDB Solutions CEO, Database pioneer and founding father of MonetDB Martin Kersten has been awarded a royal decoration today. Kersten was appointed Knight in the Royal Order of the Netherlands Lion, recognising his lifelong contribution to the database research, innovations, development and education.

The decoration was awarded by Hilde van Garderen, deputy mayor of Almere, which is Kersten’s city of residence. In her speech, Van Garderen lauded Kersten’s extensive scientific and managerial merits in pioneering database research.

Mayor’s Speech on the occasion of the awarding of the Royal Honour to Mister Martin Leopold Kersten from Almere

Nowadays, I more frequently communicate with residents of Almere, my own city, online. However, my audience is not very often made up of an international group of scientists. I am honoured to be with you today.

Mister Kersten, I would like to address you personally. I find it extraordinary that a special meeting is being held today in honour of your retirement. For this occasion, I have also dived into your world. That gave me a rapid course on Big Data.

Anyway, back to you and the reason that I am speaking to you in this video. You recently retired from CWI, the Dutch national research institute for mathematics and computer science in Amsterdam. The institute is extremely grateful to you for everything you have done on behalf of CWI. This is shown by this afternoon, but also by the fact that under the leadership of Jos Baten, the director of CWI, kind words can be seen in the letters of recommendation I received about you.

Your career of more than 40 years is characterised by pioneering fundamental research. And by developing your research results into software systems. Science, business and the government now use the software systems on a large scale. You have been associated with CWI since 1985, and since then you have explored new topics and completely new areas in data-intensive computer science. As a prominent senior researcher at CWI, you were a member of the management team, took on management tasks and led a large group of researchers. In 2011, you gave the younger generation more room to manoeuvre. You were then given a free role as a researcher. A nice token of appreciation for your long-term scientific and managerial commitment to computer science and CWI.

Your research and development work was internationally recognised and followed. You have been honoured several times. I would like to highlight one important prize: The SIGMOD Systems Award. You received this award for “The design and implementation of MonetDB.” Professor Michael Stonebraker from the United States presented you with this prestigious award in 2016. I read in his letter that, according to him, MonetDB is your “most significant contribution by far”.

The term ‘MonetDB’ is the flagship of yourself and CWI. I think that I can call it your ‘brainchild’, do you agree? It is now regarded as a benchmark for database systems throughout the world. And, of course, it is open-source, something that is self-evident for both you and CWI. After all, the system was developed with public money.

I would also like to refer to two more quotes from the letters I received about you. Letters from two eminent scientists, Professor Peter Apers and Professor Gerhard Weikum from Germany. Peter Apers says: “His work in the field of data structures and algorithms is pioneering and he can be seen as the godfather of efficient Big Data processing. His work has shown scientific leadership.” Gerhard Weikum adds to this: “Martin has been one of the most creative and influential researchers in data-centric computer science worldwide.”

I would also like to dwell for a moment on the role you played educating and guiding young researchers. In the eighties, you gave shape to the emerging subject of Computer Science at all sorts of levels.

In the nineties, you introduced the secrets of ground-breaking data technology to advanced students. You always got the best out of your PhD students and postdocs and shared with them a passion to explore new topics. A number of them are now professors, at home and abroad. For example, Professor Arno Siebes, with whom you share a passion for Datamining. Or Professor Arjen de Vries who, just like you, saw the possibilities of Multimedia Information Retrieval. Or your former PhD student Stratos Idreos who now works at Harvard University in the US. But several PhD students have also started successful start-ups, such as Marcel Holsheimer who founded DataDistilleries. According to him, you played an important role helping him to move from science to business. He also praises the essential contribution you made to the creation of the startup culture in the Netherlands. You showed that it is possible to successfully allow startups to emerge from scientific institutes. And that these institutes also benefit from this cooperation, because they can test scientific innovations and receive feedback from the field.

I am also astonished that during your career you were able to make time available to participate in programme committees at conferences and even play a leading role at a number of conferences. You also devoted yourself to managerial activities, sat on editorial boards of international journals and reviewed research proposals for science funding throughout your career.

Professor Kersten, your own contribution to this afternoon’s lecture is entitled ‘The loose ends of my CWI career’. No doubt you are also referring to the question that occupies you: Should we store data endlessly, or may it ‘perish’ over time? No, I don’t think that you are going to rest on your laurels yet. And I understand that you joined your spin-off company MonetDB Solutions after you retired.

Mr Kersten, friends and foes agree that your scientific work is exceptional and that you are one of the world’s most creative and influential scientists in data-intensive computing. What some people wanted to dismiss as being intractable ideas have on several occasions proved to be ground-breaking insights. With your perseverance, you were able to turn them into working systems. That is why I am very pleased to tell you that His Majesty the King has appointed you Knight in The Order of the Lion of the Netherland!

I would like to warmly congratulate you on that.