When you’re a TU/e employee and find yourself at your wits’ end because your laptop refuses to follow your commands and you can’t solve the problem on your own and decide to dial 2000, you might hear Mathijs Visscher on the other end of the line. He doesn’t pick up the phone behind the IMS desk in MetaForum, but in his own room in a “fun little student house” in the Rochus neighborhood. It’s a detached house that was once built as a cigar factory, after which it was used as a car garage before it was modified to serve its current function as a student house. Its name is ‘Happy Steegje’ (‘Happy Alleyway’). Not the fraternity house of Abiogenesis (Eindhoven Studenten Corps), but a halfway house towards the fraternity.
Mathijs lives with four housemates, “not all them are that quietly at the moment,” in Happy Steegje. “One of the residents is ‘in quarantine’ at his girlfriend’s place, the other three are home a lot. One is seriously mastering, but the other two don’t have much to do. I hear them joking and playing around and talking in the other rooms, and that makes it harder to concentrate, I have to say.”
In pre-corona times, Visscher spent his hours on campus. He worked on his graduation projects in MetaForum or Flux and had a job as a student assistant in Helix for eight hours a week. “I work at the IMS desk in Helix, a decentralized point of IMS Services. I help employees at Chemical Engineering and Chemistry with ICT-related problems. People call when they can’t send an email, when their computer crashes, or when there are other problems with accounts or computers. When the problem is too difficult to solve, or when I don’t have the rights to log into the required systems, it’s my job to refer the problem to the right support group. For example, when someone tries to send an email to a certain mail address but the mail server prevents this, I need to contact Business Communication.”
Nowadays, the data science student also answers all centralized incoming calls via the 2000 number. He regrets not working from location anymore, even though the coffee in Happy Steegje leaves nothing to be desired. In fact: “We have the best coffee in Eindhoven, with freshly ground beans.” Those beans come from the supermarket and they found the machine on online buying and selling platform Marktplaats, but it’s pretty stylish nevertheless.
What Visscher misses about Helix is contact with people. “I have been doing this work for about three years now, and I’ve helped half of all ST employees by now. I always used to drop by the office or the lab. That isn’t possible anymore. Now, everything takes place over the telephone, and keeping that up for eight hours on end is much harder than when you need to go places to take a look.”
One-on-one contact with his thesis supervisor Chris Snijders, professor of Sociology of Technology and Innovation, is no longer possible either. “We meet and discuss via Skype, but it feels different. Especially when I want to show him some things, for example, on the computer or printed, literature I found, or something I typed, or models I made. You can do that via Skype, but showing him these things on my laptop is simply much easier.”
Mathijs, who was at his last party during carnival and had a serious cold afterwards, makes sure he stays in shape. This takes place in and around the house. “Happy Steegje doesn’t have a garden, but there’s room for a long drinking table in the widest part (1.80 meters) of the alley. I turned another part into a gym and I jog at least twice a week.”
All in all, Mathijs manages to persevere. “Luckily, I live in a nice house and I have a girlfriend, which means my social circle is sufficiently wide. Also, I don’t know anyone who got seriously ill, fortunately. Of course, there are no parties anymore for a while, and it’s too bad I can’t take a vacation, but we’ll survive!”