If you’re having technical issues with an Apple device, perhaps the best place to go in Leiden is the Amac Premium Apple Reseller on Haarlemmerstraat. Through Amac’s iMember program, you can schedule a one-on-one meeting with a staff member. That’s how I met Lieuwe Middelbrink, one of Amac’s cheerful, bright support staff members. Lieuwe, 23, works at Amac two or three days per week while also working toward a master’s degree in Industrial Ecology at Leiden University and Delft University of TechnologyOriginally from Rhenen, Lieuwe has lived in a student house in Leiden for the past five years. 

“Officially I’m a sales employee [at Amac]. So I sell Apple stuff to people. Computers, MacBooks, iMacs and iPads, for instance, and all the accessories … and on the other hand I give trainings to people who are iMembers [an Amac service program]  … there are different kind of trainings. There are lessons, but also meetings for half an hour for specific questions one on one … So that’s what I’m doing here. Helping people, selling Apple and offering support.”

“More than half of the people who work here [at Amac’s Leiden store] are also iMember coaches … some are only for service downstairs in the store, and some are only for sales, but most can do all of it.”

“I work two days a week [at Amac] and somedays three days. It depends on how busy I am with my studies … at Leiden-Delft I’m studying industrial ecology. It’s a combination of social science, natural science and ecology. I’m more or less learning how to solve big industrial ecological problems, and how to get to sustainable solutions for that. It’s good to combine [subjects], but sometimes it’s quite hard. But it’s manageable.”

“It’s a joint program. It’s both in Leiden and Delft. And so I have two days in Leiden and two days in Delft and one day off. And that one day that I’m free I’m working here, and also Saturday or Sunday most of the time.”

Lieuwe expects to complete his master’s program in about “a year and a half. And then I’m done … [the first year consists of] courses, and one year there is preparation for a thesis and the last half year of the course you can write your graduate thesis ... I’m still doing the courses. Different things like programming and renewable energy at the moment. But also closing off supply chains. How to manage closed-loops … And then I have to decide what topic I’ll write my thesis about, but I really don’t know yet.”

What does he hope to do with this industrial ecology degree?: “I always think about it, but I really don’t know. I think I want to end up in an organization that does something good for the world. In what way I don’t really know. It could be the WWF or, for example, UNICEF. But I think I’d prefer a big organization because I think they make the biggest impact and can really do something for the world. But I don’t know if I want to work there immediately. I may travel and try something else first. So there are different possibilities. But I’m open for, well, anything that sounds interesting to me and can contribute to a better world.”

“I hope I’ll end up at a job that I’m very curious about, so I have to find out things. I don’t know where it will be. It could be a commercial organization, it could be the government or also a non-profit organization.” He would like to remain in the Netherlands if possible. “I’d really like to be around family and friends, so I don’t think I’ll be somewhere else.”

“I did a bachelor’s degree in political science. So the more technical stuff is kind of hard for me. I have to keep up with it, and I have to invest more time in it than most of my classmates do … I think I will end up in not really a technical department or a technical job but more of a management job or something that suits my political science bachelor … I don’t really know where I’ll end up.”

“In my master’s program there are people from different [backgrounds]. Some are biologists, cultural anthropologists, also psychologists, civil engineers, architects. So when we’re working on a group project, it’s very nice to see that everyone has different insights and gets to it from a different point of view. So you learn from each other which is also very nice. You learn to see the whole thing and not only your point of view.”

What does an industrial ecologist do?: “For example, recycling of post-consumer plastics. Last semester I did a project on recycling of strollers … and they only used post-consumer plastics. They will end up at the [stroller manufacturer] again, so they can use it again, and it will end up in a closed loop. But I’m also looking at different renewable energies like tidal energy and geothermal energy. Just to learn what the impacts are of different forms of energy in the world … and how much we use and how we can use less.” 

“But there are also courses like design of sustainable technological systems. It’s more of a systems perspective. How the systems work. What kind of calculations do you have to make to make it more sustainable. What does it mean when you use some of the waste and use it again. And what does it mean for the calculations and what does it mean for what’s next … but also how to place a company in the market, how do you protect it for the beginning and what can its impact be.”

Skills he’s developed while working at Amac: “I think my communication skills are way better than when I started here. I meet a lot of different people, especially when I’m selling things and also the iMember [customers]. That’s also very nice. You learn a lot from speaking to a lot of different people. And that’s what I enjoy most actually … I think the most rewarding [aspect of his job] is when people have a problem and they’re done with looking into it or finding a solution and then … you help them and there’s a smile on their face … maybe I overestimate my help a little bit (laughs). But it’s nice to see when you find a solution and people are very happy.”

Prior to Amac, Lieuwe “worked at a bakery for five years. And that was also very nice … In the city [Rhenen] where my parents live. I worked at nights mostly. Starting at 4 o’clock in the morning or 12 o’clock in the evening, and I’d work until 11 o’clock in the morning, so that was very different. And then everything had to be done very fast. Mostly we set timers for the oven and then we have to work, work, work. And when I wasn’t fast enough my boss said ‘c’mon, you have to work harder.’ And then I [came to Amac] and they [told me] ‘take your time, advise people, think with them, don’t hurry too much.’ (laughs) That was something I had to [get used to] … it was quite funny because I was hurrying all the time [at the baker] and [at Amac] people said ‘take it easy, listen to people, and see what they want to buy and what fits them best.’”

Lieuwe believes work teaches important lessons, such as the ability to work with colleagues, the discipline of showing up on time and the value of money. “And not to assume anything, and ask people … you need to listen to people before you think they need something … you need to ask before you can judge whether they need it or not.”

Lieuwe has been using computers since he was a child. “The funny thing is I thought I knew a lot. But then I came here and I tried to get [a job with Amac], and I thought I knew a lot but it wasn’t the case. I had to learn a lot. They also said ‘well, you need to want to learn. And if that’s the case then it will be OK. But you have to invest in it.’ And that’s what it is. So I learned a lot … they are really supportive when it comes to training. I had different trainings. Sometimes with role play with colleagues for instance. And it’s all to [learn how to give] the best advice and to learn a lot about how to use your computer, what suits people’s needs best.”

“And when you use the products yourself it’s also way easier to sell them. When I didn’t have an Apple Watch it was kind of hard to tell people why they should do it. And now I have one myself (laughs) … I don’t need my mobile phone that often because I can see my messages on my Apple Watch. So that’s very nice … It was kind of an impulsive purchase, but I’m really happy with it. When you have things yourself it’s way easier to sell it. If you think it’s nice.”

When he first started working as an iMember support staffer “I was very scared … that I wouldn’t know how to solve the problem. But in the end I don’t know everything, so I’m going to ask a colleague and we’ll see where we get. In the end [customers] … respect it if you don’t know it, and they’re happy in the end if you can get a colleague and it will be solved. So they don’t really mind if you don’t know it. But if you try to solve the problem then they’re happy. So that’s something I learned, too. If you don’t know something then you just have to ask and don’t be scared to do so.”

Amac Premium Apple Reseller sells Apple computers, phones and other products and provides training and personal advice in 46 stores around the Netherlands. Amac’s Leiden store is located at Haarlemmerstraat 197.

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