Kersten received his PhD in Computer Science from the Vrije Universiteit in 1985 on research in database security, whereafter he moved to CWI to establishe the Database Research Group.
From 1979 until 1985 he developed a small relational kernel, called Troll, which was sold as part of a CASE tool 1985-1991. Between 1986 and 1991 he was co-designer of the PRISMA database machine, an RDBMS for a 100-node multiprocessor based on the assumption that the hotset is memory resident. In 1992 he initiated the development of his 3rd DBMS, called MonetDB, a column-store DBMS used world-wide and pivot in several national projects aimed at advanced database applications, such as image processing and geographical information systems. Since 1994 he is professor at the University of Amsterdam. In 1995 he co-founded Data Distilleries, an SME specialized in data mining technology, and in 2008 he co-founded MonetDB and VectorWise.
He has published ca. 170 scientific papers. He acts as a reviewer for ESPRIT projects and is a trustee emeritis of the VLDB Endowment board.