At the age of 48, Thomas decided to change careers and became Data Analyst for Decathlon!

Published on 14 December 2020

Reading time 10 minutes

Hello Thomas, can you introduce yourself in a few words? What was your background before your training at Wild Code School? 

Hello Julien ! I'm 48 years old and I'm quite involved in the sports community: I've been playing ice hockey since I was 5 years old in the winter, and water sports (funboard, kite surfing, surfing, etc...) in the summer. I am also a federal referee and a member of a commission at the National Hockey Federation. I worked for 20 years in the distribution industry, always for companies of the Mulliez family organisation. I have no technical background at all, but I have a university education that ended with a postgraduate degree in legal, accounting and tax auditing. So I come from a totally different world. The assignments I have been able to carry out in the retail sector (Auchan, Cultura, Orsay and Happychic, Jules, Brice, Bizzbee, Pimkie, RougeGorge, Tape-à-l'oeil brands, etc.) have all been very operational - Store Manager, in Human Resources, Internal Auditor. For the last ten years I worked in management, accounting, in analytics, and in information systems, but still with a very operational vision. I was in charge of purchasing management control: monitoring supplier performance, product margins, commercial performance of product ranges, renewing the offer, pricing the offer... All this was my job.  

Why did you choose to follow our Data Analyst training programme?

At the end of my last assignment in Lille, like many people my age, I had a "mid-career crisis". I told myself: "I have already done a lot in my career, I have mastered everything in my field and I still have a lot of time ahead of me. But do I really feel fulfilled in what I do? Do I still have subjects that I find exciting in the field of management control?". My desire came from this questioning and I felt like doing something else. The next step was to ask myself what were the moments in my professional life when I didn't see the time go by. And then I realised that it was when I was coding VBA applications for Product and Offer Managers or Product Managers. A skill that I had acquired late in life but which interested me a lot: digging into systems, creating something from scratch, even if it was in Excel and therefore very basic. A small app that, at the end of the pipeline, aggregated a lot of data flows, consolidated them and gave me some new insights into the company's ERP. After that, I looked for the jobs that matched this type of mission. Having already been able to work with Data Scientists in my last job, and having seen what they are capable of doing, I said to myself: "That's great, that's for me!

Then I discovered that there are a lot of training opportunities around this subject. When you sort it out, few of them offer a course focusing, among other things, on projects and group work. The Wild Code School was the only training organisation that emphasised this, and that's what was important to me. I consider that the projects are a true reflection of what happens in everyday life in the company - at least in the companies where I've had the chance to work and which can be described as large structures. You're never alone, and it's a mistake to believe that you can learn to work without surrounding yourself with people. Towards the end of the training, the project mode with a real client was super motivating because it gives access to real datasets from organisations with a real interest in them. It was really this dimension that made the difference with the other training organisations in my selection.

Following your training, you became Data Analyst at Decathlon. How did the hiring process go?

Decathlon's central structures are very concentrated in the Lille metropolis. In the same way as the other AFM (Association Familiale Mulliez) companies such as Leroy Merlin, Boulanger, Auchan, Oney Bank, etc... I saw a job offer for a leader position in the group's AI department on Linkedin. The offer was for an AI Project Manager position around the pricing strategy. Without claiming to have this position, I used my network to find a contact. I then wrote to this AI leader to explain that I was a Data Analyst in retraining, that I was working as a Pricing Manager at Auchan for two years, and that I was not applying for the position of Leader Data Scientist, but to be identified. That way, they knew that I existed with this desire, this experience, and that I was in Lille. The next day, I had a first interview in video. 

And that's when the recruitment process really started. It was in several phases: a first interview with the IA Leader in charge of the pricing project. Then a phase of remote technical tests on SkillValue (SQL tests, machine learning, object-oriented programming in python, in R) during which I got absolutely bad marks, except on SQL, because the level proposed on these tests were too high compared to what I mastered. Then 3 weeks passed, because they had to meet other candidates as well (later, they let me know that I was the first candidate they were in touch with). And one month after the first interview, I was offered to go to the Information System Department to meet the IA Leader whom I had met online. In the process, I also met his manager. Then another 15 days went by. I then learned that they had received many replies to their job offer, very qualified candidates (Aerospace, CNRS), and had therefore taken the time to adapt their initial recruitment. This was a great opportunity for me.

I was finally able to start my internship in mid-October, whereas the process had started in September. Almost two months of technical tests and interviews, the last of which was with the team I was going to work with to see how we got along with each other.

The Decathlon group is known for paying attention to people, to its employees. How has this translated for you? 

It's a real strength of the company. Human values are really experienced in everyone's daily life. Such as the principle of subsidiarity, which means leaving people as close as possible to the perimeter of the decision and its consequences. The stores are given a great deal of autonomy. The same goes for the different teams. This gives people a lot of responsibility and this is felt in everyday life. 

As a trainee, I work on projects with real financial stakes for the company. I also feel very supported since my integration, which was shaken by the second lockdown. My objectives were very clear from the start. And to help me achieve them, I was appointed a Data Scientist godmother, Astrid. We have feedback and progress points every fortnight. But we also exchange ideas on a daily, even hourly basis. As soon as I have a question, she is there to answer me. I also have feedback points with Florent, the IA Leader who led the recruitment process and who is my manager.

It's extraordinary, but I've also been provided with equipment of my own choice. Astrid took care of all the account creation so that I could use the necessary tools. I also followed internal training courses related to integration (website security, RGPD, ...). The power of these groups is to be able to offer such training even to their trainees.

And on a daily basis, within our small community of Data Analysts, there is a kind of open-mindedness, mutual help and kindness that is really felt. When you ask a question on our Slack, within 10 minutes, someone provides a real answer, a real support. And that’s great!

What is your role? What projects are you working on?

I've joined the AI teams. This represents about twenty data scientists, data engineers, data analysts and data stewards. They all work on 4 major projects (forecasting, customisation and recommendation, offer and pricing) as well as on a cross-functional unit: the lab, which is responsible for clearing the way for future projects.

I work specifically on pricing, a project that has multiple stakes for the company: image, customer experience, financial stakes.. As a former Management Controller specialising in pricing at Auchan, this was an important factor in the success of the internship. And it's a win-win situation for them as well as for me. I bring my operational vision to a technical environment, and they bring their technical skills. This project was called "fair price" for a fair price on several levels: for the customer, the brand and the product value. The objective is to create an Artificial Intelligence tool capable of optimising catalogue pricing throughout the world within two years. Dynamic pricing that can be adjusted according to many factors. This is what brands such as Walmart or Amazon do. At the other end of the spectrum are the classic retailers who offer prices that adjust according to demand, whose model is to make volume at low prices. We started simply with Google Sheets, and now we're starting to code it all in Python with Data scientists and Data engineers who will soon join us. Hopefully we will soon be able to release the first building blocks of this Artificial Intelligence.

Where do you see your career going afterwards?

What I discovered and what I understood during the training programme was the extraordinary nature of data analysis. It's impossible to get bored because new things happen every day. We are really only a small drop in the ocean of what exists. In the coming years, I want to continue with this job, to further strengthen the technical skills that I'm just beginning to master, and to be able to manage all the possible subjects that one could have in a company like Decathlon. I see myself working with them on the long term, because of the company's purpose and values. I am really happy I decided to retrain in this field and the chance I had to join such a company. 

I also find it very difficult to position myself in the professions of tomorrow, which do not exist yet.

Thank you Thomas for all your answers! Do you have a last word for the Wilders?

To people of my age who are bored with what they do, I want to say to them: "If you are not happy with your life, it's up to you to decide the course of your life. It's true that it's daunting to get out of one's comfort zone. You might think you're going to lose your salary, your responsibilities and become a junior again. But you spend so much time at work that it's worth making some sacrifices in order to find fulfilment and real meaning. And once you've reached the end of the road and look back, you'll be really happy!  

And for those who have already made up their mind and are already on track, you have to get rid of the impostor syndrome. Be honest with yourself. We all have a unique story with great experiences that we have to share and see as an advantage. And that's precisely what is valuable for companies!

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