Meeting with Olivier Gabriel : “My path from Post Doctoral Researcher to Head of Data Science at WeMaintain”

Olivier, could you please introduce yourself?

I was born in Saint Germain-en-Laye, France and grew up in Sceaux, France. I spent 6 years working abroad, namely in Göttingen in Germany, Glasgow and Copenhagen.

When I am not at work, I enjoy taking part in orienteering races. I like being outside in the fresh air. I am a very curious person. I think this is what motivates me personally to discover new places and professionally to try and create new things.

When you were younger, what did you want to do?

I wanted to be a fighter pilot!

My father and grandfather were both very interested in aeronautics and I studied for my degree at ‘École Polytechnique’, so there were quite a few links to the military. I passed the tests to be a fighter pilot in the Navy but in the end I didn’t carry on down that path for health reasons. At school I was always good at maths so after that I chose to be a mathematician.

What were you doing before WeMaintain?

I did a PhD thesis in mathematics at University Paris VII. The subject of my thesis was Periodic Cyclic Cohomology for Smooth Generalized Crossed Products. In simple terms, that means researching how to use “sounds” to determine the size and characteristics of objects. I finished that in 2011, and then went to work for three years at Georg-August-Universität in Göttingen, Germany. Their research was similar to what I was doing in Paris — looking how to combine mathematics and physics. Also, my wife is German so I wanted to discover Germany through the eyes of someone who lives there.

When you finish your thesis, it is common to become a Post Doctoral Researcher (or simply “Postdoc”), where you continue to research subjects and write articles, but on a more short term basis. So this is exactly what I did, in Göttingen, Glasgow and then Copenhagen.

Slowly, I started to want a change from being a mathematician: working in Mathematics was very intellectually stimulating, but I wanted a more hands-on job. This longing for change was gradual but steady. After Copenhagen I returned to Paris and worked as a Data Scientist in another company for 1.5 years before joining WeMaintain.

Why did you change and decide to join WeMaintain?

I saw WeMaintain’s job offer on Welcome to the Jungle.

I was curious and wanted to discover new things. I thought the project sounded really exciting and packed with learning opportunities, especially as IoT in WeMaintain was a new subject so it would be possible to start from a blank page.

At WeMaintain our IoT project involves putting sensors on lifts to collect data that interests three types of people: clients, mechanics, and WeMaintain itself, especially our internal operations team. My job is to make sure that we manage to exploit useful data for our stakeholders.

My days are very varied. This morning we had a meeting with the design team to decide how we should present different data. Sometimes I go and meet the clients. Recently I have been recruiting three new people to join the data team. Also, I write the code which allows us to exploit the data we need.

Olivier during a lift security clearance training 

What has been the biggest “shock” since you changed?

Recently, my biggest shock has been the new offices, which are much better than the old ones. The previous offices were a large flat converted into an office space. In the beginning, it felt very spacious, but over the course of 12 months, it was becoming simply too crowded! In the end, it was impossible to find meeting rooms when interviewing candidates or calling our customers…

The weekly in WeMaintain's former offices 

So we moved to our new offices in mid-December 2019 — and within a few months the new office space felt much less vast… It is an example of how WeMaintain is always changing. The speed at which we grow is impressive.

WeMaintain's new office space

For me the biggest change was moving from working in universities to the private sector. At WeMaintain I feel I have the best of both worlds. I work on a structured and ambitious project and we are lucky to have enough funds to be able to advance with it.

What do you like the most?

The team. Initially I came for the project but today, while the project is still inspiring, it is the team that I like the most. Of course, I am still inspired by the IoT project and the possibilities of data at WeMaintain, but my daily drive is to spend time working with this team of caring, enthusiastic and talented people.

In my team, that would be:

  • Damien, our Lead IoT engineer. Before joining us, he was essentially working as an IoT engineer during his week-ends, so in a way for him joining us was like turning his hobby into a full time job! I was amazed by how quickly he designed and 3D-printed our IoT devices.
  • Abdul, our Data Engineer. When I first met him, he had recently completed his studies in Tsinghua, in Beijing and I could feel he had this “WeMaintain spirit”, it was very clear… His involvement in the project and more generally his level of grit is impressive!
  • François, our Data Scientist. He joined us after completing his PhD in Astronomy, so although we have fairly different skill sets, I can relate to his career path. During the interviews, exchanging ideas with him felt so natural, it was like he was already part of the team!
  • Stéphane recently joined our team as IoT Engineer, working on our different on-going IoT projects. He has massive experience in designing IoT objects and embedded systems. Damien and Stéphane are always collaborating, exchanging ideas very freely, for a super IoT wizardry team!
  • Bastien brings a new set of skills to our team: as a DevOps, he improves the reliability of our projects and facilitates the smooth integration of IoT sources in our ecosystem. Together with Abdul and myself, we ensure a seamless flow of data within WeMaintain.
  • Judy became part of the team at the beginning of January 2021. Her inquisitive mind and soft skills are key assets for her current work as a data analyst. She works within a DataOps framework, i.e. she makes sure the requests originating from the operational teams are met with our data and dashboards - this means she gets to meet many people within WeMaintain (remotely, these days, obviously!).

What would you do if you weren’t at WeMaintain?

I have learnt a lot here so I think I would try and find a similar project elsewhere.

What would you tell someone to convince them to join WeMaintain?

It is difficult to convince someone “abstractly”. I would rather meet that person and try to understand their priorities. WeMaintain is based on people, when we hire someone, we do it with the intent of building a strong, lasting relation. It means in particular that our priorities have to be aligned.

One thing we all share at WeMaintain is openness, and it is crucial in the data/IoT team, where we are creating new devices and new products. This is something that often surprises people, many new team members told me so: “It is incredible how open and caring everyone is!”.

As much as possible, I would tell them to get in contact with other people from WeMaintain, so that they can have an authentic idea of what life is like here.

I would tell them that the project is very exciting and that I work with a super team.

Anyway, usually I try to convince people to join WeMaintain during job interviews! In this case, I try to be as transparent as possible: I give them a detailed view of our current projects, see if they are excited about creating this new system, designing suitable algorithms and striving towards a predictive maintenance system. AIso very important to me is that they fit well with the existing team: the hiring process includes discussing a problem “as a team”, so that we all get a feeling of what it would be like…

Is there anything else you would like to add?

At WeMaintain we have ambitious R&D projects, together with the freedom and means we need to achieve them!

Polly Uff

Polly Uff