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Philippe Julien — Meet the Mentor

MentorCruise wouldn’t be anything without our amazing mentors. In the ‘Meet the Mentors’ series we talk to the people behind MentorCruise about their experiences and passions.Today, we are talking to Philippe Julien, an experienced Data Scientist, working in the game industry.

Hey Philippe! Before we get started, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Hi! My name is Philippe, I am 34 and am a french guy currently living in Spain. I am someone who likes to discover many different things, with a preference for topics pertaining to science, technology and sports. I have studied biology and computer science and, after 8 years working as a researcher in computational biology, I decided to move to the industry and joined King, the mobile game developer author of the global hit Candy Crush Saga.

On my free time I spend time with my lovely family, play a bit of soccer or work on personal projects, often related to data science.

Over the years, you have worked on several different exciting projects and have collected a lot of experience. How did you get started? How did you get your first job?

It did start a long time ago. As far as I can remember, I’ve always tried to do advanced things with the computers I had home. When I was around 17, I started to learn programming in Visual Basic (with books, we didn’t have internet at home yet) and soon after learned how to develop websites in HTML and then PHP, having few websites live. In parallel, I studied biology and then, doing a Masters in bioinformatics (computer science applied to biological problems) seemed like an evidence.

That led me to start a PhD in computational biology, which I obtained in 2012. I then did 2 additional years as a postdoctoral researcher before moving to the industry.

My first job was my PhD thesis. I saw a job posting on a mailing list I subscribed to, did my research about the lab and, once I was convinced that was something I wanted to do, sent my CV with a personalised cover letter. After a couple of interviews, I got the position.

If you are a recent graduate looking for a job, whatever the job is, I would simply advise to do your research to better understand how you could help with your skills and send a personalised letter and CV that fits this exact needs (remaining honest of course). And be bold. Even if you think you are not 100% qualified, try anyway. In the worst case, you learn from the process.

What would you say is your biggest success so far?

It is hard to say as I have been involved in many different projects. To cite a few, getting my PhD was definitely one but I also have worked on some projects that had a good impact on some mobile games from King. But, more generally, I think what I am more proud of is that I could work successfully on very diverse projects, from studying the evolution of DNA sequences to optimising retention in free-to-play mobile games.

You made the change from academia to industry — how has that been for you?

It required some preparation but, after all, it went quite quickly.

About one year into my postdoc, I realised I no longer saw my future in academia. From there, I started looking for what I could do with my life. I explored a lot, from starting my own company to bioinformatics consultancy. At some point, I came across the data scientist job and realised that was pretty much what I was doing on my day to day work, but working on different problems. I did some extra research and worked on small personal projects to both develop some additional skills and have something to show that was easier to understand that the amount of epistasis involved in the evolution of intron splicing. For example, I did a quick project scraping data from Barcelona’s bike sharing system and did some exploratory and visualisation work to determine at what time and which station was I more likely to get a bike to go to work every morning.

Then, in 2015, as I felt it was possible to find a job as a data scientist and I was finishing my current research project, I started to send a couple of CVs with personalised cover letters and a small portfolio of projects. I quickly got contacted and after many interviews in less than a month, I got offered a position at King. Since then, it has been quite some fun!

What advice can you give to young people entering the industry?

Depending on where you are looking, it has become harder to find a first job in data science. The main reason is that, due to the hype, many online or university courses were developed and many students got enrolled. There is an increasing competition to break into the field and, on the other side, companies often have high requirements which are hard to meet as a recent graduate. My main advice would be: 1. It’s not all about the tech. When talking about data science, people tend to think about Machine Learning, AI, Deep learning,… These are indeed cool tools but this is only part of what you should know. For analytics-oriented jobs, you should also have solid problem solving skills, a good critical thinking, good communication skills and a great understanding of statistics. Work on developing those skills to, even if it implies some extra-curricular projects or activities.1. Have something (unique) to show. Most graduates have a very similar profile and have worked on similar projects, from Titanic survivors dataset to digit classification using the MINST dataset. If you want to stick out work on your own original projects and, once they are finished, advertise them. Write about it online to build a personal brand and mention them in your CV.1. Be bold, personal and determined. Once you have spotted a job you’d like, do your research in order to understand well what the company needs you for. Once this is done, write a personalised cover letter highlighting the problems they have and how you can help them. If you can connect with some employees from the company online or at MeetUps, that’s even better. Whatever happens next should be seen as a learning experience. If you don’t end up getting the job, ask why and use this information to improve your job hunting process. Do not hesitate to be bold. Apply even if you don’t check all the boxes, as long as you think you can do the job and learn the missing skills. If you don’t get news after an interview, do not hesitate to politely ask for some update. Finally, do not give up, it takes sometimes up to 100s of application until getting a job. This can be very frustrating but does not mean you should give up. Keep learning and improving on the side.

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