PASCAL, 29 years old
Project Head for Research and Development
France Télécom, Research and Development (R&D) Division.
How he became a mathematician
“After high school, I started studying engineering in an integrated foundational course of study with INSA (National Institute for Applied Sciences) at Rennes. I also pursued a course of study in engineering at INSA in Toulouse, where I opted for the Mathematics and Modelling Engineering stream. During my final-year internship, I worked on encryption for aeronautical communications; that’s how I decided to specialize in computer security. Immediately after earning my diploma, I received a three-month limited-term contract as a systems engineer at INSA in Toulouse; then I worked for Aptus—a consulting and engineering firm—as a computer-security consultant. There, I had two major tasks, each lasting a year and a half. The first was for Thales Communications, in a military setting near Paris; the second was for Sun-Storagetek in Toulouse, storing information for banks and big companies like EADS (European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company). Hoping to return to Rennes, I was recruited by France Télécom to work in their R&D division as an engineer studying the distribution of music, films, and television over the internet. Currently, I am the head of this project.”
How mathematics comes into play in his job
Responsible for ensuring that contracts are fulfilled in accordance with clients’ wishes, the project head brings to bear a diverse set of competences: technical knowledge, organizational abilities, and interpersonal skills.
“Based on the security standards demanded by record labels and production studios, my job is to supervise the staff who study and put into practice tools designed to protect multimedia content distributed by Orange. On a technical level, these tools largely rely on cryptography, in the form of data encryption and the authentication of electronic signatures.
“On a mathematical level, I make use of techniques from number theory, numerical analysis, and probabilities. On top of that, there are certain mechanisms, such as using a smart card or software protection, that help prevent these defences from being bypassed. I also have a role as an expert consultant for the operational entities that will put these security devices into practice. The final goal is to present Orange with the best compromise balancing the demands of security, costs, and the wishes of the client.
“In this job, being diplomatic always confers a major advantage. My daily routine involves a subtle blend of decisions that call upon varied competences that are at once technical and managerial. At the technical level, you have to know your subject well: even if the team contains experts, I can find myself in the position of deciding between different perspectives.
“As for the job’s managerial side, you have to take charge of meetings, quality control, observing deadlines, keeping to the budget, compiling reports, and making presentations. You also have to direct a team; on the most basic level, this means knowing how to listen to your staff so you can give them the best possible working conditions.
“That way, it’s easier to motivate them to put in their best effort, and to get your message across.”
What are the qualifications?
Bac + 5, master’s or college of engineers with a specialization in cryptography and the security of information systems.
Translation: David Kramer