THIERRY, 30 years old
Head of Computer-Science Group
E-lab, Bouygues group.
How he became a mathematician
“After completing preparatory classes, I entered the École Polytechnique (nicknamed ‘X’), having chosen the maths option, with computer science in my third year. I finished my training at the Paris branch of the ENST (École nationale supérieure for Telecommunications). I was interested above all in the computer science side of my studies; I was a little less interested in telecommunications. Afterwards, I was hired by this laboratory as a design engineer. After a year and a half, I was convinced of the usefulness of doing a doctorate, since my job included a lot of research. As a thesis subject, I became interested in techniques of mathematical decomposition. These make it possible to transform a complex problem into a combination of simpler problems.”
The design engineer brings his expertise to the different jobs performed by the group, whether researching new technologies, solving scientific problems, or performing operational research as an aid to decision-making.

How mathematics comes into play in his job
“I am a research engineer with the e-lab of the Research and Development and Technological Innovation Division of the Bouygues group. My task is to conduct research in scientific calculation and provide the other members of the group (TF1, Construction, Colas, BYTelecom, BYImmobilier) with advice and decision-making tools. This involves pure research tasks, of the type “What is the probability that a 30-second publicity spot will be watched all the way through?” It also includes producing prototypes and models; for example, calculating a provisional maintenance plan for a road network as part of a call for bids. Last but not least, I also develop software, such as tools for organizing tasks at a building site, or a process for optimizing the filling of advertising slots on TF1.
“I’m part of an eight-person lab; seven of my colleagues hold doctorates. My role is to lead projects, in teams of two or three engineers, starting from the moment when a problem has been identified up until a tool or a study can be delivered.
“Aside from skills in maths and scientific calculations, my job requires listening skills in order to understand the client’s question; it also requires an ability to react. As it turns out, clients are often able to clarify their expectations after we’ve made a first stab at the problem; in return, we can then propose a precisely adapted solution.

What are the qualifications?
Bac + 8, doctorate in applied mathematics or computer science.

Translation: David Kramer