Xavier’s school career wasn’t a smooth ride. Hopping from one training program to another, he eventually rolled into the business world. Until a burnout made him question his future plans. A healthy dose of curiosity soon led him to our Brussels AI bootcamp. And that was a great decision, as Xavier has in the meantime joined our team as a coach! Curious about Xavier’s story and his passion for AI? Be sure to read the interview below!
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
“My young years were a bit of a mess. I always had a curious mind, but school just wasn’t for me. I had trouble focussing on just one thing at a time, so I was always getting ahead of everything. I’ve done a lot of different studies, but didn’t finish any of them. I always got bored at some point and dropped out. I’ve studied graphic arts, graphic design, psychology, teaching and studied English at the university of Dublin for two months. After studying, I worked as a bartender for 2 years. I really loved this job as I had lots of different connections with people. After that, I worked for almost 6 years for an Apple company. I was focusing on sales and customer service after sales, but I had a burnout. When I got my life back together, I started a bachelor’s degree in evening school, which I’m still continuing. I’m in my third year right now.”
“I found out about BeCode and enrolled in the AI bootcamp, which I really loved. Right afterwards, I did an internship at KPMG, one of the Big Four accounting companies. I loved my time over there as the team was amazing, but the moment that Alexandre reached out to me via LinkedIn to ask me to join the BeCode team, I jumped in with two feet as I loved it here at BeCode. Also, I missed the social impact that I had when I was still working for my previous company. I’m right where I need to be and I really enjoy it.”
How did you end up at BeCode?
“That’s a funny story as I discovered BeCode through one of my wife’s colleagues. My wife was previously working as a recruiter for Le Forem. One of her colleagues read an article about BeCode in one of RTBF’s news outlets and forwarded it to me. The bootcamp was going to start three days later, but I decided I had nothing to lose. I passed the online exam and attended the selections. I felt like the interview went terribly wrong and I didn’t expect to be selected, but way later I found out that I was one of the top candidates. It was a big relief.”
What inspired you to pursue a career in AI?
“AI has always been something that fascinated me. It’s mystical. You may know the concept, but don’t really know how it works. I’m someone who is very curious, but when I registered for the BeCode training, AI was still a big question mark to me. As I’m very curious by nature, I always want to immerse myself in areas that catch my eye. At that moment, that was AI.”
“The evening classes that I’m following are actually to obtain a Master’s degree in computer science, and thus also AI. The only reason why I wanted to study computer science is because of AI. Now, I really want to obtain my diploma. After one year, I thought : I haven’t completed one year to just stop here. After the second term, I only had two years left. Now, I’m finishing it.”
Would you say that this experience has changed your life?
“Yes, of course it has. Since my burnout, I have a different way of approaching things and I’m more connected to myself. AI also has the particularity of changing your perspective about literally everything as it is everywhere. BeCode as a company or a journey has also changed my perspective.”
“I’ve always hated school, I’ve always hated university. And then you start thinking: ‘it’s not for me, I’m not smart enough or there must be something wrong with me’. But when you find out that it’s just the technical approach that doesn’t suit you, it changes your life. A lot of people are experiencing this and there is nothing wrong with them. They just haven’t found the right place to go to yet. But I can say that BeCode has changed my life for the better.”
What do you like most about your job as a coach?
“Listening to people about how they are feeling and reassuring them that it’s okay to feel bad or at their lowest sometimes as we’re all experiencing this at some point in our lives. I love helping them feel okay with what they are going through.”
For those who don’t know what AI is, how would you describe it?
“Data is everywhere. Google is even recording our conversation to train their machines. In other words, this data is being used to train their models so that they can better understand what we are saying.”
“It’s important to state that there is a difference between algorithms and AI applications that can think by themselves. AI in itself cannot think. It uses the information that it gets to make mathematical predictions, which can be even more accurate if the model gets more data.”
“I always try to explain this by means of an example. In 2015 an Australian won the French Scrabble championship. What’s amazing about his victory is that he doesn’t speak French. He just memorised the entire French dictionary, containing more than 390.000 words. By this means, he could just put a word on the board that would result in the maximum number of points. AI is exactly that. Algorithms have lots of information and just go through it in order to find the best solution to a problem. But if
You would ask an algorithm to provide you with an opinion on a certain matter, it wouldn’t be able to do that. AI is not able to think on the same level as a human would.”
People may not be aware of it but we’re surrounded by AI. Can you give us some examples of how AI is integrated into our daily lives?
“AI is everywhere: the dictionary on your phone that predicts the next word of your sentence, the order of your posts on Instagram, etc. Even when you go grocery shopping, AI technologies might pop up in your customer experience. Via your loyalty card, the store has an overview of what you buy. Based on your purchase history, they’ll send you commercials for specific products via email.”
“A funny anecdote. A man once complained to a store that he was receiving promotions for pregnancy tests. Actually, the things that his 16 year old daughter bought at the store, made the models think that she was pregnant. Every girl that was pregnant bought the same kinds of products. So did she, and she too turned out to be pregnant. AI picked this up, which is amazing and shocking at the same time.”
What are the different subdomains of AI?
“There are three main domains. The first domain is called structured data. It’s all about collecting and analyzing data in order to determine relationships between the different variables. The second domain is called computer vision, which is all about picture and video recognition. Last, but not least, there is NLP, which stands for Natural Language Processing. This domain focuses on making machines understand texts so that they can make a decision based on it.”
How are they reflected in our curriculum?
“We have modules on each of these domains. Our network of partners provides us with use cases to put the knowledge of our juniors to the test.”
“During the computer vision module, my students worked on the mole detection project, for which they had to create a model that can predict skin cancer. Regarding NLP, we’ve collaborated with Humain and KPMG. And throughout the module on structured data, there was the house mapping project. The students had to build a model that can predict the price of the house when entering its characteristics. For this project, we collaborated with one of the Brussels web development promotions.”
AI is a rapidly evolving field, how do you keep up?
“BeCode helps me a lot here. There is no such thing as a recipe when working on a project in AI. To be able to complete such challenges, you should constantly update your own knowledge of the field. The first thing you need to do when starting a project, is doing research to discover if anyone else has worked on a similar project. This way you can find solutions that might help you solve the problem that you’re currently facing. After having done research, you should start cleaning up your data and developing your model.”
“When working in a field such as AI, you need to constantly update your knowledge of the domain, which is something that BeCode strongly pushes forward. You don’t own knowledge, keep a curious mind.”
Are there any tools that you recommend?
“I’m using Medium, Towards Data Science, MIT and lots of other tools. What’s nice about those resources is that you can easily filter out what’s related to data science.”
As you already pointed out, lots of people are scared of AI, but they might not always know what exactly they are scared of. According to you, what are the dangers of this technology?
“You can compare AI to a car. The car itself cannot hurt you, it’s the person behind the wheel that can. That’s the same for AI. AI in itself cannot hurt humans, nor replace them, it is the people behind these developments that are dangerous. That’s why it’s frightening and exciting at the same time.”
How do you think we should respond to these dangers?
“Regulations. Unfortunately we are located in Europe. Fortunately we are located in Europe. It’s nice to be part of the European Union as they seem to care about the topic, which cannot be said of the US. We can state that Europe cares enough to develop regulations, but they are always put into place way too late.”
What do you think is the future of Artificial Intelligence?
“AI is going to be everywhere and that’s exactly why I’m taking part in lectures that are demystifying AI. Lots of companies are not aware of what AI is and how they can benefit from it, what might make them think that it’s not for them or that it’s out of their reach. Therefore making people aware of what AI is, is a priority to me. Once they know what AI is, we should focus on ethics. Humans in the loop, is an example of a rule that applies in the field. It means that AI should help humans do their job instead of replacing them.”
Are you interested in following the AI Bootcamp?
Amazing! – We have a new class starting in Brussels, Ghent, Antwerp, Charleroi and Liège.