Wannes Rosiers was given a free pass to set up a professional data area within DPG Media. And he’s acing it. He isn’t afraid to experiment and call the ball. His enthusiasm and trust are reflected in his teams: fast-moving, inquisitive, and highly-skilled. How does he do it?
Building a data area – from scratch
After a career as a professional volleyball player, Wannes calculated his next steps. He had a Ph.D. in Mathematics, but what to do with it? He took the bold step of asking a consultancy company if they could put his skills to use – and they could. They were setting up a big data/data science branch, and Wannes’ mathematical insights were more than welcome. Soon after, he got to lead the team.
When he started as Area Manager Data at DPG Media in 2019, there was a lot of knowledge and interest in data, but the organization’s initiatives were scattered. Quite a few teams – squads – had data engineers who serviced their stakeholders as they saw fit. People were doing quite similar things but approached them differently. Wannes’ assignment was to combine all data forces to increase speed and quality.
How he went about the task was entirely up to him. “I like how DPG Media values an entrepreneurial approach. I had a vision, and DPG Media gave me a free pass to set the data area up exactly as I wanted. In late 2019, we started with three teams with 20 people, and in early 2021, it’s six teams with 43 people in Antwerp, Vilvoorde, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, and Hoofddorp. We already had quite a few people working here, but we also hired a lot more.” Obviously, DPG Media is serious about data.
The data engineers were incredibly excited about the change, as it allowed them to learn from each other and try different technologies. On the other hand, the stakeholders were a bit hesitant at first – they didn’t want to lose ‘their data person.’ Wannes and his newly assembled teams of data engineers had to prove themselves. And they did. Contemplative, Wannes looks back on an eventful period. “When I speak to people from the finance industry, like banks or insurers, they are astonished by what we have accomplished in such little time.”
Experimenting with ways of working
What differentiates the data area from other DPG Media tech areas is that it serves all brands, advertising, marketing, and content – only finance and HR have their own data teams. Also, as all data engineers have the same skill set, they are interchangeable – in a positive sense! Wannes explains: “You could put anyone on any data project, which allows us to experiment with ways of working. For example, our Product Owners are not linked to a squad but a product. The team could change every sprint based on priorities.
The data area will soon try a new format, like a job fair: Product Owners will pitch their ideas, and engineers can sign up. That mixes things up, literally. Wannes is excited to get started.
Engineers are encouraged to try new technologies and solutions, he says, but the process is streamlined. The Snowflake project is a perfect example of that. “It always starts with a Proof of Concept. We get a few people from different data teams together for a week to work on an initiative. If it works: great, if it doesn’t, we toss it out.”
“I don’t think anyone is afraid to talk to their boss”
As a manager of over 40 people, Wannes tries to find new ways of connecting with his team members. He recently became Area Manager for the News Personalization Area too, so he even has more people to collaborate with now.
Wannes has individual end-of-year talks, but for the annual goal-setting meetings, he’s trying something different. People that have similar goals are grouped together to help each other. Of course, Wannes makes sure he’s available to help out. He’s smart about that too: every day, he reserves one hour in his schedule for his teams. Anyone who wants to talk to him or just have a coffee can easily claim his time – people gratefully use the opportunity.
“I don’t think anyone is scared to talk to their boss,” he grins. “I always tell my team that they are the experts and they can use me to think along and challenge. I can write code, but the teams don’t want to push it to production. And rightfully so. To me, the most important thing is that I can join the conversation.” Wannes is big on learning and failing together and learning from failure. He trusts his instinct, and if something doesn’t work, he’s not afraid to call it a loss and let it go.
Wannes’ open attitude is exemplary for the vibe within the teams. “Everyone easily reaches out to each other to offer or find help. Now that we work remotely because of Covid-19, that hasn’t changed. We put everything in our general Slack channel so that everyone can chip in. We highly value that community feeling and support it through online team lunches, digital evening drinks, and more. Within our squads, we’re coworkers and friends.”
“How we use data to create data-driven applications for consumers and clients is very neat and advanced.”
Calling all data engineers to apply
When speaking to Wannes, you can feel the pride of his teams. He praises their work face-to-face and enjoys spreading the word through blog articles. He even climbs on stage now and then. It’s how he builds his network and often how people get persuaded to apply at DPG Media.
For data specialists, DPG Media has a lot to offer. “We invest in our people. If you want to take a course or join a training that enhances your skills, we’re always open and supportive,” Wannes explains. But the best part of the deal is all the data. “We have so much data on our millions and millions of readers, listeners, viewers, and their behaviors. How we use the data to create data-driven applications for consumers and clients is very neat and advanced. We use cutting-edge technology, and our CEO has our projects on his agenda. A lot of freelancers have chosen to take on a permanent job with us, as they have such varied and highly-valued projects to work on.” To give you an idea: early 2020, 60% to 70% of the team consisted of freelancers; now it’s 30% to 40%.
“We have a true engineering culture and are keen to build solutions ourselves. And we can, we have such highly-skilled engineers. Everyone who’s on my team, I would hire right back.”
When you apply, it could go very fast. For Wannes, he had his first interview on Wednesday, talked to the CIO on Friday, and received his offer that day. “That’s typical here, and I appreciate it a lot in our company. We’re eager, and we appreciate that attitude in others too. That’s why I hired someone with zero experience in data engineering or tools. I saw the eagerness and took a chance. We give people a lot of freedom to grow, whether you’re just starting or have a ton of experience.”