Building an R community – Learnings from AZ

In this new episode, Guillaume Desachy and I dive into the world of R and its impact on the pharmaceutical industry. Guillaume, a Statistical Science Director at AstraZeneca in Sweden, shares his insights and experiences in fostering an R community within the company.

Embarking on the exploration of Guillaume’s journey in building the R at AstraZeneca community beckons a series of intriguing questions:

  • How does a modest idea transform into a community boasting over 1,600 collaborators within just three years?
  • What challenges and decisions shape the trajectory of such a community, leading to the retirement of initiatives like AZTidyTuesday?
  • How does the community navigate the intricate balance between growth and sustaining valuable initiatives?

These insights will be valuable for you, if you want to transform your organisation and drive change. 

We also talk about the following key points:

  • The industry’s trajectory concerning R
  • Tracing the origins of AstraZeneca’s R community and its goals
  • The activities that contributed to its growth.
  • The internal perception of the community, metrics for measuring success, and the personal impact it had on Guillaume.

Join us as we unravel the dynamics of building a thriving R community and gain valuable learnings from Guillaume’s journey.

Tune in for an engaging conversation that goes beyond statistical analysis into the collaborative realm of R enthusiasts at AstraZeneca.

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Resource: R at AZ Blog post

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Guillaume Desachy

Data Scientist, Board Member, and Mentor at AstraZeneca

Since graduating from ENSAI (Biostatistics M. Sc.) 10 years ago, Guillaume has been immersing himself in precision medicine.

Data-driven, he is passionate about answering scientific questions and making sure we convey the right message to stakeholders, both internally & externally. 

He feels very fortunate to have had the chance to work with various kinds of OMICs data and leverage the power of biomarkers to strengthen drug development.

He also feels incredibly lucky to have worked in a diverse set of settings, be it in academia (UCSF, U.S.), in a biotech (Enterome, France) or in the pharmaceutical industry (BMS, Servier & AstraZeneca, France & Sweden). He now works as a Statistical Science Director for AstraZeneca in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Apart from his day job at AstraZeneca, Guillaume teaches a course about OMICs data analysis at ENSAI (, is a Board Member in the ENSAI alumni association ( and is a mentor for Article 1, a non-profit organization promoting equal opportunity (

Whether it is to discuss statistics, choices that you are making in your early career or any other subject, you can contact him via LinkedIn (


Building an R community – Learnings from AZ

[00:00:00] Alexander: Welcome to another episode of the Effective Statistician. Today I’m talking with Guillaume and also he’s probably well known for all his activities around biomarker given that he also leads the or co leads the biomarker special interest group. He’s actually also very well known, at least with his company, is that about R. And so today we will talk about this specific thing. Hi, Guillaume. How are you doing?

[00:00:36] Guillaume: Hi, Alexander. I’m doing really good. It’s so good to be back. Thanks for having me again. Yeah. I’m very happy and excited to be here today.

[00:00:46] Alexander: Okay, so, let’s first start with those who don’t know you already. What has you, your career been up to now and where’s your interest in R coming from?

[00:00:58] Guillaume: Yeah, absolutely. So, before we get started, I would want to say that today The views and opinions that I will be expressing are my own and that I will not be speaking on behalf of AstraZeneca. So, but now this being said, my name is Guillaume and I work as a statistical science director at AstraZeneca in Sweden.

And I graduated from NSIE, which is the French National School of Statistics 12 years ago. And since the beginning of my career, I’ve had the chance to work in a diverse set of settings. I studied my career in academia at the University of California, San Francisco. And after a couple of years, my wife and I decided that we wanted to relocate to Europe to be closer to family.

And for me, relocating to Europe was synonymous of making that transition from academia to the pharma industry. And I have been in the industry since 2015. And what has been very interesting, very interesting since 2015 is that I have had the chance to work in companies of different sizes, going from a biotech all the way to a big pharma.

Because I, work fast for AstraZeneca. Now, you’re asking, you know, where does your, your interest in R lye? And, and reflecting on my R journey, I can still remember having a chat with a very good friend of mine back when we were studying, and he was such an advocate of R. And I was such an advocate of SAS back then.

And, we were going in these constant arguments on which tool was basically the best. Well, you know, as I was saying back then, my preference was for SAS, but that was a very long time ago. And more important, more importantly, that was before I went to academia. Where basically SAS was a no go, but things have changed a lot since.

[00:02:55] Alexander: Since then, yeah, definitely. Things have changed a lot since then. So in terms of where do you see the overall industry moving in terms of that?

[00:03:06] Guillaume: That’s a very good question. I think we live in, in very exciting times because in the past few years, we’ve seen, and we’ve been able to witness a true paradigm shift. If we step back a tiny bit, not long ago, as a statistician, your kind of had to choose your camp. Either you were a SAS user or you were an R user, but you could not really be both. But things are different today, I think. Many industries and our, many companies and our industry in general are evolving towards a multilingual programming strategy.

 And, I’m a big advocate of using the right tool for the right job. So if, for example, if R is better at doing data visualization, let’s use R. If SAS is better at doing a specific kind of statistical technique, let’s use SAS. And now, of course, We need to remember that this comes with some implications when, when if, if you want, you know, to use, for example, both languages in a submission as some of our peers have done, it comes with some implications because your standard operating procedures have to be open to this.

They have to be open to the fact that, okay, it’s not just going to be a proprietary language, but maybe it’s going to be an open source language. So you have to be open to that kind of things. So that’s one aspect, the SAP aspect and the fact of embracing this multilingual programming strategy. Again, if we step back from this, I think this multilingual programming strategy is extremely, extremely important to attract talent.

Yes. Now, you know, let’s imagine two companies. One company sticks to a proprietary programming language. And one company basically says, well, you can use the right tool for the right job. Which company do you think a young talent is going to join?

[00:05:07] Alexander: Of course, the second one, because most of the young talents, and I know this is one of the biggest arguments in favor of, you know, the open source languages like R, Python, and the others, is that that’s what People are trained across the world in at universities.

Yeah. And so I was, I was kind of just graduating before, you know, r came really into being, and so for me it was all SAS. Yeah. But a couple of years later, I know that all these. SAS macros, yeah, were also published in, are within the university. Yeah. And nowadays, if you look into publication from university professors, it always comes with and R package, yeah, that is kind of the standard way to do it now.

And of course, that saves you a lot of training. It makes it much easier for, you know, people to, to get started to bring their knowledge. Get up to speed, all these kinds of things. And yes, I know the, the SOP thing is definitely a topic. I still remember some SOPs where it was specifically kind of SAS code was in there or specific references to SAS were in there and all these kinds of different things.

So yeah, for example. Please check your source log file or something like this, these warnings and then whatsoever. Yeah. And you need to have this header in your source whatsoever. Yeah. All these kinds of different things in terms of SOPs, guidance, of course you need to update all of that. Yeah.

[00:06:59] Guillaume: And we kind of laugh about it, but it’s not that easy. You can’t be like, Oh, let’s use R, you know, tomorrow you’re going to be using R, you know, it’s, it’s not a walk in the park, let’s put it that way.

[00:07:12] Alexander: It’s definitely not a work, a walk in the park, a walk in the park, even in smaller companies. Yeah, it’s a big change. And the bigger the company is, the bigger the change. And so driving this change is actually one of the key things we want to talk about this today. And whenever you want to drive change, one aspect is absolutely key. You need to take the people with you. And while doing this, one effective way is to build a community. So the community of R users at A set, how did that start?

[00:07:59] Guillaume: I joined AstraZeneca in October, 2020, and this community, the community of R users at AstraZeneca started in early 2021. And back then, in early 2021, we knew there were many our users at AstraZeneca, but there were three questions we could not answer by that.

The first one, we did not know who the R users were. The second one. We did not know where they were in the organization. And the third one, we did not know what they were using R for. So that was the starting point. And to kick it off, we brainstormed with two friends of mine at AstraZeneca. And we jotted down some ideas.

We were like, okay, maybe we could write some kind of blog post, or maybe we could have an internal conference, or maybe we could sit with Pride Tidy Tuesday. Tidy Tuesday, which is a data visualization challenge happening outside of AstraZeneca. And Tidy Tuesday is kind of similar to the Wonderful Wednesdays.

That you’ve been running as part of the, the data visa special interest group. So we had all these ideas and we kicked off the community of our users at AstraZeneca by launching AZTidyTuesday in April, 2021.

[00:09:21] Alexander: Awesome. So yes, that is a great way. Yeah, you have directly kind of a platform, you have some way to exchange.

And for all the people who don’t know about AZTidyTuesday. Wonderful Wednesday just a short recap, by the way, you can also go to the visualization, special interest group homepage to check about this at PSI web. org. So, the format is very simple. Every second Wednesday of the month, there’s a webinar during which a data set and the corresponding data visualizations that were provided by the community is discussed.

And all these kind of different visualizations are critiqued, looked at what are, what are good applications, what are bad applications, all these different things. Actually by far, you know, I think over 90% of the submissions are in are, and then at the end of the webinar IC provides a new curated data set that can be worked on up to the next webinar.

So, and that kind of ends, gives you a cycle of lots of, lots of different webinars. So did you also run that on a, on a monthly basis or even on a weekly basis?

[00:10:42] Guillaume: So initially it was on a, on every other week kind of basis, and then we moved it on a, on a monthly basis. And basically what we were doing as part of this database challenge.

So it was, it was similar kind of setting as, as what, what you were referring to. What we did is that we sold with pride AZTidyTuesday in the sense that we gave it a twist.

Okay. That was, I was the one in charge of it. And each time we were promoting a dataset from TidyTuesday or like a publicly available dataset, we were, I was telling a story around it.

And that story was framed around one of the AstraZeneca values or around something happening at AstraZeneca at that time, or around something happening in the world at that time. So we started with PRIDE, what’s happening, you know, once every other week or once a month, and what we did in addition to basically receiving and reviewing, you know, outputs, we also did some code review.

So every single entry, we were doing a code review. So not only did we learn a lot, you know, as code reviewers. But obviously, you know, the community learned a lot. Absolutely.

[00:11:57] Alexander: Awesome. I love this twist about the, the story. Can you give an example of how such a story could, could look like?

[00:12:07] Guillaume: Yeah, absolutely. So, for example, one, one story that, that I can remember is, there are many stories, you know, that I loved about it, but one that I can remember is, it was during Pride month in AstraZeneca So I was able to find a data set about LGBTQ plus rights. And basically, the, I think, best graph was a map of the roads, showing where it was the worst to be a member of the LGBTQ plus community compared to other countries.

And, and the story around it was, you know, basically, you’ve got these rights. You’ve got LGBTQ plus rights. You’ve got these rights. And we had these data sets to support the fact that you are better off in some countries compared to other countries. So that’s one example of one story. But there are, there are many stories around it.

It was, we touched upon inclusion and diversity. We talked about lifelong learning. We talked about like so many things. We talked about our packages, of course. So we had some, some visualizations about, you know, The most downloaded deep packages, you know, to be a bit more geeky the way.

[00:13:25] Alexander: Well, I love it because that way you have something for everybody. Yeah. And you also because you use data set affects everybody. Yeah. And it’s interesting for everybody. Well, maybe the. Most downloaded are packages, people but, you know all these other things. Yeah. Of course you get a much bigger interest and you can share it with internal communications and all these kinds of other things.

So that is awesome. Really, really nice. By the way, how did you communicate internally?

[00:14:06] Guillaume: So we’ve got an internal social media, and that has been our main mode of communication. Now, we know that not everyone, you know, that social media does not suit everyone and that not everyone is very active on the social media.

So what we’ve been doing is that we also have a monthly newsletter. basically summarizing what has been happening in the past month in the community. So even if you are not that active on the social media, which remains our main mode of communication in that newsletter, you’ve got hyperlinks. To the initiatives of the past month, so you can catch up.

And it’s also a heads up on what’s going to be happening next month. Awesome. So that was, you know, not long ago, there was our own pharma a couple of weeks ago. So in the last newsletter, we did a heads up about it. You know, by the way, this is happening next month. There’s a bunch of topics that are probably of interest to, to some of us. So, you know, keep an eye out.

[00:15:08] Alexander: Yeah, that’s one of the things that I always recommend in doing kind of change management. Use all the different communication methods that you have. Don’t just rely on one because everybody has a different way of communicating. Internal social media, internal blog posts whatever teams.

Email whatever you’re using, all these kind of different platforms you can use also presenting it at all kind of different town halls, leadership meetings. These kind of interactions are really, really helpful. And of course, the bigger your community, and if you provide them, you know, easy to use tools to speak about it, to introduce it, all these kind of different things, it makes it easy to spread the word and get more and more people connected.

One important thing I think is for those that are in the inner community. Yeah, so it’s the inner circle. These need to have very, very close connection and collaboration.

[00:16:20] Guillaume: I absolutely agree what I was going to say as well. In a lot of these things, and I think it’s true for a lot of things that we do, it’s about doing things well, and it’s about talking about them.

Yes. And then, yeah, because you can work as hard as you want if you, if you keep it to yourself. No one will ever know.

[00:16:43] Alexander: I actually even say it doesn’t really have an impact. Yeah. So one of the critical things you need to understand in a bigger organization is that you need to make the organization aware of all these kinds of different things.

Otherwise, people will not be able to leverage it, to utilize it. So, of course, it might sound, yeah, like you’re selling something, yeah, and maybe you don’t love, love it of bragging or selling some, some things. I think this is a mindset topic. If you don’t talk about this, it’s a disservice to the organization.

Yeah. You’re basically keeping it to yourself. That is selfish. Yeah. Talking about it and helping others. That is not selfish. Yeah. So It’s, I really need to put it put it around, yeah, upside down. Yeah. So talk about all these kinds of different things and how they help others. Yeah. Not, not about how, how great you are, talk about how it helps others and that will make a huge difference.

[00:18:11] Guillaume: Absolutely. It’s about, it’s about sharing lessons learned, sharing knowledge and helping others. Absolutely.

[00:18:19] Alexander: So, in terms of, so you started with this TidyTuesday at AZ and your initial goals were to kind of find the people, connect the people, know what they are doing about, How did these goals change over time? What are kind of the current goals that you have for your community?

[00:18:41] Guillaume: I think the goal remains the same in the sense that the goal of the community is to federate the federate the community of our users at AstraZeneca. And it has been the same for the past three years, basically. And we put it in place to get a better sense of collaborators using ARM across our organization.

And what was very interesting is that it allowed us to discover that there are not just the usual suspects using R. It is not just the statisticians or not just the programmers or not just the data scientists, but it’s basically all the collaborators with a quantitative mindset.

And for example, it can be medical doctors, it can be clinicians, it can be managers. It can be HR operators, it can be so many functions, and that’s where the strength of R lies. Because R being open source, but we are talking about R, but it could be any kind of open source language, being open source, if you want to play with it, you can play with it.

And there is so much out there basically to, to learn how to use R that you don’t need any specific kind of training. You can train yourself. So, so the goal remains the same. And following this goal, it’s been very interesting to be like, okay, that’s not just the usual suspects, but it’s a lot of people across any kind of organization.

And I think that’s why this community resonates in so many people. And that’s why, you know, it grew so much in the past few years, basically.

[00:20:24] Alexander: That is a really good point. A couple of things. You mentioned that, yeah, R is, helps everybody that works with data. Yeah. And of course there’s not just clinical and medical data.

There’s HR data, there’s finance data, there’s procurement data, there is data about sales, about marketing, pharmacology data and the data that we all love. Resource planning and headcounts and , these kind of different things. Yeah. When I was doing data visualization training within one of my recent companies Yeah.

Exactly stepped into these same areas. Yeah. And it was a great way to showcase. What you can do as a statistician, what you can do as a statistical organization, because you help others understand data, communicate data, analyze data understand variability, all these kinds of different statistical things.

And data visualization, as you also used it with TidyTuesday, is absolutely amazing, because It is what everybody is using, you know, no, not everybody is using, there’s no propensity scores and estimates and randomization and all these other things, data visualization, everybody is using.

[00:21:58] Guillaume: Absolutely. Because at the end of the day, when, when we go see our stakeholders. To get funding for a clinical trial of our program. What is it that we’re doing? We’re telling a story. Yeah,

[00:22:12] Alexander: well, if, if we are good, yes. And

[00:22:14] Guillaume: the question is, do they buy it or not? And one thing that can help buy it. Is good data visualization. And we’ve all seen, you know, one way of presenting data or another of presenting data.

And, you know, of course, you know, the better one is going to be more appealing. And you’re going to understand it better. And it’s likely you are going to, you are going to buy it. More, you know, if, if it looks nicer than, than if you have a really hard time, you know, understanding what’s going on.

[00:22:45] Alexander: We just talked about TidyTuesday, your newsletter. Were there any other activities that you did internally to improve the connection within your community and also to grow it?

[00:22:58] Guillaume: Yeah, absolutely. So, so we’ve had in the past three years. So I was saying, and at the beginning, we jotted down some ideas, we investigated some and, and then in the end, we decided to retire some of them.

For example, AZTidyTuesday. We decided to retire it at the end of 2022 for various kinds of reasons. One was the fact that interest was kind of fading away. And the other one being that it was quite time consuming because we were doing one code review for every single entry. Now let’s imagine you’ve got just five entries, even just five entries.

To do a proper code review, you can’t really spend less than one hour. Yeah. So, you know, five times on is five hours, you know. It’s quite a decent, you know, amount of time that you need to carve out of your time. So, you know, we’ve had initiatives initiatives come and go. And as of today, we’ve got six initiatives going on on a monthly basis. And you were talking about blog posts. That’s one thing that we have. So we have a monthly blog post about a specific R package. We’ve got a lunch and learn, keeping in mind that people tend to be busy. So we’re like, okay, let’s, let’s have a 30 minute format, 20 minute presentation, 10 minute Q and a for inclusion and diversity.

What I, okay, we should alternate between Europe time zone and us time zone. So every other month it happens at Europe lunchtime, European lunchtime, and about the month at American lunchtime, we have a hot desk. Where people can ask questions and that can be anything can be, you know, tricky ways of using, oh, it can be, you know, ways of using our, in our organization, that’s probably the thing that as a community, we can be the proudest of in the sense that since the beginning of the year, we’ve seen it evolve so much, we, we launched a proof of concept of this.

Last year, and we launched it as a face to face kind of thing in our Gothenburg facilities. And, and, you know, there was, there were not that many people trying it. I was doing it with a friend of mine and, you know, every month we were, we said, okay, we’re going to be there, you know, for two hours. If you’ve got any questions, stop by and we’ll be happy to help.

There were not that many people that showed up. So we’re like, okay, we still think. There is some value in it, but let’s revisit it. So instead, what we’ve done is instead of having a face to face kind of thing where you can show up and you can ask questions, we have a team’s channel and you can ask questions. So at the moment we have about 1000 collaborators in this team’s channel.

And at the beginning, it was only the steering committee that was, you know, putting things there and answering questions. But what I find very interesting is that not long ago, things changed and people now dare asking questions in this channel. And it’s not just the steering committee members that answer these questions, but it’s like anyone in the community.

And we were talking about, you know, being change agents and, you know, active change. I think this very much relates to being okay with being vulnerable. Yes. Being okay with like, okay, you know what, I’m going to, I’m, I’m going to say in front of 1000 people on that, I have no clue in how to do this.

Right. Yes. Yes. And that’s why I think that’s one of the things we can be the most part of in this community, because you can talk about numbers, you can talk about many things, but kind of building this psychologically safe space. Where you say, you know what? It’s impossible. It is impossible to know everything.

It applies to all, but it applies in our field. You know, we talked in the past of, you know, how vast our field is and it’s okay, you can ask questions, you know, it’s okay to be vulnerable. So, so we’ve got this. And in addition to this, we’ve got a few other initiatives. So we’ve got the newsletter that I was talking about. We have a workshop in collaboration with the Posit. Which is a formerly known as, as RStudio. And last but not least, the new kid on the blog is AZRLadies.

[00:27:40] Alexander: Okay.

[00:27:42] Guillaume: You might have heard of R Ladies. So R Ladies is a nonprofit aiming at promoting the use of R and at promoting STEM within women. And what is very interesting with AZ R Ladies is that. It is the very first all ladies happening within an organization. Okay? Because you’ve got all ladies happening all over the road. So you’ve got one in Paris, you’ve got one in the Bay Area San Francisco Bay Area. You’ve got some all over the road, but it’s like region dependent.

It’s not company specific and I find it interesting because the moment you say, you know, we’ve got an AZR ladies, then it’s like, okay, you know, AstraZeneca is investing time, not only in R, that’s one thing, but AstraZeneca is investing time in promoting the use of R within women. And, you know, that’s why I think it’s a, it’s such a great initiative.

[00:28:40] Alexander: Awesome. This is really cool. In terms of the general internal perception about this community, can you tell us a little bit about this, especially also from people high up in the organization?

[00:28:55] Guillaume: So I think the internal perception is terrific, really. And internally, as well as externally, this community is seen as, as one success story. In how one can build a community.

Again, it’s not about the numbers, but to give you a sense of the scale of what we’re talking about, since early 2021, this community grew from 200 collaborators to 1, 600 collaborators.

[00:29:25] Alexander: Wow, amazing.

[00:29:28] Guillaume: You know, that’s, that’s a made for increase in three years, you know, it is, it is so real. So, but again, you know, I, I don’t think, you know, talking about numbers is like, you know, should be the right metric to give you a sense of the internal perception.

And that’s what I think we’ve got something called the research and development of what it happens once a year. And it is here to recognize some of the great work done internally. It can be science related or it can be, you know, community related or, or whatever, basically. And in 2022, the community of our users at AstraZeneca was a finalist in these RD awards.

So, so I think, you know, that’s, that’s a definite testim of the way this community is viewed internally. So, so that’s how it is viewed. Now, you know, to be completely honest, that is how a community is perceived. And then there is, okay, can you find, can you find metrics of success of the community? And this is much harder.

[00:30:35] Alexander: Okay, tell me more about that.

[00:30:38] Guillaume: So one easy metric could obviously, you know, could be a number game you know, you could be saying, well, you know, it’s just, you know, the number of members in your community. But to be honest. You might haven’t see it already, but to be honest, that’s not really a metric that I like.

[00:30:55] Alexander: No, because you will always have, how many are really active? Yeah. Absolutely. Yeah. And you’ll always have this exponential dispersion in there.

[00:31:05] Guillaume: Absolutely. And the reason I, I don’t like this metric either is because I like to have a metric that one can have a direct influence on. You can have as work as hard as you want, you know, community members can come and go.

So you can’t really measure the success of your community this way. So instead, one metric that I like, one metric of success that I like, is the number of ongoing initiatives, you know, what I was talking about. And the six initiatives that we have at the moment. Because with this metric, you can have a direct impact.

But sharing community members, you’ve got an idea, you implement it, it works, it works, it fails, it fails, you know, that’s fine. But you can have a direct impact.

[00:31:52] Alexander: These are very often called lead measures, yeah? Things that you can directly have an impact on and that you know will drive outcome later on. Exactly.

[00:32:04] Guillaume: Yeah. And so, so that’s a metric that I like. Another, another tangible metric to give you an example, a couple of months ago, my manager’s manager reached out to me and a collaborator at AstraZeneca. And he sent us an email asking us, okay, have you ever used the R packed package? And I had never used it.

The person CC had never used it either. And, but, but I knew I could leverage the community. And I was talking about the hot desk, which is a team shop. So I put a message in the hot desk and I asked again, have you ever used the R pack package and putting, putting a link to it so that people could could have a look at it, you know, if they were And I was tapping onto 1000 collaborators.

Right. Within 40 minutes, we had identified a subject matter expert. Awesome. Yeah. And, and, you know, it’s not about the number of minutes, but if you think about it, how long it would have taken us to identify that person. You know, sending one email after another email after another email, it probably would have taken us days, right?

[00:33:18] Alexander: And especially kind of, if you, if these people are not sitting in the organizations that you expect them to sit in. Yeah that is one thing. The other thing is, of course, you would probably spam a lot of people that are not, not using R at all. Yeah. And so it’s a very, very specific search.

Awesome. Yeah. I think, by the way metrics are one thing. Having these success stories. Is incredible in terms of understanding the impact and also selling the impact of the community. I think if you ever drive change, also have, you know, you see success stories in there.

[00:34:06] Guillaume: Yeah, I completely agree. And I can still remember going back to the database challenge. It was in the early days. It was like 2021 and, you know, 2021 was pandemic time. And I remember someone who, who became to be a very good friend of mine in the organization. I remember that person telling me, well, you know what? This data visualization challenge did not just help me to get better at all, but it helped me also go through the pandemic.

So not, not willing to make it bigger than what it is, but, you know, this was a challenge outside of, you know, that day to day work, a challenge happening every other week or happening once a month, you know, kind of a breath of fresh air. So, so I agree these small success stories. And when people tell you, well, after this Rlazy event, I was able to connect with X because, because we happened to meet there and it happened that we have a common interest in that specific topic, or that person knows, you know, how to do some shiny apps or whatever, I agree with you, and it’s probably, it’s probably more important than the metric, you need metrics because you need to be like, okay, yeah.

You know, you’re investing time in it. So, so is it, is it valuable? So you need this at the same time. I completely agree with you. You need to have these softer aspects in a way.

[00:35:38] Alexander: If you would go back in time and started all over again, what would you do differently?

[00:35:45] Guillaume: That’s a very good question. I think the first thing I would tell myself. Is it, it takes a lot of time. There’s no shortcut. There’s no magic. It takes a lot of time. But, you know, if I was to tell myself two things, first, I would tell myself, put a structure in place as soon as possible.

[00:36:13] Alexander: And what do you mean by structure?

[00:36:16] Guillaume: What I mean by structure in 2021, it was kind of self-led. So it was a few of us, it was kind of self-led, meaning that, you know, it was kind of hard to know, okay. Who has ownership and you know, who, and it’s not, it’s not about, you know, getting on and she, but like who should drive it if it’s not done, you know, who should push things forward.

So that was 2021. And since beginning of 2022, I’ve, I’ve decided to take the lead of this community. And by taking the lead of this community, I’ve decided to have a lead, the six initiatives that we were talking about. There’s actually, actually one lead. For each of these initiatives, so there’s ownership of the steering committee, which is, you know, on me, but ownership of each initiative and leadership of each initiative, it is on these other leaders.

So that’s what I mean by putting a structure in place. If you want, if you want to, you know, we say, you know, divide to conquer or something like this. If you want to be able to be an active change agent and, and to drive on these init on these initiatives, you need to delegate, you need to have these leaders and to delegate, you know, ownership and leadership of, of these initiatives.

And they drive it the way they want to drive it. So, you know, put a, yeah, put a structure in place. And closely related to this, surround yourself with passionate people. Yes. Yeah.

[00:37:52] Alexander: Completely agree.

[00:37:54] Guillaume: And you know, in the past two years I’ve been fortunate, honestly, while building this community, you know, to be surrounded by extremely passionate, creative and talented people.

And if you surround yourself with passionate people, you can basically move mountains. Yeah, so that’s the first thing, you know, put that structure in place, surround yourself with passionate people. And the second thing I would not tell myself, but rather ask myself is, Is this new idea, is this new initiative, is it a sustainable one?

Can you scale it up? Can you sustain it? We’re not talking about, you know, doing, doing a one shot kind of thing. Because, you know, when, when we talk about communities, we tend to think, Oh, you know, it’s a virtual community. It’s completely different from a real life community. But in reality, it’s the exact same thing.

So. Exactly. You know, like we’re going to be okay, you know, no one on Monday evening, I’m going to go to my Swedish language cafe on Tuesday evening. I’m going to go climbing on Wednesday, blah, blah, blah. It’s the exact same thing in virtual communities. So the moment you bring something to the community, you need to think, okay, can I scale it up? Can I sustain it, not over two weeks, over a month, but can I sustain it over a year?

[00:39:17] Alexander: And longer?

[00:39:19] Guillaume: Exactly, over a year and longer. As you have been doing, you know, with the, with the Effective Statistician Podcast, right?

[00:39:26] Alexander: Exactly.

[00:39:27] Guillaume: I think this is extremely important. And that’s why in the end we decided to retire AZ tidy Tuesday.

[00:39:34] Alexander: Yep. You need to absolutely find ways to scale. Things, and there’s probably yet another complete podcast episode on how to scale things. Last question I have is. What does it mean to you personally?

[00:39:53] Guillaume: It means a lot and it helped me so much and it helped me on so many aspects and I want to mention a few of them. The first one is on the aspect of leadership. In the past two years, I have led a cross functional team of 15 collaborators. And leading cross functionally teaches you so much on leadership.

[00:40:18] Alexander: Yes. That is true leadership.

[00:40:20] Guillaume: And it teaches you so much because if you want to be able to drive change via a cross functional team, you need to inspire people.

[00:40:32] Alexander: Yes. You can’t tell people because they don’t report to you.

[00:40:36] Guillaume: Exactly. And then, you know, if you manage this if you manage people to, to follow you and to follow, you know, your leadership and your ideas, the day you would become a monarchic leader would be so much easier because you won’t rely on the fact, Oh, you know, I tell you to do this. You rely on the leadership and, and, you know, inspiring people and ideas.

[00:41:00] Alexander: Yes, this is so true. This is what I’m talking about in the leadership course that we have from the effective study session all the time. Yeah. Leadership is inspiring others to act on your ideas. And I really love this overall story about the R at AstraZeneca community, because this is absolutely a great example of an amazing success story that was initiated But just some people getting together, having an idea and moving it forward.

This was not decided at a big governance meeting with lots of VPs in there where they said, we will invest. 10 million or 50 million over the next years and we put a governance body in place and we, you know, buy in external consultants and all these other things. Yeah. No, it was done by, you know, people like you and me, you know, completely kind of usual. Workers. Yeah. No specific title. Yeah. The key thing is you were passionate about it. You surrounded yourself with other passionate people and you gave people a structure, a platform, like the Tidy Tuesday, like these other initiatives. in which they can perform, in which they can grow, in which they can connect. This is what great leaders do. They make it easy for others to achieve something.

[00:42:53] Guillaume: Thank you. Thank you, Alex. And then I can completely relate to what you said. It’s a, it’s very much a, it was very much a bottom up kind of kind of initiative. It was, it was an idea started, started from nothing, you know, just, just a small meeting, you know, in early 2021 and it grew, it grew a lot.

So so it helped me a ton on leadership. The second thing, it helped me a lot on the communication aspect, because in the past two years, I have been the face of this community. I have been able to tell the story of this community in various forums, be it internally, be it externally. in different formats.

So it was oral presentations, it was panel discussions, it was blog posts, a podcast like we’re doing today. Yeah. And, and, and we say, you know, practice makes perfect. You have to rub shoulders. If you want to improve your communication skills, go do it. At first it’s gonna, you know, at first it’s gonna be itchy, at first it’s gonna be hard, but then it’s gonna become easier and easier over time.

[00:44:05] Alexander: Yep. There’s one other benefit, and you talked about this in our pre meeting, it also helped you with your overall career. Yeah. Yeah. Because… You’re now not just yet another statistician at AZ, you’re the face of this big community, and of course, that helps quite a lot when it’s about new opportunities, new stuff, you know people higher up will see you will, and we’ll kind of think about you when you have these opportunities. So that’s for sure.

[00:44:45] Guillaume: Yeah. I absolutely again, and that’s the third thing I wanted to mention is like the networking aspect. And because at the end of the day, when we talk about building a community, we talk about building a network of collaborators. And the connections that I have been able to make like internally and externally are just so real. And I, you know, honestly, I still can’t believe it. And so to give you an idea internally, so we’ve got something that’s like we’ve got a shadowing initiative, which basically allows one to shadow someone within that function or, you know, in another function.

And a couple of months ago, I was outshadowing the VP of Biometrics in Oncology at AstraZeneca. It was the very first meeting. We were just doing a round of introduction. It was my turn to introduce myself. I had just admitted myself. And then this VP says, Oh, hold on a second. You’re the R guy, right? I had never interacted with that person.

I had never worked with that person. But, but I guess, you know, that’s what happens when you’re on the face of such a big community. We’re talking about more than 1, 600 members as of today. So when you send an email to the community, you send it to 1, 600 members. Not every single of the 1, 600 are going to be opening the email, that’s for sure. But still, it’s a very bright reach. So, you know, that’s internally. And now, externally, again, that’s surreal and I still need to pitch myself to realize it. But like the community of R users recently hosted Hadley Wickham.

[00:46:42] Alexander: This is so cool. I saw that on LinkedIn when you announced it. And I said, wow. For all the listeners who haven’t, I don’t, can’t believe that there are people that don’t know about Hadley Wickham, but can you shortly talk about who he is?

[00:46:59] Guillaume: Yeah, absolutely. So Hadley Wickham is one of the founding figures of modern R programming language. He’s behind the tidy verse, he’s behind ggplot, he’s behind like so many books, one of the most influential ones is probably R for data science. So he’s a very, very big name. In the field and, you know, you know, in R and in the field in general, if not the biggest name and we hosted him.

So we had a, you know, a private talk by Hadley Wickham to R community members. Now, had you told me two years ago, three years ago. You are going to be hosting Hadley Wickham in two years or three years’ time. I would have said, I mean, come on, you must be kidding me.

[00:47:48] Alexander: Yep. I replied to your LinkedIn post that at some point, others will talk in the same way about you.

[00:47:55] Guillaume: Thank you, Alex.

[00:47:57] Alexander: Absolutely. You can meet outstanding people. Yeah. And I have experienced exactly the same. Yeah. I’ve met Alberto Cairo. Yeah. I’ve met on this podcast, just scroll through it. How many people I’ve been meeting. If you would have Hold me. Oh, yeah. In a couple of years, you will all all have a one to one with these for an hour. Yeah. And you become really good connected. I would say, come on.

Yeah, but if you becomes a face of such a change initiatives. Really amazing things happen internally and externally. Absolutely agree. I think that is one thing that we haven’t talked too much about. These change initiatives do not just live within your company. They have a very, very big area also outside of the companies.

And yeah, depending on how you exactly do it the outside company activities. Can help you with your internal credibility also quite a lot.

[00:49:08] Guillaume: Absolutely. I can totally relate to it. You are talking about the, the biomarkers European Special Interest Group. It’s a cross industry kind of initiative, but it is a win-win.

It’s I work for AstraZeneca, so obviously, I represent AstraZeneca in this special interest group that I coli with Nicole from Boehringer. And, and it’s a win-win in the sense that. I call it this. So we drive change externally and then at the same time, internally, I can leverage all these connections from, from across the industry, because when we talk about the special interest group, the biomarker special interest group, we’re talking about like 45 people from across the industry, we’ve got people, people from all over and, and, and I completely relate to the fact that it’s a, it helps you so much.

And, and sometime we tend to think of these as, Oh, but you know, I have so much on my plate. I don’t have time. I mean, let me be honest, there will never ever be enough time.

It’s, it’s about saying yes to things. And then, then, you know, you, you accommodate and you move things up and down the list of priorities. but like, you know, if we go back to the community of all uses. Of course, it has been a lot of work. I’m not gonna lie. It has been a huge amount of work, but what I got out of it goes way beyond any expectations. It’s, you know, it’s a real.

[00:50:48] Alexander: Awesome. That is a perfect finish for this episode where we talked about, you know, how all A small, you know, idea between three people grew into something absolutely major and outstanding within actually just some years. And so thanks so much for sharing your stories on all these kind of different things with, with the listeners, for everybody who is really keen to engage.

With the with Guillaume, just, you know, I’ll put a link to his, LinkedIn profile in it. We’ll also put a link to the biomarker sick in it, which we talked about. And so have a look into these. We, we’ll also probably put a link into it in terms of the wonderful Wednesdays, as we talked about this quite a lot and any other interesting things that Guillaume will share with me later on. So thanks so much and all the best, for the future. I’m pretty sure this will not be the last time that we have been here together on the podcast.

[00:52:07] Guillaume: Yeah. Thank you, Alex. It was it was great to, to chat again. And yeah, as you said, it’s always a great pleasure. Always happy to help. Always happy to share lessons learned. So feel free to reach out to me. You know where to find me. You can you can find me on LinkedIn. So yeah. Please feel free to reach out if you want.

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