Current position: Footwear Developer - Running Product at Adidas
Education: Master's Degree in Engineering and Ergonomics of Physical Activity, Université Savoie Mont Blanc, France; Bachelor’s Degree in Kinesiology and Physiology of Physical Activity, Université du Québec, Canada; Bachelor’s Degree in Science and Technique of Physical and Sports Activities, Université Jean Monnet, France
Dreaming of combining engineering and your passion for running? Discover a new inspiring career path behind the scenes at Adidas.
Can you tell us about your educational background?
I didn’t know exactly what to do after high school but I was already into sports. Therefore, I opted for a STAPS bachelor’s degree at Saint-Etienne for two years. Afterwards, I wasn’t willing to teach so I started assessing the options for that kind of background. This is how I decided to study abroad for a year thanks to a bilateral agreement between my university and one in Quebec. I was able there to choose my classes with a certain level of flexibility and pick the courses that appealed to me the most. This cursus in Canada had quite a medical approach, tackling injury prevention for example. It got me interested in physiology, functional anatomy as well as ergonomics and motivated my decision to specialize in these fields. On another level, this year considerably improved my English proficiency and was overall a very enriching experience.
After completing my bachelor’s degree, I had a consolidated scientific background, combining sports and anatomy and I was eager to link it with concrete products. Hence, I found a specific master’s degree called « Engineering and Ergonomics in Physical Activity » in Chambéry. This programme is intended to develop the most ergonomic products for sports practice. The first year was very theoretical and implied two internships. The first one only lasted a month and provided an insight into the real world of work while the second one, focused on Research, allowed us to assist teachers on their thesis. This first year was meant to deeply understand the products and their specificities, why they need to be developed in a certain way for a determined purpose. The second year on the other hand specialized us in a particular field. I was lucky to get accepted into a special « Shoes programme » organized in partnership with the CTC – Conseil National du Cuir. It covered several sports but the focus was mainly on running shoes. Besides this programme, there were other engineering options such as 3D conception or Research for those aiming to achieve a PhD. As my master’s degree took place in Chambéry, there was a strong interest in outdoor practices. Some of my fellow classmates pursued their career at Salomon or Mavic after graduation for example. Personally, I’ve always been into running and trail and had a great time studying the dedicated shoes.
How was it like interning at Adidas?
The last 6 months of my master’s degree were dedicated to practical training. I applied for an internship as a Footwear Developer at Adidas’ headquarters in Germany and luckily got selected. The company is so big that the first 2 months, you mostly familiarize yourself with the work environment, the colleagues, the teams and how they collaborate on this huge campus: a lot of chit chats at the coffee machine and networking with some of the 5000 employees. Then you really know your business and get efficient in your mission.
Concretely, the product development team serves as a liaison between the marketing and design teams and the factories. It implies a lot of collaboration, including with the costing and planning teams, though we are assigned to a specific task. Doing my internship at Adidas taught me the development of shoes on a global scale and the whole process to deliver a product, from the creation to in-store selling. It takes up to three years for a shoe to get officially launched, there’s a lot of development and steps to follow before. Although it may seem long, time flies when you work on a stimulating project.
After the first half of my internship, it was time for me to choose a subject for my master thesis. It is still confidential as it’s going to come out soon but of course it’s related to running shoes and integrating a biomechanical principle into it. It required a lot of collaboration with the design team at first then with the factories and the testing team in order to validate the concept. My internship was ending at that stage but a shoe development is normally followed by the intervention of the costing team to assess the costs. As an intern, I was focusing on the conception but as a confirmed product developer, you learn to integrate the costs in any product you create.
How can students and young engineers stand out when applying for major companies like Adidas?
Traveling and studying abroad is definitely an asset, especially as fluency in English is essential to work in a multinational company. Most of the interns I have encountered had experienced studying in a foreign country, whether through a master’s degree, an erasmus… Besides the curiosity for new cultures and markets, passion remains a crucial quality. You must show that you’re eager to learn and master the requirements of your field.
How did you turn your internship into a full-time job?
I applied to internally advertised jobs as I was willing to keep working at Adidas. Unfortunately, there was no open position nor the budget to keep me in my current team. However, I was temporarily incorporated into another work team under a fixed-term contract until a position opened. During these 6 months of transition in a new team, I was focusing on concepts more than on the products and working on the GMR project. It’s a chip conceived for football practice and integrated in the shoe sole. It tracks and collects data such as the number of steps, the number of shots, etc.
Afterwards, I finally got hired in my first team for the long term. Getting back in a team that was already familiar to me was really helpful during the confinement, especially as I was starting a new job and new missions. I worked remotely for several months but we found varied solutions to keep working efficiently.
Can you describe your daily work routine?
My new position is quite recent and work varies a lot over the months. Some periods are very busy for the developers and others are pretty quiet while the design and marketing teams take over. We collaborate daily with many factories based in Asia. Therefore, from 7.30 AM to 11 AM, I am usually on the phone with them to discuss some details of the shoes, ask for some adjustments or answer potential questions. After the calls, we do a lot of follow-up on what was debriefed in the morning. In the afternoon, there are regular meetings with other teams to talk about the production constraints.
You should know that every developer works on diverse products at the same time. For example, I am currently working on several shoes and items, but they are related to different seasons. When we enter a quieter period, we have the opportunity to work on parallel subprojects and express our creativity, maybe generate some innovative ideas.
Working in an environment like Adidas, with 5000 people on the campus, is very stimulating. They really value and enhance learning & development. A dedicated team organizes regular workshops and free training courses on many subjects, that we can attend during work hours. Our campus also has great facilities, with its own running track, a football stadium, a gym, a bicycle parking… The campus is strongly imbued with a sports spirit. It’s also quite rewarding to work for such a major leader. Last week-end for exemple, a new world record has been set by Peres Jepchirchir who was wearing a shoe my team worked on two years ago. We get to see the achievements of what we create.
A last recommendation for the new generation of engineers eager to work for a multinational company?
Never be afraid to take risks and take a chance, whether for a study programme, a job opportunity… It’s important to get out of your comfort zone on a professional and personal level and to challenge yourself regularly. You must have confidence in your skills and your determination.
By Sophie Vande Kerkhove
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