Machine-learning bootcamp

First LS&Co. Bootcamp Graduates Put Skills to Use

Colleen Derstine, Unzipped Staff
Levi Strauss & Co.
July 13, 2021

At Levi Strauss & Co., we are in the throes of a digital transformation that is revolutionizing how we do business. And, as with any transformation, this one is about the people, not only about rolling out new technologies. To maximize our chances of success, we need to invest in our people, the ones who make the company run, know it better than anyone else, and are invested in its future.

We have some of the best retail talent in the industry. Now, it is time to help our employees develop their talents further. Our goal is to equip our employees with knowledge and skills surrounding machine learning, design thinking, digital product management and agile ways of working, to help spread and deepen our use of technology, data, and artificial intelligence (AI) across the organization. With this in mind, we recently rolled out our first-ever, in-house Machine Learning Bootcamp, which is one aspect of our company-wide digital upskilling initiative.

We’re thrilled to highlight the first major milestone within our program: the inaugural graduation of our first bootcamp cohort.

“With this first-of-its-kind-initiative in our industry, we’re developing a talented community of data scientists across every function and market. These people are ready to create the future of fashion, which is digital, faster, more responsive, more precise, and more connected to our fans,” said Dr. Katia Walsh, senior vice president and chief strategy and artificial intelligence officer at LS&Co. “The first bootcamp’s graduates have impressed me and the entire executive team with their dedication and hard work. We’re excited about how these newly trained people will apply their skills and power the future of our business.”

Participants in our Machine Learning Bootcamp were immersed in an intensive, full-time, fully-paid eight-week training program where they left their day-to-day jobs to complete this unique program. In the bootcamp’s inaugural cohort, we trained more than 40 employees — 63% of whom were female, representing 14 locations around the world with employees from corporate, retail stores, distribution centers, and data centers.

“I learned about Python and programming, which are technical skills. But it’s also been a personal transformation, where you get that hunger to learn more and make changes. I hope I can bring the technological skills I’ve learned, and my appetite for making changes, back to my team to apply new technologies where we can to make life easier,” said Leen Allaert, product development director.

Now graduated, some cohort members are returning to their original function, while others will become the newest members of the Strategy and AI team. “School is not out by any means,” Katia said. “The real-world learning – and a lifelong learning practice – are only beginning. Our goal is for these graduates to apply their new skills to their jobs, share their projects and new ways of working with their colleagues, and foster a community of machine learning practitioners across the company.”

Graduates are engaging weekly with their bootcamp instructors for ongoing support in order to put their new skills to the test: building models, writing scripts, and completing work tasks using machine learning. This first class has already formed a “machine learning community” where they meet once a month to share case studies in support of continuous learning – further bridging connections across the organization. And later this year, all graduates will also be paired with a Strategy & AI team member for ongoing, one-to-one mentoring.

“One of the biggest values I believe I can take back to my team is being able to speak multiple languages — data and AI and planning — and be empowered to accelerate digital transformation at LS&Co.,” said Ji Yong Yi, a senior planner in merchandise planning.

As a company, we’ve made tremendous progress recently in embracing new digital capabilities, like AI and machine learning. With the first class officially graduated, we’re now ready to scale our efforts. We’re currently building the next bootcamp to be even bigger and to take our efforts even further, underscoring our commitment to invest in our employees and grow our talent from within.

We believe these new skillsets of our employees will help us deliver a superior consumer experience across all aspects of our business and build for a digital-first future.