Navigating chaotic times: forecasting amid the pandemic

“What I like about my work, is the direct impact it has on operations. When packages get delivered on time and customers don’t have to wait for support, it means we’ve done a good job forecasting.” Senior Data Scientist Eryk plays a crucial role in developing and maintaining forecasting projects, specializing in aggregated sales. We talk to him about his journey, facing a challenging pandemic, and being part of the data scientist community at bol. “At other companies, you might work in your own little bubble. Here at bol, we’re all about exchanging ideas, sharing our work, and inspiring each other across different teams and disciplines. It’s a great way to learn new skills, while simultaneously connecting with other data scientists within the organization.”


A massive amount of data

Originally from Poland, Eryk studied in Rotterdam, took a detour back to his home country, and once again returned to the Netherlands. “Before joining bol, I worked at a Fintech startup. It was a great experience, but one where I was wearing many different hats. I was eager to particularly focus on machine learning and I also wanted to join a more mature organization. That’s when bol caught my eye.”

Eryk continues: “Besides the maturity and the size, the possibilities in terms of tech and data at bol truly fascinated me. There is a massive amount of data available here, mostly well-documented, clean and well-maintained. With around 40 million items reaching millions of people in The Netherlands and Belgium, there is so much for me to work with. My job is to translate this data into forecasts for multiple use cases, like customer needs, logistics and products. To give you a practical example: with this kind of information bol can plan the staffing in our warehouses precisely, even 20 weeks ahead.”

Chaotic times

Joining bol in the fall of 2020, Eryk faced a particularly challenging period. He shares: “The pandemic completely disrupted bol´s existing forecasting models. We could no longer rely on past events and had to deal with a new situation without any control or available historical data. It was an interesting situation to be part of and one I had, obviously, never experienced before.”

Despite the challenging times, Eryk learned a great deal. “We organized regular brainstorming sessions, developed quick fixes, and pursued a long-term solution – all at the same time. Eventually, we incorporated the impact of COVID-19 using a tailor-made feature for our forecasting models, which successfully restored our accuracy levels. It was a really unique time to be part of, and it made me grow a lot as a professional.”

With around 40 million items reaching millions of people in The Netherlands and Belgium, there is a massive amount of data for me to work with

- Eryk Lewinson, Senior Data Scientist

Prioritizing yourself, then family, then bol

The pandemic also caused Eryk to work solely from home during his first year on the job. He laughs: “I got to know my colleagues through a screen, and then found out a year later how tall they actually were. Of course, starting a job during a pandemic isn’t the ideal onboarding experience. I was, however, genuinely impressed with how well bol handled the situation. Besides organizing regular online meetups and team-building activities, they demonstrated a lot of empathy towards all of us. Management made it clear from day one that we should prioritize taking care of ourselves, then our family, and then bol. Meaning there is nothing wrong with sharing your struggles and taking time off when needed. Yes, it was an intense time with a lot of work, but feeling cared for really helped me maintain a healthy balance.”

A startup feel

While Eryk was initially looking to move away from the startup culture, he does recognise some of its distinctive features at bol. “The vibe here is very dynamic, and you get a lot of freedom and responsibility. Got a great idea? You’re free to pitch it, and there is a good chance you get to execute it. Different ideas and approaches are welcomed here, and that is – fortunately – the aspect I genuinely appreciate about a startup culture.”

As for his future in the Netherlands, Eryk reflects, “You can never tell, but I do feel very comfortable here. Adapting to cycling, Dutch weather, and the language hasn’t been super easy but beyond that, Dutch and Polish cultures share many similarities. Bol has also made integrating relatively easy, providing onboarding assistance, a great work/life balance and many other international colleagues that I now call my friends. I’m definitely not done here for a while!”