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Soft Skills and Academic Qualifications: What tech giants seek in recent graduates

Soft Skills and Academic Qualifications: What tech giants seek in recent graduates

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How has 2020 changed the agendas of the Internet companies? For which jobs the hiring is on the rise right now? What qualities do Internet companies seek in candidates? These and other questions have been raised by the round table New Trends in Internet Business During and After the Pandemic: What qualifications do Internet companies seek in new hires? Organized by HSE ICEF, the roundtable had among its speakers the alumni who are currently employed by Amazon, Stripe, SberMarket, Ozon, Yandex.

“The success of our graduates is our utmost goal. While many still choose banking and finance as career fields, there has been a two-fold increase in the number of those who have chosen IT and related industries over the past year. We therefore turn to you to tell us what you think we might do to make the learning process better tailored to the needs of the industry,” Sergey Yakovlev, PhD (Economics), ICEF Director, said in his address to the roundtable.

The topic of the roundtable isn’t new and has gained even greater relevance after the pandemic, said Victoria Pralich, Head of the ICEF Career Services, in her welcome speech. “The reason why we are following closely the situation with Internet companies does not come down solely to the fact that more and more of our brightest graduates get hired by them. Tech companies are in a state of perpetual change, caused by the galloping growth rates and the competition; they are searching for new ways to attract and retain talent and to offer in-house training. This is why we see tech companies as a yardstick, a standard for comparison,” said Victoria Pralich.

The 150-fold increase and what to do about large data sets

Opening the discussion was Asan Kurmanguzhin, a graduate of ICEF BSc Programme of the class of 2008 and currently CEO at SberMarket. Asan said his company has grown 150 times bigger over the past three years. He also told about SberMarket’s future plans and what sort of challenges are being faced by its team.

“We see it as a leadership challenge. It is not a question of how we face it. It’s a question of how we are going to get our staff empowered to move in one direction and towards one goal. As a professional and a person, I see soft skills to be one of the most important assets,” said Asan Kurmanguzhin, adding that hard skills aren’t hard to source.

Here is why I am especially grateful to ICEF: while doing courses in finance at Harvard, I felt they weren’t new to me. My knowledge went far deeper than they required and I got it from HSE

The questions from the audience related to SberMarket’s marketing strategies and in-house training. There was one question to be answered by all speakers: Name three qualities the university needs to cultivate in its students for them to be successful in the Internet industry. The qualities named by Asan Kurmanguzhin correspond to his company's values and include commitment to result, constant development, and openness.

The American vision of the issue was revealed by Nadezhda Golyaeva (Vinokurova), a 2004 BSc graduate and currently a Data Architect at Stripe. She explained what data engineering is about and what sort of tasks data engineers deal with: “The biggest question is what to do with these large data sets that are available to a company. The scope of them can be truly massive and they need to be handled properly – by data analysts, data engineers and data scientists.” Nadezhda also noted the growing demand for data engineers, fueled largely by coronavirus pandemic. When asked to name three basic skills required of a competent data engineer, Nadezhda named SQL skills, communication skills, and knowledge of statistics.

The European trade moves online

The roundtable would be incomplete without the input from e-commerce marketplaces. Olga Zvereva, Head of Ozon Internship Programmes, provided a detailed insight into the internship jobs at Ozon. “We are recruiting for three main lines of work – information technologies, logistics, and offices and business divisions. When it comes to the competencies we look for in candidates, the one to be mentioned first is the ability to build trust through communication in the challenging conditions of today, for the environment we are operating in has a high degree of uncertainty and Russia’s e-commerce market is still in the making, driven largely by us. Secondly, we would like the candidates to be quick learners and, thirdly, prepared to take responsibility.” One more competence defined by Olga as highly sought-after currently is commitment to results.

The focus on commitment, learning and responsibility is meant to yield results

Artem Gudov, ICEF MSc graduate 2015 and currently Head of Investment at OZON Directorate for Corporate Development and Finance, told about the current trends within Ozon. One particular trend is towards rapid growth, increased customer loyalty and clientele, and expanded sales team. “Ozon is where selling businesses can meet their buyers. Having both sides as our customers has greatly transformed us. We now operate as a full-fledged trading business with a completely different concept."

© Corp.ozon.com

As to the most sought-after skills and competencies, Artem named the “adaptability, desire to create, and willingness to invest in the company’s future by being a resourceful and determined worker.”

Alexander Petrov, BSc graduate of the class of 2016 and currently a Data Scientist at Amazon Luxembourg, dwelled on the changes that have been brought upon the marketplaces globally by the pandemic. Alexander stressed that while causing a major upsurge in the demand within e-commerce marketplaces, the pandemic has changed the very shopping habits and the customer behavior patterns. Unable to shop offline, the people have been forced to turn to Internet companies [and enjoy the benefits]. This, I think, will continue to be the trend and, coupled with a sharp increase in the demand, will lead more and more businesses in Europe to move online. It existed before the pandemic and will only increase during the ongoing upsurge.”

Alexander also noted how personalized data that customers provide when purchasing online puts e-commerce retails at a huge advantage: “By analyzing the personal data, online stores can use machine learning to personalize customers' shopping journey and make targeted offers – something that the physical stores can never provide.”

Going back to the skills to be honed today in order to succeed in this rapidly changing world, Alexander mentioned teamwork, priority setting and ability to think out of the box.

The benefits of financial education

The brief input from Alexander Malayrev, ICEF MSc graduate of the class of 2014 and currently Head of Marketplace Efficiency at Yandex-Taxi, came as a surprise to many. Alexander told about where exactly in the IT industry the pandemic spurred growth. He also explained why financial education is always an asset of the candidates for jobs in e-commerce.

“What ICEF provides is robust academic education. Candidates with advanced knowledge of economics always have an advantage over the competition. They know how economies operate, what resilience is, and how to measure market response to price changes,” said Alexander Malayrev.

Artem Gudov echoed his colleague’s comment, saying that “Ozon values critical thinking skills and structured thinking at large – exactly what the finance programmes should be cultivating. The majority of our top managers come from a finance background. Their financial mindset, shaped by economics faculties and ICEF, in particular, helps them to achieve more.”

Questions were addressed also to ICEF itself. Alexander Malayrev asked if ICEF was planning to update its programmes to include more IT-related courses in response to market challenges. Oleg Zamkov, ICEF Deputy Director for Academic Affairs, assured his former student that this work has been going on for quite some time now.

Oleg Zamkov, PhD (Economics), ICEF Deputy Director for Academic Affairs

Oleg Zamkov, PhD (Economics), ICEF Deputy Director for Academic Affairs

This year, we and the Faculty of Computer Science started a new course in machine learning. It is an online course, our joint know-how, which is designed by the University of London and is delivered by a professor based in Stanford in a very captivating way, requiring a lot of effort from students.

A year before that, we started one more course – Data Science for Economists. Its deliverer is also based abroad, while the course itself involves a lot of programming, data management, etc.

And one year prior to the start of Data Science for Economists, we did a hefty amount of work to expand our first-year curriculum. One of our core courses, Information and Computer Technologies, has been broken down into three, one comprising the core curriculum and the other two being optional and intended for those with the basic knowledge of ICT. Underway are the optional courses in corporate data management and programming languages.

Many of us mentioned the importance of soft skills today. At ICEF, many of these skills, including out-of-the-box problem-solving and commitment to result, are embedded in our programme as target skills.