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"ICEF Provides More Than Enough of Skills and Knowledge to Start Careers in IT"

"ICEF Provides More Than Enough of Skills and Knowledge to Start Careers in IT"

Egor Yurkevich earned his bachelor's from ICEF in 2018 and his master's in Data-Driven Communications from HSE in 2020. Egor assumed his current job as Strategy and Corporate Development Manager at SberMarket in 2021. In this interview, he talks about coping with the challenges of improving English skills and mathematics, why ICEF graduates are preferred candidates in IT industry, and what in-house consulting is about.

About how I ended up at ICEF

My initial plan was to study abroad – in the USA. I was preparing for enrollment, but at some point I decided to take a closer look at what the Russian universities offered and that was how I discovered ICEF. Designed in the spirit of the Western education, its English-taught programme boasted superb teachers from abroad and seemed an excellent opportunity to be trained according to international standards without leaving the country. I downscaled my plans and applied solely to ICEF: Its programme looked super best, nothing similar existed on the Russian market at the time. Studying in English turned out a great advantage. Not only did I level up my Business English skills, I was able to maintain them. In fact, even if your English skills aren’t very good, there is an opportunity to improve them at ICEF by taking English classes for first-year students or, if absolutely necessary, by first receiving training from the Russian-speaking staff.

What makes studying at ICEF tough

For me the biggest challenge was math – I was one of the few students with no prior fundamental training in math. Nor had I ever done an extra, advanced course, nor pre-university tutorials like those at Moscow State University or HSE, while the majority of enrollees came well prepared, with Unified State Exam score much higher than average.

I still remember the first ten lectures by Professor Alexey Akhmetshin. I looked at him and my classmates like they were speaking a different language

I am convinced that, with due effort, math skills can be improved at ICEF, too. It took me two years to fully integrate into the learning process and stop getting stressed. In years three and four, the courses started to be econometrics intensive, which was only natural because econometrics is that pivotal field that is used in a whole array of specializations. Besides, the knowledge of econometrics is essential to writing a successful thesis. There aren’t many guides to econometrics for independent use that are easy to read and universal in nature. Regular and consistent attendance is therefore essential. I had by then started a job and it did take some extra effort to be on time for lectures and seminar courses. Someone who happens to miss a section related to econometrics or macroeconomics is going to find it very hard to catch up. Skipping classes should better be avoided.

The goals I set for myself

My long-term goal as a first-year student was to land a job in IT. That year was a blockbuster one for the global venture capital market. The Russian IT industry flourished (major tech players like Google, Yandex, Avito and Tinkoff, among others, seemed to be the most preferred employers). But, ICEF remained so captive to the “cult of consulting” that I made my career choice as early as year one or two, largely fueled by the stories from my classmates. I remember how we met with senior undergraduates and alumni to hear their career stories and to discuss the trends within the industries.

My first job experience was at KPMG during my summer internship. I was able to witness first-hand how ambitious ICEF students were: Of the twelve selected interns, eight were second-year students of ICEF, although the internship was originally intended for senior undergraduates. However, despite KPMG’s large scale, my internship appeared too short to give me an in-depth understanding of what consulting was about – I spent my first month in the audit department and was able to try myself in the role of a consultant in my second, which was barely enough time to get even the basic picture.

SberMarket is a Russian nationwide online grocery and consumer goods delivery service. Created in 2013 on the basis of the Russian foodtech startup Instamart, the company received, in 2021, an additional investment of RUB 12 billion from Sber. SberMarket’s current CEO is Asan Kurmanguzhin, a graduate of ICEF. Click here to read the full interview with Asan.

Having graduated from ICEF, I went on to study Data-Driven Communications as a master’s student of HSE and was looking for ways to experience consulting in more depth. My path was that of quick experiments. I got a job at the boutique consulting firm Constanta Advisory. Although students usually hear about vacancies at boutique firms only rarely, I made the most of the opportunity to be involved in managing months-long projects for some of the country’s largest players in energy and telecom. Compared to bigger companies, boutique firms involve lesser amount of induction for new hires, expecting them to take on the responsibility right on their first day and, as a rule, offering more extensive expertise and experience within certain fields.

The highlights of my master’s experience

I enrolled in Data-Driven Communications programme right after completing my bachelor’s degree. Its key advantage was that courses were delivered by practicing experts. Those courses involved not only general theories, but also series of in-depth case studies of the companies using, among others, basic programming skills to handle their marketing tasks. That was something that ICEF’s programme naturally lacked, whereas my goal was to learn the IT side of the industry. I wasn’t the only graduate of ICEF who enrolled in Data-Driven Communications in that year. With solid econometric and quantitative skills, we found it easier than others to digest and apply the data analysis knowledge we were being given. What we learned at ICEF proved more than enough for successful completion of a data analysis course.

Once a master's student, I realized my mathematical skills from ICEF were quite sufficient to achieve fast progress in data analysis

To someone wishing to acquire IT skills to build career as an analyst, product manager or strategist, ICEF’s bachelor’s programme offers just the right amount of starting knowledge. At the same time, advanced skills are always an asset and should be obtained prior to starting the job. The opportunity to get these skills is available at ICEF already now. The sooner you define your target level of skills, the more competent specialist you will become by the end of your training.

About how Industrial Economics course came in handy at Avito

I joined the Avito strategy team while still a master’s student. At larger companies, strategy teams often act as in-house consultants, but unlike classical consulting agencies, they give you the freedom to concentrate on the industry that interests you most. Concurrently, the results of your work can potentially affect millions of people. One of the largest companies of the Runet, Avito is the platform for 50+ million sale and purchase deals monthly.

Another advantage of being an in-house consultant is the opportunity to focus on strategy per se. Judging from what I hear from my former classmates who started careers in consulting, the Russian Federation’s consulting industry tends to be focused more on business-led projects than on strategic projects. The IT industry is based on the reverse, for which reason IT companies choose to grow their own dedicated teams. Avito’s strategy team was two-person when I joined it, but it evolved into a full-fledged department two years later when I left.

It seems like I had been able to use at Avito all the knowledge I received during my undergraduate studies. Most courses did come in handy, from law to industrial economics. I would repeatedly turn to my lecture notes to refresh myself on the definitions of “network effect” or identify an appropriate market analysis framework. My job at Avito came with that rare opportunity when you have the freedom to test absolutely everything you had been taught at university.

My job at Avito was my first real job, so I focused mostly on honing my hard skills. I was lucky to be on the team I was on. Some of its members earned their degrees from Stanford and Oxford and had years of experience in the Russian market. They were my source of knowledge on how materials should be structured, narratives built and financial/operational models designed.

My role at SberMarket

For the last year I have been employed as SberMarket in-house strategist and as such I focus more on soft skills and implementing strategy as full-fledged product. SberMarket has a leading position in e-groсery market, its performance continues to achieve a many-fold increase. My role as its Strategy and Corporate Development Manager involves formulating strategies for some of SberMarket’s lines of business, streamlining corporate processes, and preparing analytical reports for the top managers. By the way, our CEO, Asan Kurmanguzhin, is a graduate of ICEF.

Along with that, my duties involve advising to the company leaders on key issues, including business development and which market segments might be worth entering, which business model might prove best and which projects should be focused on in the first place. Prerequisite to sound decision-making is the proper understanding of the user needs, situation on the market, its trends and structure, as well as knowing your competitors. It is also a matter of how your company performs, its current goals and governing principles, organizational structure and reporting system. Once I’ve analyzed them all, I formulate new goals and choices and present them to my managers.

I plan to keep moving forward in my career at SberMarket. In this new macroeconomic reality, the Russian market has undergone a cardinal change, bringing forward the need for knowing our online customers’ expectations and implementing strategies coherent with the current market situation.