From education to employment

Building a framework of partnerships between industry leaders and academia: What’s unique about education in Russia?

Sofia Tekhazheva, Manager of Academic Program Services at Yandex School of Data Analysis

Collaboration between businesses and universities is common and encouraged in Russia. What seems to be unique about Russia is that universities here tend to be open to partnering with industry and we’re always happy to engage in resource sharing, whether that be in helping build the most relevant curriculum, teaching classes, or offering students opportunities to intern and work at companies.

Since education has long been important in Russian society, it’s also not uncommon to have people in the top management of companies who feel passionate about education and academic partnerships. Many of these people also still have strong connections to their alumni, so they’re eager to work with these universities in a professional capacity.

Why are Russian businesses well-placed for collaborative efforts with academia?

As companies increasingly rely on AI and data science skills become more important across all industries, there’s an excellent opportunity for collaboration between academia and industry partners.

Tech companies like Yandex are particularly well positioned to work with universities, as we have thousands of skilled IT personnel to help build curriculums that meet the demand in the business world for people with a computer science background.

Due to the rapidly evolving nature of their data science needs, tech companies can share what sort of specific skills will be useful for new employees to possess.

Both industry and academia benefit from sharing the most in-demand skills, as universities can better prepare their students for the evolving job market and companies can employ people trained with the skill sets the market needs to keep innovating.

Collaborations with academia

At Yandex, we’ve been working with academic partners for over a decade now, and I think we’ve established some great programs that highlight the benefits of such collaborations. Our education efforts began in 2007 when we founded the Yandex School of Data Analysis, a free, intensive program in computer science and data analysis for masters’ students.

YSDA has worked closely with universities to integrate our courses into many masters’ programs, and the same people who helped develop YSDA have worked on our other education initiatives. Data specialists from Yandex train YSDA students and alumni have gone on to work at Yandex and other global tech companies, such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple.

These graduates are contributing to critical AI-based advancements across the industry, including at our ride-hailing business, Yandex.Taxi, where a YSDA alum leads the machine learning team.  YSDA has also designed Y-DATA, a one-year career advancement program taught at Tel Aviv University which helps prepare learners for a career in data science.

Aside from YSDA, Yandex has also partnered with universities to develop on campus and online academic programs for data science students. In one of our most prominent academic collaborations, we teamed up with the Higher School of Economics (HSE) in Moscow to establish the Faculty of Computer Science in 2014. The program now has over 1,500 enrolled data science students.

Yandex helps prepare the curriculum for the students, who are studying for their bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree. Some of us even help teach classes in FCS programs. We also work with online learning platform, Coursera, to offer several online data science courses, so people all around the world have the opportunity to learn from our experts. We also have programs designed to prepare people for a full-time master’s program.

Developing online courses for the global online learning community

Since 2016, Yandex has been collaborating with Coursera to develop online courses in computer science for the global online learning community. Anyone interested in improving their data science skills can enrol in our classes in Russian and English and master topics like machine learning, JavaScript, C++, and more.

Our Coursera courses allow people from all over the world to learn data science from some of the best data specialists at Yandex, as well as from lecturers from Russia’s top universities.

We offer some of our Coursera programs in partnership with these Russian universities, such as the Advanced Machine Learning specialization, which we developed with the Faculty of Computer Science at HSE. At this year’s Partners Conference, Coursera recognised this specialisation with the Outstanding Educator Award for Innovation at the Partners Conference.

I was invited to speak at the conference with other great industry leaders about the benefits of industry collaboration with academia. Together on the panel, “University and Industry Collaborations: Preparing the Workforce of Tomorrow” we exchanged different viewpoints and expertise on the current dynamics and future of collaborations.

What makes business and academic collaborations successful?

A strong relationship based on information and resource sharing is key to a successful collaboration between businesses and academia. Universities can quickly adapt their teaching to the needs of the business world, as companies like Yandex share what skills are most needed from the specialists in training.

It’s also important to have people on both sides with a vested interest in the students and in education more generally. At Yandex, for example, we’re lucky to have IT experts who feel passionately about learning and dedicate their time to developing academic partnerships and help teach courses. What’s most important to us, though, is to measure the success of our academic collaborations through the success of our students.

When students finish the programs we’ve helped develop, they’re graduating with the skills and experience they need to begin their data science careers. Initiatives like YSDA offer graduates the opportunity to intern at Yandex, and many go on to build careers at Yandex. Our alumni also go on to work at other major tech companies, as our education programs provide students with the sort of practical skills they can use wherever they end up working.  

How can industry collaborations with academia help fill the skill gap that exists for IT jobs?

One of the best aspects of these partnerships is that those of us on the industry side of data science have a firm grasp on the future of the industry and how AI will continue to shift the way businesses operate. We expect the requirements of employers for people proficient in concepts like machine learning will only grow in the future.

By sharing the skills most in demand with universities, we’re helping ensure that students are graduating from these programs equipped with the skills industry employers need to continue innovating in their field.

One example is a graduate of YSDA who, while interning at Yandex, used his data science skills to create a new voice decoder for Alice, our intelligent assistant. Additionally, some of the 2018 alumni from the Faculty of Computer Science at HSE are now working at Facebook, Yandex, and Bloomberg, among other innovative firms.

On top of providing our expertise on skill development and applied AI, we also feel that the online collaborations and programs such as those we run through Coursera offer more opportunities for any learner to start a career in IT. Online learning programs offer the same quality courses with more flexibility and opportunity for learners.

What’s next for business / education efforts?

We think it’s key for industry-academia collaborations to continue focusing on how to make education more accessible. At Yandex, we’re continually working on expanding our academic programs so that data science education is available for anyone interested in improving their computer science skills.

We’re currently building programs catered to people interested in switching to data science careers, including people with no prior background in computer science. We’re now testing Yandex.Practicum, for example, which offers long-term courses on web development in which anyone can enrol.

The ultimate goal with our educational efforts is to create education that’s both universally accessible and equips people with the skills needed to thrive in the careers of today and tomorrow.

Sofia Tekhazheva, Manager of Academic Program Services at Yandex School of Data Analysis

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