Training IT Specialists for Global Financial Systems – ITMO’s New Programs and Collaborations

Starting with the new academic year, ITMO will launch two new Master's programs for the new Institute of Financial Cybertechnologies (ITMO.Fintech) –“Mathematical Support and Software for Global Financial Systems” and “Big Data in Financial Technologies”. The programs’ focus will be on training highly-qualified personnel that can design, develop and maintain the mathematical support and software for global financial systems and stock markets. Not only university lecturers, but representatives from the field's leading companies will participate in the educational process. Among such companies is the Itiviti International Company that develops financial software and innovative solutions for telemarketing systems. The prospects of this collaboration were discussed by Maria Sigova, Fintech's director, and Itiviti's representatives last Friday.

The Institute of Financial Cybertechnologies was created in January 2017 on the base of ITMO's School of Translational Information Technologies with support from the International Banking Institute. The new unit's main task is creating a system for training highly qualified IT specialists who focus on solving nonstandard and unformalized scientific and practice-oriented tasks in the field of finance and the banking sector.

Starting with the new academic year, ITMO.Fintech will launch two new Master's programs. The first one - Mathematical Support and Software for Global Financial Systems - aims to train analysts in the field of mathematical modeling for a broad spectrum of applications. The other - Big Data in Financial Technologies – will train specialists in pulling from and analyzing Big Data and modeling its application in developing financial services and banking products.

According to Maria Sigova, the graduates will be able to apply their knowledge in both the IT industry and different investment funds, banks, system integrators, hedge funds, trading and logistics companies.

Another of these programs' features is that apart from university lecturers, representatives of different companies will also teach the students. One of the companies that are ready to collaborate with ITMO on training IT specialists for financial markets is Itiviti.

Itivity develops and introduces innovative solutions for telemarketing systems, and gives its clients - trading companies, brokers and hedge funds from over 30 countries - access to electronic trading platforms and digital marketplaces of the world's key financial centers. Its head office is in Stockholm; the major development centers are in Stockholm, St. Petersburg, Chicago and Hong-Kong. All in all, the company has 13 offices in different countries all over the world. As of now, 90 specialists work in Itiviti's St. Petersburg office, many of whom are ITMO's graduates and students.

We've asked several of them - Yuri Shpolyanskiy, Head of Itiviti's Mathematical and Trading Applications Department and professor for ITMO's Department of Photonics and Optical Information Technologies, Alexander Toropov, manager for Itiviti's Development Department, and Alexey Dukhnyakov, Head of Itiviti's St. Petersburg office, about the peculiarities of working in financial markets, the competencies a programmer has to have to make a career in this field, and why there almost no such specialists in St. Petersburg today.

Yuri Shpolyanskiy, Alexander Toropov and Alexey Dukhnyakov

What's the difference between working for a company that deals in solutions for financial markets, and working for any other high-tech company?

Alexey Dukhnyakov: Let's first look into why financial markets can be of interest. Their main peculiarity is that they work at the confluence of many different technologies - economics, finance, and computer technology as well; as for computer technologies, they make use of the most advanced ones - best processors, best memory, latest operating systems and the like.

All these things are first introduced in this field. Why? Well, Google is by all means a high-technology company, but for them, differences in milliseconds aren’t something crucial. In laymans terms, if your request has been processed 20 milliseconds later, you wouldn't even notice. We, on the other hand, work at a whole different pace. If someone places an order and you get it first, you win. If you were late - you lose, there are no second places here. Financial companies compete on these levels of speed. If you work in this field, you have to understand that, and know all of the inner workings, aimto optimize different processes and make your solutions even faster.

Alexander Toropov: This field is very intense, and if there are any problems with software, we can't just say something like "Know what, we'll make a new release in half a year, where everything will be fixed." In our line of work, everything has to be done by yesterday.

Another peculiarity is that we have to work according to very strict regulations. And sometimes the new regulations come totally unexpected. For instance, the financial market didn't have anything to do with Big Data until the new regulations stating that companies have to store particular information for the past five years came.

"Particular information" can be just anything that you've sent to the market, and everything you got from it, and you only have 5 seconds time to analyze what you've sent against what was on the market. This way, certain algorithms can be used to track dubious transactions. Any time, an official can come to you and check your software, and if it doesn't comply with the regulations, you lose your license and have to pay a fine - according to the Market Abuse Regulation, that would be 15 million Euros for legal entities and 5 million Euros for individuals.

So now companies have no choice but to find solutions that would allow not only storing large amounts of data, but also analyzing them in real-time mode.

Another field of Big Data is backtesting, which means testing a predictive model using existing historic data. Speed is also of essence here, as you need to quickly process, say, everything that’s happened during the past five years and understand what happened then.

Many of ITMO's students and graduates work at your company. What exactly do your specialists do?

Alexey Dukhnyakov: Our focus is etrading on the stock market –providing transactional support, risk management, creating mathematical models. Our systems are used by leading trading companies, banks, brokers and hedge funds. These solutions allow our clients to gain access to more than 150 electronic trading platforms and digital marketplaces of the world's key financial centers.

We really have many ITMO's graduates and students working at our company - about 11-12 of them work for our St. Petersburg's office. We start considering their applications when they are about to complete their 2nd year; by the way, we are looking for both "pure" programmers and specialists with a wider range of skills. We have project managers, service managers, delivery managers, product managers, testers, pre-sale managers and the like. Surely, that's a lot to choose from, and when a new employee comes to work at our company, he often doesn't know what he wants to work with. Yet, as he learns, works and grows professionally, he begins to better understand what he wants to do.

Is knowledge of financial markets compulsory for every employee?

Alexey Dukhnyakov: Surely, not every programmer has to have vast knowledge of the financial markets. Yet for those who write programs for the stock market or communicate with clients, such knowledge is a must. For these positions, we employ people with good communication skills, specialists who really know the market. Yet, despite the great demand, it's almost impossible to find such people in St. Petersburg now. It's the same with mathematicians that already have in-depth knowledge of financial markets.

How did your collaboration with ITMO begin?

Yuri Shpolyanskiy: It was back in the beginning of this year when Rector Vladimir Vasilyev called a meeting on launching new programs. Vladimir Glebovich Parfenov, Dean of the Information Technologies and Programming Faculty, knows where I work, so he invited me. By the way, when I started to work in this field, I spent a lot of time trying to find any materials in Russian, searched for corresponding educational programs. In Western universities, there are many, and every self-respecting university conducts them as part of Computational Finance. Yet, several years ago in Russia, there were none. So I thought that this is a niche to be filled, and the educational establishment that would do it will be at an advantage. I said it then and I still believe that it's really important to have such programs at Russian universities.During the recent meeting with Maria Sigova, I stated that I am willing to participate in training the program's future Master's students.

Which forms can this collaboration take?

Alexey Dukhnyakov: Our specialists are ready to lead a range of courses for these Master's programs. And we really like the idea, especially doing everything that concerns practice. We are also ready to help with theses and application tasks. Finally, we are interested in organizing internships at our company. Those can be both summer internships and open days at our company, "days at the company" during which we will show its inner workings and offer the opportunity to apply one's skills to real tasks.

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