Programmer Daria Yakovleva: "You shouldn’t be afraid to try something new"

Computer science isn’t just about knowing how to design algorithms, analyse data or work with functions. First and foremost, it is about creativity, which computer scientists use to solve problems that no one has solved before and to improve both household and industrial processes. Today’s Master’s programs don’t teach theoretical knowledge – Bachelor’s programs should cover that. In Master’s programs students are taught how to apply this knowledge in practice, says Daria Yakovleva, Master’s student from ITMO’s Department of Computer Technologies. We spoke to Daria about taking part in internships, competitions and activities at the university and how that can help one’s future career. 

What “ignites” your love for programming, and particularly competitive programming?

Programming is a creative process. You are creating something new, inventing different systems and solving problems that haven’t been solved before. Instead of following instructions, you are looking for new methods and approaches. It’s very cool that programmers can see the real result of their work. For example, I interned at Google this summer, where I worked on a technology for Chromebook that would allow kids to use school laptops at home with the whole family, rather than leaving them at school after hours. This project is now completed and soon to be launched. Also, you can easily get user reviews about the product and to improve it and fix bugs. I no longer participate in competitive programming but I help organize programming competitions. We recently ran the quarter finals of the world championship of programming among students.

What motivates you to actively participate in the development of ITMO University?

I love our university. It’s really wonderful when the staff of the university are open to new ideas and students actively participate in setting up events and managing the university. Recently, I went together with some of the university’s top management to present the “Road Map” for the development of the university as part of Project 5-100. I’m also the chair of the committee for student dormitories.


Presenting the Road Map in Ekaterinburg

Can you say that you have already reached a certain success?

I don’t think so; I know that I want to work in the IT field, I like working in the field of machine learning. However, I haven’t decided what I want to be, I’m still trying to find myself. I think that until you try something you don’t know if it’s for you or not. Right now, I’m participating in an internship at the VK office where I am working on the application of machine learning algorithms in targeted advertising. We want users of the social network to see ads that are relevant to them.

Which additional skills do you think are useful when you’re working, and can be learned by being active in different areas?

First, I think it’s important to develop communication skills: learn to negotiate with people, to compromise, to solve organizational issues, to have productive conversations. Participation in various events improves your organizational skills. Solving diverse tasks is always a creative process because you're trying to optimize your time and time of other people by appropriately distributing the effort.

Do you think it’s possible for students to develop practical skills while studying? Statistics claim that 90% of employers don’t believe that university graduates have any actual work experience.

Yes, employers often complain about that, and that’s why at our university, for example, there are collaborations with various companies which provide our students an opportunity to complete an internship with them. It could be an unpaid summer internship or part-time paid work experience. Moreover, all programming courses at ITMO University include a practical component. So lecturers don’t just lecture, they also give actual tasks or projects. In programming competitions, for each problem, it’s necessary to first think of an idea for the solution. So these competitions are not just to check the knowledge of the participants in maths or programming languages.

The difference between a Master’s program and a Bachelor’s is that no one gives the students ready-made solutions. Here, you learn to learn, to make decisions and to choose your own approach. Moreover, from next year, from what I understand, ITMO University will start to implement a module system in the Master’s program. So students can choose those subjects that they have an interest in. This will increase the level of responsibility and awareness necessary for someone enrolling in their Master’s.

Can you enrol in a Master’s program if you completely change your field?

A person can express themselves in different activities. Sometimes after high school you don’t know what you want to be and only during your undergraduate degree do you understand that you didn’t choose the right major. However, there are now many open and free online courses from the best universities in Russia and the world, which you can participate in and choose an interesting field for a Master’s. Online education creates different opportunities for all students independent of where they are. You can say the same about the “I’m a Professional” academic competition. It’s an opportunity for students from regional universities to prove that they are on the same level as students from Moscow State University or ITMO University and get a great chance to enrol in a prestigious program without taking entrance examinations.

Daria Yakovleva at her internship with Google

What are your future plans?

The main plan is to continue to develop myself and try different things. What matters is not being afraid of creating something new, following international progress. I like our university because the students here have a lot of opportunities to express themselves and show their worth.

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