Yandex Blog

Advancing Data Science Education in Israel with More Students and Opportunities in 2020

Last week, the newest class of students at Y-DATA, the hub of our education initiatives in Israel, completed their first semester of the one-year data science program.  By summer, this cohort of roughly 90 students will become the second alumni class of Y-DATA, enhancing both the Israeli tech and global research communities.

We initially launched the program on the campus of Tel Aviv University in 2018 as a new branch of our Yandex School of Data Analysis (YSDA), an intensive, master’s-level program in data science.  We designed Y-DATA to bridge the gap between online courses and a full-time masters program in computer science.  Our primary goal of the program is to equip students with the skills and experience to start a career in data science.  The Y-DATA curriculum develops particular skill requirements that are beneficial to Israeli employers, meaning our graduates are well-prepared to enter (or reenter) the local workforce.  

Y-DATA starts 2020 with double the enrolled students, a new, second branch on the campus of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beer-Sheva, and an improved curriculum taught by a faculty with several new exciting members.  Over the past year, we've improved the Y-DATA curriculum to provide our students with a more comprehensive data science learning experience.  We’ve also welcomed several new outstanding faculty members to our program who bring their expertise from BGU and other prestigious academic institutions.

Among other changes, we now cover Deep Learning later in the program, when students have a more solid base of classic ML techniques.  Program faculty expanded this section from four to six hours per week to provide students with a more in-depth understanding.  We’ve also added a new mini-course on autonomous vehicles that a Yandex expert from our self-driving division teaches.  In addition, the final six weeks of Y-DATA will now include three parallel specialisations on different advanced topics in data science: Reinforcement learning, Adversarial learning and NLP.  We can’t wait to kick that off later in the spring and see how these changes better prepare our students for success!

Together with the local tech community in Israel, we have delivered a hands-on learning opportunity in which students master the basics of machine learning and then apply their skills through industry projects with local companies.  Our first class of Y-DATA students contributed to over a dozen impactful industry projects that ranged from detecting early stages of cancer using medical imagery to improving road safety by classifying driving behavior and predicting dangerous situations.

Our principles for sharing knowledge and continued education have led to our alumni advancing AI applications around the world.  We awarded a sponsorship to the top project team from our 2019 Y-DATA Demo Day to attend the ACDL summer school in Tuscany, Italy.  This team went on to win best poster at ACDL for their work detecting pulmonary nodules in 3D scan images, which targets a highly challenging aspect of early-stage cancer detection.  This team is now working on publishing a paper based on their work.

Though Y-DATA is less than two years old, several of our alumni have  already applied their newly learned skills to reach exciting and lucrative positions with their employers.  Many graduates have also successfully transitioned to the new careers that led them to Y-DATA, and all have enhanced various businesses with their machine learning expertise.  Along with their career success, the fledgling Y-DATA alumni community actively participates in opportunities for collaboration and further education.  For instance, our alumni can participate in unique advanced workshops that teach subjects like Hyperparameter Optimization and they can serve as Teaching Assistants for the current academic year. 

In addition to the Y-DATA community of students and alumni, we also host regular tech meetups that focus on different topics in data science from ML in cybersecurity to creative AI.  Each meetup brings together industry experts and tech professionals, who are ultimately making Y-DATA a hub for the Israeli tech industry.

We couldn’t be prouder of our first alumni class in all that they have achieved within such a short time and, for many, without any prior experience in data science.  We are thrilled to be entering the second semester with our 2019/2020 cohort with even more opportunities that we introduced to improve the program.  If you’re interested in applying to Y-DATA, applications for 2020/2021 open in April.  You can find more information on the program website.

Yandex Expands Self-Driving Car Tests to Tel Aviv

Today we are excited to announce that Yandex has obtained permission from the Israeli Ministry of Transportation and Road Safety to operate its self-driving car on public roads. The car is now officially approved to operate in autonomous mode with a safety engineer in the driver’s seat.  Following extensive public road testing in Russia and most recently, in the US, this new location marks the third country where Yandex is testing its self-driving vehicles.  Yandex is also one of the first companies to operate self-driving cars in Israel.

After launching in other locations, Yandex is excited to operate in Israel, where there are several favorable dynamics that make it a prime location to continue developing our self-driving technologies.  In addition to being a leading tech hub with high-quality roads, Israeli cities have a highly developed infrastructure that makes the country an ideal location for testing.

“We are excited to start testing our self-driving technologies abroad to demonstrate that they’re scalable, universal and can manage various geography and traffic conditions. Israel became an obvious choice as one of the first countries outside Russia where we wanted to expand our testing.  We’re honored to be one of the first companies in the country to receive a permit to operate self-driving vehicles.  Yandex has been developing innovative machine learning technologies and providing leading transportation services for many years.  Our self-driving car is an amazing example of our achievements in AI and we were proud to use it as a learning tool at Yandex’s Y-Data School in Tel Aviv.  Israel is home to top IT professionals and many important autonomous vehicle partners.  By operating our vehicle in Israel, we will be able to work more efficiently with these companies and with the local talent.  We look forward to more innovation and collaboration with the community here,” says Dmitry Polischuk, Head of Yandex Self-Driving Car project.

The Yandex self-driving team first began working on our driverless technology in 2016, combining our expertise in machine learning, navigation, mapping tools, and cloud technologies.  In May of 2017, we introduced our prototype and since then have rapidly advanced to driving on the busy streets of Moscow and our most recent fully autonomous ride-hailing launches in the tech-focused cities of Innopolis and Skolkovo.  Between the two locations, Yandex self-driving vehicles provided over 2000 passenger trips and counting!  In launching those services, Yandex self-driving became the first service in Europe to offer autonomous ride-hailing.  For the past month, our team has also been testing on the public roads of Las Vegas, Nevada in preparation for Yandex’s public demonstration at CES in January 2019.

The launch in Israel will further test our scalability and expand our capabilities in new environments.  In the last year in Israel, Yandex also opened up a Tel Aviv branch of the Yandex School of Data Analysis to offer a one year career advancement program in machine learning and launched our Yandex.Music AI-powered music streaming application.  Most recently, this month our ride-hailing service, Yandex.Taxi, launched in Gush Dan and several other regions of Israel under the new international brand, Yango.  Introduced in 2011, Yandex.Taxi currently operates in 15 countries across CIS, the EU, and Africa and it runs the R&D division for Yandex self-driving.