Yandex Blog

The Ilya Segalovich Award Celebrates Outstanding Talent in Computer Science

The annual Ilya Segalovich Award ceremony took place for the second time, this time – online. The award, established by Yandex last year in honor of the legacy of one of its co-founders Ilya Segalovich, celebrates special achievement in computer science and related fields, and is awarded to young researchers and academics working in Russia, Kazakhstan or Belarus. 

Last year's award was shared among 13 winners, including nine graduate and postgraduate students and four academics, who pushed the boundaries in their respective fields. Their scope of study ranged from detecting plant disease using computer vision and video object tracking, to detecting emotional subtleties in text and creating automated translation algorithms for rare languages.  

This year the total sum of 15 million rubles ($210,000) was awarded to three academics and nine young researchers. Their work focused on problems in 3D computer vision and video generation, stochastic optimization, deep learning, reinforcement learning, positive-unlabeled learning, generative adversarial networks, Bayesian deep learning, representation learning, multilinear algebra and exploratory search. 

“Yandex’s products and technologies have always been driven by science. Applied research, however, is not the only center of our attention. We are deeply interested in theoretical research, as well. This is what drives the entire IT industry and can lead to impressive future results,” says Mikhail Bilenko, head of Machine Learning Research at Yandex. “We established the Ilya Segalovich Award to support graduates and postgraduates working in machine learning and other promising areas of computer science. Talented students often have to leave their studies for the sake of an early career. We would love to give them an opportunity to continue their fundamental research.”

We have always relied on world-class research to develop our products and technologies. A number of leading scientists have been a part of the Yandex team or collaborated with Yandex in various capacities at different points in time. The Ilya Segalovich Award Committee includes top Yandex executives as well as leading scientists, such as Ilya Muchnik, Professor at Rutgers University and Academic Director of the Yandex School of Data Analysis, Stanislav Smirnov, a Fields Medal laureate and Professor at the University of Geneva, and Alexei Efros, Associate Professor at UC Berkeley. 

The Ilya Segalovich Award, along with the eponymous scholarship for computer science at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, is part of Yandex's commitment to support fundamental research and professional development, including through its Educational Initiative, a multimillion dollar investment program for educational projects and services. 

With over 30 educational projects and services currently offered by Yandex, the company has a strong tradition supporting educational initiatives and partnering with the leading universities in Russia and other countries. We have been nurturing exceptional talent in mathematics, data science and related fields through our School of Data Analysis in Moscow and other locations in Russia since 2007, and through its branch, Y-Data, in Tel Aviv and Beer-Sheva. Last year we launched Russia’s first online English-language master’s program in data science in partnership with Coursera, based on the Computer Science Faculty at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow. 

We will continue to support people who are passionate about what they do, especially when they do it for the benefit of others. 

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.

Creating Academic Opportunities for Global Learners

As one of Europe's largest tech companies, we believe we have a responsibility to create learning opportunities for the current and future generations of data scientists.  As many industries continue to enhance their businesses with AI and data science, it's critical to teach students the skills they need for the jobs of tomorrow.  While we began our education initiatives in our core market of Russia, our education goals are part of a broader global learning environment.  We're committed to steps that reflect the needs of learners around the world and extend the reach of our academic programs to as many individuals as possible. 

Successful education is rooted in the exchange of knowledge - sharing expertise and learning of experts from different parts of the world.  Today we are expanding our global efforts in multiple ways and continuing to engage education professionals from around the world to enhance both our programs and others’.

Adapting to Local Learning Environments

The Yandex team members who founded our Yandex School of Data Analysis headed to Israel in 2018 to establish a program suited for local learners.  Through collaboration with local experts, we created Y-DATA at Tel Aviv University, a one-year career advancement program meant to bridge the gap between online courses and a full-time Master of Science program.  YSDA personnel designed the Y-DATA curriculum to precisely reflect the needs of the data science community in Israel.  Y-DATA provides fundamental skills for data science careers but also uniquely offers engaging hands-on projects with local companies. 

Our team in Israel has continued to take steps to integrate Y-DATA into the local data science community and boost the exchange of knowledge.  For example, the Y-DATA team hosts regular meet-ups in Tel Aviv that are open to anyone interested in learning more about machine learning and data analysis.

Offering Programs for Global learners by Global Experts

We welcome international experts to contribute to our programs for learners both in Russia and elsewhere in the world.  By welcoming experts from different institutions and education systems, we drive more diverse learning opportunities for students. 

One example is the Machine Learning in High Energy Physics summer school.  Each year since 2015, we've helped organize a ten-day machine learning summer program.  Working with one of our academic partners in Moscow, the Higher School of Economics, we annually stage the school at a different European host and welcome experts from around the world to teach.  This year, the DESY research center in Hamburg, Germany, hosted 71 postgraduates and postdoctoral researchers from 17 countries.  MLHEP is an excellent way for us to engage with global learners interested in machine learning, as well as academic institutions across Europe.

Students from the 2018 MLHEP at St. Anne's College, University of Oxford

Similarly, we invite experts from around the world to teach at our Natural Language Processing (NLP) Week that we host at Yandex headquarters.  This past year we welcomed two international data scientists to NLP Week.  Wilker Aziz of the Institute for Logic, Language and Computation at the University of Amsterdam taught courses on latent variable models, deep generative models, and advanced topics; Mirella Lapata of the School of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh taught semantic parsing.

Establishing Online Courses for Learners Everywhere 

We believe it's critical to make education opportunities as accessible as possible.  By partnering with Coursera, the leading online education provider, we bring data science tools to an even larger audience, unhindered by physical location.  We host several online specializations on Coursera in English, which are open to anyone around the world interested in data science. 

In April, we attended the Coursera Partners Conference to engage other academic partners.  We shared more about our experience leading the way with collaboration between industry and academia.  Through in-depth cooperation with academia, we can help define the skills today’s learners need for the jobs of tomorrow.  We were also honored to accept an award from Coursera for our Advanced Machine Learning specialization.

Engaging in Open Dialogues with International Representatives 

Besides bringing our programs to an international audience and adapting them to local learners, we also share our expertise and engage in cross-cultural dialogue.  By meeting with representatives who have a similar passion for education, we can share our knowledge and learn how other education leaders are shaping their tech programs.  Russia has traditionally excelled in STEM, and we are always eager to share our current work and vision for the future in this area. 

As part of our efforts to engage with the global education community, we recently welcomed Shamma Al Mazrui, the Minister of State for Youth Affairs for the United Arab Emirates, to our Yandex office.  Our academic team spoke with Al Mazrui about our shared interest in expanding access to data science education.  Al Mazrui discussed the various education projects of the UAE, and we presented information on Yandex's academic programs.  Our team shared how the Yandex.Textbook service provides elementary school teachers with interactive assignments.  For older learners, Al Mazrui learned how Yandex.Practicum provides tools for adults seeking to retrain themselves for new careers in data science.

UAE Minister of State for Youth Affairs Shamma Al Mazrui visits Yandex

Learning more about the education systems of other countries is an excellent way for us to tailor our academic programs to a global audience.

We look forward to creating more opportunities for global data science learners and expanding the reach of our educational programs.