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‘When I See the End Result of Something We Have Done, I Feel Like an Integral Part of the Team’

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

During the pandemic, digital assistants—HSE students who have been trained by IT Office specialists—successfully handled issues related to HSE’s transition to remote work and teaching. Now the University is using their help to tackle a whole new set of challenges.

The assistants not only advise online service users and provide technical support for online university events, but are also actively involved in the IT Office’s product teams. In particular, they are working on an integration solution product as well as a supercomputer modeling product.

The HSE News Service spoke with the digital assistants and their supervisors about the nature of their collaborative work, how tasks are delegated within a team, the fruits that their joint labors have produced so far, and what kinds of personal qualities one needs in order to join a project.

Vladislav Shelobaev,
Head, Unit for Information Systems Interaction Automation

We wanted to give students a chance to prove themselves. More than applied knowledge, we expected our assistants to have a strong work ethic, perseverance, and a desire to find their place in the university ecosystem. We found all these qualities in Lydia Izmailova, our digital assistant.

Lydia performs the duties of a master data normalizer: she reads through HSE reference books and registers and determines their relationships with state classifiers of the Russian Federation and international norms. Thus, a set of historically accumulated data becomes an opportunity for the development of HSE University.

This job requires a lot of attention to detail and good analytical skills. We are at the first stage, but we can already see that the main reference books have been analyzed, and the IT Office is making extensive use of the results of this analysis in many digital university development projects. Lydia already knows how to work with the Jira and Confluence corporate systems, and she also knows how to work with MDM class system functions.

We really hope to continue working with our digital assistants for a long time, and we plan to develop this kind of collaboration further in new areas.

Lydia Izmailova,
студентка 3 курса образовательной программы «Информатика и вычислительная техника»

How did you start working as a digital assistant?

I wanted to put what I’ve learned in my studies at HSE into practice, but since I’m still a student, I can only get a job after I’m done with school—which right now, of course, is first priority. I learned about the Digital Assistants programme on the HSE website. I contacted the supervisor and successfully passed the interview, but at that time the first hiring round was already closed, and I was really looking forward to the second hiring round so that I could get onto a team. A few weeks later, the supervisors contacted me and said that I could complete training. I remember being very happy, because I had wanted to join the project. After working for some time, I realized that this is exactly what I was looking for: the management understands that education is priority number one for us students, and they make the work schedule with our academic workloads in mind. It is very convenient.

You work in the Integration Solutions product team. What made you interested in this particular area?

Digital assistants had the opportunity to get acquainted with various areas of the Digital Office’s work. Each department presented several projects that we could choose from to join. I passed an interview at the Unit for Information Systems Interaction Automation, where I work now. I immediately liked the leadership and the fact that tasks can be completed at your own pace. This is very important for me, since I’m a student.

The project in which I am currently involved is aimed at streamlining the work of university employees, such as those in the personnel department. When I see the end result of something we have done, I feel like an integral part of the team and important university operations. And when I see how what we are doing helps the departments of our university, it inspires and motivates me to complete tasks faster.

How is your work in the product team structured and what tasks do you perform?

We went through an introductory training, where they explained to us what tasks we will perform and who we can turn to for help. I work with data: searching, processing, storing and analyzing it for further processing. When we have questions, we contact our supervisors via MS Teams, which is where we also have online meetings. My supervisor assigns me new tasks, advises me, and evaluates my work. I really like my team and what I do. I am learning a lot of new things, such as what areas of study Russian universities offer, and, in particular, what areas HSE University offers. At the moment, I plan to continue working on my current project (forming a database for university employees), and then, perhaps, expand my skills further and delve deeper into my studies.

What have you learned while working on the product team?

While working at the IT Office, I have learned how to effectively communicate with both project superiors and colleagues, come up with creative solutions for problems, and, of course, manage my time efficiently. Gaining experience with data, official sources, and information retrieval, and various services and programmes is another plus, since my area of study is technical. And, of course, this is work experience, which may come in handy in getting a job after graduation. I also work with spreadsheets, so I’ve learned some interesting functions in Microsoft Excel.

What advice do you have for students who want to become digital assistants?

The main thing is to have a desire to work, learn new things and, of course, participate in the given project. If you have these things, you will enjoy the work, and you will see quick results.

Pavel Kostenetskiy,
Head, Supercomputer Modeling Unit

We look for three things when selecting digital assistants in the supercomputer modeling department: a deep knowledge of Linux OS, proficiency in technical English, and programming skills. Our digital assistant Nikita Pershukov met all three of these criteria. Nikita’s first task was to find errors in the supercomputer user instructions and to improve their readability. The second task was to translate the basic instructions into English. Now invited foreign specialists and English-speaking students can use these instructions as needed. After that, he moved on to performing technical tasks, as well as a large task that allows for some creativity. It was necessary to complete an applied study, select the most successful approaches, and then design and execute a prototype of a supplemental ‘M’ security subsystem for the supercomputer. Nikita did all of this excellently in just one month. And all of this work is equal in volume to his academic workload in the Faculty of Computer Science! The prototype of the system has been put into test operation and is already functioning well.

Our digital assistant got to see how the supercomputer complex works from the inside. Understanding how such complex systems work is a rare experience for a programmer

When designing a new supercomputer protection subsystem, Nikita worked with the Unified Modeling Language (UML), which is a useful experience for any programmer.

I am glad that thanks to the Digital Assistants programme we have the opportunity to work with such strong students.

Nikita Pershukov,
4th-year student, Bachelor’s Programme ‘Information Science and Computation Technology’

How did you start working as a digital assistant?

I became a digital assistant after making it through their first hiring round in early April, at the height of the pandemic when teachers and university staff needed urgent help in learning how to use distance learning services. Therefore, at first, like all digital assistants, I worked on the HSE Hotline, advising users on how to use Zoom. In addition, as part of my position, I participated in another project—the online forum, ‘Eco + Nomica 3.0. Life after the Virus’, which was held by the Institute of Ecology at HSE. It was a closed conference over Zoom with streaming available on VK, and we provided technical support for the online event.

What made you choose the area of supercomputer modeling?

The supervisors of the project knew about my experience with GNU/Linux and administration with R&D, which I mentioned during the interview, and they suggested that I work in the Supercomputer Modeling Unit. I agreed and joined the product team. Why is this interesting? I gain unique experience. It's a supercomputer! It's like one of my childhood dreams—to get to this ‘monster’, to interact with him. I hadn’t had work experience like this before, and it could entail unusual tasks. And that it how it has turned out to be.

How is your work in the product team structured and what tasks did you get involved in?

To begin with, I studied the documentation on the site in order to understand how the supercomputer works and how it is used. My first task was to edit and create documentation in both Russian and English. After that, I received a more unusual task: detecting mining attempts on the supercomputer. I have developed many concepts, from simple ones and ones that are unsuitable for certain things, to very complex and full-fledged detection complexes. For the preliminary training I completed, I had to study the logic of the supercomputer and read documentation.

I kept in contact with my supervisor via MS Teams, and, if I had any questions, I always received prompt feedback.

What have you learned while working on the product team?

Working with the HSE supercomputer means working on an interesting R&D project and, of course, gaining new expertise. It is also a worthy line in the resume, which is great. Some of things I’ve done that will definitely come in handy in the future are my UML diagram work and writing scientific reports.

What advice do you have for students who want to become digital assistants?

You have to be willing to work remotely, since this is format that isn’t standard for students. I also had to get used to working from home at first, but this is a useful experience to have in our changing world. You also need, of course, to be able to take your assigned tasks seriously and be able to manage your time wisely. In terms of technical support, it is important to be courteous and willing to help everyone, regardless of their computer knowledge. And of course, you also can’t get anywhere without having personal motivation and a desire to develop yourself in new areas. You need this in any endeavor.

Participating in the Digital Assistants programme is an interesting experience. You can develop both your existing skills and gain new ones. And, of course, you get to know new people and work side by side in a team of real professionals

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