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'Before I Started Working as a Digital Assistant, I Didn't Know about Services like Jira and Confluence'

© Alexey Efimenkov

In March 2021, the Digital Assistants project celebrates its first anniversary. The Digital Office has conducted a survey of the assistants and managers in order to find out why students decided to join the project and what experience they’ve received as a result of this, as well as determining the benefits of cooperation with students.

About the project

The ‘Digital Assistants’ project was launched at HSE University in March 2020, as an initiative of the HSE Rector, in order to help university staff with the rapid transition to new formats of distance learning and working during the pandemic. Now the project that was initially just a pilot has levelled up. Digital assistants have made a significant contribution to improving the level of digital competencies of HSE staff, and now the range of tasks of the project participants has expanded, and has already gone beyond university issues.

More than 90 students from 10 different faculties and 15 degree programmes, both in humanities and engineering, have participated in the project.

Online meeting of digital assistants with the Digital Office administration
Online meeting of digital assistants with the Digital Office administration

Project benefits

Digital assistants are students and young employees who not only have knowledge and skills in the field of IT, but are also acquainted with the corporate culture and the educational processes of HSE University. The students work as operators on the HSE hotline, participate in the work of the Digital Office product teams, and manage HSE online events. What benefits does taking part in this project bring to the students?

Almost 90% of students mentioned acquiring digital skills as a result of working with HSE digital tools when answering the question ‘What competencies have you developed and / or have already acquired during your work as a Digital Assistant?’ According to Stepan Denisov, a student on the Applied Mathematics and Computer Science programme, this experience was useful to him even outside the university, because, for example, Jira and Confluence systems are used in many companies in the labour market.

'Before starting work as a digital assistant, I didn't know about services such as Jira and Confluence, while today I regularly work with them at Raiffeisenbank. In addition to tasks associated with data analysis, we also have to solve technical issues. Thanks to the skills I gained while working on the HSE project, I can now solve such tasks on my own, and they do not take much time.'

Stepan Denisov, Student of the Faculty of Computer Science

"Before starting work as a digital assistant, I didn't know about services such as Jira and Confluence, while today I regularly work with them at Raiffeisenbank. In addition to tasks associated with data analysis, we also have to solve technical issues. Thanks to the skills I gained while working on the HSE project, I can now solve such tasks on my own, and they do not take much time."

The second most popular answer (63.9%) is "Communication and teamwork skills". "Constant interaction with people in the project contributes to the development of your teamworking skills," explains Tigran Makhmudov, student of the Information and Communication Technologies and Systems programme. ‘Working on shared tasks with your colleagues "side by side", you realise that you are part of a bigger team. You manage to remain calm in force majeure situations, because you won’t fail, the team won’t let it happen. For me, participating in Edcrunch 2020 has played an important role in developing my communication skills — it was incredible experience.'

Pavel Krylov, Student of the Faculty of Computer Science

"The main experience that is useful in all spheres of life is communication with people. At work in Sberbank, I constantly participate in meetings with managers, developers and designers. Everyone is different, but it is important to be able to find an approach that works for everyone. Working as a digital assistant requires as much communication as working in a large bank, so I have greatly improved my soft skills."

The third most popular answer is "Time management skills" (61%). Students believe that remote work helps them to develop the skill of time management, because they need to organise their tasks during the day, as well as combining work with study.

Dmitry Antonov, MIEM student

‘During quarantine, my usual way of life has changed a lot, and working as a digital assistant has become another reason to wake up earlier. The quarantine is over, but the habit of working in the morning still remains, and has even freed up extra time for studying.’

According to Polina Sorokina, student of the International Relations programme , working in the Digital Office has brought her time management skills to a new level: 'Now a to-do list is a real necessity for me, and the pace of life at HSE University encourages me to have a well-organised schedule. As a student, I appreciate the flexible approach to work processes at the Digital Office. Thanks to my personal work schedule, I now manage to pay attention to all areas of my life.'

© Alexey Efimenkov

Digital assistants also noted the development of continuous learning abilities (41%). 'While working as a digital assistant, you are constantly acquiring new mini-skills' explains Yegor Repkin, a student of the International Relations programme . ‘Immersion in IT is like a breath of fresh air for me. Hotline operators regularly receive new instructions, and it is also necessary to monitor updates to various programmes. At the same time, we can’t forget about our communication skills, because we advise teachers and staff on the hotline.’

According to Lidia Izmailova, student of the Information Science and Computation Technology programme , she has developed her ability for continuous learning in the product team, because every day she has to face new tasks.

Lidia Izmailova, MIEM student

'At the beginning I didn’t have enough skills to perform some tasks, and I learnt about various digital tools. The training never stops, and today my work includes new responsibilities. The continuous learning skills you acquire while working on the project are very important for the digital world, where everything is always changing quickly, and you need to stay on top of things all the time.'

Almost 30% of digital assistants believe that participating in the project has also given them an understanding of the opportunities and risks associated with the use of new technologies.

What competencies do you develop and / or have already gained during your participation in the project?

Why I became a digital assistant

The main motivation for taking part in the project is the desire to help the university during the pandemic. This answer to the question "What motivated you to become a project participant?" was given by almost 70% of digital assistants.

According to Stepan Denisov, student of the Applied Mathematics and Computer Science programme, working on this project during the quarantine helped him to appreciate the unity of HSE students: "Working at the Digital Office is all about mixing business with pleasure. It's great to work in a great team and do what you enjoy, developing communication skills in digital environment, while helping the university in difficult times."

'During the pandemic, students faced some challenging times," says Anton Osipov, student of the programme in Applied Mathematics. "Everything was new to us.'

Anton Osipov, MIEM student

'I remember our first remote seminar on Theoretical Mechanics. If my classmate, a digital assistant, hadn’t helped us to organize broadcasting, then we wouldn’t have been able to hold the seminar. Understanding the difficulties that we can encounter while studying online, I decided to join the project to help the university.'

The second most popular answer is "Money motivation" (60%). Students strive for financial independence even before graduation and participation in the project gives them an opportunity to not only get professional experience, but also receive their first salary.

What motivated you to join the Digital Assistants Project?

The third answer in the motivational list was the desire to get work experience before graduation (58.3%). The fourth most popular answer is "A reference for my CV and an advantage over other applicants" (44.4%). According to Pavel Krylov, student of the Software Engineering programme and  employee of Sberbank,  experience of working as a digital assistant is a significant plus for job applications: "The level of tasks and responsibilities of digital assistants can be compared to working in a large company, which is what HSE is for its employees. Including this project in your CV makes it clear to an HR specialist that you already know how to work in a team, you are familiar with the corporate world and are more than ready to tackle serious tasks."

About 30% of the respondents signed up for the project to see if the IT field is suitable for them. It is important for a student to gain work experience as early as possible, says Pavel: "HSE gives us excellent knowledge and skills, which can help us build a successful career. However, it is difficult to find your career path immediately after graduation, because there are dozens of professions within the sphere of IT. The earlier you start, the more chances you get to learn more about your chosen field while studying at the university."

In this project, everyone can find their place and come face to face with interesting tasks. You can participate in the development of digital products, help students and teachers, or even work with a supercomputer!

Digital Office Perspective

In a rapidly changing world involving the digitalization of many areas of activity, experience of working as a digital assistant is useful for a student of any degree programme, says Daria Timofeeva, one of the mentors of the digital assistants: "It is especially important for those who plan to connect their professional life with the IT field. Our students who have already worked in large companies note that employers expect not only theoretical knowledge, but also practical experience with various digital services and platforms from young professionals."

'Working as digital assistants, students gain real experience of working with people, clients, and this is a very important skill for future leaders and ambassadors of digitalization, which is what the students will eventually become,' says Olesya Klychikhina, Head of the Unit for Strategic Digital Development and Partnerships.

Digital assistants already know how the 1st and 2nd support lines work, how to solve a problem effectively, how to ensure customer satisfaction, and how to assist their colleagues. And these are universal skills that are necessary in any field and in any work

According to Svetlana Vesnina, Deputy Head of the Back Office Digitalization Office, the project helps students not only to see the process of digital transformation of the university from the inside, but also to take part in it. Moreover, such cooperation also provides an interesting experience for the mentors of digital assistants. According to the survey of the leaders of the Digital Office product teams, one of the main advantages of working with the project participants is the significant contribution of students to the work of the product team: "As part of the automation of administrative and managerial processes of the university, the digital assistants analyzed a number of solutions, as well as completing programming tasks," says Svetlana.

According to the managers, another advantage is the formation of a pool of talented students. The ability of students to generate new ideas is an opportunity to look at the usual "routine" tasks of the department through the fresh eyes of young people, says Pavel Kostenetsky, Head of the Supercomputer Modeling Unit: "Of course, the HSE employs experienced specialists who can perform all our tasks, but it is useful to bring new blood to any team – research assistants or, in our case, digital assistants."

Students with their impulses "to do everything in a new way and by tomorrow morning" bring positive vibes to the work process

According to Tatevik Izmailyan, Head of the Digital Assistants project, the project has a comprehensive and positive impact on improving the quality of remote teaching and working: "On one hand, students become active participants in the process of digital transformation of the university, and acquire skills in working with digital tools, as well as soft skills in providing personalized support to users. On the other hand, the HSE University gets additional opportunities to form and train cross-functional teams of students to participate in solving the problems of the Digital University."

To get the help of a digital assistant on the use of Zoom, Webinar and MS Teams video services, just submit an application through your personal account to the HSE Hotline. To learn more about the project, as well as to apply to participate, please visit the Digital Office website.

March 17