About Success Builder
How do you find your place in life? How do you find something to do that both comes naturally to you and makes you happy? The answer is that you have to apply the knowledge you’ve gained from university and from life itself correctly. The Success Builder Project features HSE University graduates who have discovered themselves through an interesting business or an unexpected profession. The protagonists share their experiences and lessons learnt and talk about how they’ve made the most of the opportunities they were given.
In IT, you can never stop, even to validate your new skills with new certificates and degrees. This is the path taken by Konstantin Zamkov, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the HSE Business Informatics programme and now works as director of project management at VTB. In this interview with SB, he explains how to manage IT projects, why IT specialists need knowledge of finance and what VTB is doing to develop unique software.
How did you become interested in IT?
I became interested in computers at an early age, before I started school. I got my first computer early, at a time when almost no one had them. The same thing happened with the Internet. Now it’s even funny to remember how, in the 90s, the modem squawked when I connected it to the Internet. The connection failed frequently and my parents asked me to free up the phone line for at least a short time. At the same time, I was interested not only in computer games that, of course, all children love, but also in the design of the software itself. I constantly tried to study how all of it worked and figure out how the improvements were made, although there were much fewer opportunities for that than there are now. Eventually, all of these pastimes led to me choosing a university and a career path, which wasn’t easy.
Now schools devote a lot of attention to career guidance. There is a lot of different information about college majors, courses, descriptions, and instructions on how and what to do to pursue a particular career. I remember as a child going across town once a week to take courses in QBasic, a very simplified programming language. I also searched the Internet for something on the subject to figure out how to do this or that operation, to experiment. In this way, I advanced towards this profession.
By the time I started university, I was interested not only in computer programs and programming in general, but also in how IT found application in various areas of the economy. I liked the applied aspect of IT and wanted to solve complex problems. When I enrolled at HSE University, the Department of Business Informatics was still new and I was in the second incoming class. It was the only place where you could study information technology in conjunction with economics and management. As a result, I had a very definite choice of university and faculty.
How did HSE University seem at the time to incoming students?
HSE was already a well-established university. It was cool and it was considered very prestigious to study there. HSE University specialised in economics, which I found interesting and important. The best economics university in Russia—that’s for me! That’s how it seemed to me, and I wasn’t mistaken. At other universities that were more IT-oriented, the major involved more programming and a deeper, abstract study of physics and mathematics. They didn’t have the same modern spirit that connected HSE University students with Russia’s new economy.
Were classes difficult?
HSE University sets the bar high and you need to meet it since you’ve come to study at such a university. It might seem impossible to do everything well. Everyone has different opportunities in life and work: some don’t like speaking in public; some don’t speak English; and some can’t draw up documents. But for an HSE University graduate, it is imperative to keep up with everything, to do things at the highest level in a variety of areas. In my opinion, the words, ‘I can’t do something’ do not exist for an HSE University graduate. Along with new knowledge, teachers have always passed along their faith in us, so I believe that an HSE University graduate can do anything. We all have self-confidence and the ability to deal with any issues in a structured and cool-headed way.
What do you mean by ‘structured’ in this context?
This is the ability to see the picture more comprehensively—an important skill that emerges and gets developed at the university. In general, HSE University played an important role in shaping personal qualities, such as the ability to explain things, convey your thoughts to others, present arguments so that people share your point of view and see the specific details and objectives behind it.
In terms of special skills, our education gave us an understanding of all areas of IT, not only technical skills: software, actual programming, configuration, installation, analysis, writing out requirements, and the economic effects of implementing this or that system—its practical application. It covers the spectrum of what the whole process of creating and using IT looks like.
How important are personal qualities for those in technical professions?
They are very important. In practice, it often happens that employees focus on the technical area and forget about soft skills, and difficulties arise the moment you need to complete a complex task involving several people or even several teams with which you have to interact. As a rule, this is when I come to the rescue. My role as a project leader is to organise many people doing technical work together.
In Business Informatics, how did you study the economic side of technical issues?
The programme included economic subjects such as microeconomics and macroeconomics that provide an understanding of various social spheres. There were also applied tasks and subjects aimed specifically at applying technical skills to business problems—for example, how to set up a system and determine its functionality and effects for specific financial goals within the context of a particular case. Specialists from major companies came and delivered lectures or taught various subjects. This resulted in a good balance of applied and academic tasks that gave us the skills of a researcher and innovator. So, it was easy to continue with my master’s studies.
Was that a necessity?
In my opinion, a master’s degree is a necessary continuation of a bachelor’s. It gives you more specific and narrow skills in your profession. In my third year, I began working at an IT company as a system analyst and, based on that focus, chose an appropriate master’s programme: information business analytics. The company provided custom software for various tasks for a range of customers. We first determined the business and technical requirements. On that basis we then did development and testing and put it into operation. Thus, my education went hand in hand with real-world practice; everything was interconnected and complementary.
What is information business analytics? What do you do in this field?
This is a more detailed technical study of the requirements of a system that has been ordered: which elements and algorithms will interact with each other and how exactly; and what data will be transmitted and where. At each stage, it is necessary to control whether the software we’ve developed achieves specific business goals. In addition to the technical side, the specialist prepares a description of the business requirements: user scenarios are studied and structured, on the basis of which the system is created and transferred to the client company for implementation.
What was interesting about working at Microsoft and how did it further your career?
I wound up at Microsoft in a fairly standard way—through a recruiter who saw my résumé and invited me for an interview. Microsoft develops and implements its solutions in major companies with the help of partners. These are IT companies that employ specialists with the necessary qualifications. They receive the status of Microsoft partners—for example, LANIT or Sharesoft. However, Microsoft also has its own consulting division that carries out complex IT projects to implement its products. It was in this area that I began working as a project manager. In this way, I went from a technician to more of an expert and became more interested in management and business implementation.
Even at my first job, I tried my hand at several roles—as an analyst, tester, developer, and technical support specialist. Then I became interested in more complex tasks such as how to organise work effectively and how to use a team to solve a task and achieve a result more quickly. In this way I realised that I like structuring large tasks more, gained experience in project management and even back at Microsoft, began managing projects.
How did you develop these new skill sets? How did you learn the business side of project management?
In my opinion, a project leader is not someone who knows best all the details of how a particular job should be done: he has qualified specialists for this. The manger must see the whole picture, link the strategy with current activities, competently convey information to employees about what they are required to do, and create an environment in which employees can break down a large task into specific actions and successfully carry out these actions.
I made a smooth transition from student to this new role.
I try to acquire new skills and validate those competencies with certificates
For example, to better understand data science when it became a necessary part of working with any large business, I completed the Executive Data Science programme at Johns Hopkins University. To master finance technology, including in the banking sector (I had become very interested in it then), I completed the Digital Transformation in Financial Services programme at the Copenhagen Business School.
When I started doing project management and studied the PMI PMBoK standards, after gaining experience in this area, I received the Project Management Professional (PMI PMP) certificate. To improve my skills for the analysis and implementation of the company’s strategy, it was very useful to study the PMI standard for portfolio management and then get certified as a Portfolio Management Professional (PMI PfMP). When agile project management methodologies came to the fore, I received the PSM I Professional Scrum Master certification. I have always tried to keep up with the times and update my knowledge. All this helps me achieve better results, meet complex strategic goals, and feel confident in the role I have assumed.
How did you study banking and why?
I had a certain body of knowledge after HSE University, plus I started working with banks as clients—in particular, with VTB—while back at Microsoft. That was when I became interested in the banking industry because it is a very high-tech business that affects all areas of our lives. I often noted the professionalism and sense of responsibility demonstrated by the VTB employees with whom I had the opportunity to work.
That was the moment I had gone beyond my competencies as an IT company specialist. At the same time, I also got an offer to try my hand at a familiar bank and accepted, moving to VTB, where I began applying my experience directly in a bank. I started managing the development of IT products as part of the bank’s structural tasks.
What does such a manager do?
As before, I am a kind of specialist with a global vision of the problem and its solution. It is important to set certain parameters in a job: Why are we doing this? What deadline do we need to meet and for whom? What is the budget? What effects should the business derive from the solution? VTB Bank has its own resources for development and implementation, enabling it to build internal IT expertise and reduce dependence on outside vendors. So my task as a manager is to organise the work of IT specialists in the bank.
At the same time, the IT industry has now become so complex and overflowing with tasks—after all, it’s everywhere now—that it is impossible to find any one person who knows how everything should be done
The result is only a combination of specialists in different fields with a good understanding of the process. This is why the art of organising the work of teams and leadership qualities in one’s own field are very important here. Leadership and experience enable me to quickly understand the gist of a particular problem that a team member might encounter at a particular stage of work.
How have IT projects been managed at VTB since February?
Since February, VTB has been subjected to strong sanctions pressure, which has created more work. Many software vendors for the financial sector have left Russia, and this has made it necessary to put in more effort. I am currently in charge of the import substitution project and we are making our own platform for intra-banking systems. This platform will host all intra-bank systems and services for employee users and other Russian banks will also be able to use this product in the future.
The bank began pursuing import substitution long ago, but its importance has increased now, causing the number of projects to increase. The transition to import-free solutions has accelerated, and this is indispensable because the bank is a company that relies heavily on IT.
The challenges that the current realities put before us are making the tasks at hand larger and more difficult. This is causing growing demand for qualified personnel. For example, the bank has internship programs for young IT professionals that are more focused on the bank’s business objectives. In general, I am in favour of students of financial and economic programmes enriching their knowledge in the field of information technology because the demand for information systems arises primarily from the business side.