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Open House

Where Programmers Become Programmers


About the Open House Project

Lecture halls, corridors, the student cafeteria, etc., will all eventually become a ‘home away from home’ for prospective HSE students. We cordially invite you to a virtual tour of HSE. Current HSE students show you around campus through our website.

What are Euclid and Descartes doing in a building that at one time belonged to the Gosplan? What does M+P+ mean, and how do you get an internship at Google? In the latest edition of Open House, Valentin Biryukov, a second-year student in the Applied Mathematics and Informatics programme, and Maria Gordenko, a fourth-year student in the Software Engineering programme, talk about these questions and more.

ADDRESS: 3 Kochnovsky Proezd

HOW TO GET THERE: 10-15 minute walk from the Aeroport metro station

The building that houses the Faculty of Computer Science is located just two metro stations away from Belorussky Railway Station, which is where commuter trains depart for Odintsovo. This is why it’s easy for out-of-town students who live in the dormitories in Odintsovo and Dubki to get to the faculty. The trip takes about 1-1.5 hours, and there are free HSE buses that go to the dorm and back every 10-20 minutes. The bus schedules are synced with the commuter train schedules as well. Lectures at HSE typically start at 9:00 a.m., but classes start at 10:30 a.m. for computer science students, which allows for travel time.

The Building

The six-storey building at 3 Kochnovsky Proezd is where HSE began. It was specifically here in 1992 that the Faculty of Economics was based, marking the beginning of the university as a whole. Before this, the building was occupied by a division of the Soviet Gosplan, and all of the building’s doorways still have the famous Gosplan engravings. Now, more than two decades later, the HSE Faculty of Computer Science prepares software engineers, developers, and researchers in the field of big data storage and processing.

The building was not initially academic, which it why HSE had to carry out substantial renovations when the university took possession of the building. Faculty offices were turned into auditoriums, seminar halls, and much more. The departments that made up the faculty moved to Kochnovsky in August of 2014: the School of Computer Engineering moved from Kirpichnaya St., while the Applied Mathematics and Informatics School moved from Bolshoy Trekhsviatitelski.

As in 1992, the building underwent changes in 2014 as well, with ordinary lecture halls becoming computer classrooms, offices seminar halls, while the reading hall will become a large lecture hall next year.

The Faculty was created with the participation of the company Yandex, which is shown not only in the Faculty’s programme of study and research activity, but in its design as well. Yandex suggested ideas for the Faculty’s main hall as well. The first thing that catches one’s eye is a set of red benches and a painting on the wall that looks like ‘tag clouds’ with key concepts from contemporary data science. In addition, the first floor has a cardboard cutout of a crow with a laptop and a cup of coffee – the unofficial symbol of the Faculty. This was completed by Applied Mathematics and Informatics student Ekaterina Batalova.

Similar to large IT companies where all of the conference rooms have original names, the Faculty has four large lecture halls named after famous mathematicians – Euclid, Newton, Leibniz, and Descartes

One of HSE’s largest auditoriums – Euclid – is where not only classes are held, but some of the university’s main events as well: the Faculty’s birthday celebration, the Segalovich scholarship award ceremony, Open Doors, informatics conferences, and a host of other important academic events.

‘We also have 11 computer classrooms, some of which are equipped with PCs, some with laptops. One classroom has Apple computers, and this is where classes are held on mobile app development for iOS and OS X devices. I had a class, Cloud App Development, and it was taught completely in English,’ notes Maria Gordenko, a fourth-year student in the computer engineering programme. ‘If we have a window of time, or if students need to collectively prepare for a test or exam, then our office doors are always open, as are the computer labs as well. You can sit in the auditoriums from the time the building opens to the time it closes – if you aren’t interrupting the learning process, of course.’

Each floor has chalkboards hanging in the corridor as well. This was done so that students can do a calculation, make a list, etc. if necessary while preparing for a colloquium, seminar, or just a lecture. The boards are very popular.

‘We also have a large library that holds the books of not only our Faculty, but of other HSE faculties as well. My neighbours in my apartment building study in the Faculty of Law and the Faculty of Economics, and they oftentimes ask me to bring home textbooks from the library at the end of the year; after all, it’s on my way,’ Valentin Biryukov notes. The library also has computers with access to all of HSE’s electronic publications.

‘The first floor has a cafeteria, but we prefer to have lunch in a nearby café called ‘Chez Lara,’ which offers students good discounts on business lunches; a three-course meal only costs 180 rubles. There are also two coffee shops nearby, which is also really convenient,’ Maria adds.

The sixth floor is where the office of the dean of the faculty is, and the office has a panoramic view of the Aeroport region. The dean’s doors are always open to students, and there are meetings there every semester for the class presidents. This is a time for students to share their impressions, discuss specific classes, and more. This is also where meetings with student council, volunteers, and academic assistants take place.

Academics

The Faculty has two bachelor’s programmes – one in Applied Mathematics and Informatics and another in Software Engineering. Though the Faculty only celebrated its second birthday in April, there are also third- and fourth-year students, as well as alumni, as they were able to study at locations that were part of the Faculty of Business Informatics (now called the Faculty of Business and Management). There are also four master's programmes, one of which, System and Software Engineering, is taught in English.

In 2014, the Applied Mathematics and Informatics programme started a ‘pilot group’ for students who scored high on the entrance exams in mathematics and programming. In 2015, this became a pilot project for first- and second-year students, with students being divided into three groups based off of their test scores: the so-called M+ group had an extensive knowledge of basic disciplines in mathematics, the P+ in programming, and the M+P+ group in both disciplines.

‘I’m currently in the M+P+ group,’ Valentin notes. ‘The pilot project is competitive, but absolutely all students from the Applied Mathematics and Informatics programme can take part in the competition if they want. Those who don’t make it into a group can become members of ordinary groups, which are no worse, and then they typically move to pilot groups at a later time. This can happen after a year, for example, or even after exams. Conversely, with time, some people decide that the pilot groups are not for them and become members of an ordinary group.’

Students in the Applied Mathematics and Informatics programme study the programming languages Python and C++, while Software Engineering students study Java and C#. An emphasis is made on learning algorithms and their mathematical foundations. ‘It goes without saying that students are then able to easily demonstrate their skills in any programing language,’ Valentin adds.

The Faculty’s courses in programming and other subjects are often taught by employees of Yandex and other IT companies who actively participate in university life. After their first year, undergraduate students take part in a short, two-week internship either within the Faculty or at a company. Oftentimes though, students opt for a longer internship of between two and nine months.

One of my classmates left for the summer to work at Google on improving YouTube subtitles

Students can select the company themselves, but there is also a large list of several dozen organisations that HSE actively works with. ‘I’m currently interning at S7 Engineering, for example, which provides technical servicing and repairs aviation technology for some of the world’s leading aircraft producers, like Airbus and Boeing,’ Maria notes. ‘Some of the most successful students get jobs immediately after their internships.’

‘After the first year, we had really entertaining projects under the guidance of people with industry experience,’ Valentin comments. For my project, we developed something similar to Prisma or Ostagram (both apps that can put the user’s image into the style of Van Gogh, Munch, etc.). As a result, I got a good summer internship at a digital company and was able to work and write a few solutions for them. My classmate worked on data compression and wrote an algorithm that compressed data faster and better than many existing analogues (it’s hard to believe, but he even surpassed .zip). People took notes of this, and after just a few weeks he was offered a summer internship at Yandex. And there are more cases like this too. One of my classmates left for the summer to work at Google on improving YouTube subtitles,’ Valentin adds.

This year, students of the Applied Mathematics and Informatics programme prepared a group of stories for applicants – #ПмиОбъединяет (#AMIUnites). The students shared their experiences from the application process and talked about some of their accomplishments, including scholarships, internships, and new endeavours.

For a good idea of how the Faculty is growing, look no further than the master’s programmes it now offers. In 2014, there were just two master’s programmes – Data Science and Systems and Software Engineering – but the Mathematical Methods of Optimization and Stochastics programme was added in 2015, and applications are currently being accepted for a fourth master’s programme in Data Analysis for Biology and Medicine.

Science

The Computer Science Faculty also has several research laboratories, with more and more being added each year. In 2014, the Faculty gained the Laboratory of Process-Aware Information Systems (PAIS Lab) and the International Laboratory for Intelligent Systems and Structural Analysis, whose staff recently developed a new mathematical model that describes the development of breast cancer and is able to predict when metastasis occurs. Additionally, a big data analysis lab was created in February 2015, while in 2016, an International Lab in Theoretical Informatics was opened.

Staff of the lab also involve first-year students in their research, both as part of summer internships and during the entire academic year. For students hoping to build an academic career in the future, this is an excellent opportunity to begin that process. According to PAIS Lab Research Fellow Sergey Shershakov, this is a unique process that requires one to develop both methodological and creative skills. ‘You can, for example, learn to haphazardly write software yourself, but in order to carry out research you need a “school,” and the earlier the future researcher comes to this school as an intern, the more likely it is that he or she will be successful in the world of academia in the future,’ Shershakov concludes.