Citadel datathon showcases opportunities for tech talent

With data science as one of the fastest growing fields in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), companies are on the hunt for talented students around the world who can solve complex social problems creatively. Citadel, a leading hedge fund, and Citadel Securities, a global market maker, are in the middle of a battle for top tech talent. To expand their search for the best and the brightest, Citadel and Citadel Securities hosted a datathon in partnership with Correlation One, a talent solutions technology company, in September at Carnegie Mellon which had over 100 students compete and almost 600 apply to participate. In addition to holding a datathon at Carnegie Mellon, the firms also host them at top universities in the U.S., U.K., and Ireland throughout the year.

The Citadel and Citadel Securities Datathon is structured so each datathon takes place over a single day. Participants work in teams to analyze a dataset containing a structured problem and are asked to submit a written report detailing their findings. Judges then review the submissions and announce the winners, with winning teams presenting their ideas to an audience. The stakes are high — participants compete for a $25,000 cash prize and the chance to advance to the final competition, “The Data Open Championship,” which will take place in New York later this year and has a $100,000 grand prize. Participants also have the opportunity to interview for careers with Citadel and Citadel Securities, including for quantitative research, data science, software engineering, trading, and investment roles.

This year’s data set focused on gene expression data from different population samples of healthy individuals and individuals suffering from cancer.

“We wanted to build classification models to predict if the gene expression of an individual suggests they are suffering from cancer,” said Chirag Nagpal, a member of the winning team, and a Masters student at Carnegie Mellon’s Language Technology Institute.

The datathon attracted students of all disciplines, from statistics and medical students to computer science and physics students, bringing them together to focus on a common area of interest.

“The datathon gave me an opportunity to collaborate with students from departments other than my own, which was a positive experience and helped me meet new people,” said Nagpal.

The purpose of the datathon is centered on showing students that there is a range of opportunities for tech talent in sectors which students looking for jobs in the tech field would not consider, such as in the finance arena.

“We are always looking for new ways to connect with talented people who share our passion for solving challenging problems. The datathons are helping us identify and connect with talented undergraduate and graduate students across STEM disciplines in way that also helps us show them that Citadel and Citadel Securities can provide the challenging and rewarding career opportunities that they are looking for,” said Candice Berger, Talent Strategist and Co-Head of Campus Recruiting for Citadel and Citadel Securities.

Citadel has had a significant presence on Carnegie Mellon’s campus through the Citadel Teaching Commons, a lab and study space featuring high-performance clusters directed towards encouraging teamwork and collaboration, located in CMU’s School of Computer Science. Citadel provided funding for the construction of the Teaching Commons, which was completed in 2015.

According to a university press release, Carnegie Mellon’s Statistics and Data Science Department has had much success in recruiting and training the next generation of data scientists. In the past six years, the number of students majoring in statistics as well as interdisciplinary degrees in areas such as economics, machine learning, and neuroscience has more than tripled, thus increasing student interest in datathons, where students can apply their knowledge to real-world problems and get experience on how to work with large data sets and open-ended problems.

“Datathons challenge students to glean insights from complex data sets and identify how those insights can be used to solve meaningful problems,” said Berger. “The submissions that we receive at the end of each competition are always very different, which reflects the different ways in which participants approach and analyze the data set.”

Participants find it refreshing to be able to define their own problem and come up with a solution, as it fosters creative thinking and problem-solving.

“The best part was that the data provided to us was open domain and publicly available. We were free to define our own interesting problem around the data, which I personally feel is harder and requires more creative and out-of-the-box thinking as compared to solving a well-defined task,” said Nagpal.

With such opportunity to engage with people from different backgrounds and interests, participants leave with a host of new skills and knowledge.

“I learned how to collaborate with new people, how to solve problems in a time constraint scenario, and how to deal with data science challenges in microbiology,” said Nagpal.

Datathons such as the one hosted by Citadel have had a clear impact on Carnegie Mellon students, as seen through the creation of the Carnegie Mellon Data Science Club, whose purpose is to serve as a platform for students to pursue their interests in data science in a setting that is both collaborative and competitive.

With datathons taking place around the world and throughout the year, companies will have more opportunities to connect with passionate and talented students who are driven to discover innovative solutions to real-world issues.