JPMorgan Chase interns tackle machine learning

City Scholars present at JPMorgan Chase Tech Week 2019

This is the second year JPMorgan Chase has participated in the City Scholars program. In terms of numbers, City Scholars has been a huge success for the fortune 100 company in attracting talent from Illinois. Three of the four students from City Scholar’s first class of interns accepted JPMorgan Chase’s offer for full-time employment starting in summer 2019. This year, the company’s second class of interns has provided results on machine learning projects they were asked to tackle.

“We were impressed from the beginning,” said Steve Benni, an Executive Director in JPMorgan Chase’s Chief Technology Office in Chicago, who holds a computer science degree from Illinois. “Because of that, this semester we challenged ourselves internally to come back with even harder and more innovative work that is not as well established. Let’s push the boundaries. Let’s have them work on some things that even we haven’t solved yet and to which we don’t know the answers. Even so, within just weeks our City Scholars were able to come in and make a real impact.”

“We were impressed from the beginning,” Steve Benni, an Executive Director of JPMorgan Chase’s Chief Technology Office in Chicago

For instance, Benni reports the City Scholars team was able to automate a job that before took about 2,000 working hours to complete each year.

“They received a very large dataset, learned how it relates to our problem statement then designed and delivered a working machine learning solution that our teams immediately began using in production,” Benni explained. “The team has delivered more working solutions to problems than we had anticipated and we have moved them from project to project continuing to tackle additional machine learning solutions and they continue to impress along the way.  At this time they are working on three independent initiatives and have become known as our machine learning trail blazers.”

At the onset it didn’t take much to convince JPMorgan Chase to see the value of the City Scholars Program. When then Dean Andreas Cangellaris from the College of Engineering presented the concept to company executives affiliated with World Business Chicago and ChicagoNext two years ago, JPMorgan Chase was eager to get involved.

“It aligned really well with our goals,” Benni said. “The University of Illinois has been one of our key partner schools. It produces fantastic engineering talent with the right skills to enter the technology market.”

As JPMorgan Chase is trying to attract tech talent, there are two misconceptions it has had to overcome. The City Scholars program has proven a valuable resource to give potential talent exposure to what the company is about.

“The biggest challenge in terms of campus recruiting is that because we are a large financial institution, we aren’t always thought of as a tech company, but we are FinTech at a massive scale,” Benni said. “We invest over $10 billion a year in technology and have nearly 50,000 technologists including over 30,000 in development and engineering roles.”

The second challenge is sharing the message that Chicago continues to grow as a tech hub.

“Silicon Valley and New York have a strong nationwide pull as places that inherently have big ecosystems with technology companies,” Benni said. “We want to expose students to the fact that there are other options. City Scholars goes beyond providing that awareness. As students start to live and breathe within the ecosystem, it gives them a connection with the city and us a chance to drive home the message that this is a great destination to have a career in technology. It has allowed us to funnel that Chicago message and that tech message to the great engineering talent at the University that we want to join our team.”

In searching for the right fit, JPMorgan Chase asks spring semester interns to also commit to continuing through the summer as part of their Software Engineering Internship. That has provided instant dividends.

“That approach has allowed us even deeper engagement with the students,” Benni said. “The teams can really gel and solve bigger problems that would be tougher to solve at 20 hours per week. I would recommend that approach to other companies.”

While JPMorgan Chase has participated in the past two spring semesters, Benni indicates he is open to expanding the program into the fall as well as hosting multiple teams in parallel.

“We have had nothing but fantastic results from what the City Scholars have been able to produce and how quickly they have been able to produce it,” he concluded.

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