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Data> Big Data Updated: 27 Jun 2019

A 'datathon' to discover BBVA’s future data scientists

Sixty candidates worked non-stop to develop an analytical model and come up with a business solution based on datasets provided by BBVA. The competition, hosted last week at Ciudad BBVA, was the last phase of a selection process aimed at recruiting new members to enroll in the 'Young Data Professionals' program, a BBVA initiative aimed at developing young advanced analytics talent.

Teresa Alameda (BBVA Creative)

Judging by the look on their faces and their focus, one could tell that the challenge participants were facing was a demanding one. Under the watchful eye of the BBVA recruitment experts, evaluators and data scientists, the 60 young candidates worked for hours to solve the one-day challenge, which pursued one clear goal: finding the best young talent specialized in advanced analytics to join BBVA and enroll in its 'Young Data Professionals' program.

“This initiative is part of BBVA's commitment to become a data-driven company, by both training of people who are already part of the group and recruiting of highly specialized external talent,” explained BBVA Global Head of Advanced Analytics Alejandro Valladares. Specifically, BBVA is aiming to recruit a total of 2,000 advanced analysts by the end of 2021, 800 of which will be data scientists. This will be achieved mainly through in-house training programs, but also through the acquisition of new profiles.

'Young Data Professionals' is an initiative rolled out to contribute to this goal, and is aimed to offer science and engineering undergraduate students, as well as graduate students pursuing a master’s degree in big data and/or artificial intelligence the opportunity to join BBVA. “Successful candidates will collaborate with different business areas over a one-year period, working in the implementation of advanced analytics models in real-life use cases,” explained Marco Bonilla, responsible of BBVA's Advanced Analytics Community of Practice.

The challenge was divided into three blocks, designed to test different skills that the company is looking for.

A data challenge

This year’s was the second edition of the program, which is held in Spain. The program’s call for participants received over 1,000 applications. After a preliminary screening process, 60 applicants were shortlisted to take part in the final stage: a 'datathon'; i.e. a competition designed to test both the technical knowledge of the candidates and as well as their communication, teamwork and leadership skills.

“Replacing traditional interviews with a datathon, we are able to make the whole process more appealing for candidates, while offering them a glimpse of the kind of work they would be doing BBVA, explains Ophélie Richard, Head of the Talent Acquisition discipline at BBVA. In addition, this format allows recruiters to judge how candidates behave when taking on challenges that force them to “step out of their comfort zone" and work as part of a team.

Marco Bonilla, responsible of BBVA's Advanced Analytics Community of Practice.  

“I think it's a highly recommendable experience, it allows you to meet a lot of new people, be exposed to new ideas and to learn a lot, I think it's a format that lets you to prove your worth and your ability to create value for the company,” said participant Carlos Santamaría, 24, holder of a Bachelor in Telematics Engineering, who recently earned a double-master’s degree in 'big data' and telecommunications. Ainhoa Rodrigo, 22, who holds a bachelor’s degree in economics, mathematics and statistics, said that she decided to participate in the process after learning about BBVA's progress in the field of data science: “I think that it's a great experience, interesting and different, which allows the company to judge you better. “

This year’s shortlisted candidates averaged 22 to 25 years of age, and most have tech background, specializing in engineering, computer science, mathematics or physics. Over 40% of them have also completed a master’s program in 'big data' or artificial intelligence. Their resumes showcased the combination of advanced technical programming and data analytics skills and business skills that the company is looking for. “The purpose of the 'datathon', is to identify candidates, capable of translating business questions into analytical problems, to come up with data-based solutions using programming and visualization software,” notes Richard.

Beyond their technical skills, candidates are also expected, according to Bonilla, "to think big", to be able to work as one team, keeping customers in mind when developing their data-driven solutions.


Ophélie Richard, Head of the Talent Acquisition discipline at BBVA, during the Datathon.

Ready, steady, data!

The candidates arrived early to BBVA’s Madrid headquarters, and started gearing up for the challenge. After setting up the 10 work teams, they had the chance to get acquainted with each other as they were greeted by the bank’s supervisors. They listened to presentations of the 11 different bank areas they might join if chosen, including Internal Audit, Client Solutions or Engineering; and marked their areas of interest, so that their preferences can be taken into account when assigned to a position with the bank.

Finally, it was time to learn what the challenge would be all about. BBVA Group data scientists José Leiva and Roberto Maestre detailed the functioning and content of the challenge. Candidates were provided with data corresponding to exports of goods to the USA by different companies worldwide. The challenge was divided into three blocks, designed to test different skills that the company is looking for.

"The candidates with the highest scores will be offered the opportunity to join the bank, enrolling in the 'Young Data Professionals' program"

These blocks were intended to cover one of the "three legs" that a data scientist must have, according to Roberto Maestre, who was also a member of the jury: “Being able to perform a data analysis, defining an analytical model to solve a specific problem and connecting all this to a practical business use case that can be extrapolated to the bank,” said the expert. To spot the right candidates, a group of coaches supervised the work of the participants. This group consisted of representatives from the different disciplines to which successful would be appointed, together with Talent & Culture representatives – who were responsible for assessing the candidates’ soft skills - and data scientists, who reviewed the process that each team had followed to come up with their technical solutions.


This year’s shortlisted candidates averaged 22 to 25 years of age, and most have tech and science backgrounds.

An open door to the future

Five hours and hundreds of lines of code later, the candidates presented their work to the jury, made up of members of the Scientific Committee and BBVA’s Talent & Culture team. Each team was given five minutes to pitch their analytical approach and business case, and then they answered the questions of the judges. The proposal by the winning team, made up by two girls and three boys, consisted in a risk and opportunity assessment tool to help export and import companies detect new business opportunities in other countries.

After the 'datathon', candidates with the highest scores will be offered the opportunity to join the bank, enrolling in the 'Young Data Professionals' program in September. Also, for all participants, a door has been opened to work at BBVA in the future. “People are the most important part of our digital transformation. The fact that you are here today proves how important it is for BBVA to support young talent. Our transformation plan is extremely ambitious and requires us to be able to rethink the banking business model from a data standpoint. And we have set out to achieve these results in the organization with professionals like you,” concluded Alejandro Valladares.

The members of the Scientific Committee were part of the datathon’s jury were Roberto Maestre, José Miguel Leiva, Johan Gunnesson, Emilio Parrado, Carlos Miguel Figuera and Felipe Alonso.

Stay tuned!

The 'Young Data Professionals' program is a global initiative that BBVA is already developing in Argentina, Mexico, Colombia and Peru, and will soon be replicated in the US and Turkey.

To join BBVA’s team of data scientists, please visit our employment website and follow us on LinkedIn to learn about new job opportunities.