The “Wolfsberg – UBS Center for Education and Dialogue” conference center offers a spectacular panorama which stretches from Lower Lake Constance via Reichenau Island as far as Lake Constance itself. And anyone taking part in a training course in its historic – recently renovated – rooms usually also has interesting career prospects.

This is especially true for six young guests: Endrit Kukalaj, Nikola Matovic, Athavan Theivakulasingham, George Rowlands, Janis Marty and Silvan Bauer. They are young programmers who are either still in training at UBS or who have recently completed their apprenticeship. And together they form the elite of UBS’s ICT championship class – the abbreviation stands for “Information and Communication Technology” – who are being sent by the bank to compete in ICT Skills, the Swiss championships in application development. This will be the second time for Janis Marty: he had already measured himself against the best in Bern in 2018.

Final preparations for the Swiss championships

UBS is one of the largest private sector apprenticeship providers in the banking and IT sectors. “We encourage people according to the principle of ‘successful lifelong learning’. That’s why UBS, as Presenting Partner of SwissSkills, is committed to supporting apprenticeships and professional championships,” explains Patrick Müller from UBS Junior Talent Switzerland. He launched the ICT championship class after the surprise success of UBS apprentices at ICT Skills 2018, when two apprentices qualified for the national showdown during the regional qualifying round. UBS will even be able to enter six young talents in September 2020. That represents an increase of 200 percent.

The four-day preparation camp on the Wolfsberg gives the champions the opportunity to add the finishing touches to their training. “Being far away from the everyday office routine enables our six candidates to delve deeper into the subject matter,” explains Müller. “Everyone has solid basic knowledge. But we train them to be able to retrieve and implement this knowledge even under difficult circumstances.” They have the necessary professional abilities, now it’s a matter of fine tuning their methodological skills.

Key skills: curiosity and willingness to learn

What does an ICT apprentice need in order to be accepted onto UBS’s innovative talent program? “The most important qualities are curiosity and motivation. The apprentice’s actual knowledge is less important than the fact that he is eager to learn much more,” says Müller. However, lip service is not enough. Both in school and in practice, the students have to produce convincing top performances. Recruitment for the “championship class” begins in the middle of the second year of apprenticeship. There is a special module every month until the fourth year of apprenticeship – as long as the apprentices can keep up.

Anyone who enters the room where the six championship hopefuls are busy practicing is amazed by the almost meditative atmosphere. No matter what happens around them, the apprentices do not allow themselves to be thrown off course. To ensure that they are prepared to face challenges outside their everyday working life at UBS, the external trainer Andreas Ilg, computer scientist at ETH and Head of Solutions Engineering at Fuchsgroup Consulting, gives them tricky tasks that push them to their limits. “The exciting thing is that students from different apprenticeship years bring along a wide variety of practical experience. They approach cracking nuts in a completely different way, and can all learn from one another,” stresses Ilg. With regard to the championships, he considers two factors to be decisive for success: speed and the ability to concentrate.

Commitment to IT in Switzerland

Even in the breaks between the preparatory training sessions, problem-solving approaches remain the dominant theme during discussions among the six young men. They will have to compete against each other in the grand competition from 9 to 12 September. But until then, there is a feeling of togetherness – and even of being there for one another. Broadly speaking, older colleagues are willing to pass on their knowledge to younger ones. “When selecting apprentices, we not only look at technical abilities, but also take into account social skills,” Müller emphasizes. That’s because team spirit is needed to solve complex problems in practice.

Will apprentices from other areas also have the chance to take a championship class in the future? “We are already considering how we could promote other IT occupations beyond basic IT training,” reveals Müller. However, this would require a certain number of apprentices. The championship class is an important way of motivating all apprentices. “All in all, in Switzerland there is a lack of IT specialists with practical experience. We want to help make these professions more popular.”

Of course, UBS would be delighted to see its talents perform well, admits Müller. As far as he is concerned, the candidates’ motivation and commitment are encouraging. And the cloud-free view over the lake scenery from the top of the Wolfsberg can’t be a bad sign ...

Athavan Theivakulasingham

“Happy if someone from UBS wins”

Athavan Theivakulasingham reveals the pitfalls he wants to avoid on the road to success at ICT Skills 2020.

Athavan Theivakulasingham, fourth-year application developer at UBS, made it to third place at the regional championships in Zurich.

About his choice of profession

I decided at the last minute. After the trial period I had the choice between an electronic technician apprenticeship and an IT apprenticeship. I followed my instinct. There was a steep learning curve in IT to start off with, but then I never thought I would enjoy the job so much.

About his strengths

I work in a disciplined and focused manner. Since I’ve been part of the UBS championship class, my comprehension skills have improved enormously. Now when I read something, I immediately imagine it. But I’d like to develop my technical skills even more. A trap that we application developers fall into is that we quickly get tangled up in the details of a special requirement. We end up losing time without progressing with the solution of the main problem.

About ICT Skills 2020

I like the challenge of being able to compete with the best. The tasks put you under huge pressure. It’s top intellectual sport – I enjoy it. Of course I want to do as well as possible. But as long as someone from UBS makes it to the podium, I’m happy! Apart from that, I’m not too worried yet.

Nikola Matovic

“ICT Skills is harder than karate”

Nikola Matovic sat down in front of a computer with his dad from an early age. Now the UBS apprentice is practicing for ICT Skills.

Runner-up at the Zurich ICT regional championships: fourth-year application developer at UBS Nikola Matovic.

About his choice of profession

I was fascinated by IT from a very young age. That’s because my dad’s a computer scientist too. He remains a role model for me, even today. Together we’ve solved some tricky IT problems. We complement each other very well: he has a lot of experience – and I’m up to date with the latest knowledge, even in the area of new technology.

About his strengths

I’m always in the running and usually finish high in the rankings. But I’m also disciplined. Whenever I set my mind to something, I become very ambitious about achieving this goal. For example I live in Basel, but had to work in Zurich during the first three years of my apprenticeship. I had to put up with over four hours of commuting every day! I’d like to increase the pace even more at ICT Skills. I learn most by analyzing mistakes. That helps me to avoid them next time.

About ICT Skills 2020

I accept the challenge with respect. I want to score points quickly in the competition by completing the most important tasks first. Basically I’m a sporty person and I like measuring myself against others. That’s why I also completed a course to become a karate trainer. You need mental strength for karate as well as for programming competitions. But I’m under greater mental pressure at ICT Skills!

Endrit Kukalaj

“I find it easy to motivate myself”

Endrit Kukalaj relegated the seniors to the back of the field at the ICT regional championships. Is he ready for ICT Skills?

Endrit Kukalaj, UBS’s third-year application developer, won first place at the 2020 ICT regional championships.

About his choice of profession

When I had to choose a career during the second secondary school class, I took a closer look at the professions of electronics engineer, automation engineer and programmer. Then I applied – and ended up in IT. Maths and logical thinking are important, because you have to develop an individual solution for every problem.

About his strengths

I find it easy to motivate myself and am self-confident. I’m also a perfectionist. When I tackle something, I do it right. When I was preparing for the regional championships, I was only in my second year of training. We’d learned a different programming language than the one used for the championships. I only learned the C-Sharp programming language when I got a practical training position on the Microsoft Development Team. But after a very short time I mastered it so well that I won first place at the regional championships!

About ICT Skills 2020

At the Swiss Championships, I encounter people at a different level than at the regional championships. That’s why I’m training hard. Anyone who simply wants to have fun is left by the wayside in competitions. For me, sport is a way to balance out the demands of IT. I play football in a club two to three times a week, and I also do strength training.