Capital One CIO Talks Big Data, Innovation Ahead of Tonight’s Information Session

January 28, 2014

Since its founding as a credit card company in 1988, Capital One Financial Corp. has honed its competitive edge on an ability to effectively use data analytics to customize its products. Now a diversified bank with more than 65 million customer accounts worldwide, Capital One’s subsidiaries offer a spectrum of financial products and services to consumers, small business and commercial clients.

That growth, as well as the explosion of the use of big data as a business tool, means the McLean-based company constantly searches for the right kind of talent.

Capital One Chief Information Officer Robert M. Alexander will be on Grounds for just such a visit tonight at 7 p.m. in the Rice Hall Auditorium, where he plans to talk about new frontiers of big data and business innovation.

UVA Today caught up with Alexander, who holds a bachelor’s degree and an MBA from Harvard University, in advance of his visit to explore the issues.

Q. What’s your message to U.Va. students and faculty tonight?

A. I will be speaking with computer science and computer engineering students and faculty about the rise of technology in corporate America. There are a handful of industries where information technology is essential for delivering products and services. Financial services is one of those industries. 

As banking becomes more digital and software-driven, we need to attract the very best associates to help drive product and service innovation for our customers at an ever-increasing pace. Because IT is core to Capital One’s strategy, each year we make significant investments in exciting new technologies that are driving the evolution of banking. 

Recruiting top technical talent through our on-campus program at some of the country’s most prestigious colleges is an important pipeline for us. Since 2011, we’ve doubled the number of college hires we have recruited with technical backgrounds into various roles at Capital One, including software engineers, quality analysts, platform engineers and “scrum masters.” The University of Virginia continues to provide us with excellent candidates who can help Capital One continue to grow and succeed.

Q. “Big data” is a hot topic today. How important is it to Capital One’s success?

A. The term “big data” really isn’t new for us. Back at the very beginning of Capital One, we were using our Information Based Strategy to get the right product, to the right customer at the right price.

Early in the credit card industry, there really wasn’t any differentiation. It was a one-size-fits-all pricing approach. Our Information Based Strategy changed all that. Essentially what we were doing in the ’90s was leveraging the power of data to custom-tailor products to our customers. We ran thousands of tests to learn about what customers wanted. 

Today, the way big data is managed has been improved immeasurably. The technology platforms for managing and analyzing data are revolutionizing how data can be used to drive better business performance. For Capital One, our Information Based Strategy has always been at the core of what we do, so big data today is as important as it ever was. We are just able to do so much more. Now with the newest open-source data technologies we are able to process information so much quicker. This is leading to new insights for our businesses to better meet customer needs at just the right time.

Q. Are universities producing enough graduates with this expertise?

A. No there’s never enough, which is why corporations and educators must push science, technology, engineering and mathematics – or STEM – education to elementary, middle and high schools. In fact Capital One recently launched a program called “Code Wizards” to encourage middle school students to explore the world of software development. Over the course of 10 weeks, we introduce students to a variety of coding languages, and teach them how computers work and how to build them.

Companies need to also provide the right internships for STEM students to enable them to gain valuable hands-on experience. We also have a robust Information Technology Development Program. This 18-month program affords associates the opportunity to work on global-scale technology projects and fuel the development of new Internet, social media and smart phone capabilities.

Later this year, we will be running two summits for freshman and sophomore college students to help them develop the technical skills that companies like Capital One are looking for. 

Q. What attributes does Capital One desire when hiring in this field?

A. We are always on the lookout for top technical talent, especially students in the STEM field. Specifically, in the IT group we’re looking for individuals with degrees in computer science, computer engineering or other IT-related degrees. We’re looking for intermediate skills in one or more of the following languages: Java, Ruby, Python, Objective C, C#, C/C++, Perl, XML, JSON, UML, JavaScript, Visual Basic, HTML, SQL, PL/SQL, Shell scripts. 

We also look for students who have strong communication and analytical skills; since the majority of our associates work in agile project teams, they need the ability to not only code quickly, but also interact with IT folks, analysts, engineers and associates from the business. Ideally, candidates should have a 3.0-plus GPA, and we also look for practical, real-life experience in an application as well as experience in development, coding and testing applications, etc.

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