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Citadel names UC Berkeley students winners in datathon contest

(Bloomberg) -- Citadel’s search this year for the smartest young data scientists is over.

The hedge fund picked a winning group of students from UC Berkeley who went up against other teams at its data science competition at the New York Stock Exchange. The Berkeley students clinched a $100,000 cash prize at the Data Open Championship and possible job interviews with the Chicago-based firm.

Ken Griffin’s $27 billion firm and rivals have turned to unconventional ways to find the brightest data minds at a time of fierce competition for them from the likes of Facebook Inc. and Google. Citadel hosted 20 one-day competitions from Stanford to MIT to Oxford, with the best performers competing in the week-long finale, which concluded today.

“Great investors are like great basketball players,” Griffin said in an interview with CNBC Monday. “They’re hard to come by.”

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The building that houses Citadel Investment Group LLC, center, stands in Chicago. Citadel Securities trades about 14 percent of U.S. equities volume and 19 percent of options, according to data on its website. Photographer: Tim Boyle/Bloomberg

The teams applied data science to a meaningful problem in education -- where more funding would have the biggest effect. The Berkeley team of four, with members from the U.S., China and Germany, worked 16-hour days during the week and lived off pizza and cupcakes in producing a 20-page report and presentation.

The Berkeley students looked at the impact of opening charter schools. They have a negative impact in the short-term but outperform public schools in the long-term because of a survivorship bias. Only good charters stay in the system while bad ones close.

‘Very Good Feeling’One of the winners, Soeren Kuenzel, a 26-year-old Ph.D. candidate from Bonn, Germany, said the week of little sleep and hard work was worth it.

“I don’t think I could even describe it in German,” the statistics and data-science candidate said. “It’s a very good feeling.”

Berkeley’s Allen Tang, from Nanjing, China, said that he was interested in working in quantitative finance after finishing his master’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science.

“We’re challenging the concept of an interview and moving to talent auditions and the datathon is an example of that,” L.J. Brock, chief people officer for Citadel, said in an interview.

Correlation One, a talent firm which co-hosted the competitions, develops intellectual property and technology to assess the skills of data analytics professionals.

Citadel will hold an expanded competition again next year.

--With assistance from Katia Porzecanski