Tartu University combines a truly modern hands-on take on software engineering in a program embedded in one of the fastest growing IT sectors in Europe. This means graduates are all but guaranteed further career opportunities.
It’s impossible to not notice how proud Estonians are of their IT sector. The small Northern European nation is home to Skype, boasts a government that seeks to be paper-free and has been on the forefront of online and mobile services for a decade. Furthermore, the 1,3 million residents of Estonia have given more than 100 million electronic signatures – equal to putting a pen to paper – with the government-issued ID-cards.
“Even the buses from the capital Tallinn to the university-city of Tartu have touchscreens built into the backs of seats, ” points Raimundas Matulevicius, a Lithuanian-born, Norwegian-educated computer scientist, now an associate professor at the Institute of Computer Science of University of Tartu.
This dynamism is highlighted in the master's program in software engineering jointly offered by University of Tartu and Tallinn University of Technology. This unique collaboration allows graduate students unrivaled combination of generalist software knowledge and deep specializations in fast-growing areas such as embedded systems or information security.
Afraid of nothing
“Our students are afraid of nothing,” explains Georg Singer, an Austrian teaching entrepreneurship to software engineers in Tartu. “If Skype can be made in Estonia, they can do anything here.”
“Estonians have a special willingness and desire to innovate. Things are always moving, never stagnant,” says professor Marlon Dumas, head of the software engineering program in Tartu. “Information technology is a real priority here and constant growth means there is always a lot to teach as well as a lot to learn,” says the truly international scholar.
Professor Jaak Vilo, the newest member of the Estonian Academy of Sciences and the head of the Computer Science Institute in Tartu, says that IT is important for Estonians. “Our technology sector is rather entrepreneurial and gigacorporatsions do not dominate. This means new ventures can be set up from scratch.”
“In many other places you have to have a really good reason to change, which hinders innovation,” says . He should know, having been born in Honduras, educated at Paris and Grenoble and worked in Queensland, Australia. “In Estonia, young people can have jobs with real responsibility. They cannot afford the attitude of conserving the status quo,” adds his colleague Singer.
Estonia has realized the only way to grow is through innovation. Therefore, the country is building a strong ICT sector. Ranging from IT competence centers to initiatives to teach programming in primary school, it provides a vibrant environment for students of technology.
Associate professor Matulevicius speaks highly of the very international team he works with at the University of Tartu. “People in academia are open to ideas. This collaboration and total openness to seeing what others are doing means we can focus on quality.”
First year software engineering master’s student Ilya Verenich, a young Russian, points out that the joint program by University of Tartu and Tallinn University of Technology is very practically oriented and provides a plethora of possibilities work directly with technology companies. For him, this was a deciding factor: “When looking for universities, I realized that Estonia is showing other countries what IT can do. Their companies are often mentioned in industry blogs and Tartu is at the same time amongst the top 400 universities in the world for natural sciences.”
The focus on results and dynamism also means limited or no hierarchies and bureaucracy and very good access to senior academic staff. “Germans implement the action implementation plan. Such vocabulary does not even exist in Estonia. You do what you need to do to get things done. This attitude is in line with the kind of students whom we look for at the University of Tartu,” says professor Dumas.
Bright, proactive, creative
“The students who strive here are passionate about building something, not driven to get a bureaucratic job. They’re bright, proactive, creative” says Marlon Dumas. He adds that these are the same people who could easily start their own technology enterprises in a few years.
“We give our graduate students a lot of opportunities and responsibilities from the first day,” says professor Vilo. “In particular, PhD students get involved in a team in postdoc-like responsibilities in EU projects.” The opportunities are probably why many of the master’s students stay on for a doctorate.
Georg Singer, who earned his own PhD on search engines from Tartu emphasizes that graduate students are treated as younger colleagues, therefore enjoying a good one-to-one relationship with their supervisors.
“We call our approach to students participatory supervision. Professors write papers together with their students and are required to closely and constructively participate in the development of their younger academic colleagues,” points professor Dumas. “This is an incremental process of becoming an independent researcher. You are a part of a team until you can lead a piece of research work.”
The team process also means students from a variety of backgrounds are accepted to the software engineering program and many career paths are open to graduates. Students have started successful companies while still in school, have been recruited to corporate positions or stayed on from master’s to the PhD program.
Tartu is by no means a ring-fenced university; the academic staff sees their work embedded in the Estonian ecosystem of e-services, startups and government support for the ICT sector. Relationship with the industry and a compulsory internship or entrepreneurship element to the software engineering program push students out into the industry.
On career days, it’s not infrequent for more companies to attend than students. This means graduates have options, in Estonia or outside. “The Estonian Association of Information Technology and Telecommunications has everything but given each and every single of our graduates guarantee of employment. Estonia needs at least 5000 new IT workers in 5 years,” points professor Vilo.
For more information see www.ut.ee/software!