“When I was just 10 years old I already knew that I would become an engineer in the field of electricity”, says Mikko J. Salminen, Alumnus of the Year at the School of Electrical Engineering.
At that time Otaniemi was the only place in Finland where it was possible to study in the field, so the enthusiastic future engineer focused all his energy on getting the doors of Otaniemi to open for him. Ever since they did open in 1978, Otaniemi has remained a place of great significance throughout his life.
“At that time the study environment was very active, and I joined student organisations and other activities. My aim was to make Otaniemi a good environment for learning, and to develop studies”, he notes.
The active and cheery youngster soon found like-minded fellow students, and Otaniemi developed into one of the main places for innovation.
“When I started my studies at Otaniemi, Finland had two television channels and the black-and-white view was only starting to change to colour at Teekkari Village. With a little bit of fine tuning and the help of Professor Martti Tiuri, we set up a cable TV network in Otaniemi. The first experiment was in March 1983. We got the cable TV network of Teekkari Village to work, and we started producing programmes. We shot material at big events and broadcast programming all around Teekkari Village.
In August the same year the first world championships in athletics were held in Finland. At Teekkari Village, which served as the village for the games, the events were shown in colour in every student housing unit; Salora had donated the television sets and the students had built a cable TV network that covered Teekkari Village, Dipoli, Täffä, and Otahalli.
“Management at Teleste came to wonder how we had managed to get five channels, including British Sky TV to work on the nearly antiquated television sets that the tech students had”, Salminen recalls.
Active young people ended up frequently discussing if people really need to be in the same room to learn, or if they could follow teaching online.
In his first years of study Salminen focused on electronics and software, but he later became interested in telecommunications. In his career, he has worked at Nokia four times for a total of 22 years and served in management positions in companies including Vaisala and Elisa.
One significant awakening in his career occurred during a SIK-USA study trip to the United States lasting a few weeks in 1981.
“Back then, I really did not know what Finland's position in the electronics field was, but during the trip we realised that in Finland we used computers to design microcircuits, while in the United States they were still doing it on paper.”
Inspired by this, the innovation continued in Otaniemi. Salminen and his friends decided that the Student Union membership card needed to be upgraded, and Finland's first smart card was born.
Otatieto Oy was founded on the initiative of the Student Union. The project was funded by TEKES in 1985–1989. Thirteen Finnish companies were involved.
“I had just got my first job at Nokia, but I quit to work as the development manager of Otatieto. At that time, I was working on my master's thesis at Nokia and I graduated four months before the birth of my first child”.
Incessant enthusiasm about matters leads to new innovations
Aalto University combines technology, art, and the economy. The Alumnus of the Year is enthusiastic about this and believes that it will give rise to new things.
“I always advocate for the idea that Finland's small size and the sense that everyone knows each other is an advantage. The birth of something new requires people in different fields to meet each other. I also encourage students to expand their understanding by studying different kinds of things. It is not always necessary to go down one path; you can read anything that interests you”, Salminen insists.
In addition to lifelong learning, Salminen is fascinated by the notion of lifelong inspiration and interest in things. Interest in new things and in seeking what is new is what gives people vision, and the ability to see what will happen in the future. This is something that he gets to apply this in his current work at the innovation consultation company Spinverse. They help companies to innovate and to see how both small and large companies, can help each other.
“In my career I have worked in large companies, but also in a few small start-ups. Personal experiences are of great help in innovation. I also teach a Project work course at the School of Electrical Engineering, and I teach students about the importance of fundamental research. On the day that something works in a laboratory, it takes fifteen years for a breakthrough to come.”
Active alumni work continues
The Alumnus of the Year wants to advance the basic idea of Aalto University of bringing together students of different fields on the alumni side as well. Salminen has been involved in organising the traditional AlumniWeekend seminar already more than ten times. The goal is that in the future one alumni event with 1,000 people, will be held in Otaniemi, in which alumni from different fields will have the opportunity to meet each other.
“I have always been a team player and in Otaniemi the perception of the strength of cooperation grew stronger. Nobody can achieve results alone. The participation of skilled people is needed. Working with people also has extensive benefits for people's working careers. Even climate challenges can be solved only through cooperation at the multisectoral level by increasing intelligence”, the Alumnus of the Year points out.
Mikko J. Salminen was presented with the Alumnus of the Year award for the School of Electrical Engineering on 23 October 2021 at the SIK100 seminar of the Aalto University Guild of Electrical Engineering. Dean Jyri Hämäläinen explains the choice: Mikko J Salminen is an alumnus’ alumnus! His story wonderfully connects the Otaniemi community of electrical engineering students with Finland's emergence as a great power in electronic development and Aalto University's alumni activities. His work on behalf of our alumni activities defies comparison. I hope that his selection as the school's alumnus of the year will encourage all who have graduated from the school to actively participate in the activities of our alumni community.