Sami Nieminen has a master's degree from Aalto University's HCI program. Back in high school, his future plans were still unclear.
'I knew I wanted to do something related to math, perhaps study engineering, physics, or mathematics, but I did not know for sure what I would do. In the spring of my senior year of high school I participated in an Aalto University event together with a friend of mine. That’s where we both realized that a master’s degree in technology from Aalto University was a great choice for us both', says Sami.
'So, I decided to become an engineer, but at that point I had no idea what kind of an engineer', he says with a laugh.
Sami says he has marvelous memories of his years as a student at Aalto University.
'Wednesday spaghetti at the legendary Täffä restaurant with friends, pulling on our traditional Finnish student overalls for spring parties in Otaniemi and Helsinki, the six-month student exchange I spent in South Korea’s capital Seoul – I have incredible memories from my student years. I would not change a single day', he says.
During his bachelor studies Sami majored in automation and information technology and minored in mathematics.
'When I started my university studies, the biggest surprise for me was the freedom. It was a completely new experience. It took me a while to reorientate, grow up, and take more responsibility for my own study performance and planning my schedule', he reminisces.
'Another surprise was just how much students can challenge themselves at university if they choose to do so. In principle you can get a degree even if you cut a few corners – but if you want to find out just how much you can accomplish, then university is the best place in life to find out'.
Like many of his fellow students, Sami focused more on studies and student life during his bachelor’s studies. Once he started his master’s studies, he was quickly hired.
'I worked almost all the time alongside my master’s studies. It’s very typical in our field. Combining work and studies was quite beneficial. If I noticed a problem at work, for instance when I was coding a mobile app or web page, I could choose a course at Aalto that helped me solve the issue', Sami explains.
'My work experience alongside my studies also helped me clarify my future plans. I realized that I wanted to utilize technology and mathematics to improve people’s lives'.
A focus on human-computer interaction
Sami chose human-computer interaction, HCI, as his master’s major. In the HCI program, students learn how to apply effective computational and design methods to develop human-computer interaction.
'HCI is a very versatile major. If you opt for it, you can become for example a top expert in social media research, or in machine learning, robotics, and electrical engineering – or do what I did, and specialize in utilizing artificial intelligence to help people live their lives to the fullest', Sami says.
'Above all, I was interested in combining artificial intelligence and HCI, which is called interactive AI. Chatbots, customizable user interfaces, and human-AI cooperation in problem solving all fall within the scope of interactive AI'.
In the HCI program – as in Aalto University in general – students have a lot of choice in what they study in addition to the compulsory basic courses.
'HCI is a major that focuses on both technological skills and understanding people. Alongside the strong emphasis on tech skills, you can choose courses where you get influences from, for example, psychology, cognitive sciences, mathematics, linguistics, and industrial design', Sami describes.
'On the whole, the HCI program is characterized by the freedom to choose your own path. Of course, the freedom to choose also means greater responsibility for your own success'.
Finding a job is not a problem for IT experts
Sami already had a job lined up when he graduated as a Master of Science in Technology.
'As far as I know, every single person who studied in the HCI master’s program with me now has a good job. In our field, it would require quite a bit of effort to graduate unemployed. IT experts are in high demand', Sami underlines.
'At present, I have two different jobs. I work full-time as a consultant in one of the largest IT companies in the Nordics, and I also have a part-time job at Aalto University, where I research the utilization of artificial intelligence in the HCI field. I'm currently researching how machine learning algorithms can be used to predict and model different user interfaces', says Sami.
Sami has one main tip for high school students pondering what to do in the future:
'Don’t stress too much about the future. Many people find their own path during their studies. If you are interested in technology or math, I warmly recommend Aalto University. It doesn't matter at all if you are unsure about what you want to focus on in your future career. At Aalto University, you can change orientation and specialization along the way, once your plans become clearer'.