School of Business donor stories: Tianyi Pan

‘The business studies and a very international career brought me a unique ability to see things from many different perspectives and very holistically, not just from a certain point of view,’ tells our alumnus and donor Tianyi Pan, who works with AI and machine learning in Shanghai.
Tianyi Pan
Tianyi Pan, School of Business alumnus and donor.

Tell us about you

I am a Finnish Chinese Aalto University alumnus currently working in Shanghai. I studied at Aalto University School of Business in 2006-2012, although when I started my studies, it was still called the Helsinki School of Economics. However, I have been very pro-Aalto right from the start.

Your memories when studying at the School of Business

The transition from high school to a new environment offered me – a slightly shy and introverted nerd as I was – an opportunity to try being a bit different than before. But after a few quite wild years, my studies settled on a more familiar direction. Yet, I have not regretted a single day.

The deepest memories of my student days are surprisingly all outside of my actual studies. The School of Business and its student community provided a great environment for a variety of activities and events, which certainly covered all possible interests of students.

For myself, the absolute highlights were participating in the KY-Speksi music theater productions in two different years (2008 and 2010), and organizing the first Aalto University student screening of a feature film that I made with team of indie filmmaker hobbyists, followed by its acquisition to be played at commercial cinemas in Finland (2009). Other highlights include my exchange semester in Tsinghua University in Beijing – the same school that my parents went (2008), and quite fittingly to this year’s theme, the KY 100 annual ball a full decade ago!

I want to do my part so that as many Aalto students as possible could have the same experience as I had.

Tianyi Pan, School of Business alumnus and donor.

How have the business studies been useful in your career?

In 2012, already a few months before my actual graduation date, I moved back to China for work, and I have mainly worked here ever since. My career resembles a bit of the meandering of my student years as my interests have changed over time: I was very good in science in high school, but we agreed to apply to the School of Business together with a group of friends. Now that I look back, stepping out of my ​​social comfort zone for the entire duration of my university studies did really good for my career development: I grew into a more balanced ‘generalist’ who doesn’t feel restrained in artificial silos.

My career got an explosive start even before I graduated, when ­– just at the right time – I got a chance to write my Master’s thesis at Rovio, which was experiencing a strong growth, brought by the hit game Angry Birds. After completing my thesis and graduating, I continued working in the same company, but moved to China, as we established Rovio’s first overseas office in Shanghai. I spent almost five years at the ‘bird factory’ before I wanted to try animation and filmmaking more professionally due to my hobby background. However, the Chinese animation industry turned out to be much more in its infancy than in the West or Japan, for example. Moreover, at the same time, a whole different topic started to pique my interest.

In 2016, DeepMind’s AlphaGo system beat several world-class grand masters in the Chinese board game Go. Sci-fi has always been close to my heart. With all the literature, the films and now also the reality, the temptation of the AI became too great: I started to self-study machine learning through online courses alongside with my day job. I was lucky enough to get halfway into the industry when I got a job related to finance and data analytics at the Finnish-owned cross-border e-commerce and consulting company called The company is headquartered in the southern city of Shenzhen in China, next to Hong Kong.

However, my real breakthrough in the artificial intelligence industry came in 2019, when I got a job at a startup that provides image recognition as a B2B service, and I moved back to Shanghai. I first worked in project management roles, and later as a developer of machine learning algorithms in the core team. In a very short time, I have learned so much that I feel like being at school again, immersed in those very technical and scientific subjects, in which I was good at in high school.

The business studies and a very international career brought me a unique ability to see things from many different perspectives and very holistically, not just from a certain point of view. Therefore, as I said earlier, I do not regret it at all that I was on a small detour for more than a decade before entering my current field of work.

What inspired you to donate to the School of Business?

My artistic filmmaking hobby, business studies and a very technology-focused and international career development – I said earlier I have always been pro-Aalto, but I guess it’s really my own story that helps epitomize this multidisciplinary spirit that Aalto represents.

I had the opportunity to visit Finland in 2018, many years after graduation. I saw the new Aalto campus in Otaniemi for the first time, and I fell in love with it right away. I want to do my part so that as many Aalto students as possible could have the same experience as I had. That is why I particularly selected a cause that promotes openness, internationality, and globalization.

I also make other donations; I have e.g. donated to Wikipedia as a source of open and accessible information. In addition, I’ve participated in several crowdfunding campaigns, the most successful of them certainly being the Kickstarter campaign of my friend Linda Liukas, who rose to world fame through her Hello Ruby book project.

Your greetings to the 110-year-old Kauppis?

In middle school, we once made a yearbook in which we gathered information on all classes, as well as articles we wrote about our school and life. The yearbook was called ‘The Flame Bearers’. I have had the great honor of being one of the Flame Bearers of School of Business during my studies. The same fire still burns bright in my heart after all these years. Like the Olympic flame, I hope we can keep it ablaze for all the future generations. Thank you.

Your greetings to other School of Business alumni and current students?

The most important thing is not the destination but the journey. If your path ever leads you to China and Shanghai, look me up. I promise more stories to tell.

Our warmest thanks to you Tianyi for supporting the School of Business and sharing your story with us!

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Here you can find School of Business alumni stories. Our alumni share their professional journeys and give advice and tips regarding working life. The stories have been sorted based on the alumni's majors. The newest publications are placed first in the major groups.

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