Student Niina Tapanainen: I study technology because I want to improve people's lives
How does the Internet work? How do devices communicate with each other? These are the questions Niina Tapanainen had in upper secondary school, so she decided to apply to study automation and information technology. Niina is interested in speech and language technology, and in the future she wants to be involved in developing speech recognition in Finnish.
Why did you choose information technology?
In upper secondary school, I was thinking about studying physics at the University of Helsinki, or for a Master of Science in Technology at Aalto University. We had someone doing non-military service at our school, and they had a lot of good to say about Aalto University, so I started to lean towards technology. A highly valued degree and life as a student of technology were also incentives. I went to the Aalto website to see what options they had, and I thought that automation and information technology sounded interesting even though I didn’t really know what information technology was. It sounded really cool, and the site mentioned 5G and IoT, for example. I thought it would be very interesting to know how devices communicate with each other or how the Internet works.
I have now progressed from my bachelor's to master's studies, and I’m studying in the CCIS - Speech and Language Processing programme.
What is everyday student life like?
I wasn’t very active in student life during my first year, but during my second year, I started to take on small tasks in the Guild of Automation and Systems Technology (AS) which is the student association of our field. For example, I was a guild room guard and helped with the layout of the guild's history book. I liked the open-minded and inclusive culture among students of technology. Everyone can come as they are – it was something I had never experienced before.
During my first year on the AS guild’s board, I was the communications manager, and during my second year I was the chair. Being the chair was one of the best experiences I’ve had; I learned a lot about myself and leadership. Some of my most memorable experiences of student activities include Tempaus2016, where we visited comprehensive schools, and the Opiskelijat Lintsillä event where the guild rented the entire Linnanmäki amusement park for us students.
There is no designated path at Aalto that you have to take. If a topic seems interesting, you shouldn't hesitate to try it.
What are your studies like in practice?
I had three particularly good courses in my bachelor’s studies. The first one was the Electrical Engineering Workshop course (Sähköpaja) during my first year where we worked in groups to build an electronic device. Our group built a robot that we controlled with the Nintendo Wii controller. Another of my favourite courses was Computer Networks, where we learned about Internet protocols, routing algorithms and network analysis tools. We got to actually do things and experiment during the course. The third course was Applied Digital Signal Processing (Sovellettu digitaalinen signaalinkäsittely), which was very interesting. During the course, our group built a simple speech recognition system, which was my first experience with voice recognition.
There is no designated path at Aalto that you have to take. If a topic seems interesting, you shouldn't hesitate to try it. It’s pretty easy to change your major at Aalto and to combine technology with other fields of study. For example, I’m not the most traditional student of technology since I took a minor subject at the University of Helsinki humanities department. I studied general linguistics and language technology. I study technology because I want to improve people's lives.
What tools you have gotten from your studies to working life?
Thanks to practical courses, we learn how to work in a team and to apply theory in practice. The bachelor's studies focus more on basics, and orientation towards employment begins properly during your master's degree studies.
The best way to prepare for your career is to get work experience in your field. We also have very good employment opportunities for summer jobs. During my bachelor’s degree studies, I worked at Telia's product administration in summer 2019. I worked with network traffic, tested terminal equipment, and carried out data analysis.
How do you see the future of the field?
Language and speech technology are close to my heart because it brings humans and technology together in an interesting way. At the moment, the problem is that Finnish is a minority language compared to English, for example. I would like to be involved in developing language technology and speech recognition in Finnish. It would be important for Finnish-speakers to have access to services in their own language.
There is a growing need for technology so that people can focus on more important issues and perhaps work slightly shorter days while technology and machines perform routine tasks.
I'd recommend this field to anyone who likes problem-solving and math or is interested in combining humanities and technology, for example. It is a good idea to combine technology with unexpected fields to create new solutions.