“I can easily combine an IT career and family time in Finland”

For China native Xiaolei Shawn Du, the International Master's Degree Programme in Information Technology (IMPIT) at the University of Eastern Finland (UEF) was a stepping stone to many interesting job opportunities in Finland. And he is not the only one – since at least half of the student batch stayed in Finland after graduation. Many ended up in the Helsinki metropolitan area, like Xiaolei, working in software development – and enjoying the Finnish work-life balance that Xiaolei especially appreciates.

Solid theoretical basis & freedom to choose

Before applying to the IMPIT programme, Xiaolei graduated from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden with a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Software Engineering. He wanted to continue to Master’s and applied to universities both in Sweden and Finland – both countries equally renowned for high-quality education. To tip the scale to Finland’s favour, one of Xiaolei’s relatives who already studied at Aalto university in Finland, recommended Finland as an option.

The IMPIT programme allows students to tailor their studies according to their interests, and for Xiaolei this worked extremely well.

–Even though the programme is broad and offers many directions, I had a clear plan. I have always been into more practical applications than purely theory, so I knew I wanted to become a developer rather than researcher. You need to have certain drivenness to find your focus.

Xiaolei graduated in 2014, so it’s been a few years of working life in between the studies and present day. Still, he remembers some courses very well.

–We gained a solid theoretical basis in computer science during Master’s studies, and especially the course Data Structures and Algorithms was a very fundamental one. Even though nowadays I don’t do lower level development with algorithms, I continue building on those basic principles.

Another important learning was academic thinking.

–I knew I didn’t want to continue academic career, but still the course on research methods and academic thinking gave me a lot of insight on how to structure your thinking and most importantly, how to let others know about your thinking. Personally, I was not the best in communicating my ideas, partly due to my different cultural background, so this course really helped me to communicate with classmates and professors and acquiring further skills.

Xiaolei also took part in a research group, as during IMPIT studies you can apply to any of the groups at the School of Computing.

–There’s always a need for hands-on developers in research groups so I joined the Interactive Technologies Research Group that focuses on eye tracking. I was helping to retract data from eye tracking records. Big data was the hot topic at that time, and we learned how to store and analyse big amounts of data in practice.

Study atmosphere in Joensuu

There are three things that Xiaolei emphasises about the IMPIT programme: the excellent environment for research, the active cooperation with local companies and the international, comfortable atmosphere both on campus and in Finland in general.

–I did an internship in a local company called Fastroi that focuses on data integration and also continued working there after I graduated. I also did real time 3D modelling in the Finnish Forest Research Institute that is located right next to the campus. Of course, Joensuu is a relatively small city compared to Gothenburg, for instance, but still there are some very interesting companies and opportunities for internships and employment.

Xiaolei really liked Joensuu due to its manageable size and friendly people.

 –Before moving to Joensuu, I was a bit worried if the people speak English and how life is in a smaller city than what I’m used to. But it turned out really nice; the university is actually bigger than you think, and it has so many international programmes that you’ll surely make friends. The environment is very student-friendly and for instance, the university offers a good orientation programme to help students settle in the town.

What he now misses from Joensuu is free time activities.

 –I enjoyed the nature as it was so close. It was easy to go jogging and to do different sports like volleyball, badminton and such. Of course, there were parties as well – I’ve never met people from so many countries than in those get-togethers, Xiaolei laughs.

Excellent work-life balance

Now Xiaolei lives in Helsinki, the capital of Finland, and works in software engineering, gradually getting higher level positions all the time. Currently he works for Smartly.io, which is a platform that automates social media marketing.

In his job, he enjoys creative problem solving – when you can make a customer happy with some lines of code that are needed to implement a feature, and the customer can use that feature to meet their goals.

 –I really like helping people, and I also like the idea of constant development. This is such a competitive industry that you always have to be motivated to move forward and to improve all the time. I think I’m like that as a person, but the studies have encouraged the idea of constant learning as well.

At the moment, Finland as a working environment feels really good for Xiaolei – especially as his wife also graduated from the IMPIT programme and found employment in Helsinki as well, and work doesn’t take up all their time.

 –In Finland I really appreciate that there’s a good work-life balance, and you are not required to overwork. I still have plenty of time to enjoy hobbies and family time after a day at work. I have proper annual leaves when I can travel and do whatever I like.

This is something that Xiaolei definitely doesn’t take for granted, as the situation was very close to being very different.

–One of my fellow students went back to China to work for a major webstore after graduation, and for a moment I was thinking that I should go back as well. There’s no denying that there are numerous opportunities in China with lots of money involved. However, my friend is very busy, working the weekends straight, and I’m happy I didn’t make the move of going there. Maybe I would have gained a lot but lost family time in exchange.

Xiaolei mentions that at least half of their IMPIT group stayed in Finland to work in the software industry, mostly in Helsinki area, and sometimes they meet up for a chat.

–I didn’t imagine I could stay this long, but so far, I feel good. I will continue learning from my colleagues and improving my skills, and I don’t feel I need to go anywhere.