Interview with Kert Tali, the Recipient of Cybernetica's Fellowship

Kert Tali, Computer Science Master’s student at University of Tartu is the fourth recipient of Cybernetica’s Fellowship.
The Cybernetica Fellowship is a 5000-euro scholarship established in 2017, including also a paid internship at Cybernetica. The fellowship gives the laureate a unique opportunity for research collaborations in the leading R&D-based IT company in Estonia.

We spoke to Kert about his choice of studies, suggestions for those considering a career path in information technology, and the next big breakthroughs in computer science.

What motivated you to choose your current educational path?

Primarily the amount of time spent tinkering about with computers in my childhood. During high school I was also fascinated by programming and abstract problem solving.

Do you remember when you decided to pursue computer science for your degree and why?

I made the decision during my year of military service, while I was admitted to Computer and Systems Engineering at Tallinn University of Technology. I met and had discussions with my peers in the service, who had already decided on pursuing Computer Science in Tartu. At first, I was afraid of it being too complex and theoretical, but decided to follow suit. Thankfully, I didn’t have to regret my decision.

Which areas in your studies interest you the most and why?

Certainly distributed systems, which I am very glad is one of the specialisation paths of the Computer Science Master’s curriculum. Whether it is big data, IoT, distributed computing, information security or something else, the problems tackled in this area are much more real and hands-on than any other field in computer science in my opinion.

What has been the most challenging experience for you in your studies so far? And what has been easier than you thought?

Probably due to recency bias, but I can’t recall a more taxing exam period than the end of the first Master’s semester. The first courses were on another level compared to Bachelor’s and COVID-19 related restrictions didn’t help either, as the pressure to do well increased with the amount of time spent in isolation. Before that, however, I would say the challenge was doing compulsory courses on topics I’m not the biggest fan of (anything in software engineering theory applies), and therefore had to force myself a bit. Everything else has been enjoyable and I’m surprised how well the more theoretical subjects are taught in University of Tartu.

Where do you see your career path moving after completing your studies in computer science?

I envision myself designing systems, cloud-based solutions and alike. But still, I wouldn’t want to give up coding and I wouldn’t even rule out academics and research just yet. So, I guess everything is still very open.

What in your opinion will be the next major breakthroughs in ways computer science affects people’s lives in general?

The major breakthrough in high performance computing will happen as quantum computers will overtake conventional supercomputers in terms of their ratio of manufacturing cost to benefits. Many computational problems which take unreasonable amounts of time today, could then be achievable, powering future research and in turn making the world a better place.

A breakthrough already happening is the IoT revolution for automating processes in every industry, not to mention all the life quality enhancing gadgets.

What life lessons would you share with those who are still considering pursuing an education or a career in IT?

Before making a decision, pick up some acclaimed online course which gives an introduction to some general-purpose programming language (like Python). I really recommend playing around with those new tools and experiment with some hobby projects. Make your assessment based on how you felt during that time. You don’t want to torture yourself nor waste time on something you don’t like. If you’re already in the middle of your studies, embrace what is being taught to you — you will be surprised at how much you will Google at any programming job to recall the concepts explained to you in your algorithms’ courses.

For more information about the Fellowship, see here