Sander-Sebastian Värv receives the first Cybernetica Fellowship at University of Tartu

10. Oct 2017

Sander-Sebastian Värv, Computer Sciences Master’s programme student at the University of Tartu Institute of Computer Science was announced as the recipient of the Cybernetica Fellowship in September.

Cybernetica Fellowship, consisting of a 5000-euro scholarship and a paid internship at Cybernetica is the largest IT-fellowship in Estonia, giving a unique opportunity for students to participate in global research projects at one of the country’s leading R&D companies already during their studies.

“For us, it is important to enable students to focus on their studies during their time at university,” says Peeter Laud, Head of Research at Cybernetica. “Moreover, we facilitate getting practical work experience without hindering the study process,” Laud adds. Cybernetica has research projects all around the world, including top research projects with partners in the USA, Europe and Japan.

Sebastian, tell us what led you to choosing computer science as your field. What attracts you to it?
Well, it is actually a rather funny story between computer science and me – my first choice was actually the MD programme, where I missed the threshold by a mere one and a half points. Computer science was my second choice – thank god it was! I have always loved real sciences and IT gives me a great opportunity to apply them. It is largely about solving puzzles while being able to create value. If I can do something useful while solving interesting puzzles, sounds good to me.

What do you consider the most important aspect about the Fellowship, that led you to apply?
I want to focus on my studies. I want to commit fully without having to expend my energy on finding a job just to make ends meet.

Tell us about your future plans regarding computer science. What are your favourite topics?
I am mainly interested in neural networks and computer vision. Just recently, I had a course about artificial neural networks which focused on their practical use. You can also choose a real-life project, one of which is the RCSnal at the Spark tech hub. Putting it simply, there are remote cars that you can drive via video screens. The cars are equipped with cameras that visualise the track – teaching the cars to drive with the help of the recorded video is what the project is about.

So you see yourself in the field of articificial neural networks in the future?
Exactly, either neural networks or data mining, something related to these fields. It is quite a broad scene, so I’ll be sure to find my niche.

The technologies you mentioned are hot trends right now in the industry. What do you think will be the Next Big Thing in, say, ten years time?
It is an extremely difficult to forecast this, as the exponential growth of this fields is hindered by a handful of core problems that today prevent a leap in development. Being realistic, you’d have to estimate which field will have that next breakthrough. All today’s „hot topics“ will certainly be so in ten years time as well, only with less hype and a handful of applications where we can harness them with great efficiency.

Do you see yourself as one of the solvers of these core problems?
Currently, in order to do something groundbreaking in, say, machine learning, you have to be one of the best in the business and equip extensive knowledge about the field. Within a decade, it will probably be a lot easier to create applications, compared with today.

So you see yourself more as the real-life applier of these technologies?
Yes, I would love to apply these technologies, but should the opportunity present itself, also play a role in finding solutions to the core problems.

What is your relationship to Cybernetica like? What had you heard of us before applying for the Fellowship?
Cybernetica is one of the most interesting companies to me – you present really interesting challenges to solve, and work with exciting technologies, while I have also heard great things about your company culture. You are very supportive of studies, most of your core team is highly educated and you encourage others to follow.

You mentioned education – that often entails scientific research.
That’s what makes it interesting, Cybernetica does world class science, including on very sensitive topics. That’s what distinguishes you from others and makes your projects interesting.

Young people sometimes seem to averse from science, it seems to be something remote and intangible. You mentioned that scientific research is necessary to achieve breakthroughs in some fields. Is it possible to do great business while doing great science?
Absolutely it is. Many of the solutions that we deem ubiquitous today stem from top science. These solutions are not piddled or pottered somewhere, they rely on extensive research and development. Take neural networks – the area is still highly scientific and while not being so mundane yet, it in no doubt will be. Then we will see it as nothing special, we forget what comes before it, the science. I also made the mistake of seeing science and research as something remote only a couple years back; thought that science and business live a separate life without ever coming together. The more I learn, the more I relate to creating real-life applications out of scientific research. We might not notice it, but everything works well just because of solutions like these.

You are a Master’s student now – is there anything from your experiences that you would like to share with current high school students, who will face the choice of what to study quite soon?
It’s a complicated question. I believe that every person must reach their own choice in the end. For me personally, the lesson in persistence and perseverence has been the most important one. I also had the moments in the beginning of my studies where I thought – is this what I really want to do with my life? Be persistent, and you will come to the understanding what is the right path for you in life.