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Summer University stories: A surprising philosophy

By Mari-Liis Kariste, Summer University Project Manager, October 25, 2018

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Tuuli Soodla-Tikkerbär’s background was about as far from IT as it gets. That didn’t stop her from finding her niche at Nortal.

For someone starting a career in tech, Tuuli Soodla-Tikkerbär certainly didn’t fit the stereotype. After earning a degree in philosophy, she’d spent a full 10 years working at a scholarship foundation. When she decided she wanted something new in life, she took a leap of faith and signed up to study information system analysis and design. A year later, she began applying for training programs.

“I was worried because I didn’t come from IT,” Soodla-Tikkerbär said, adding that she didn’t set her hopes of getting in too high. She was thrilled, then, to learn that she’d been accepted by her top choice, Nortal Summer University.

“I’d heard a lot of positive things about Nortal. They’re willing to take on people like me and really teach them. It sounded like the perfect opportunity.”

Fitting in like a puzzle piece

The budding junior analyst said that Summer University was a real eye-opener, right from day one. The 50 newbies in the training group turned out to be a diverse mix from Estonia, Serbia, Lithuania and Finland. Soodla-Tikkerbär admits to being nervous at this stage, fully expecting to have to hold her own against high-caliber tech buffs fresh out of high school or university. She was surprised and relieved to learn that number of the group were just like her — older trainees making a transition from a non-IT career.

It was reassuring, she said, when she saw that her background wasn’t putting her at the back of the pack. “I realized that none of us was a pro. We were all starting from zero.”

Important bonds with her fellow trainees were formed during the initial training week, which Soodla-Tikkerbär describes as days of intensive lessons followed by nights of even more intensive socializing. “I’m a bit shy, so it was really good to be pushed to communicate with people.”

It was here that she became close with a group of fellow analysts who would stick together and support one another during the entire training period. They were frequently checking up on each other over Skype, meeting for lunch and comparing notes — a habit that Soodla-Tikkerbär says did a lot to help her ease her into company life.

Real work, right from the get-go

Soodla-Tikkerbär, like all the other trainees, was immediately put to work on an ongoing Nortal project. In this case, it was the Estonian Tax and Customs Authority’s system for land tax. She says that joining a team and taking on responsibility from such an early stage is exactly what she wanted.

“I love projects like this. I get to feel like I’m doing something relevant, something that affects everybody. Even my grandmother pays land tax.”

That said, she admits that joining the ongoing project was initially overwhelming. “At first it’s quite scary because you get a lot of materials. But once you break it down into smaller pieces and start working on it, you get it step by step.

“Working as an analyst, you have to be very independent and that’s something you need to get used to. There are no books where you can look up the answer.”

Luckily, help wasn’t far away. Soodla-Tikkerbär took advantage of Nortal’s personal mentor program whereby, for the first four months, all trainees work side by side with an experienced colleague. “I learned very quickly that there are no stupid questions,” she said. “There’s going to be a steep learning curve, so it’s best just to step up and ask.”

Soodla-Tikkerbär says her biggest impression of her Summer University experience was the positive feeling of team spirit that Nortal creates for the recruits. “You felt like you accomplished something by joining, that you’re going to change society and do great things. That was very different for me.”

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