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Winter University stories: for the love of STEM and music

Before applying to Nortal’s Winter University, Maarika was a guitar teacher on a small island called Hiiumaa. But her love for STEM subjects never died, and after a slight detour, it led her to IT.

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“The fact that I went to study traditional music after high school surprised all my relatives,” Maarika Markus, Nortal’s Junior Software Developer, admits. “I was always a fan of science and mathematics and had studied a little programming, but I didn’t realize how to apply it in real life. So, when during the last year of high school I was hit hard by the wave of enthusiasm for folk music, I rode it all the way to Viljandi Culture Academy.”

Maarika decided to try out her new profession before graduating and taught guitar for a year, only to find out that this is not something that puts the sparkle in her eyes. “Quitting school was hard, but I reminded myself of my promise to only study traditional music as long as I enjoy it. Plus, I wasn’t going to the university necessarily to make a career out of that education,” she explains.

She had also started to miss mathematics, so when she found herself in need of a new direction, Maarika began looking for ways to combine mathematics with something more applicable, and she found computer science.

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"Nortal’s Winter University seemed like the perfect opportunity at a perfect time! I was already very eager to use all my knowledge, put it into practice, and see the ‘real world.’”
— Maarika Markus

Winter University graduate

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“My first year, I started looking for internship possibilities because students also need to pay bills. But I didn’t want to wear myself out by waitressing, and I also wanted to validate all the things I’ve learned in real life,” Maarika recalls. Although she was very thorough and motivated in her search, the worldwide pandemic turned everything upside down for a while. “But then, at the beginning of my second year, I stumbled upon Nortal’s Winter University, and it seemed like the perfect opportunity at a perfect time! I was already very eager to use all my knowledge, put it into practice, and see the ‘real world.’”

Maarika remembers visiting her sister on the island of Hiiumaa, about to step into the hot and relaxing sauna, when she suddenly heard her phone ring, which she usually keeps on silent. It was the call to tell her that she had been accepted to Nortal’s Winter University. “I wonder what would’ve happened if I had gone to sauna a minute sooner … ” she smiles.

Looking back at Winter University, she recalls the group assignment, which in addition to being surprising and intriguing, was an excellent way to show oneself as a true team player.

Maarika mainly remembers the first weeks at work for two things: the enormous codebase that she now had to familiarize herself with and the immense responsibility she suddenly felt because her work would directly affect the work of doctors. “But I had a really strong mentor, and now I’m doing quite substantial things already,” she says proudly.

“It can be a real shock to come from school, where you feel that you understand things and can do things well, to real-life software development,” Maarika warns. “These are two completely different worlds.” She still studies at the university and teaches young students there, which is why Maarika is most grateful for the flexibility working at Nortal offers. “Everyone is so understanding, friendly, and accommodating; it means a lot.”