B.Sc. (Tech.) Rapeli


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I study Information Networks at Aalto University. This summer I graduated as Bachelor of Science in Technology with honors and in this blog post I’ll try to have a look at what three years of university life has taught me. In addition to studies, I’ll discuss student life in general and include some thoughts about work life as well.

B.Sc. (Tech.) Rapeli photographed by Atte Mäkinen

B.Sc. (Tech.) Rapeli photographed by Atte Mäkinen.

Studies

Information Networks is an interesting study programme. It contains computer science, industrial engineering and management and human sciences. Currently I feel like it has been a great combination of both useful and interesting viewpoints.

Aalto University is divided into six schools, of which Information Networks belongs to School of Science (SCI). Every bachelor’s student at SCI studies towards the same degree that is called “Bachelor’s Programme in Science and Technology”. However, the studies vary greatly between different majors, but also between people studying the same major. My studies contained a lot of computer science, as it’s what I like and what I’m also hoping to need during my career. Many Information Networks students focus more on industrial engineering, mathematics or something else like design. For me, it’s great that the programme lets us focus our studies to different directions, while still maintaining some amount of uniformity.

Bachelor’s degree is worth 180 ECTS credits and the target time is three years (60 credits / year). That’s pretty fast pace to study, considering I worked and had hobbies as well. On one hand, I’m happy that I graduated in the target time, on the other, I would have enjoyed my studies more if there weren’t so much to do all the time. In the end of 2020 I decided that there’s no need to hurry with studies anymore. I gathered rest of the credits required for the degree with a moderate speed. For my master’s studies I decided that I’ll aim for 40 credits / year. With that speed I won’t graduate in two years as intended, but I’ll for sure get the most out of the courses.

Below are some of my thoughts about the studies in general as well as some more focused thoughts regarding different subjects.

Mathematics

First of all, I never thought I would need much math during my career. I’ve done some spreadsheet calculations at work, and I’ve even had to solve a simple equation once. However, even if I never needed advanced mathematics, math in general is a great part of computer science, and it’s good to have a firm understanding of it.

I thought that Information Networks as a study programme is not that math-intensive by default, even though it is in the field of technology. I have always been pretty good at math, but the first course of mathematics in university felt really difficult. Of course, I hadn’t practiced since high school, so it takes a while to get things rolling again. Luckily, some later courses felt actually really interesting, even though they were quite difficult and required a lot of work. The big thought about mathematics was that even though you would not need it in your career that much, learning it improves logical thinking and perception. I have also noted that I’ve had to really learn the fundamentals (in this case that would be high school level math) in order to survive university math courses. It’s sometimes difficult to realize what one has learned during a mathematics course, but I bet high school math would be pretty easy for me now.

Math exercise solution

A solution to one of the many math exercises.

I wish I could have enjoyed the courses more, as math can be really beautiful in its purity. Sadly, I just wanted them to get them done, and as I had multiple courses going on together with the mathematic courses, stress and deadlines took the fun out of learning.

Data Structures and Algorithms

My minor in my bachelor’s degree was computer science (CS). As the basic programming courses are mandatory in our major, there’s only one obligatory course left for my minor: Data Structures and Algorithms (DSA). The rest could be freely selected from a list. I had heard that DSA is a difficult course, and I was a bit worried about how I would perform. I just wanted to get it over with before proceeding to more interesting CS courses. Turns out, it was one of the most interesting courses in my degree. It is also something that is taught at every university where CS can be studied, and the basics of data structures and e.g. sorting algorithms is something everyone in the field should know at least roughly.

Colorful lines of programming code

Some lines of code from my DSA exercise solutions.

It would’ve been great to study the discrete mathematics course before DSA, but that wasn’t that big of an issue. The required math was explained during lectures, and when studying discrete mathematics, I already knew some practical uses for e.g. graph algorithms. The balance between theory and hands-on exercises was great. I feel like I learned the most relevant things and I’m ready to recap any of the details when needed.

I think the most important takeaway from this course was this general efficiency thinking. Many of the exercises included a naïve solution for a problem, and the task was to implement a faster algorithm. This really made me think more of the performance when programming or planning anything—even when it really does not feel that important. Today, when I develop a solution for anything, I always think of efficiency. Sometimes I come up with a simple solution, that isn’t really that efficient, but I know that it shouldn’t be an issue here. I also know what I could do to improve efficiency if that would be needed later.

Other courses

Math and DSA are for sure the most technical parts of my degree, but most of it consists of something else. For me, almost anything is interesting, at least when you really dig into them. This means that I’ve enjoyed most of my courses, and as an Information Networks student I’ve covered many different topics. Business? Sure thing, I’ve spent countless hours in LibreOffice Calc spreadsheets, but also writing reports where number’s don’t matter that much. Usability? I’ve studied the topic from multiple viewpoints, from human–computer-interaction to user studies, not to forget studying how the human perception functions. Software engineering? Yes, I’ve coded a lot, but I’ve also studied the topic from academic point of view by reading and writing. Deutsch? Natürlich.

UI sketch on paper

A UI sketch by me for the course Web Software Development.

I must also highlight the course “Observing Silence”, which was organized by the school of Arts, design and architecture. It was really something different compared to my other studies, but still useful. A multidisciplinary approach to silence was eye-opening. Sure, silence can mean the lack of sound, but it can also mean e.g. lack of speech or certain topics. We even had the class observe silence as the lack of audible information using white noise as a group work.

Writing skills

We sometimes call Information Networks “the best blog-writing programme in Finland”. Our courses include a lot of writing, sometimes academic, sometimes something else, like blog posts. At times the amount of writing feels a bit overwhelming, but it definitely has improved my writing skills. Now during my master’s studies I feel that writing is never the difficult part—the subject of the course is. I’m happy that writing isn’t the bottleneck when studying. I’ve also benefited from my writing skills in work life. Writing is and has been a major part of my work, and at Justin I’ve even written a few blog posts (in Finnish).

Bachelor’s thesis

When I was scrolling through possible topics for my thesis, I realized how many options I had, as the study programme is so extensive. I ended up choosing a data visualization topic, and the final title of my thesis is “Visualization choices in the perception of graph-form data structures” (translated from Finnish “Visualisointivalinnat verkkomuotoisten tietorakenteiden havaitsemisessa”). I love how that subject combines computer science, mathematics, usability, human–computer-interaction and even biology of perception. It essentially captures what has been most interesting in my studies, and what Information Networks is all about from my point of view.

A printed version of my thesis

I had a few copies of my thesis printed. This one is at my workplace.

I’m not going to lie, there were difficult moments during writing the thesis, but I really enjoyed that I was given the time and resources to properly study an interesting topic. It didn’t feel much different from many other course works, it was just more independent and a bit longer than usual, and I could choose where to focus. It was very rewarding to practice for the presentation of the thesis, as I realized that this is a topic that I know so much about that I could discuss it for way more than the given presentation time. Additionally, I learned to write LaTeX using the vim text editor, of which both I use regularly today.

Volunteering at Athene

Athene is the student association, or guild, of our study programme. I have been actively participating in different events and I have also volunteered in many roles during these years. They have taught me a lot, but most importantly I’ve got to know many awesome people.

Here’s a brief list of my different roles at Athene:

Debugging problems

Debugging Oloscreen information display at the guild room. The server is on, but doesn't work as expected.

I am also really honored to have received the epithet of the Guild in 2020 for my contribution. During my roles as the CTO and Computer Wizard we have had a lot of fun together with our team, doing things that really matter for other students. I have learned a ton about different technologies like Docker, Javascript, PHP and Linux as well as building a technology-related puzzle as a fun challenge.

Other student associations

Teekkarispeksi musical production

Event technology has been a dear hobby for me since middle school. I actually heard about Teekkarispeksi for the first time during middle school or high school while volunteering in the AV team of the school. It has interested me ever since, and I had seen a few productions before joining Teekkarispeksi for my first time in 2020. I was a member of the sound team, responsible for playing sound effects and background sounds. Being part of an interactive student theater production was something I hadn’t done before and it was great to feel the magic of theater once again. Unfortunately we never got to perform our show for audience as the Covid-19 restrictions were put in place just before our premier, but I’ve participated in speksi productions during my master’s studies.

Audiopoli

Audiopoli is an association for HiFi-minded people. We have a small cinema in Otaniemi called Kinopoli. I haven’t been too active in Audiopoli, but I’ve participated in an Amphion & Genelec excursion. We traveled to Kuopio and Iisalmi by a charter bus, listened to expensive loudspeakers, saw how they are manufactured and enjoyed the HiFi atmosphere. I also arranged a series of movie nights with a few friends of mine at Kinopoli for everyone at the association.

Working alongside studies

I’ve worked through my studies: full-time during summers and part-time during studies. At first I worked in the security industry, but luckily I got my first job in the field from ABB for the summer after my freshman year. Additionally, during my second year I worked as a course assistant for the course Databases. After a year at ABB I started working at Justin Group Oy which is my current employer.

I’ve had a lot of different tasks and I’ve seen what it is to work at a large corporation as well as a small, growing firm. It has positively surprised me that the things at work and university do have a lot in common. Justin even let me write my thesis partly on company time. Even though work and studies are sometimes a bit similar, it usually feels refreshing to work a little instead of just studying all the time. The financial benefits of working are of course a big advantage. I also think that working can give insights and deepen knowledge acquired from university.

Obligatory Covid-19 reflection

Approximately half of my bachelor’s studies were completely online due to pandemic. I can’t really say I enjoyed it, but it definitely had good aspects as well. Remote teaching has brought flexibility to studies, and I have taken advantage of it: taking a walk during a lecture, listening to a recorded lecture at 1.25x speed, not having to worry about rushing from building to another between classes. Most of my courses have adapted decently or excellently to online classes. Even language classes work pretty well in Zoom, and many of the other courses consist of lectures and independent exercises anyway. While working in a group, we’ve used hybrid approach: some meetings are live, if everyone is feeling well and the Covid-19 situation is under control in Helsinki region, and on Zoom otherwise. I’ve learned to better utilize video conferencing and know when it probably is or isn’t a good idea. Zoom meetings also have made me value face-to-face meetings even more, as they aren’t the default anymore.

What’s next?

My everyday life has changed in absolutely no way after graduating in the summer. In the beginning of December, Aalto was finally able to print and distribute our degree certifications. The dean congratulated me, I got my papers and 10 seconds of fame. I’ve started my master’s studies and continued working like earlier. I’m still active in the student associations. Reflecting to my bachelor’s studies, I’ll try to enjoy my master’s studies as much as I can, and not to take too many courses at once. All in all, it feels great to have achieved this checkpoint in my study path!


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