Learning Through Practice: Mert Oktay's Studies at Tallinn University


At work. Photo: Mert Oktay


Around five years ago, Mert came to Estonia for the first time and immediately fell in love with the capital city of Tallinn. “Back in 2007, there was a travel show on Turkish TV, where I first encountered Estonia. It was winter, and the Old Town looked really nice, so I put visiting Estonia into my bucket list already in high school”, Mert begins. Years have passed since then, until Mert and his partner, both Erasmus exchange students in France at the time, planned a weekend getaway in Tallinn: “Once we found cheap tickets, we couldn’t miss the opportunity”. Since that visit, Mert has kept a check on Estonia.


Tallinn city center. Photo: Rasmus Jurkatam


At Tallinn University

"When I was graduating from my Turkish university with a bachelor’s degree in Sociology, I thought about switching to User Experience (UX), a more creative field”, Mert tells us. "I started my online research, but Tallinn has long been on my mind”. He soon found a master’s degree in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) at Tallinn University, a multidisciplinary program bringing together computing, interaction design, and cognitive psychology through a research-based approach to designing interactive, software, and technical systems. 


"I thought I'd need some theoretical UX knowledge before going into practice. I received that theoretical foundation during my HCI studies and then learned to apply it in practice”. First, students attend lectures and do readings in the form of an introduction with the key theoretical concepts of the field. At a later stage, an integrated interaction design project provides them with a glimpse of the real-life UX industry. “My friends and I worked together on a specific project, applying everything we learned before; it was quite helpful. I'd say the lectures were quite meaningful, and both parts of the studies complemented one another”, Mert recalls. “Based on my experience, university education does not give you a guarantee of being able to navigate the real-life workplace. However, I consider myself one of the lucky ones. In Estonia, I had all the necessary literature, software, and hardware at my fingertips, and I learned by doing. In addition, I was assisted with a scholarship, even though initially I was admitted with a tuition fee. I can only say positive things about higher education in Estonia. I've made a good decision; it changed my life”. 


Photo: Tallinn University


Working in Estonia

At the moment, Mert works at Trinidad Wiseman, Estonia-based UX design, business analysis, and software development company. In the second semester of the first academic year, students of the HCI program worked closely with the company’s advisors, who introduced themselves to the group — who they are, what they do, what’s it like working in the UX sector -— and gave feedback on the project results. “We had a chance to ask our questions and gain many valuable insights into the industry; I was very impressed. At the end of the same semester, I contacted Trinidad Wiseman suggesting an idea of my internship with them; they already knew my level of knowledge and professional skills”, Mert shares. After three months of his internship, he landed a full-time position at the company. When it comes to the job search in Estonia, networking and proactive attitude are always a good idea: “Although they were not looking for an intern in the first place, I seized the opportunity and ended up with an entry-level job”. 

At Trinidad Wiseman, Mert works on making people’s life easier by providing them with meaningful experiences. “Any service, digital or not, should be designed in a way that ensures a positive experience for every user”, Mert explains. “Basically, I work on reducing troubles and creating a better experience for the user”. It concerns user navigation of all things digital: websites; e-commerce; information systems and intranets; self-service systems; interactive kiosks, etc. Next time you validate your travel card in public transport, remember: that’s what user experience means on your end.


UX design. Photo: Alvaro Reyes via Unsplash


It's only Mert who doesn’t speak Estonian at the company, but Trinidad Wiseman has many international clients and uses English as a working language. Mert admits that his colleagues are very kind, and he never feels excluded. “I am learning Estonian, but my main motivation wasn’t derived from work requirements per se. It’s more of a sign of respect towards the Estonian people and the local culture. It’s my personal choice, but not a necessity”, he adds. “Even while I am involved in Estonian projects, the things I don’t understand can be easily translated with Google”. 


Artificial Intelligence and Neuro UX

As in many other fields, the spot remains on artificial intelligence (AI) technology and automatization, which can replace humans in resolving certain complicated tasks. It involves both technical and ethical aspects. As far as technology can go, there’s a human side to it, and therefore certain values to consider. On the other hand, recent neuroscientific research opened new opportunities for a better user experience design. “There’s a new Neuro UX technology that uses headbands to detect human neuro waves as a tool of user testing”, Mert explains. “As we all know, people’s actions are driven by emotions, and now we can detect those. We can also understand what triggers positive emotions. It’s important because it influences decision-making. Neuro UX becomes increasingly important day-by-day, and I am interested in it as well”. What attracts Mert the most in his profession? Working for a meaningful purpose and making people’s life easier. “It motivates your everyday work. Before, as a sociologist, I was focusing on people-to-people interactions within society; now, it’s an interaction between people and computers”. 


Marimetsa Bog Hiking Trail. Photo: Mert Oktay


Studying in Estonia: What to Know


Mert recommends getting in touch with the heads of curriculums, academics, or university students who can address your questions about studying. “In my case, online resources provided by Tallinn University and Study in Estonia were very helpful; everything was very simple and clear”, he admits to our delight. “I had no questions about living or studying in Estonia in general”. Next on the list: learn the basics of Estonian. Even though most Estonians speak English fluently, there are survival words and phrases you will need in everyday life. “Back in my time, there was a welcoming program that provided an introduction to Estonian culture and free A1 Estonian language lessons. It helped to adapt”. If you'd like to know more, check out the free language training materials provided by the Estonian Ministry of Interior. 

What else to know? Estonian winters are famously long and dark, so make sure you don’t become a couch potato. “If you keep waiting for the sunny days, you’ll have to wait long. Instead, there are so many things to explore! Be active, gear up, and go hiking in nature. Finally, don’t forget to experience Estonian sauna”, Mert points out. “I am very happy with my life in Estonia. My partner and I came here as tourists, became students together, and now she also works in Tallinn. We'd love to stay here”. 


Text: Anastasiia Starchenko