Tallinn University of Technology

Ekaterina Zhuchko is second year master’s student from Scotland. After studying and working in finance, she made a significant turn in her career by coming to Estonia in 2019 for the MSc programme in Cybersecurity. Since then, she has discovered a lot of new opportunities and things to get involved in here at TalTech. For example, she is currently on the university team for the Cyber 9/12 Strategy Challenge which is a competition for universities across the world, and also a student representative for the study programme. Ekaterina shared her inspiring story on her student life and how anything is possible when you really set your mind to it.

Ekaterina Zhuchko

Where did you first hear about Estonia?

While I was studying in Scotland, I was already thinking about making a change in my studies. My bachelor’s degree was in accounting and I was working in finance at the time. At one of the local tech meet-ups one of the speakers introduced Estonia in their talk about privacy and I decided to research it more.

In your studies, you have focused on cryptography. How did you come to this decision?

Our year had a get-together in a pub as a way to get to know people from our master`s programme. There, I met my now good friend. We had some wine and an interesting conversation about quantum computers and cryptography. Both of us were unsure about taking the specialisation as we did not have a strong mathematical background. But we decided that if we both do it then we can go through with that decision. 

What has been the experience of studying cybersecurity and specializing on cryptography like for you?

Going back to my story about going to a local meet-up in Edinburgh. The speaker who made an example of Estonia was actually a cryptographer. At the time, I was almost certain that it was too late for me to change my career path. I convinced myself that I would not be able to catch up on all the necessary foundations. It is a very maths heavy subject and from a young age the education system pushes this binary thinking that you’re either good at it or not. I’m not going to lie that it was easy and to be honest it still isn’t. I’ve had to simultaneously learn a lot of computer science foundations that I was missing. But I can say that it was a highly rewarding experience. I feel that my interest and passion for the subject is exponentially increasing the deeper I understand it.

What is the most surprising fact that you have discovered about Estonia while living here?

The most surprising fact I have discovered since I came here is how tight-knit the community is. I found it amazing that the start up scene is so huge and it is relatively easy to reach out to people for help. I also found this to be the case in academia. Our master’s programme is a joint programme between TalTech and the University of Tartu and in both cases, there were professors who really go out their way to assist your learning and provide tonnes of support. 

What is your experience as a woman in the IT and cybersecurity community? How would you encourage more women to make this career choice?

There is definitely a problem of representation. The fact that I studied a completely different thing at bachelors also makes me feel like an imposter sometimes. I think that in order to make more women feel supported and encouraged to go into tech there should be opportunities for mentorship. I am extremely grateful for all the people who dedicated their time in order to help me learn and I think that the field could benefit from more female mentors too. It’s definitely one of my goals to eventually give back to the community this way. 

Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech) is the only flagship in engineering and IT science and education in Estonia, providing higher education at all levels in engineering and technology, information technology, economics, science, and maritime. TalTech’s mission is to be a promoter of science, technology, and innovation and a leading provider of engineering and economic education in Estonia. Learn more on how to apply: taltech.ee/en/apply

The Cybersecurity programme provides students with core skills in wide aspects of the security of information systems and specialised skills in the chosen specialisation. Students get a unique chance to study under high-level Cybersecurity practitioners from Estonian universities, industry, law enforcement, CERT and the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence: www.taltech.ee/en/cyber-msc