In 2013, Kristel Kruustük together with her husband founded Testlio, a software testing company that emphasises employee motivation, effective cooperation, and quality. The company offers self-fulfilment opportunities and exciting challenges for professionals globally. Diversity in companies is very important and Kristel strongly advocates for it. This autumn, Kristel awards a scholarship in her name through the scholarship competition of the Development Fund to support and encourage the female students of the School of Information Technology of TalTech. The Development Fund interviewed her on what inspires her as an entrepreneur and what she recommends for young people.
Kristel, how did you become interested in technology and IT? Was it in early school age? Did it spark your interest or were you led to it by teachers/instructors/parents?
I had absolutely no interest in the field of technology. When I finished upper secondary school in Kose, I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. I enrolled in the IT College, majoring in systems development on my sister’s recommendation. It was important for me to find a job that would offer me financial independence in the future and also the opportunity to freely travel the world. My sister’s main argument was that there are so many different jobs in the field of technology, I will definitely find something suitable for me. Good thing I took her advice. Of course, I also perceived the field of technology as a ‘boy thing’, but stereotypes are to be broken. I have invested in a company called imagiLabs, which teaches programming to young people in a playful way via a phone app. Role models are important, so that we could imagine ourselves in these roles.
What inspires you to act?
A chance to change the world of software testing for the better and create more opportunities for people around the world to work as freelancers, to show others that anything is possible if they take action.
I am inspired by so many things and people around me – there is so much beauty and pain in the world; it is this pain that also motivates me to act. When I was young, I did not perceive the world around me. Rather, I was looking to my future where I should have a job, a house, a family, and a dog. I could not even dream of great achievements when I was young because I had no role models to follow. However, the more you read and listen to people’s stories, the more you realise that they are not aliens from some other planet, that they too are all people who often started with little. There is a famous saying: ‘Whether you believe you can or can’t, you’re right.’ In other words, everything we do in this world is up to us. If you see a problem, just take action.
Malala Yousafzai, an ordinary girl from Pakistan, was 11 years old when she started her fight for girls’ right to education and against Taliban extremism. She did not back down even when there were attempts to kill her in 2012. Fortunately, Malala’s story has a happy ending. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 and she continues to fight for the rights of girls and women, speaking about her life and aspirations to the whole world.
In the IT field, they say that the first years of studies in the form of basic subjects are difficult and sometimes boring. During your studies at the IT College, were there any moments where you considered dropping out or choosing another speciality?
Of course, there were moments where physics or mathematics seemed too difficult. But I will never forget Kristiina Hakki’s math lessons – the person who turned my hatred of math into love!
In the first year, I also noticed people dropping out of school. I do not recall that it ever crossed my mind to give up. My mother has taught me since I was a child that if you start something, you have to finish it.
I once studied piano at a music school and when I had studied for about four years, under the influence of my friends, I thought that I should stop studying the instrument. My mother put me back on the right track. I am glad that I can play piano – it still offers me a way to get away from my thoughts some evenings.
Acquiring more knowledge professionally or in a completely different fields has become very popular in recent years. How do you broaden your knowledge? Do you go to school?
I gain new knowledge every day – through books, social media, blogs, but most of all through conversations with other people.
This academic year, you are awarding a scholarship in your name to female bachelor’s students at TalTech. Why is it important for you to support them at the beginning of their educational journey? And why a scholarship at the bachelor’s level?
Globally, only 30% of women work in technology and less than 25% in Europe. The transparent stairs in Apple stores is a notorious example of the lack of diversity. Climbing transparent stairs may be quite uncomfortable for a person that wears skirts. It turns out that the Apple store was designed by talented men who just could not foresee that it could somehow be impractical for skirt/dress wearers.
We need diversity in the field of technology to solve the problems of all people – to keep our products relevant and take into account the wishes and needs of different people. Companies that are more diverse are also statistically more successful and profitable.
I hope that the recipient of my scholarship will be an inspiration to her peers and future school applicants.
What are your recommendations for scholarship applicants? What should they keep in mind?
Don’t overthink it and be yourself.
What advice would you give to those who end up not getting a scholarship?
If it did not work out this time, it means that you should try again next time. The fact that you did not get a scholarship this time is not a sign that you failed, but that you tried. You must take chances in life. When I started Testlio, many investors did not believe in Testlio and gave up on the investment opportunity. I took it very personally at first, but I knew that I would achieve success sooner or later. The key is to not give up.
You can apply for scholarships offered by the Development Fund until 18 October.