EIT Digital
EIT Digital Master School is boosting careers. Source: EIT Digital

Meet our students: Askhat Issakov

Digital transformation is changing the job market and careers. More and more people are going back to school to get their degrees, sees Askhat Issakov who after a career as IT Architect also went back to school to reskill himself. He is now 35 and finalising his thesis of the EIT Digital Master School. “It was a hard choice. But I found what I was looking for,” he says in an interview with EIT Digital.

When Issakov started studying in Kazakhstan he got the opportunity to enrol in a government scholarship programme to study at foreign universities. Issakov was thrilled. “I thought, I want to aim as high as possible,” he said. So, off he went, to study Computer Science at the University of Southern California in the US. In between his bachelor and his double degree Master School Programme Autonomous Systems which he did at the EIT Digital’s partner universities University of Trento and Aalto University, Issakov had worked for as IT analyst at National Information Technologies JSC, a national IT operator. In the nine years after, he held several IT Architect positions at national and private IT companies. At the age of 32, he decided to go back to school again.

Why did you want to go back to school?

The condition for the scholarship was that I had to work in Kazakhstan for at least five years after my bachelors to contribute back to the Kazakhstan economy. I started this career off track. I started as an IT analyst and continued. After five years, I had still projects going on and I started a family. However, I wanted to change the industry I was working in to gain more experience implementing and developing projects myself instead of surveying and managing projects of others. Another reason is that there are a lot of new exciting developments in technology nowadays. Working in IT management, I felt that I was an outside observer or at best a user of these cutting-edge technologies. I thought it would be cool to be part of that and contribute.

You started at age 32 amidst all other EIT Digital Master School. How was that for you?

I met other students of my age as well from my track as from other tracks. More and more people are taking this step to study again. It is not given to everyone to continue to learn within their 20s. I met people older than 30 who are studying, it is not uncommon, and it is getting more prevalent. Especially now the job market is changing so fast. New jobs are created, and old ones disappear.

The challenge for me was that I have other stuff to think about than most students, having a family – I have a daughter of five years old – and organising a lot of things like permits, documents and so on.  A challenge was also to leave a comfortable life and move together. But it was a shared decision between me and my wife to do this. If we wouldn’t take that opportunity then, it would never happen at all.

Why did you choose to study at the EIT Digital Master School?

First of all, I wanted to study the latest technologies and was looking for the best university. I found the EIT Digital Master School in an online search. At first, I thought this was too good to be true, I was a bit suspicious. I looked deeper and found out what EIT Digital is about and that it is tied to the European Union. I contacted some former students who had graduated, and they recommended it highly to me. When admitted, I became a student ambassador. I like all the aspects of the school. The programme includes a lot of components and it is well put together and thought out. The majors and tracks you can follow are very relevant. 

Why did you choose the programme Autonomous Systems of the EIT Digital Master School?

Initially, I was more interested in data science, then I thought that all this hype around data science at some point is going to step into the physical world. I thought that autonomous systems are more promising. This field goes beyond artificial intelligence and the data science hype. I have always been fascinated by science fiction and robotics. Now I am in the midst of it. That seems unreal.

You refer to your current job as Junior Robotics Engineer at GIM Robotics. How did you get it and what does your job entail?

I was looking for a thesis position and the company offered me a job instead. GIM Robotics is familiar with the EIT Digital Master School and I have more colleagues from the same track. I work full time. My master thesis is part of my work. It is about the general field of robotic navigation and how to handle maps for robots. I am developing a tool for correcting the maps. The automatic process can sometimes be wrong or cause problems that humans can clear up.

What did the EIT Digital Master School bring you?

It was a huge challenge for me to go back to school after so many years; to go back to student life, to get to read all the literature. I got doubts in the beginning and feared to have made the wrong choice; my first exam failed, and my second one too. At some point after some successful exams, and seeing that also other students have been struggling, and the support of fellow students, I noted that I am not that far off.  I felt I can do it.  This was the biggest lesson for me.  Also, with the support of my family, I found my confidence and I did it. I am now finalising my thesis and have already found a job in robotics, in the field I wanted to be. 

How do you see your future?

That is hard to say. I would love to continue developing in robotics. Being a senior robotics engineer would be great. In general, I want to be where the cutting edge of technology is, where you can learn from others. Right now, that is in Finland. I am open to opportunities to continue growing. In the Innovation and Entrepreneurship minor, I have learned the skills to create a startup. That gives me confidence that I could start one too if I would want to. Now, I am focused on learning more about the robotics industry and the autonomous systems field in general. I want to grow as a professional and contribute back.

By EIT Digital