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All you wanted to know about Cybersecurity MSc programme

Elizabete Šterna from Latvia chose IT field right after secondary school and never regretted it ever since. Currently Elizabete is studying Cybersecurity MSc programme at TalTech and in today’s publication she will tell you everything you wanted to know about it — How to choose between Cybersecurity and more classic IT Master’s, how to succeed during entry test and interview, how to prepare for the first semester of studies, as well as what programming skills are expected. Let’s get straight down to it!

Elizabete Šterna from Latvia

“And then I thought of IT…”

In the secondary school I didn’t know exactly what to pursue but I had this idea of becoming a medical doctor so I actually studied for Biology and Chemistry state exam and even got accepted to medical studies at Rīga Stradiņš University (RSU). But I was really not sure I was ready to study for so long.
Meantime, my secondary school is one of the best in Latvia so we had really strong math programme and all of that. I really liked math and I thought what I could do with it besides becoming a teacher. And then I thought of IT and applied to a bunch of programmes. And that’s when I realized I am serious about it and I am going for it. At first I didn’t know what it was going to be like but now I can tell it actually came together pretty good.

“I chose TalTech”

Since I started studying IT I discovered that I have interest in Cybersecurity and particularly in Cryptography. So in my last year of Bachelor’s I decided to find a corresponding Master’s programme. During my search TalTech just popped up in some top list among the schools from the UK and US schools, so I thought I must be onto something. Eventually, I applied to TalTech and one other university. It was also the time when covid became an issue, so after considering all pros and cons I chose TalTech, which was nearby. And I certainly don’t regret my choice.

“Novel, relevant and up-to-date”

So far the programme has been overall good. Most of the classes, with some exceptions of course, had really high quality content. What I really like about this programme is that it is very novel with a lot of relevant information. Professors seem up-to-date, and additional advantage as for me is that they are also working in the field. There have been many guest lecturers, company representatives talking about new systems being developed in Estonia.
From organisational point of view it has been working pretty well. Due to pandemic, from the very beginning we were notified studies will take place online or in a hybrid format. It was comfortable as we knew what was going to happen and didn’t have any uncertainty. And that’s why I took decision to stay in Riga.
Zoom, Moodle, Teams, BigBlueButton — everything you can imagine we have it. You have to remember which course is on which platform, but otherwise it is all right. As it is a joint programme with the University of Tartu the most recent semester was technically in Tartu University. So my family has been kind of joking, asking me -where are you now in Tallinn or in Tartu? While actually I have been just here, in Riga, this whole time.

“I think culturally Estonia and Latvia as two Baltic states are quite similar”

Coming from Latvia to Estonia

I think culturally Estonia and Latvia as two Baltic states are quite similar. I even remember during Orientation Days they said “Estonians are cold, don’t expect many greetings ”, and I instantly thought it was no news for me, as we are kind of the same.
When it comes to education I believe it really depends on school and programme. From my experience I can only compare Riga Technical University (RTU) and TalTech. Thus when I went to RTU for my Bachelor’s I really didn’t enjoy it. The reason was a rather outdated study programme, falling behind any innovations. For instance, teaching about 20-year old operating system and programming languages by far not used anymore doesn’t work in a fast-paced IT field. Maybe someone else has a different experience but in my case it is what it is.
Comparing it to TalTech or more precisely to Cybersecurity MSc programme at TalTech — of course it feels much better, it is more novel and developed and it is adjusted to the changes in the field that take place over time. And that’s why I would recommend TalTech over RTU for example.

Is IT field still rather male-dominated?

It is not that less women than men in Cybersecurity programme as one tends to think. There are actually quite a few of them there. Also at my work place in IT company I think it is roughly 50/50 ratio.
In my opinion the stigma about IT field being male-dominated mostly comes from outside, while people within don’t actually care about it or at least it was my experience. As for me if you are interested in something you should go for it regardless your gender. Don’t be scared if you don’t meet that many women here. Maybe because of my sports background, where girls and boys did the same exercises together this kind of stuff and has never bothered me.

About programming skills in Cybersecurity MSc

I don’t consider myself a programmer, I rather refer to myself as a person who has some background in programming. As for Cybersecurity programme so far we didn’t have to do lots of programing. It is not a prerequisite I would say.
For example, in one project we had to develop a game. We had different options, but in my group we went for a computer game. In our team we had course mates with good programming skills so they handled that part and we covered other aspects.
We had technical subjects as well of course. For instance, System Administration, Network Administration, but those are not really programming. Besides, they are really basic and teach you from the very beginning what and how to do.
And although of course it is helpful if you are familiar with programming but it is not a requirement. Until now the main programming course I had was Applied Cryptography, which I really recommend taking even if you don’t have a programming background. In fact, we had to learn Python for that. It wasn’t advanced — it was more about understanding the algorithms than being able to program. Of course it helps if you know it but you can also do without.

“I like sports and all kinds of sports activities. Whatever has wheels I will probably like it.”

IT Master’s vs Cybersecurity

It really depends on what you want to learn. If you just want to know some general IT topics than a more general IT programme is a better choice. But if you already have some IT background and you know you want to learn about Cybersecurity aspect then the answer is also obvious. Maybe even if you don’t have that background, but your interest is strong. In Cybersecurity MSc we don’t only learn about how to program stuff securely but about general aspects, about law, management, organisational topics, a fair share of math is involved. Cybersecurity is just a small field from a huge programming field. You have to understand you won’t learn everything about IT by doing this Master’s, but definitely a lot about Cybersecurity.

Tips for newcomers

I’m not the kind of person who wants to learn the whole syllabus before the programme begins. I know there are such people, but I’m not one of them(laughing). Nevertheless, I know many people are worried about the entrance test. I’d only say — don’t be scared, it is very much about how well you can read and process information. There’s nothing you have to learn beforehand, you just need to read carefully.
As for the interview process, to me it felt really simple. One thing you might be asked and you may want to think about before the interview is — what would you write your Master’s thesis about? Thus, you can already start considering which aspects of the programme interest you and what you would like to do with the programme afterwards.
Otherwise everything is taught pretty well, you don’t really need any specific previous knowledge to be able to successfully follow your courses.

The skills I learned in the first year of the programme

The programme is really saturated with new information, which makes it hard to point out something in particular. Nevertheless, there are a couple of things I would like to mention:
- Time-management skills, mostly brought by online study environment and a necessity to being able to deal with multiple tasks in a timely manner.
- Python programming language, as I have never used Python before but always wanted to learn it, so now I can be proud of myself I have accomplished that.

“All my adolescent life I have been a professional alpine skier”

“Looking forward to offline studies”

I am of course looking forward to offline studies and to meeting people I have been studying with this whole time. On the other hand of course I will have to move to Tallinn and subsequently adjust to all the changes. Most probably I’ll live in a dorm, because it is right on the campus and easy to apply for a room. But I am not really worried about this aspect. Actually my biggest concern is that I can’t bring my large monitor to the university, so I’ll have to do everything on my laptop. Maybe it is just a little detail but it has really been so much easier to work and study having the second screen.
As I mentioned along with my studies I also have a job, but already during my Erasmus I was working at a distance, so it’s not news for me. It all comes down to having a spot to comfortably sit down and concentrate. I’m looking forward to discovering TalTech study rooms and spaces and I know it will be fine.

Learn about application process and contents of Cybersecurity (MSc) programme and write your story with TalTech!

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Svitlana Kharchenko

Svitlana Kharchenko

Immigrant and traveler. Info yoga and all things sustainable. Foreign languages and countries enthusiast.