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Disruptive IT Education: Strictly á la Carte Please

Coding alone is way too little out there; the IT sector increasingly needs techies with solid business skills. A Europe-wide education program also available in Hungary offers just that.

Balázs Horváth

He’s the kind of guy who wrote his own algorithm to find the cheapest air fares because he wasn’t happy with the comparison sites on the market. Why? Because he always aims for the best. And he’s also the kind of guy who would regularly mentor SMEs and startups for free just to see them grow. Why? Because he wants to give something back to the community. That is exactly what the purpose of his PhD is also about.  

“I’m working on a methodology that is set to optimize agricultural production with machine learning,” Balázs Horváth says. “If such consequential savings result in keeping food prices steady for a year or two, it was already worth it.”

The doctoral program Horváth is participating in is run by EIT Digital, a European innovation and education organization that bets on turning research into viable products by connecting industry and academia. In this way, it ensures that only industry-tested theses get the green light.

Horváth has the liberty to venture into his four-year PhD. He has just merged his software developing firm with his consultancy, which offers business mentoring and coaching services, so the doctoral stipend is all but icing on the cake. He got so far not least because, prior to his PhD, he had completed an EIT Digital Master’s program where you can choose from not only the trendiest technical majors such as data science or cyber security, but you can also master strong business skills.

“In service design class I was made aware of all the mistakes I made with my first venture, which I set up right after starting university,” Horváth says.

“Generation Z is a lot pickier about the way they are taught,” notes László Gulyás, CEO of EIT Digital’s Budapest office. “You can’t just offer them a preset menu; they expect learning skills in á la carte fashion.” Masters courses are regularly adapted to market demand, with autonomous systems offered for the very first time, for instance. European students also benefit from the fact that, during the program, they do one year at each of two leading European technical universities and tuition is taken care of.

Dóra Pálfi

Girl Power in Tech

Dóra Pálfi is also among those 1,350 students who have been attracted by this form of education across the continent in the past few years. Pálfi was no IT whiz kid at first; computer science was only her minor.

“While at NYUAD I had a strong focus onacademic research, and I realized I wanted to do something more hands-on and applicable, so EIT Digital’s practice-oriented curriculum grabbed my attention right away,” she explains.

Entrepreneurship initially wasn’t a priority for her, but she quickly embraced it, especially given the inspiring environment in Stockholm. That’s where she did her first year, which lead up to a research project labeled imagiCase.

“The idea is to lower the barrier of entry to programming, for girls in particular,” Pálfi says. ImagiCase is a phone case with embedded LEDs that can be programmed to display any text, design, color through programming with the imagiCase mobile app. “In this way, computer science is introduced as a tool for customization and self-expression, and based on our research this appeals to ourtarget audience of girls aged 9-15.”

The project turned out to be so exciting that Pálfi had to squeeze in a gap year to focus entirely on it. Her efforts have paid off.

“We’ve been invited to pitch at Stockholm Tech, a major tech gathering which should be a huge milestone to raise our visibility.” Another popular event in Sweden, Music Tech Fest has bought the prototype to engage female participants by allowing them to code imagiCase on different tunes.

“We get enormous help from Ericsson’s incubator and EIT Digital’s Stockholm office,” adds Pálfi whose success has propelled her all the way to become a nominee for the 2018 European Institute of Innovation and Technology awards in the women’s category.

Networks Matter

Eight masters majors are available for EIT Digital students at 18 European universities, with the Hungarian ELTE University and Budapest Technical University among them.

“The goal is to turn the digital nomads of the 21st century into digital conquerors who can make a difference and become true global leaders,” says Gulyás. “We focus on how to prepare this generation for the jobs of the future.”

This is important as the job market is also being transformed. Human resources will be needed mostly in areas where humans are better than robots such as creativity, interaction and managing autonomous tools.

“These masters consist of project works that are like startup hackathons,” says Horváth, recalling his first-year experience in Helsinki. Another plus was the wide range of business aspects that were covered, he says.

“The lawyer of Apple was there too, and he told us what legal loopholes to watch out for when you found your company to avoid problems at the time of an eventual take-over attempt.”

There is an even more important advantage the EIT Digital Master’s program can offer, though. “Apart from crucial business skills, it was the invaluable network that gave me the most,” concludes Horváth. It is time for him to say good-bye as he needs to go back to his research.

“I’m young enough to put 100 hours a week into it, the time for it is now.” The payoff will surely be when we see those food prices stalling as a result.