Working With Some of the Brightest Engineers in the World
Nicolae studied for his bachelor degree at the Technical University in Cluj-Napoca, which is only outsized by the university in Romania’s capital Bukarest. Nicolae graduated in Computer Science from University of Copenhagen. "For me it was amazing. We had the best teachers you could ever have."
Why did you choose Computer Science?
I was very passionate about maths in upper secondary school. We had a lot of Olympiads – you don’t have so many in Denmark – which are contests between the best in a certain field. So it was a logical step to choose computer science. Actually, my high school profile was mathematics and informatics.
Tell us about your background …
I completed my bachelor in computer engineering in Cluj-Napoca. It was a four-year technical bachelor. I had a combination where I learned about the software parts and also a lot about the hardware. I studied there between 2007 and 2011.
In addition to my studies I had been working during the last years of my bachelor and I continued working a year afterwards as software engineer for a multinational company doing mobile phone development and developing software for car navigation embedded systems for Garmin. In 2011, I also started a master’s in Romania while working full time. I wanted to learn more, and I was looking for new challenges.
So why did you choose to go to Denmark?
At that time my girlfriend went to Lund in Sweden to study on the Erasmus programme. I went to visit her, and we made a trip to Copenhagen for two days, and I really liked the city. So that were two good reasons to come here: to stay close to her and to study in a nice city.
Actually I applied for universities in other countries too, but I was attracted to the way University of Copenhagen branded the programme here. I started here in 2012, and I had to adjust to the Danish university teaching style. It was a two-year programme, but I managed to finish in 18 months in June 2014.
Was it hard to be accepted to this programme?
It was based on my grades, an application letter and my work experience. The application letter is very important.
Was it difficult to get a job?
Actually, I applied to many student jobs before I arrived, and I got two job offers. I decided to go for Microsoft and was a student worker there for 18 months. So when I finished my studies, I applied for a full time position at Microsoft here in Copenhagen, got the job and have been working there now for 8 months. But when I applied for this job it was quite hard: I had to do five interviews. There was also the option of going forward with a PhD which didn't suit me that well.
What are you working on?
I’m a software development engineer, and I’m working on Microsoft Dynamics Marketing. We are doing business solutions for companies. Currently, I am working on a feature which allows marketing for companies via SMS.
Do you like being at Microsoft?
Yes! I have the opportunity to work with some of the brightest engineers in the world. I am really grateful for it.
Where’s the job located?
It’s in Vedbæk (approx. 15 miles north of central Copenhagen). We are 200 people, but there are other companies there too. It’s situated in a big forest, so it’s very nice. We have a lake there and a football ground. Though, Microsoft will be moving to Lyngby (a suburb closer to Copenhagen) in November 2015 which brings new opportunities. The idea is they want to get more engaged with students and get closer to the city center and the Technical University of Denmark, DTU. Lyngby is easier for commuting from the rest of Copenhagen. Another reason is the new building is specially designed to support us in achieving our goals even easier through brand new technologies.
So they are spotting the talents while they are still studying?
Yes. There are a lot of interns and student workers from all over the world. In Microsoft Dynamics Marketing team there are over 20 nationalities from all over the world. It is a great opportunity to get insights about different cultures and nationalities.
Coming from the university, did you feel prepared for the job?
My previous experiences helped a lot, but there are still new things I learn every day. During my MSc programme I had a lot of internships. For instance I had an internship in Saxo Bank and for a company called Macom, who are doing a digital educational system. So we were working with things that are useful in real life, and I got a lot experience.
What was you thesis about?
My thesis was about high school student drop-out prediction. I was doing a feature for their system, Lectio, created by MaCom, which can tell the teachers three months in advance who will drop out of school. And actually I got very good results – around 90% accuracy. So now they are using this at the upper secondary schools.
How is the job situation in general?
It’s actually quite difficult to find a job here in Denmark. I consider myself very lucky. In IT it’s easier. Many of my master’s colleagues work for big companies such as Danske Bank or SAP. As far as I know most of my friends from university now have a job.
What other possibilities would you have now with your background?
One possibility is a PhD. I was part of a project about machine learning, which is a very theoretical subject. I could have continued the research I made for my masters thesis.
My MSc profile was highly focused on computer science innovation and entrepreneurship and we had a lot of projects where we developed concepts. Most of them were part of group work – very good ideas, and most of them could actually be developed further. So it is an option to make your own company. Not so many have started companies yet, but one of my friends already had a company while we were studying, and he is still running it.
What other kind of jobs could you have now?
We can work for all kind of companies dealing with data. My studies give several options: work with machine learning, entrepreneurship or research … so you can follow your own passion. One of the nice things about the MSc programme is that you can choose around 50% as optional classes. You can choose to specialize or be a generalist.
Would you recommend the programme to others?
Yes, I would definitely recommend it. There are so many options. It's hard work but one can get a scholarship and the education is free, which is amazing. I never heard about that before – to be paid to study! But if you don’t have a scholarship and don’t get a job, then it’s very expensive to live here. Accommodation and food are very expensive. Bread is like four or five times as expensive as in Romania. So you have to get a job very fast or otherwise your parents should support you.
What do you think of the quality of the teaching on the programme?
I think that at University of Copenhagen I met some of the most talented teachers I know. I am really glad I did.
Do you have any good advice for new students?
It’s so hard to find a place to live. You have to apply for accommodation even before you apply for the university. If you want to go next year – apply now! And then you have to find a job. I didn’t have one the first month. I had savings from my recent job in Romania, but that period was tough for me.
The interview with Nicolae was conducted in January 2015.
Hard Work, But Lots of Fun
Maksim from Lithuania is studying for a Master's Degree in Computer Science. After that he is considering staying in Denmark to do a PhD. "A good thing about this university is that I have a good relationship with the professors. They want feedback and are interested in the student's opinions. I feel much more involved", Maksim says.