e-Estonia

e-Estonia is a dedicated website about Estonia's digital society.

Restarting Ukraine with Estonian know-how

For years, Estonian investment banker Jaanika Merilo has focused her activities on Ukraine and Russia. Sharing Estonia’s e-governance experiences with Ukraine, she is helping the country restart and defeat deeply rooted issues.

This article is published in collaboration with e-estonia.

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Olga Bielkova, a member of the Ukrainian parliament, has said that the key to fighting corruption (among the main problems in Ukraine) lies in e-governance. Do you agree?

For some time I have been evangelising Estonian e-governance in Ukraine and working with Bielkova, so this topic is a personal and important one for me. Ukraine has severe problems with corruption, justice and “game rules”. Transparency International puts Ukraine in the 144th place out of 177 countries in the Corruption Perception Index. The place in the Ease of Doing Business Index is 112th out of 189 countries, due to a complicated tax system and legislation that lends itself to various interpretations.

E-society solutions would certainly help reduce corruption. You cannot offer a bribe to a computer. However, to make this change happen, you would need support from the highest levels, persistence and time. To root out the corruptive mentality that has been a part of society for decades is a complicated task and there are no quick wins.

Vladimir Groisman, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister responsible for e-governance, has turned to Estonia’s experiences through your NGO, called Center for Ukrainian European Development and Integration. How realistic is it to expect that Ukraine will get to where Estonia is with its e-solutions, and what timeframe are we talking about?

For Ukraine, we need to take into account that they are in many ways where Estonia was 20 years ago. They have internet banking, but low internet penetration, no 3G network covering the country, no legislation to support e-governance such as data protection and ID signature laws, and no clear standards or countrywide e-solutions.

This means the road is long, especially for a country of 45 million people. In Estonia, all e-services are based on an obligatory ID card. Implementing this in Ukraine will take a lot of time, even if we don’t consider the time required for building trust and creating demand for e-solutions. In Estonia, e-voting started in 2005, and now a third of the population casts their votes electronically. Habits and trust take time to form. The right time to start in Ukraine was yesterday. It’s already too late, but it’s better to talk about the need to go forward now more than never.

Together with the E-governance Academy, we are currently in the process of helping Groisman’s team map the possibilities of using Estonian experience and solutions.

If we’re talking about developing technologies on a national scale, how many services in Ukraine are digital today?

Ukraine has some technical solutions, such as ID signature, but many different service providers and no countrywide standards. The result of this is that while the technical solution exists, different state institutions use different formats, most of them don’t use anything at all, and institutions are not obliged to accept a digital signature (it’s not equivalent to a written signature). It’s a big mess.

Also, there’s no concept of a digital society – what services would the country need to develop, what are the priorities etc.

However, there are very progressive, privately owned online banks. For example, PrivatBank (owned by the governor of Dnepropetrovsk region, Ihor Kolomoyskyi) recently was given the award for innovation in banking and technology by The Banker magazine. The same bank was one of the first in the world to develop an Android-based ATM solution.

IT solutions and their functioning have a big impact on the business environment and foreign investments. How many European and global investors are looking at Ukraine at this moment?

Some regions in Ukraine are currently de facto in a state of war, and investors naturally dislike uncertainty of any kind. So investment decisions are more driven by the state of national security, problems with corruption and the inability to know if the justice system will protect you. In fact, you can be certain that it won’t.

Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s new president with a countrywide mandate, brings hope that the situation is stabilising. On one hand, investors need stability and a democratic business environment; on the other hand, the biggest profits are made in times of change. I think that with new reforms and European support, investors will be looking more towards Ukraine. Especially in the field of technology, which doesn’t depend that much on the political situation and where Ukraine has immense potential.

Does Ukraine need a restart in the field of technology and how should it happen? The current state in Ukraine seems like a good time to change course.

The tech sector in Ukraine is developing fast – even the 2008-2009 crisis didn’t stop its momentum. Currently IT/tech is one of the five biggest export fields, employing over 100,000 specialists and having a market value of over USD5 billion. These numbers put Ukraine at the top of the Central and Eastern European market, and Gartner considers Ukraine one of the top 30 outsourcing countries in the world.

The problem is that while the IT sector is growing by 30% annually, most of the services are related to outsourcing. This does not add value in the long term. There’s also an additional threat of Ukraine’s wages reaching levels that are too high compared with competitors like India, China or Eastern Europe. It’s important to create value-added products and services – to create successful startups, lure R&D centres to Ukraine and build products.

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Cover photo: Ukrainian youth organisation in Tallinn. Photo by Andres Putting/Delfi.

Life in a digital society – five videos of e-Estonia

E-Estonia is a term commonly used to describe Estonia’s emergence as one of the most advanced e-societies in the world – an incredible success story that grew out of a partnership between a forward-thinking government, a pro-active ICT sector and a switched-on, tech-savvy population. These five videos give a little glimpse at how the digital society in Estonia operates in practice.

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E-tax

 E-school

E-health record and e-prescription

E-voting

Ordinary day of an e-Estonian

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Cover photo: Tallinn skyline by Gen Vagula

From zero to hero in 48 hours – how does hackathon Garage48 work?

Estonian-founded Garage48 hackathon is an event where computer programmers and others in the field of software development – like graphic designers, interface designers and project managers – collaborate intensively on software projects within 48 hours over the weekend. The aim of the event is to set up working firms by the end of the weekend. But how does it work so fast?

What is it about? 

Three-time participant and one-time winner of the event with a service called Storymarks, Andrus Purde is confident that, despite the fact that his three startup attempts no longer exist today, the experiences gathered at the event are irreplaceable.

“The idea is simple – in a single weekend you need to realise your idea in its minimum viable form, ie, build a working prototype. For this, the event gathers potential teammates that have common interest in an idea. This is why there can be unbelievable results from this single weekend,” Purde explains. 

Step 1 – dry practice

The first step takes place even before the teams gather for the event on Friday night. It can be days or months earlier, since experience shows that proper preparation can provide a clear advantage in the race. Purde states, “My simple suggestion is to think about three main things: what is the essence of the idea, where should the money come from and who are the customers.”

Step 2 – sharing your idea with others

The second part arrives when a stopwatch set to 90 seconds starts its countdown. The initial pitch determines your partners for the rest of the event, and maybe even for life.

“Life has taught us that in the startup world as a general rule it’s not the idea that counts but the team. So you need to work hard to address the right people. How you do that is part of your own secret sauce.”

It’s true that the projects at Garage48 mostly fall in two categories: useful and entertaining. The first are being pitched in order to grow roots, the rest are destined to die after the three days.

Step 3 – the birth of the team

Once the wheat is separated from the chaff, the teams fall into place. “As in real life, good ideas draw others like flies to a light bulb,” Purde explains. One of the biggest benefits of the weekend is the number of social connections you make and the people that you wouldn’t have run into otherwise.”

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The level of the participants is usually uncertain prior to getting to know them a bit more. “The event includes people who are only just making their first steps in IT and others who have already an impressive track record (such as one of Skype’s founders, Ahti Heinla, or the founder and creator of Edicy and Fraktal, Tõnu Runnel).”

Step 4 – to each his own

By the end of the first evening, the roles in the team should be set. Also, typically the evening is spent agreeing on the name and formulating the idea. “However, for some of the teams the idea is so clear that they can start with prototyping right away,” Purde states.

Developers, designers, marketers and project managers all have their say – everyone is considered equal in contributing to the final product. “The development of the idea is very democratic – dictator-type persons that don’t want to hear other points of view simply don’t come to the Garage.”

Step 5 – getting through the intermediate sprints

The most crucial part of the work starts on Saturday morning. To not get blindsided, you need to present the organisers with intermediate results throughout the day. It’s not rare for a few of the ideas to run out of steam halfway through and not make it to the Sunday presentation.

“Quitting is an exceptional case, though – with this rapid sprint format you cannot talk about ebbs, since no huge bets are involved and it’s a pretty laidback atmosphere. You can still get your pulse through the roof. For example, once I almost managed to erase the database of the whole team project,” Purde recalls one of his most anxious moments.

Step 6 – a little push to get you through

Every event includes one or two inspiring talks. Also, the mentors that have been invited provide you with constant advice to make sure you’re going in the right direction. Purde encourages people to take communicating with mentors seriously. “It’s quite likely for mentors to be keeping an eye out for people with remarkable projects and teams to work together in the future.”

Step 7 – words count

When the morning of the third day is spent on prototypes, the afternoon is mostly practice time for the evening pitching event. Nobody wants to flush all their hard work down the toilet by saying something wrong, so the presentations are meticulously polished.

Step 8 – go for the kill (or get killed)

Emotionally, the hardest thing is to watch other teams go on the stage on Sunday evening. “Inevitably, you start to compare yourself with others. I’ve seen teams that deserved a better demo, but also teams with a weak product but an excellent presentation,” Purde recalls. He doesn’t believe, though, that someone’s dreams will be shattered just because of a bad pitch.

Step 9 – back to real life

Once the results are in, some of the teams will continue tinkering on their project even after it’s past the deadline. “I have had my own experience of trying to finish an idea after the event and get it running for the next six months. Unfortunately, not all ideas are meant to fly,” Purde concludes.

Step 10 – new heights

He also brings an example from the Garage48 event in Pärnu half a year ago where GoWorkaBit earned its wings. “The event was the perfect platform for them to meet the necessary people, build the first prototype, listen to expert feedback and spread their message,” says Purde.

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Cover photo: #estonianmafia “wall of fame” at the former Garage48 Hub in Tallinn (photo by Silver Tambur). The article was first published by e-Estonia blog.

Business angels and venture capitalists – for what do they look in startups?

For businesses, capital is like oxygen – you cannot exist without it, much less grow. The more Estonian startups are referred to as international successes, the more local investors are interested in opening their wallets for up-and-coming startups in the earliest stages.

This article is published in collaboration with Estonian ICT Demo Center and first appeared on e-Estonia.com.

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Leaders in investment volume

Estonian startups raised over EUR30 million in 2013. This makes Estonia one of the leading countries in capital raised per capita (and in relation to GDP). Compared with 2012, the activity of local investors has doubled in terms of money invested. The last years have shown that in addition to business angels, venture capital firms are beginning to show interest in early-stage startups.

Comparing the demand and supply of startup capital in Estonia, it’s clear that it is the latter that’s growing. “The increase in supply should eventually lead to competition in the market. Especially considering that we have more startup potential than is being realised now. More startup entrepreneurs deserve seed funding to launch their product,” says Margus Uudam, the Chairman of the Management Board of the Estonian Private Equity & Venture Capital Association (EstVCA).

Target – EUR1 billion

Over the last couple of years, the local investment landscape has witnessed some significant developments. The proof of this includes EstVCA, established in 2009, and the Estonian Business Angels Network (EstBAN), an umbrella organisation for business angels created in 2013. “Since it’s a totally new playing field for Estonia, solo investors are still cautious. Networks such as EstBAN serve as a prerequisite to create syndicated investments that are based on common interests,” says Ivar Siimar, Founder and Board Member of EstBAN.

EstVCA has envisioned growing the volume of private and venture capital investments that are being managed from Estonia to EUR1 billion by 2020. It may have sounded like an impossible mission at first, but Uudam now considers it more and more realistic after looking around at the market. “This goal points towards a trend of raising equity from the private sector, with as little as possible interference from the state.”

Regional cooperation

“The Nordics and Baltics as a combined region have sufficient reason to be a globally acknowledged power in technology. While the major markets are America and Asia, the development of technology, products and services often happen in this region,” Uudam argues.

According to Ivar Siimar, Estonian business angels invested EUR4.6 million last year, while their colleagues in Finland invested EUR11 million. Siimar says, “We aim to increase cross-border transactions and regional cooperation.”

The team comes first

Local investors search for companies with potential for growth by analysing the market. According to Uudam, during events such as Latitude 59 – a networking conference for startups and investors – 80% of their interest is determined by what goes on off the stage, not on the stage. “The main criterion is the team – it’s hard to look past a good team and their ambition,” he says.

Siimar agrees. “The earlier stage the company is in, the more important the team is. If the initial idea does not come together for some reason, a good team is able to turn the idea around and take another direction,” he says.

ZeroTurnaround

Success stories sometimes come from where you don’t expect them. According to Uudam, ZeroTurnaround is one of the best examples of a technologically strong team inside a company reaching an interesting technological solution and spinning it off as a separate company.

“They know their technology vertical, have a clear competitive edge and can look for fast growth outside Estonia. Also, the management team is able to mature along with the company,” Uudam describes. In this light, the March news of the company raising USD6 million does not come as a surprise.

TransferWise

Another example of a success story with an Estonian background is a company that grew out of a small community’s solution to a problem that had not been previously targeted anywhere in the world. “TransferWise is an example of a company that, without deep knowledge of the particular [financial] industry, managed to develop a solution to the problem they found,” Uudam comments.

GoWorkaBit

Siimar’s example of a success story is GoWorkaBit, one of the top 10 business ideas in this year’s entrepreneurship contest Ajujaht (Brain Hunt). “A simple solution that connects companies that need temporary extra personnel with people who are willing to help, and that has good timing and enthusiasm behind it.”

Knowledge first, then money

According to Andrus Oks (the portfolio manager for SmartCap, which has until now enjoyed the position of the single institutional investor in early-stage startups), Estonian entrepreneurs are characterised by serious ambition, modelled after Skype.

“Changing the world is the main motivation; the majority are not inspired by regional opportunities. Although we have few entrepreneurs that have previous startup, industry or even business experience, it is not a constraint if we think of the background of people behind Google, Facebook or Whatsapp,” says Oks.

Speaking about investments, all three experts consider the know-how invested in the companies by investors to be more important than the money. If an investor has long-term experience, there is a much greater chance of a new success story being born than simply by giving handfuls of money.

Held from 28 to 29 April during the Estonian ICT Week at the Mektory building of the Tallinn University of Technology, Latitude 59 “Welcome the Light” is the next in the series of meeting events for the startup community and investors in Estonia and abroad.

Five tough questions that every founder should be prepared to answer in a pitch to VCs:

  • How will you make money (and no, advertising is not the answer)?
  • Who, specifically, is your first customer? Second? Third?
  • What is your contingency plan for when this seed round is exhausted and you are unable to raise any more?
  • What is your API/platform/partnership strategy?
  • How are you going to sell the company, and to whom, within six years?

 

Three solutions from e-Estonia for securing your online presence

Three solutions to come out of Estonia – Guardtime, Signwise and SecureMAIL – share the objective of making your steps in the cyber-world more secure and private.

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1. Guardtime – real-time authentication for electronic data exchange

Guardtime’s key technology is called Keyless Signature Infrastructure or KSI. The technology is aimed at organisations that deal with large-scale digital data and the challenges of securing the integrity of that data. Simply put, if you want to be sure (either for business or regulatory reasons) that the data is not tampered with, you need a method to “stamp” it.

How does it work: Guardtime generates an electronic stamp for the data called a signature. The signature acts like a lie detector, helping you verify when and by whom a piece of data was created and if it has been changed. The revolutionary part is that instead of relying on humans to verify the data, it can be done automatically, by means based on mathematics. This eliminates the unreliable part of the equation – the human.

Who are the users of Guardtime: Typically, Guardtime partners with distributors in different jurisdictions. These can be telecommunications companies or cloud infrastructure providers. However, Guardtime also has solutions for private individuals who need proof of authenticity for PDF content or want to sign their WordPress blog posts to establish ownership and time.

2. Signwise – a simple, secure and legally binding e-signing solution

Scanning signed documents into PDFs and emailing them is a procedure that should belong in the past. In Estonia, digital signatures are a common practice; however, it can be complicated if you have parties without an Estonian ID-card, as is the case for multi-national companies. Signwise sets its sight on resolving this problem and bringing the ease of digital signatures to the world, enabling you to sign a contract online in minutes.

How does it work: Signwise works with government-issued smart cards or IDs, which contain electronic certificates confirming the identity of the signer and proving the authenticity of the electronic signature. After identifying yourself with your ID-card, the software transports your desired files or documents to the recipient, also identifiable with an ID, via secure channels so that it does not even travel through the open internet. This means that you can be totally sure who the document came from and also that no one else was able to view it. The founder of Signwise, Tiit Anmann, says that the software is meant to work regardless of operating system or browser.

Who are the users of Signwise: Currently the company targets its services at organisations that have a lot of paperwork to be signed with their customers (eg banks). However, it is also being used in the public sector. The service is free for private individuals.

3. SecureMAIL – a new level in e-mail security

SecureMAIL is a solution by the Estonian company BHC Laboratory that helps keep your sensitive email correspondence authentic and confidential between you and your recipient. It challenges current email encryption providers by being inexpensive and not interfering with the user experience. The creators of SecureMAIL imagine a future where encrypted email is the standard and regular email is referred to as “insecure” or “public” email.

How does it work: SecureMAIL provides users with a personal hardware security token that is instantly available for secure email communication. The solution is compatible with all email programs. In the background, a token management system (TMS) operates with an integrated public key infrastructure (PKI), owned and controlled by the customer. Running the system does not require specific IT knowledge nor help from an IT professional. TMS deployment is made easy for the customer. It can be run from a server, a workstation or a laptop.

Who are the users of SecureMAIL: Obviously, the investment makes sense for organisations that give high value to confidentiality – be it cutting-edge innovators or legal advisors. However, the user experience is where SecureMAIL most challenges existing email encryption solutions that alter the user’s workflow and tempt the users to bypass the solution.

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 This article was originally published by e-EstoniaCover image: Images.com.

Who is afraid of the digital signature? Interview with Tarvi Martens (video)

In Estonia, every second citizen actively signs documents electronically and the nation saves a mountain of paper as high as the Eiffel Tower in just two months.

Tarvi Martens, the development director of Estonia’s Certification Centre and one of the founders of the 13-year-old system, is now consulting cross-border digital signature issues and new regulations in the EU. He also has not given up his IT skills – on the day we spoke to him, he had just finished a new standard for Estonia’s digital signature, which will be internationally compatible.

The meaning of “digital signature” is unclear. How would you define it in Estonia?

Outside Europe, I have heard that a digital signature is defined as a scanned document or just an electronic signature on someone’s iPad. In Europe, there is a directive that defines the meaning of the electronic signature; however, it is not exactly the same as in the Estonian law. In Europe, softer signatures are allowed, and this has caused quite some confusion. For example, an electronic signature can be given by entering your PIN code at a shop. Estonia, however, has kept a strong position from the very beginning – we have not allowed any of these soft signatures in our legislation, and the digital signature is based on the digital certificate. Proof that the certificate was valid at the time of signing is also a requirement. That is why there has been no confusion here about the essence of the digital signature: everybody knows that a digital signature can be used even in the courts.

The (in)security of a digital signature has, however, been a hot issue in the media. How secure would you consider it?

It is not possible to measure security, but you can measure insecurity – for example what has gone wrong or how many attacks there have been. During our 10-year practice, there has not been a single serious fraud case that we know of. Digital security depends mostly on its users – how they take care of their cards and PIN codes. People in Estonia realise that giving a digital signature can lead to legal consequences, and that makes them more careful. True, there have been smaller holes in the system, but nothing catastrophic.

To sum up, the security of the digital signature has a lot to do with educating people, which is a long-term process. It takes six-seven years to change human habits, and you cannot get results the next day.

Why has Estonia succeeded in implementing the digital signature?

The most important factor is that we gave tools to people, as well as to developers, for handling digital signatures – free of charge. Secondly, there was a common understanding of a definition of a digital signature and there was just one single service provider. It is not that simple a thing to accomplish because there could be numerous different software programmes on the market making digital signing available. We did not have to deal with the banking sector using one solution and the public sector another. If different software programmes are used, these cannot be compatible with each other. I think that incompatibility of different programmes and file formats is the largest problem at the European level.

People in Europe have asked me, “How many applications does our digital signature have?” At first I did not understand the question. It turned out that the use of digital signatures abroad is usually application-specific. Some website would ask you a signing PIN at one moment, and voila you have created a signature inside the system. In Estonia, we have digitally-signed files, so you can sign anything. Even if you create a digital signature in the web environment, you will be able to download the signature file created for your personal verification and archives.

Later I learned to ask them back, “How many applications does your country’s telefax system have?” Receiving and sending, of course. Likewise, we have two functions – signing and validation of signatures.

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Disclaimer: This interview was originally published by e-Estonia. Read the rest of the interview here.

Restarting governments in the cloud

Growth in the availability of cloud technologies, adoption of mobile computing devices and IT consumerisation means that governments need to rethink their strategies regarding e-services. In the article, we take a look at how cloud technology and a fresh approach can help in creating modern public services.

Cloud services reduce spending, give entrepreneurs wider options for export and up-to-date solutions for citizens. Estonia is steering the EU cloud computing agenda and things are looking good in the country itself as well.

Estonia has been using a secure data exchange layer in e-services which called the X-Road for over a decade. The X-Road solution supports decentralised development. There are two major benefits for using a decentralized approach in e-services – it provides higher security due to the lower attack value of each database and allows for each organization using the system to customize their own solutions to their need. Margus Püüa, director of the Department of State Information Systems at Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communication in Estonia says the country plans to use the same approach when transitioning to cloud solutions.

„We see several benefits in the adoption of cloud technologies. They provide more flexibility in data volume management, they are easier to implement and also recyclable – meaning they can be used by more than one organization or government. The combination of cloud solutions combined with modern lightweight applications is taking over the traditional client-server system logic behind e-services. In the development of X-Road, we take into account the possibilities of the cloud,” says Margus Püüa.

Building e-services as cloud solutions means growth in export capabilities for the IT companies developing the solutions. Andrei Korobeinik, IT entrepreneur and Member of the Estonian Parliament explains: “The development of a system for 1 million, 100 million or 1 billion users is not that different. But when governments buy e-services as products then it is like chasing rabbits – the private sector is much faster in innovating and waste of resources on updating systems is huge. The private sector excels in export and buying services instead of ownership means the government is supporting business activities as well.”

However, building “one size fits all” solutions do not come without its challenges. Most public organisations are used to having their very detailed and tailored e-services solutions created specifically for them. Cloud solutions are different and there needs to me a change of mindset when public organisations want to take advantage of their benefits.

Margus Püüa gives an example: “When building a healthcare solution, you can take into account very specific needs of one specific hospital and its doctors. However, those needs might not be the same in another hospital and the service might be unusable there. Building a solution with less specifics allows for more people to use it.”

An example of this new mindset can be seen in the Estonian e-Kool service. The virtual class journal solution is developed by a private company and bought as a service by educational institutions. There are several other examples with export capabilities as well, such as mobile mapping software of Nutiteq, planning solutions of Positium or the 3D wayfinder by 3D Technologies R&D. Due to private ownership there is no need for the state to spend resources in trying to export or develop the solution.

Innovation in the public sector usually takes more time than in private organisations. With the emergence of buying IT solutions as a service, these obstacles can be removed. In the long run, moving the government into the cloud will provide reductions in spending, increase export capabilities for local IT companies and what’s most important – enable governments to provide citizens with e-services which are always up to date.

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This article was first published by e-estonia.com and was written for e-Estonia newsletter “The digital society”.

TechSisters brings more women into Estonian IT-scene

The global shortage of high-tech workers is hitting smaller countries harder than bigger ones. In search of a solution, ProgeTiiger (CodeTiger) and TechSisters are two Estonian initiatives that are fighting the same issue – helping to uncover hidden talent and shaping the IT workplace of the future.

In the beginning of September, a bit of news that almost initially went unnoticed took the world by storm. Magazines and technology portals such as Forbes, Wired, VentureBeat, TechCrunch and many others turned heads toward Estonia.

What caused this stir? It was the fact that the Estonian Tiger Leap Foundation had kicked off a program to start educating first-graders in the fundamental building blocks of programming. Funnily enough, the story made it to the Estonian newspapers after the foreign press started massively picking it up. Was it that normal for Estonia to do something like that?

From Tiger Leap to ProgeTiiger

In the 1990s, a public-private partnership called Tiger Leap Foundation was brought to life, the name referring to the four Asian ”tigers” (Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan). Born in the heads of Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the president of Estonia, and Jaak Aaviksoo, the Minister of Education at the time, the idea was for Estonia to heavily invest in development and expansion of computer and network infrastructure in Estonia, particularly in the education sector.

Now, almost 20 years later, the program called ProgeTiiger is taking an important step forward. “We’re not trying to get firstgraders to code as such,” smiles Ave Lauringson, the program initiator and coordinator. She says that things need to be simplified and tailored to be age appropriate, so the program starts simple and rewarding tasks.

The first task it to get the teachers up to date, since it’s their confidence that will determine the extent of computer use in classes. “Around 30 teachers signed up for our first e-course where we covered the technology and methodology of how to lead kids to programming basics, several groups have signed up for similar courses in January. The interest has been huge both in the schools as well as on the parents’ side – we even have had inquiries from parents looking to put their child in a school that is part of the ProgeTiiger program,” Lauringson laughs.

The how-to of teaching kids to code

What does it take to replicate such program? “We have had to do quite a few presentations for guests outside Estonia. The main things that needs to be there is the infrastructure – something that Tiger Leap has provided for the schools in Estonia. If you have the technology, the scale of the undertaking really depends on how much human resources you want to dedicate to the program and also, whether the program is free to join or if you need to pay something to enroll. Tiger Leap has been a free program for all of Estonia, this is our definitely our advantage,” Lauringson explains.

While the youngest participants in ProgeTiiger will be contributing to the IT workforce in 15-20 years, it’s actually addressing all levels of pre-university education. This means results even sooner.

Where are the ladies?

Another likely side-effect of ProgeTiiger will be increasing the diversity in the male-dominated IT workforce. “If you want to consider more feminine routes in IT, we also have design courses,” says Lauringson. However, she’s far from considering programming to be something that’s “only for boys”.

TechSisters definitely agree. The community is made up of Estonian women (and men) that would like to see the Estonian technology seen more diverse. Born out of Rails Girls meetings (a global workshop series that is focused on teaching girls the programming language Ruby on Rails), they have extended their events from being just programming workshops to networking events and motivational gatherings.

In the UK, women make up 49% of the labour force, however they account for just 17% of IT and telecom professionals. In Estonia, the ratio is a comparable 80/20 – based on data from Skype and the gender structure of IT College students.

Why are women left out of IT?

“The reasons probably lie in gender-specific upbringing and stereotypes – boys tend to develop an interest towards technology (robots, construction toys or computers) significantly earlier than girls. For girls, you could say that the use of technology often remains on the level of looking at images of pretty things on the Internet,” explains Mari-Liis Lind, a member of TechSisters.

TechSisters plan to change that situation. “Since women’s perspective is often different from men’s, involving more women in IT would have the positive effect of bringing about more diverse ideas and solutions. Also, I’ve seen surveys actually showing women being more active Internet-users than man,” says Lind.

TechSisters was founded only recently, when the global community Rails Girls – a workshop for girls that teaches them to use the programming language Ruby on Rails – brought a lot of Estonian girls interested in IT together in Tallinn. The participants were eager to keep in contact after the event, both to polish their skills even further and to enjoy the good company – so TechSisters was born.

At their monthly gatherings, 3-4 women in IT share their experiences and view of the IT world. The goal of this is to alleviate fear for the unknown – girls and women get the chance to see what IT is all about and what it means to work in an IT company. This in turn encourages more women to consider IT as a career path.

The myth of the logical man?

“The most common misinterpretation people have of IT is that you need to be able to program – while that might not be true at all,” says Lind. “However, I also don’t agree with the statement that logical or mathematical thinking is something that is more dominant in men. Having met many brilliant women with sharp logical thinking, I think it’s more about allowing these characteristics to emerge.”

Lind believes that the educational system should be improved in a way that would allow for experimentation and making mistakes. “Kids need to be taught that it’s OK to make mistakes, because this is how you learn. You can learn much more from defeat or mistakes than you can from success. So it’s about instilling confidence and courage to try different things.”

While ProgeTiiger is a state-backed program, TechSisters is a grassroots-type community. The two initiatives share bits and pieces of ideology, although the way they go about reaching their goals is rather different. However, one of the common goals is obvious – to open up a world of choice. And this is exactly what the world needs at this time.

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This article was first published by e-estonia.com and was written for e-Estonia newsletter “The digital society”.

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