"Finland offers a good work-life balance"

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My career: from start to Finnish

Thiyagarajan Manihatty Bojan, India
Senior computer vision scientist

Originally from India, Thiyagarajan won a full scholarship to an Erasmus+ joint master’s degree programme in colour science. He studied in France and Spain, where he dug deeper into the concepts of computer vision. Because of his interest in this, he decided to spend the second year of his programme at the University of Eastern Finland (UEF).

“Cameras are in the core of computer vision, and UEF had state-of-the-art spectral imaging camera systems, so I really wanted to get into the labs to practise,” he recalls.

“Compared to other nations, I really liked the Finnish education system. It offered me the flexibility and freedom that enabled me to focus on what I really wanted to do.”

During his studies at UEF, he learnt about a headset that tracked the eye movements of a person. It was so fascinating to him that he wanted to join that research group immediately.

From here, as his interests grew, so too did his career opportunities.

Thiyagarajan wearing VR goggles

Thiyagarajan’s career in computer vision continues to expand its horizons. Image: Thiyagarajan Manihatty Bojan

How I got my current job is I was a student at UEF, then for an internship I joined Varjo Technologies in Helsinki. I worked on developing the best possible camera technology for virtual and mixed reality headsets. At the moment, I am a senior computer vision scientist at Revieve, developing computer vision applications for cosmetic healthcare products. The computer vision app can detect the facial features, hair and skin properties of a person in an image. When the image is analysed, the app can recommend suitable products for the user.

The Finnish word that best describes working here is ‘hiljainen’ (silent). Finns are referred to as people with few words. They talk comparatively less and, when they do tell something, they will finish in a single sentence. During meetings and discussion, I came to know that having a long pause (or being silent) for some time is quite normal.

After being a few years in Finland, I only have basic Finnish language understanding. But on the other hand, I would like to point out that language was not a barrier, it’s just a medium of communicating information. English is mostly spoken during working hours. However, knowing and understanding the language will make one’s life easier.

Computer vision is a hot area in the tech industry. Mostly applications are built based on images and videos. Now machine learning/deep learning is surpassing the classical approach. The processes of object detection, classification, segmentation, transformations and generations are becoming more useful for different industries, for example, from skin cancer detection to immersing yourself into mixed reality. All you need is just a relevant image/video and that is computer vision.

Thiyagarajan smiling in the forest

Thiyagarajan has really embraced the Finnish nature since moving here. Image: Thiyagarajan Manihatty Bojan

In Finland, there are very few companies who work on computer vision tasks compared to the US, Canada or Switzerland. Most of the camera, ISP and related companies are located in the Tampere region, and, in Helsinki, there are a few startups working on computer vision tasks, and it’s growing bigger every year.

The main differences in working life in Finland compared to other countries where I have worked are… that Finland offers a good work-life balance – people don’t work for many hours sitting in the office, they manage their time better. Also we can refer to this as ‘lagom’ – not too little, not too much, just right. This is a philosophy and approach to living in a balanced way. As Finns are comparatively shy, most of the communication happens in the digital medium apart from meetings. This was before COVID. Now this is the standard. Last but not least, responsibility. When a task is provided, we have the full freedom to choose what is right for the product.

Working in an international environment at my current job meansthat people are from various parts of the world, but we are digitally connected. I strongly believe that when culture differs, people’s working approach differs and thus each member brings slightly different points to the table during discussion. That leads to a better product.

Thiyagarajan posing in a suit

According to Thiyagarajan, the flexibility and freedom offered by Finnish education meant that he could focus on what he was really interested in. Image: Thiyagarajan Manihatty Bojan

The best thing about my job is… the freedom to build and use my own preferred tools for developing applications. Flexible working hours is something of a great luxury in my current job. Lastly, I was actually looking for a remote-working job during the pandemic, and I loved the complete remote working offered by Revieve.

What I enjoy most about living in the Espoo suburb of Matinkylä is I really like to go to the beach and relax when I need a break. I love Espoo.

The hobbies that I have really enjoyed practising in Finland are… spending time outdoors cycling and going to national forests to pick berries. Oh… if you ever get the chance to taste wild strawberries in the forest, go for it. It’s the sweetest thing I’ve ever tasted! After coming to Finland, I started to love nature very much.

The organisations that have supported my professional growth in Finland are… firstly, Varjo. I really have great respect for Varjo and the team. I might have contributed little to Varjo, but I really learnt a lot of new things in computer vision, camera technologies and also the knowledge of building a company from a small startup with seven members to more than 150 now. That was a fantastic experience.

Thiyagarajan wearing VR goggles

Thiyagarajan thoroughly enjoys and values the flexibility of working life in Finland. Image: Thiyagarajan Manihatty Bojan

On the other hand, Revieve is providing all the freedom to choose and do work that is right for the product. The company allowed me to do a lot of experiments with deep-learning approaches to solve traditional computer vision problems. Revieve allowed me to explore state-of-the-art AI fields and build applications on top of it.

The challenges that I have encountered and overcome while adjusting to working life here in Finland is/are… actually, I haven’t had any problems adjusting to working life, rather I really enjoy it. People help in all aspects.

Interview originally published in June 2021.

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