Professional Lies

Disclaimer: this is a post written as part of my “ethics & digital world” course when COVID-19 first hit and classes were moved into distance format. It may contain heavy banter. The topic for that week was “IT In Your Home Country”. Original post here.

IT professionals in general are widely regarded as some incredibly savvy people who can fix-up anything that is even remotely associated with electrical current and interaction. This thought is fuelled by Hollywood movies, where IT people are depicted as highly intellectual and / or antisocial people doing magic through and with a computer (kids hacking the military accidentally), but also simply because IT savvy people usually know how to Google quite well, so they can indeed fix a lot of stuff.

In a sense, most of IT is held up by the ability of a person to search and process information. But shh, that is a field secret. Externally, we remain geniuses. This is all very nice until you realise how incredibly counterproductive this cult is. What’s worse, when this cult widens to a national level. Enter Estonia, the amazing incredible e-country.

The Cult of Estonia

Estonians are trying to sell this idea to the world that their blood is internet and kids in wombs know how to program. We may deny it, but this is how our boasting about electronic advancements is perceived in other countries, even more so when little additional research is done (USA, perfectly random example of course). We can somewhat thank our former president Toomas Hendrik Ilves for that. The issue is that we are starting to believe it ourselves.

Estonia is very advanced in things such as e-government, there is no denying in that. However isn’t it embarrassing to call the country a digital country and have the official website display an obsolete web-tech warning for close to two years?

Furthermore, imagine calling yourself a digital country and have your IT minister (sorry Kert Kingo) care less about computers and digital infrastructure than the great-grandmother who still has a rotary phone home.

Startup World

Estonia is a hotspot for startups, and startups need IT people. In recent years, the image of an IT professional in Estonia is of a young adult male, who has just completed higher university education in an IT field, and is working part time at a strartup company while establishing their own IT startup on the side. Probably has glasses too, the trendy black rimmed hipster ones.

This image is evolving even more, as the boom of startups has resulted in students working part time during their bachelor’s studies and dropping out of university as their career is lucrative. So while currently IT professionals are assumed to have higher education, this may very well change.

Then again, what is assumed and what is truthful doesn’t necessarily correlate, and I believe the image of a well educated, highly experienced male in their mid 20s who has been doing “computer stuff” since he was 15, and spent summers at coding bootcamps is going to remain as the front-image of the IT pro in Estonia for years to come.

Emerging From the Rubble

Credit must be given where credit is due. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Estonia has consistently been ahead of the curve in the adoption and development of the digital infrastructure and has been developing and guiding the youth in the IT direction to sustain the electronic evolution.

This nurturing of IT at a national level has contributed with the rapid development of the image people have of the field, and while in other countries the IT professional remains the person who turns your computer off and on again, in Estonia it’s the digital engineer at Swedbank, the spy in KAPO, or the mastermind working for RIA bringing you the next ID card software version (which by the way, has its Windows Store version an unfunctional for high DPI screens).

Insights Into the Future

Since the early 2000s with the establishing of e-governance, then blockchain, then further e-governance and the digitalisation of many services, the image of the digital country and IT professional has rapidly evolved. While at first, as everywhere, this image mostly consisted of someone understanding how windows 2000 worked, it then became an image of someone working for the government, helping develop the e-country.

After the e-governance milestone, this image moved over to ISPs, when faster speeds and larger coverage, as well as smartphones started to be widespread. Then came the banks, and currently it’s the startups. If you’re an IT professional today in Estonia, most will assume you do some high-tech, mission critical job at Swedbank, Elisa / Telia, Transferwise or something analogous.

While the future is uncertain, it seems the educational part is starting to be less important and it’s more about practical experience in the IT field, so who knows what the next big IT job will be. If in the meanwhile, if you write documentation and help users open their emails in Outlook, you can thank the national perception of saving your image.

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