Came here for the top-tier education – stayed for the feeling of being home
Ahnaf Ahmad says that Oulu was a good match for his ambitions. During his studies in Wireless Communications Engineering, he got an internship at Nokia that has turned into a full-time job.
”If you want to go deep into research in latest wireless communications technology, Oulu is your best choice,” says Ahmad, an international alumnus of the University of Oulu. But studies were not be the only thing Ahmad got to experience during his time here.
Ahmad enrolled in a two-year Wireless Communications Engineering master's programme in 2017. Coming from Bangladesh, he was yet to have the stereotypical Finnish experiences: the coldness of winter, the 24-hour light in the summer, and sitting quietly with quiet people. He wasn't completely unprepared, though, as his friend had studied in Oulu and put in a good word.
”I had received my Bachelor's degree in electrical engineering in 2015 and had worked in the industry for 18 months after that. I was looking to further my studies in communications technology, and started considering my options. My friend told me that the studies were really good and that the University of Oulu was great,” Ahmad says.
Ahmad was applying to a few different programmes in a few different universities in several countries, but then he came across an article that characterised Oulu as the Silicon Valley for 5G, or the fifth generation of wireless communications technology. He says he felt that even if Oulu was a little further up north than other places, for wireless technology this would be the place. So, he turned in his application, was accepted, and packed his bags for Finland.
”As it turned out, I was very happy with my decision to come to Oulu. They teach you really cutting-edge stuff here, the latest stuff in wireless communications. We got to do things with the 5G Test Network before 5G was out in the world, as it is now. And now they are already researching 6G here. The education and the department are very strong, globally speaking,” Ahmad says.
Ahmad was very pleased with the hands-on, practical approach to studies and lab work.
He enjoyed the courses and found himself being drawn to networks and testing through his studies. He kept aiming high as he was extremely motivated and found that his enthusiasm was appreciated by his teachers, who were supportive.
”A few courses were really hard, and I and my fellow students were struggling with them a little bit. The teachers are there to help you if you approach them. When they see that you're struggling, they will support you. If you want help, you will get it,” Ahmad says.
New place, new life
While Ahmad was making the most of his studies, he was adjusting to a new life in Oulu, a life that was very different from the one he had in Bangladesh. In Bangladesh, he was living in a busy city with his family, surrounded by familiar faces and not having to worry about buying down jackets and other warm clothes for the winter. His friends, who were already living in Oulu, warned him jokingly that he would get depressed by the darkness in Finland during the winter months.
But in Finland, Ahmad was not hugely affected by the darkness. Instead he found it rather interesting. He was enjoying living on his own in a new place, discovering nature, going on long walks, biking around the city, and hunting for Aurora Borealis in the night. He decided that while he was in Oulu, he would want to have the full University experience and he is glad he did it. Student life has a lot to offer outside of just studies, he reasoned.
Ahmad became very active socially, joining the Oulu Entrepreneurship Society, which took him on as a marketing manager. He was soon taking part in hackathons, organising events, pitching business ideas in contests–and winning. Another thing that he embraced fully was the UniOulu Ambassador programme, in which he represented the University, helped the prospective students, and made great friends.
Ahmad also took part in the Kummi family programme, meeting and spending time with a Finnish family who would introduce him to Finnish culture, show him things to do and help him out with everyday things. Ahmad became fast friends with the family, to the point where he says they kind of feel like his family here, away from Bangladesh.
Speaking with Ahmad in person, he is equipped with an easy smile and a friendly demeanor, but he says that spending time in social events honed his interpersonal skills.
”Those experiences were really important for me when it came to applying for a job here in Finland. How to present yourself, not just your skills, but as a person. I think if you show who you are in an interview, it will work for you. I really encourage everyone to take part in those kinds of events. Just go for the free food and see if you end up doing something you really like,” he grins.
Ahnaf Ahmad made good use of the extracurricular activities at the University of Oulu, like joining the Oulu Entrepreneurship Society and taking part in the UniOulu Ambassador programme as well as the Kummi family programme.
Translating his studies into an internship–and a full-time job
As Ahmad was getting close to graduation, he applied and got an internship with Nokia in Oulu. His summer internship turned into a full-time job as a 5G L1 Integration Engineer in the fall, just months after graduating.
Ahmad says that being able to take advantage of the university's 5G test network to study the latest wireless communications technologies at a time when 5G wasn't yet rolled out commercially meant a great deal for his work prospects.
”The University of Oulu has a collaboration with Nokia and other companies in the industry and so we had the chance to test 5G and 4G networks and see the differences in a hands-on manner. Nokia is one of the biggest network infrastructure providers and they have a center in Oulu,” Ahmad says.
As with his studies, Ahmad is highly motivated in his work and is eager to learn as much as he can.
”It's still early days, so I'm kind of learning the ropes right now. But the same thing happened with the internship. After a couple of months you start to know what you are doing and they are able to give you more responsibilities. There's a lot to learn, but I am looking forward to getting to that place, getting in-depth experience in this area and use my knowledge now and in the foreseeable future.”
Ahmad has had a great experience so far. ”It's a huge company, but the biggest surprise to me was that it doesn't feel like a corporate thing. Everyone is really open and happy to help and give advice. They are also very open to people shifting from team to team, which is great in terms of learning and building your expertise,” Ahmad muses.
A couple of years studying here has turned into something that might keep him in town for a far longer stretch of time.
”It's funny, when I first started travelling from Oulu I went to Helsinki and Tampere, and to Sweden and other countries, and I would feel that Oulu was very small, but every time I came back I felt like I was coming home,” Ahmad says.
It's hard not to see him as putting his roots down in this strange land in the North. The feeling of coming home seems to have stuck with him.
”Maybe it's because this is my first place away from home, and I'll always have that association with Oulu. I don't know. But I really do like it here,” Ahmad says.
Text and photographs: Janne-Pekka Manninen
• M.Sc. (Tech.) Wireless Communications Engineering
• 5G L1 Integration Engineer at Nokia
• According to Ahmad, he used to be really introverted, which not a lot of people know about him in Finland. And back home people are very surprised to see him as an extroverted person.