Iolanta Chomag started the Smart City Management Master's program at the Graduate School of Management of Saint Petersburg University (GSOM SPbU) 10 years after graduating from a pedagogical university. In this interview, Iolanta shares what inspired her to continue her studies and how it feels like being a student again.
Where did you study and work before entering GSOM SPbU?
In 2012, I completed a Specialist's degree at the Blagoveshchensk State Pedagogical University, which is situated right near the Chinese border. I studied English and Chinese at the university, so it seemed natural for me to go to China after graduation. I spent three years there and then decided to come back to Russia. One of the reasons why I chose the wonderful city of Saint Petersburg was that my friends already lived there.
What did you do in China and why haven't you stayed there?
I never planned to live in China for a long time. I was going to immerse in the culture, practice spoken Chinese and get work experience in a multicultural environment.
In China I used to teach English using a non-translation method (that supposes communication without using the students' native language). Not long before my departure, the Chinese policy started to change and it became harder to find a legal job, especially for teachers from non-English speaking countries.
What have you been doing in Saint Petersburg?
In Saint Petersburg I started working at an English tech support of a trading platform. At a certain point the company widened the set of assets and included cryptocurrency into it: then I got interested in this sphere, especially in blockchain technology standing behind cryptocurrencies. Now I'm a freelance translator and copywriter in the sphere of blockchain, cryptocurrency and decentralized finance.
Why did you decide to continue your studies?
After graduation, I have always been studying in one way or another. At one point I realized that a product manager's career attracted me, but a brief course isn't enough for it. Only university education gives fundamental and structured knowledge in several subjects, as well as mentorship and support from the best professionals. This is why I decided to study management at the Business School and I hope to get the necessary base to start a new career.
Why did you choose GSOM SPbU?
GSOM SPbU attracted me because it is based at SPbU, one of the top universities with vast resources and networking. I also liked a modern and minimalistic approach to exams: I only had to take exams in math and English.
What are your impressions about learning and how difficult is it to get adjusted to studies after a long pause?
It wasn't very difficult even in the beginning, because I do what I really like. It is always a pleasure to learn from people with such a rich experience, who are not only theorists, but also practicing professionals. In addition, I'm used to learning and digging into various topics: as a copywriter, I always do a lot of research. Also, group work became an interesting experience for me, there was no such practice in my first university. This is what certainly will be useful for a future product manager.
How did you manage to fit education in your schedule?
It is actually not easy to combine work and study, many of the professors don't recommend doing so, and I believe this is a reasonable recommendation. I have to master higher levels of time management. Being a freelancer is convenient, because I can work when I'm not busy with my studies. The majority of my groupmates manage to combine work and study, and this inspires me.
What kind of projects would you like to participate in?
I'd like to stay in the same sphere and deal with blockchain technology and decentralized finance. Product management includes various stages: data analysis, application of the analysis results to enhance the product and user experience, profit maximization, etc. A product manager has to interact with different divisions, possess basic programming and design skills, and be able to do many other things. Learning at the Business School will help me to improve my knowledge in all subjects. I have basic skills thanks to my practical experience — I even completed a programming course to communicate in a common language with my colleagues.
How are blockchain technology and Smart City Management program related?
There's no direct relation yet. Now I'm learning the basics of management, and the topic of blockchain is going to be covered only at the end of the second year. It's among my personal interests, and I see that this technology may improve the efficiency of some public services. For example, it can be used to store the patients' data, and I would love to participate in such projects.
Where else in city services and management can blockchain technology be used?
Blockchain technology can help to create different kinds of products, which may surprise those who don't know much about it. Cryptocurrency is only one of the ways blockchain can be used. We can use this technology to store any kind of information. There's the Distributed Ledger Technologies Centre at SPbU, where I would like to get an internship. They do research and create software solutions using the distributed ledger technologies (blockchain). For example, the organization of a more transparent and protected voting process. If I get an internship there, I'll have a chance to be engaged in the development of the state digital currency. I find it very interesting.