Developing IT-industry invites Talents to stay in Tartu

Photo by Raigo Saariste
Photo by Raigo Saariste

Both Carlos Paniagua from Guatemala and Chris Willmore from California, US got their software engineering master’s degree from the Institute of Computer Science, University of Tartu a few years ago. Although Paniagua is one of the co-founders of a start-up born in New York, and Willmore has worked in Silicon Valley. They both now live and work in Tartu, and are very happy about it. “It is a really good place to be if you are an engineer. People from the world know Estonia for its software industry,” Paniagua explained.

Paniagua is a co-founder of the start-up called SaleMove, which was created in 2012 in New York. Their business, sales and support departments are still in New York but the IT and engineering departments have found a home in Tartu. “We have always been committed to being a tech focus company and so we set out to invest in building a strong high-quality technical team. As I did my master’s studies at the University of Tartu I have some friends who I worked with in the past and invited them to join our adventure. Those friends brought more friends to the team and at some point it made sense to continue building the team in Tartu,” Paniagua explained.

Carlos Paniagua is a co-founder of the start-up called SaleMove. Photo by Raigo Saariste

Carlos Paniagua is a co-founder of the start-up called SaleMove. Photo by Raigo Saariste

One of the friends who became team members like this was Paniagua’s course mate and project partner Willmore. The American from California first studied informatics in the University of California, Berkeley and engineered a web application for Yahoo! in Silicon Valley. But love brought him to Tartu—his wife is Estonian. Willmore started his own small consulting company here but about a year ago he decided to join the SaleMove team. “I had the chance to meet the other co-founders in addition to Carlos and I was really excited about what SaleMove is doing,” he said and added that working as a software engineer in Tartu is great.

Chris Willmore decided to join the SaleMove team about a year ago. Photo by Raigo Saariste

Chris Willmore decided to join the SaleMove team about a year ago. Photo by Raigo Saariste

Skills and Connections from University

Paniagua said that, in retrospect, it was the right decision to build the technical department in Tartu for several reasons, such as the professionalism and ethics of the Estonian IT industry, the technical quality, language and relationships with the university. “So far it has been great to be part of the tech community and we look forward to continuing growth and collaboration with them,” he noted, “the industry is developing really fast here.”

In addition to helping build the team and finding talents, the University of Tartu and its Institute of Computer Sciences helps the company to stay abreast of the latest developments.

Both Paniagua and Willmore mentioned that the knowledge and skill set they got from master’s studies made them competitive in the industry. Willmore said he uses that skillset a lot in everyday work. “Course work experience has helped me with planning software development and the daily life in the office—what I and everybody else should be doing,” he explained. Courses of cloud-computing and social informatics were particularly interesting for him but besides studying he sees school as a great way to meet potential business partners. “The connections, meeting Carlos and my other work partners… it is very beneficial!” he concluded.

Paniagua said that he is really happy that he chose Tartu for his master’s studies as the university is very strong; both theory and practical aspects are taught very solidly. “I completed my bachelor’s studies in San Carlos de Guatemala University and started work but I wanted to continue studying to keep developing professionally. I also applied to South Korea, for example, but a friend of mine recommended Estonia and Tartu because he had been here already for a year and enjoyed it a lot,” Paniagua explained.

Benefits of Small Size

Paniagua considers the systems of San Carlos and University of Tarty very different and adapted for different needs. He explained that in San Carlos the curriculum is strong in the practical and theoretical area; however, it is designed for a student to study independently and very autonomously. Also, in San Carlos the opportunities to do research are limited because the student population in San Carlos is a lot bigger than in UT but they have fewer resources. “In UT, a student has the chance to decide whether they want to focus on research or practical applications. Having the chance to focus on research is a big difference already. Also, collaboration between the academia and industry is much stronger in Estonia,” he concluded.

Willmore sees size as the main difference between the US and Estonia. “Estonia is much smaller but that offers opportunities in education. Classes are much smaller and students have more chances to interact with professors and researchers,” he said and added that in Estonia, local professionals are more involved in education—individuals from local companies teach courses, providing a good mix of practical and academic instruction.

The co-operation between the university and SaleMove works on different levels: many interns come to the company from the university and one course taught by a SaleMove employee is developed within the company. SaleMove is investing into developing the materials, taking time to teach the lessons and grade the home assignments. However, Paniagua and Willmore hope that the relations with the university will be even closer in the future. “We as a company are always looking to collaborate with the university in more R&D projects and we hope to create those opportunities soon,” Paniagua said.

Complex Sales Online

The vision of SaleMove is to facilitate online customer experiences. It means that they enable companies to sell, e.g., cars and real estate to customers right through their website and make the experience pleasant. The idea actually came from two of Paniagua’s American friends who thought of it while working at an electronics company. “They thought it would be nice if you could buy electronics online. The idea is, of course, to sell more. If you are buying a TV, then why not get a game console as well,” Paniagua explained.

His friends contacted him when they needed someone who could write programmes and he built the prototype. As he was finishing his master’s studies and looking for new experiences, he started working for SaleMove remotely. After graduating in the summer of 2012 Paniagua went to New York to work with friends and they participated in a business accelerator program. They were lucky to get funding, an office and mentorship.

Although SaleMove’s main focus is the US, they also have some clients in Europe and are looking forward to finding their first Estonian client.

This article was funded by the European Regional Development Fund through Estonian Research Council.