EIT Digital showcases a student of the EIT Digital Master School’s Security and Privacy Programme, Alexandros Toptsoglou.
In his family, he was the only one with an interest in technology. “So, I had to teach myself how to play with the computer.” Good for Greece. Alexandros Toptsoglou wants to return one day and apply smart technology to improve the lives of Greek people. “I believe in the European dream.” First, he must finish his studies at the EIT Digital Master School.
Toptsoglou’s self-motivation has culminated with the EIT Digital Master School. Toptsoglou is studying in the Security and Privacy programme, recently renamed Cyber Security. During his first year, he studied at Twente University of Technology, Enschede, the Netherlands, and now he is doing his second and final year at Saarland University in Germany. Before this, he studied digital systems at the University of Piraeus, Greece, where he specialised in telecommunications and networks, wrote a bachelor thesis on cloud forensics and completed the Erasmus programme in Leuven, Belgium.
Why did you choose to study at the EIT Digital Master School?
“I have always been looking for opportunities to travel abroad. While doing my Erasmus, I realised that I’m interested in cyber security and that I have no problem adapting to new countries. The EIT Digital Master School combines both cyber security and travelling. Choosing the EIT Digital Master School also seemed good for my life after graduation. I think the network it provides will help me find a job more easily.
In addition, I get a double degree from two universities and a certificate from the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT). EIT is a recognised European Institute and the universities involved are among the highest rated worldwide in their fields. Also, the minor in Innovation and Entrepreneurship is quite special. Now that I am almost done, I am truly sure that I made the right choice!”
What do you like about the EIT Digital Master School?
“The multicultural diversity. You live and study with international students and see how differently everyone thinks. It is good to have discussions; it sharpens your critical and technical thinking and you become much more open-minded. The tough part is that sometimes you cannot express yourself the way that you want because of the language barrier.
“I want to work abroad, so I think this is good preparation for my career – the fact that I spent two years in two different universities and learned how to adapt to new environments. I saw how two highly-rated universities approach education and I believe that even if I faced difficulties in the beginning, it is worth it, and it will pay off. Finally, the structure of the EIT Digital Master School programme helped me to become more adaptable to change, not only in academic situations, which is a key advantage for my future.”
What are the key differences between the different university systems you have experienced?
“The system in the Netherlands is pressurising. I tried to adjust to this term-based system, which involves exams every eight weeks. That was intense and new to me, since in Greece we follow semesters. In Twente, they did not have a lot of lectures, so I had to study a lot of research papers myself to be prepared for the exams. Nevertheless, by organising my time efficiently, I managed to get used to it. In Saarland, the system is totally different to the Netherlands; they follow the semester system, similar to Greece. Here the lectures are given inside internationally recognised research centres, such as the Max Planck Institute and the Center for IT-Security, Privacy and Accountability (CISPA), and this influences the lectures since modern research is served even before its publication.”
In between the two universities, you did the Summer School Digital Finance – Economics of Blockchain Security – in Budapest. How did you find it?
“My thoughts are only positive. The most exciting point is that I worked in a team where the members met for the first time. That was difficult at first, since we all came from different backgrounds, both cultural and educational. Nevertheless, with determination we managed to overcome all of our differences and develop a business plan for our product based on blockchain, which we presented to a jury.
“In addition to this, I enjoyed meeting other EIT Digital students from different disciplines. I realised that most of us want to be part of a start-up and that the summer school provided us with all the necessary information to maximise our chances of building a successful product and a successful start-up.
“Finally, I am also glad because, once again, EIT Digital gave me the chance to travel to a new country and meet new people and, most importantly, prepared me for the future work environment. In the future, I will surely be involved in team projects with strict deadlines and people I don’t know.”
Why did you not choose to do a masters in Greece?
“The most important reasons were that I wanted to see how they teach in other European countries and I wanted to broaden my horizons. Another reason is that studying for a masters in Greece is very expensive. In addition to this, due to the bad economic situation, universities – which are all public – are under-funded and consequently, they think twice when it comes to investing money in research and technology. When you are interested in more state-of-the-art technologies, going abroad is a must. The last reason is that I would like to look for a job abroad.”
What are your plans after your graduation?
“Before I started at the EIT Digital Master School, I had a clear dream that I wanted to work in a big company or organisation in security or privacy and be the technical guy. After the kick-off in Rennes, France, and especially after the Summer School in Budapest, I started thinking about entrepreneurial things. I see how entrepreneurship works now and I can see myself in the future as an entrepreneur. Before this school, I was afraid to even think about starting something myself. Now, I am for it. The ideal situation will be a job which combines my technical major with a taste of entrepreneurship.”
Will you stay abroad or go back to Greece?
“In Greece, we have a science brain drain. Greece produces brains but loses them. There is, for example, a large Greek community in Twente with people having serious technical jobs. They agree that Greece does not provide a stable work environment and is not friendly for young scientists. They want to come back but only after a few years. I also want to go back in maybe five or six years.
“I want to help and save my country, at least from this brain drain, but I cannot do that right now. I can easily find work, but the salary is not good. I also believe that being an entrepreneur in Greece is underestimated. First and foremost, the economy and the tax system cannot provide a safe environment for building a start-up and, also, the country makes it very dangerous with their economic tax policies. There is also a lack of vision and trust. Hence, starting a new business in Greece is impractical.
“For these reasons, I want to spend my first years abroad and after some years I will return with my savings to do my best for my country. In the future, I would like to apply smart technology and secure automated systems to reduce corruption, so we can save money for the government and make lives for people easier.”
How will your study help you to help Greece?
“Even if Greece is part of the European Union, it often lacks technology and innovation. Indeed, technology arrives in Greece years after it is applied in the rest of Europe. In a discipline such as cyber security, even a small delay in applying modern technology is crucial. Thus, this should be changed!
“I believe in the European dream, I believe that all countries should be together and communicate better to enable smooth technology transfer. My studies helped me to understand two things; first that people can communicate and work really successfully together even if they are from different countries; and second, I feel more open-minded now, since I have seen how other countries deal with the problems that Greece faces.
“When I return to my home country, I would like to try to teach, introduce and spread state-of-the-art technology across industry. Finally, I would like to conduct research on a large scale and make Greece a pioneer in the field of cyber security.”