Tampere: Small in size but not in thinking

Tampere Talent Ambassador Margarita Khartanovic

As a convinced cosmopolitan and a digital nomad by the will of fate, I could have lived anywhere – London, Berlin, New York, Amsterdam, Vienna, you name it. But after all these years (almost 11!) I’m still here, in Tampere, Finland. Why would an ambitious person, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, with tons of experience and skills, exploding with ideas have opted for a tiny city (with only 226,696 inhabitants) in the middle of nowhere condemning herself to a constant hunt for rare paid job opportunities? It might sound insane but, believe me, there is a reason.

Tampere - a Cozy, Peaceful Home

Before I moved to Tampere in August 2009 to pursue my Master’s degree in Journalism (major) and International Relations (minor), I had never lived in a city with a population smaller than 350,000 inhabitants. My hometime is Vladimir (350,000). I got my two degrees in Linguistics and Public Relations as well as my first 5-year experience in media relations in Nizhny Novgorod (1.257 million) and then worked in Moscow (11.92 million) in an international Tech PR agency and later at the TNT broadcasting company – one of the main entertainment TV channels in Russia known for its comedies, reality shows and TV series.

When the economic crunch happened in 2008, the media industry was hit the hardest losing hundreds of advertisers and content producers. I had to leave my beloved job behind and head for new adventures. As I always wanted to study abroad and experience a foreign country not just as a tourist, I decided to apply for Master’s programmes in Finland and was accepted to both Turku and Tampere Universities. I chose Tampere because it had a much more exciting study programme… and looked better in the pictures.

I’m a proactive person, and I mean it. As soon as my plane landed in Tampere (yes, I did take that 20 min flight from Helsinki) and got into my tutor’s car, I became a board member of the International Students of Tampere association (ISOT) and stayed in this role for the next five years. I was lucky with the groupmates – from Nepal, Belarus, Italy, the US, Sweden and Finland – and all other international and Finnish students around as well as my supervisor and lecturers, so my student years left a lasting warm memory with me.

And that was when the feeling of home started to form: the nature, the lakes, cozy districts, eating donuts at an observation tower, taking boat trips, going to see a rock gig or sing karaoke, bunnies and foxes running around, etc. Everything is close, approachable, taken care of, works well. Every time I left Tampere, I always looked forward to coming back. Because I was coming back HOME.

Making It in Finland

In terms of a career, I wanted to focus on building media products. I started with music journalism as music has always been my passion – I worked for a number of British, American and German blogs and later eventually for Rolling Stone magazine itself (note: not the band!) taking live photos, writing reviews of live shows, festivals and albums, interviewing the likes of Marilyn Manson, Korn, Deftones, Mastodon, IAMX, Stratovarius, Accept, Bullet For My Valentine, Tokio Hotel, John Grant, Say Lou Lou, Poets of the Fall, Negative, Tesla Boy, and many many more.

My other media project was “UUNI” – the English-language pages of Oulu University student magazine. I created it from scratch, launched, contributed to and coordinated for around 3 years. We covered everything related to studying, working and living in Finland including all the burning issues like employment for young graduates and international talents, educational, cultural and social challenges, discrimination and racism, etc. We tried to give a very practical and non-stereotypical perspective of Finland that would benefit both foreign and Finnish students.

From music and student-related journalism I moved to the topics of tech and business covering Tampere-rooted tech innovations for Business Insider and Tech.eu in cooperation with ex-Tredea (now Business Tampere). In between media products, I was also involved in creating communication, branding and marketing campaigns (WordDive, JM Tieto, Safe Internet Together, Kasvu Open, Demola) as well as in doing media research (International Press Institute, Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki) that resulted in my pursuing a PhD degree in Journalism at Tampere University (still ongoing).

The biggest media project so far that I have had a chance to create and develop as Editor-in-Chief is Binary District Journal – a tech publication about new technologies (IoT, AI, Cybersecurity, Big Data, Biotech, Blockchain, etc.) with the focus on academics, engineers and everything business and R&D-related. In 2018, it was syndicated by The Next Web magazine (5 million visits per day) and, in 2019, acquired by Digital October.

An interesting detail about this job is that I worked remotely from Tampere going on business trips every other week – to London, Amsterdam, Berlin, Moscow, Beijing, Shanghai, Lisbon and many other cities. A true digital nomad but with a cozy home, right? Another highlight of that time is speaking at TNW Conference and events in Amsterdam and London sharing the stage with Financial Times journalists, banking and fintech representatives, VCs such as Tim Draper and Kavita Gupta, CEOs of large corportaions such as IBM and Microsoft and many others as well as representing Binary District at WebSummit and Slush. Later my duties expanded to Head of Insight, which included developing the company’s strategy, hiring staff, managing educational projects and helping raise funding for partner projects ($7 million for Primalbase, $120 million for Vostok).

In 2020, I joined Y-kampus as a growth hacker and coach with a mission to inspire Tampere students with entrepreneurship and create a community that would unite students, academia and the startup world.

Regional Development and Renewal

I joined Tampere Ambassador Network in 2015 mostly because I wanted to learn more about and contribute to the city’s development, internationalisation and growth. When I cooperated with Tredea, it became obvious to me that Tampere is actually a very ambitious city that realizes that it is small and provincial but thinks big, trying to attract more investment, businesses and talents by creating the right infrastructure, supporting and boosting various clusters and platforms. And I believe in Tampere’s potential to become something remarkable – a place with a great work and life balance where opportunities are created and open for everyone, a vibrant city where you want to live and can thrive despite your background.

However, we do need to do some work first to make it happen, e.g. to encourage changes in local companies’ culture making them more willing to scale up and recognize the necessity for and benefits of hiring international talents. But I’m sure that with the initiatives such as the Tampere Ambassador programme and readiness of policy-makers, businesses, academia, ecosystem-builders to support them and cooperate, Tampere will find a way to always renew and reinvent itself. And who wouldn’t like to live in a city like this? Well, that’s why I’m still sticking around too, for good.

Photo by Carolin Büttner
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