Why did you decide to get a Master's degree in information security?

My interest in information security, particularly network security, started way back during my undergraduate studies in Malawi, and was further strengthened with my previous industry experience, such that when I saw this program, not just the name, but the module content, I was so fascinated and applied right away.

How did you become a student at ITMO University? 

I started to search for study opportunities in Russia and came across ITMO University offering this program. Though the Russian government and ITMO University application round for scholarships had already closed, the fees here at ITMO are relatively affordable, so that I decided to self-fund my studies when I got the email that I made it through the program selection interview – and here I am, so glad to have had such a relatively affordable but great education in every way.

Why did you focus on ITMO?

Through my internet search I got to know that ITMO University is a top Russian university in computer science, and further ranks exceptionally well at the national and global levels: like, for instance, this year it was ranked 365th out of 1,300 universities from 93 countries by QS World University Rankings. In fact, to reach this level it has climbed up 300 places in about 5 years – now that speaks of its rapid growth and prestige. Thus the reputation of ITMO University contributed to my prior decisions.  Suffice it to say, the delivered program content exceeded my expectations and I am glad I chose ITMO.

Was it difficult to obtain all the documents necessary to come here?

In my case it was not. The international admissions manager and the program coordinator were so supportive in every part of the process. I further did not have issues at the embassy; however, I had a daunting task of translating my documents from English to Russian due to unavailability of certified Russian translators back home, but still the embassy in Harare came in to help by linking me up with a certified translator.  

How did you feel upon your arrival in Russia? 

Well, it was better than I expected, thanks to the Buddy System at ITMO University such that, right from the airport I found my buddy waiting for me. I was even lucky to have 2 buddies, such amazing guys who made my initial stay in Russia so easy to cope with and helped with everything from taking me through the registration process to going with me to the shops to buy amenities to whatever issue I had. They were always there for me. I think it would have been super tough for me considering I didn’t know a single Russian word at that point, so you can imagine, here I was, with buddies who speak both Russian and English. On another note, the weather was shocking for me on the initial days, but it later turned out to be adaptable, and I am now used to St. Petersburg weather. The Russian culture hasn’t been a surprise per se, it’s just been an added experience of cultures, and it’s been fascinating in its own way.

What has your housing experience been like in St. Petersburg? 

I actually stayed in a few different places here. I initially was staying at the Petropolis hotel, which has some sort of arrangement with ITMO University to accommodate willing students seeking some level of comfort at a special fare. I then moved to the ITMO dorm on Karpovka Emb. 22 and then moved again to my own apartment.  I must say that they were all good places to stay in, but for more comfort, I found having my own apartment was the best, though it cost more. But it is very comfortable and I got the chance to live in a truly Russian setting, with great neighbours who would teach me Russian words and offer Russian food to try. 

What was your educational path before joining ITMO?

I completed a Bachelor’s in IT from the University of Malawi, and some industry certifications in Computer Networking and Information Security (CompTIA and CISCO). Interestingly, while in the pursuit of my Master’s degree, I also earned some more IT industry certifications.

What do you like most about St. Petersburg?

Most of all, the friendliness of the people, the beautiful architecture and the cultural buildings.

How is life as an international student at ITMO? 

Life here has been enthralling. In terms of culture, it’s been about learning different cultures as there are a lot of international students at ITMO let alone in St. Petersburg.  In terms of education, the department through our program coordinator has been very supportive, and so has the international team. The lecturers delivered exceptional content, and they don’t stop there, they support you all the way till you reach the level of mastery of the subjects that is anticipated. On another note, it’s been a lot of work as the delivery of content is very practical and that means many hours of doing lab classes to the point that one could miss out on other university edutainment or optional sports activities if attention is not paid to time management. Furthermore, my fellow international and Russian classmates alike have been amazingly supportive.

Have you also had the opportunity to work at ITMO? What’s that been like? 

Yes, I have been working as an engineer at the Department of Secure Information Technologies. It has basically been practical research and development (R&D) work in the lab under the supervision of my project lead professor. In my case, we have been developing software means of collecting and analyzing network traffic for our industry partners. That entails network traffic forecasting in a live environment and also detection of anomalous traffic on the network. Basically using the Holt-Winters algorithm and also machine learning algorithms such as DNN and RNN. It’s been such a fascinating journey and I am happy to have had such a chance but most importantly to note is that there are many such opportunities at ITMO University. Furthermore, I must say luck has been on my side such that I was also able to find some good work opportunities in IT outside ITMO right in my first semester but there were some language issues as my Russian ability to even read words was at zero.

Can you talk about your Master’s thesis research?

Sure, it’s about strengthening the security of computer access by authenticating users not only via passwords, but also based on their behavioral biometrics such as keyboard dynamics, mouse dynamics, user localization and also logs from the computer – just to mention a few.  Our developed model has shown great promise and viability.

Any advice for other international students who want to come to Russia and do a Master's degree here?

I’d highly recommend coming to study at ITMO University!