Meet Our Team. Oleg Shvaikovsky

screen-shot-2020-10-27-at-9_58_39-pmIt is early crisp autumn morning. The teenagers are still trying to galvanize their sleepy brains as the new Physics teacher walks in. The topic of today’s class is light. Do you know what the Spartan race runners and the refraction of light have in common? Who is this new teacher who has taken up teaching Physics in a small private school in Tallinn?

Little do the teenagers know and care that he is one of the “forerunners of the Estonian e-democracy,” part of the burgeoning Estonian IT industry, which took the world by surprise in the mid 2010s. He set up a branch of the Estonian IT company Nortal in Seattle, and brought his company to a spectacular success. Just this month Nortal won the prize for the best company of the year in Estonia, a title that many companies are hoping to earn.

Why does this confident and hard-working entrepreneur want to teach Physics? And where on earth does he find time for it?

Born in Tartu and graduated from the Physics department at the Tartu University, Oleg came to the world of IT through his father, one of the pioneers of computer technology in Estonia. ‘I have spent a lot of time in the Data Processing Center in Tartu, and wrote my first programs on punch cards. In fact, I started to deal with IT even before I got to study Physics,’ he says. An aspiring physicist with a perspective to defend a PhD in Physics, Oleg made a rational choice to join the ranks of the IT-industry in Estonia and worked his way up from a programmer to a top tier manager working in the banks and telecommunication companies, providing innovative solutions for various customers. He did not just have a superior command of programming after witnessing how it all developed from punch cards to micro scheme, he also possessed a rare strategic vision of the business process as a whole. He joined Nortal, that got its name from two words, Nordic and Talent, eight years ago. One of Estonian ‘e-Tigers’, Nortal is the provider of data-based simplifications of business processes for public and private clients. Nearly a third of the Estonian e-Government solutions have been developed by Nortal. Three years ago, Oleg moved to Seattle to establish the American branch of the company, and to start a successful business which today has clients from the Fortune500 list.

How did Oleg get involved with a small private school in Tallinn?

He did have experience of being on boards and parents’ committees at other schools, but St John’s School, that emerged nine years ago, was special to him, as he was there from the start as a co-founder and a board member. He saw it grow and develop like a child. Despite his busy schedule he found time for board meetings and brought along his experience, business knowledge and incredible energy.

What does this mean to him?

‘I am convinced that many problems in our society are connected the shortcomings in education: wrong books that kids read, wrong values’. He got involved because he believes that if one has been fortunate enough to get far in life, one has a duty to give something back to the society.

Perhaps, getting immersed in the teaching profession is a way of gaining a deeper understanding of both the hardship and the importance of teaching. Through teaching the Physics class, Oleg has a chance to test his innovative approach that he calls the principle of interdisciplinarity. ‘One of the reasons that I came to school is to show kids that there is no pure Physics, that Physics is part of all spheres of life. That is why I use the example of Spartan runners who have to run in different terrain. This is an analogy of the light refraction.’ ‘You can show kids that the same objects can be seen from different perspectives: we can integrate the study of Biology with Physics. The Biology teacher will explain what eye is, from the biological point of view, and I will show that the eye works like a lens, from the point of view of Physics’. “Do the kids get your ideas?”, I wonder. Oleg does not expect immediate results, but is patiently waiting for the seeds to grow and the fruit to appear in the years to come.

“Even if we cannot change the world here and now, those 500 children who get a good education will be able to make a difference in the future”.

Is it easy to stay on the top of things as a successful entrepreneur, a teacher, a member of the school board and a father of three? Oleg, who gets up at 6 AM every morning and goes jogging daily, does not think so. ‘I have learned to organize my time and prioritize, but I never expected the teaching job to be so demanding. I am used to standing in front of an audience of a hundred adults, but it is not the same as to teach a class in front of 20 teenagers.’

What can we learn from Oleg?

‘For many people around me the main criterion is success. But what does it mean?’
‘I am teaching because I would like to share my vision: that there are analogies in the different spheres of life, and that in the realm of Physics everything is connected with other walks of life’.
Giving and sharing seem to be the key words in Oleg’s approach. What does it mean to be successful? Is success a result of one’s own efforts and individual talents, or a combination of that and of what is coming from elsewhere: from the family, from the school, from wise and dedicated teachers who lit the fire and, perhaps, something intangible, a divine spark. This means that giving back is not simply exceptional and praise-worthy, but it is an imperative for human societies to flourish and continue.