Every year on 11 October, the Day of Finnish Code, the Code from Finland association grants the Award for Promoting Finnish Code to a person who has excelled in promoting the Finnish software sector. The recipient of the 2023 award is Matti Luukkainen from the Department of Computer Science, University of Helsinki, and the Full Stack Open course.
The jury for 2023 included recipient of the previous year’s award Riku Rouvila, experienced digitalisation professionals Mikko Rusama and Tiina Zilliacus as well as Trail Openers CEO Ville Nordberg, representing the association’s board. In its selection, the jury emphasised cooperation, networks and international activities.
“Full Stack Open is a prime example of how Finnish coding skills are combined with open, network-like implementation, disseminating knowledge globally,” the jury states.
The open online course is also effective from the perspective of social responsibility, as everyone has the opportunity to take it free of charge, regardless of their country of residence or social status.
Deep knowledge for the labour market through open teaching
“It’s a nice recognition, but the timing of it came as a bit of a surprise,” Matti Luukkainen chuckles.
“I’m sure it would have felt different in the early stages. But the award makes it clear that this work requires perseverance.”
“That was a pretty ass-backwards way of going about it. Then we started to consider, together with the course assistants, how to smooth out the path, and established a new course given on the campus. For its name, we chose the trendy ‘Full Stack’. The prototype was assembled over the Christmas holiday, and the first version of the course was released in January 2018.”
On the proposal of a colleague, the course was soon extended to the Open University. In the Full Stack Open course, close links with actual professional life have been important from the start.
“In contrast to the previous Elements of AI course, we wanted a number of partners from different sectors who would not compete with each other. The first partner was Houston, which has so far been joined by Elisa, Terveystalo, Konecranes, Smartly and Unity,” Luukkainen says.
Business partners have provided not only credibility, but they have also helped to produce learning material in the form of one new module per year. This also brings about a unique continuity: people who have completed the course in previous years can always return to complete new modules.
“The partners have had the will to invest in a joint project, not focusing solely on their own recruitment. Of course, we have provided the pedagogical knowhow; copy-paste has not been part of the process at all. For me, the course is part of my duties, but kind of on top of everything else.”
Business collaboration also helps maintain quality standards.
A quarter of students from Finland
Initially, the Full Stack Open course was only available in Finnish, but the entire material was later translated into English by students for a fee. Today, only 25% of those who have completed the course come from Finland.
The materials have been released under an open licence, and in accordance with the principles of open source, the course has evolved and been translated into different languages by the community. In addition to English and Finnish, the range of languages now includes Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese and French.
“More than 1,000 people around the world have provided translations, spelling corrections and other suggestions,” says Luukkainen.
The community has demonstrated its strength on a number of levels: Luukkainen estimates that, relying on the University community alone, no more than a hundred people or so would have completed the course annually. In the beginning, information on the course was distributed in Finland through business partners and the Full Stack challenge. Luukkainen is pleased that the word now is on social media around the world:
“Having someone notable recommend the course on Reddit, for instance, is a thousand times more effective than any paid marketing.”
In five years, the employment outlook has changed considerably.
“In 2018, there were concerns about a shortage of coders, but right now there is not even a shortage of senior coders,” Luukkainen says.
However, he is worried about the level of expertise.
“Some people are afraid that artificial intelligence will take their jobs, but there is a genuine need for deep knowledge. Students can no longer take the easy option. They will be shooting themselves in the foot if they think ChatGPT will handle the code. After all, artificial intelligence writes code like a junior. Where can seniors be trained if businesses only want to have their pick, that is, ready-made specialists?”
According to Luukkainen, the possibilities are fortunately there, providing as an example GitHub Copilot, an AI-based tool that helps coders as a pair programming partner.
“In the spirit of Linus Torvalds, all teaching should be open source.”