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Celebrating Skype's Roots in Estonia: A profile of Sten Tamkivi

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We thought it would be interesting to showcase points of views from Skype offices around the world. Today, I’m pleased to share an interview with Sten Tamkivi, Director of Product Focus and Catalogue Operations for Skype. Sten is based in Tallinn, Estonia and has been a key member of our global team for the past six and a half years. Just last week, Sten and the Skype Tallinn, Estonia office was featured in a blog in the Wall Street Journal, so this piece goes further to cover more about Sten and how he sees Skype.

Q: Tell us about when you joined Skype and about your role here today?
A: I joined Skype about 18 months after the first version of the product was launched in August 2003. I came in as the General Manager for Skype in Estonia and am still the local site leader here. Additionally, I have been in different leadership roles related to products and operations over the years. Today, I manage our product catalogue and the governance process through which our executive team decides on our product development investments.

Q: Is Skype where you would expect it would be today?
A: Skype never ceases to surprise me. When I joined Skype, it had a few million active users who had adopted the new communications tool quite early. Skype started picking up new users very quickly after launch — with the first two million users we began to think what if we could get to 10 million, then 20 or 50 million. We’ve exceeded those goals, and I think looking back, you’d say it’s been a huge achievement already. Still, too many of the 7 billion people in the world are not on Skype yet, so in a way, we’re still in the beginning!

Q: What is the Tallinn Skype office team and culture like?
A: Niklas Zennström of Sweden, and Janus Friis of Denmark founded Skype, working from day one along with 4 Estonian engineers, Jaan Tallinn, Ahti Heinla, Priit Kasesalu and Toivo Annus. Today our Estonian office is 100X that, a little bit shy of 400 people, and we would just love to keep expanding. Culture-wise, Skype offices are the most colorful places I have ever seen. At the Tallinn office alone, we have 30 different nationalities working here, so it’s hard to draw one to two simple characteristics that are unique to our office, except for the fact that we are extremely diverse. There is a lot of peer-to-peer interaction here. The attitude is friendly, pragmatic, yet real and hardworking. I would also add people here also have a weird sense of humor.

Q: What do you mean by ‘weird’?
A: We would be the ones to go to a sauna and then jump in snow and consider it “normal.” Our humor is well beyond that.

Q: Why are you excited about the future of Skype and is there’s something here at Skype that particularly motivates you?
A: Pretty much anytime over the years we’ve asked our people about why they work at Skype, two main answers always surface: their colleagues and opportunity to change the world. You always learn something new here, working with people smarter than you. And there are very few companies where you can truly say that what you do today changes the world. Many companies try to get there, but how many companies actually succeed at the scale of Skype? There is emotion behind the impressive, yet dry numbers like “equivalent to approximately 20% of the total of all global international PSTN and Skype-to-Skype calling minutes.” For most people it is professionally the biggest role that they’ve ever had in their lives. Everything we do has a recurring feeling that nobody in the world has ever done it quite like us before, either for the innovations or at comparable scale.

Q: Tell us a little bit about your background, passions and greatest achievements.
A: I have been an internet software entrepreneur for about 10 years before Skype, mostly working here in Estonia, Nordics and Europe. Outside of Skype and when not on airplanes I am living a typical family life, I love to spend time with the kids and my wife. I take pride in the fact that Skype is the single largest business success story to come out of Estonia. I am very grateful to be able to contribute to positive changes in this country, as an advisor to President Ilves of Estonia or just speaking up on topics such as technology education. I am happy to be part of something that is making this tiny country’s DNA stronger and making things more friendly for the next generation and future startups.

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