To Harvard and back - a story of ambition

2020 08 13

With a diploma of the prestigious Harvard Law School in her hands, Rūta could choose from a long list of job offers from around the world. However, she chose to develop her career in Lithuania. Now, she works for Revolut, a challenger bank that has already changed the way millions around the world perceive the future of banking. We talked to Rūta about her experience at Transparency International, Ernst&Young, the unpredictability of professional paths, big dreams and even bigger ambitions.

Could you tell us a little bit about how your professional journey began? Where did you think it would lead you when you commenced your studies?

I was born and grew up, like my whole generation, in exciting times. I had the chance to watch my country go through many transformations. I observed my mother set up a business in a new, already post-Soviet environment, and closely follow the laws that affect her business. That’s when I became curious about the way laws come to life. When I grew up, the broader picture of legislation - not just the way laws and policies are adopted in Lithuania - but also the bigger picture - how the law affects the behavior of states and international organizations, how this in turn influences domestic policies... all this seemed so interesting.

After entering the Faculty of Law at Vilnius University, I immediately knew that I wanted to study International Law, so it was a bit difficult in the first year of studies to delve into the branches of law I cared about less. At times I had real difficulty studying, and there were certainly many failures. Despite all the difficulties, the dream of International Law gave me patience and helped me finish my final, specialized year of study with excellent results.

While still studying, I started working for Transparency International, where I had the opportunity to observe up close what always interested me. I saw how decisions come to life and specific policies emerge. We worked on various bills - the protection of whistleblowers, the regulation of lobbying, public procurement, criminal law in the field of anti-corruption.  I find it most memorable to be working with young people, involving them in discussions and raising awareness, encouraging them to think about what kind of country they want to live in. Often, the results of these activities could be seen much faster than those of long legislative processes.

And then you decided to go back to school, right?

I worked for Transparency International for almost seven years. While still working there, I started dreaming that I would like to study some more. After starting to think more seriously about further studies, I realized that I would like to go abroad. I made that decision not because I didn’t like studying here, but after receiving my Master's degree in International Law in Lithuania, I could not find a study format that met my expectations. I knew that going abroad would require some savings, and at the same time I wanted to try something new in a professional sense, so I left the NGO sector and worked for a year at Ernst & Young in Lithuania. Back then I thought I'd return to my old job after graduation, but everything turned out a bit differently.

You then went to Harvard. Did the studies live up to your expectations?

I chose to study for a Master’s degree at Harvard Law School. The most tempting part was that the university allowed students to tailor their curriculum. Harvard was an amazing experience. I met extremely interesting people from all over the world, and I was taught by a number of people who were my heroes - for example, Cass Sunstein, an icon of behavioral economics, Samantha Power, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, Noah Feldman, one of the most famous US constitutional law experts.

I went to the United States with an open mind and heart; being much more reflective of my strengths and weaknesses in my professional qualities. Besides, I interacted a lot with my former manager. It helped me decide that going back to my former job wouldn’t be the best solution, so I decided not to pursue a career there anymore. I started to consider other possibilities - after all, with a diploma from a well-known and globally recognized school, many doors open not only in Lithuania, but also all over the world.

I considered the possibility of staying in the USA after graduating to gain some professional experience. Still, I enjoyed living in Lithuania, so I became interested in professional opportunities here. Finally, I received an offer to work in Lithuania at Revolut, a world-famous startup

What were your initial plans after your studies? What helped you decide to further develop your career in Lithuania?

I considered the possibility of staying in the USA after graduating to gain some professional experience. Still, I enjoyed living in Lithuania, so I became interested in professional opportunities here. Finally, I received an offer to work in Lithuania at Revolut, a world-famous startup, a career many of my classmates at Harvard dreamed of.

Lithuania is a great place for a career because it is easier to be noticed and build a professional reputation here than in large countries, where the competition for any job is much higher. In my case, my current manager just heard about me from former co-workers and contacted me to ask if I was interested in  career opportunities. Something like this could hardly be expected in a big city like London or New York.

It is also easier to gain the trust of the employer - I see a lot of examples when young specialists receive a high level of trust from managers and have the opportunity to work really interesting jobs and grow professionally. Meanwhile, abroad, a young professional of my age is usually just a small cog in a large organization, where climbing the career ladder takes a lot of time.

Isn't Vilnius too small for an ambitious person like yourself?

I view Vilnius as a compact rather than a small city. It can offer almost everything (if not everything) a larger European city can, just at a smaller scale. There is no need to spend hours in traffic jams here, and you can easily escape to nature even if you live in the city centre. The nearest pine forest is a 15-minute drive away from my house - so if I want to get a fresh breath of air and clear my mind after a long day at work, I easily find time to do so.

Start-ups, as often portrayed in pop culture, require a lot of passion for work, but in Lithuania it is easier to strike a balance between work and leisure - unlike, for example, in New York, there is no need to commute an hour to work on the subway, so you can have much more time to yourself. Personally, I try to maintain my exercise routine, and I can manage having very precise appointments with my trainer, because I can get from one place to another very fast.

Vilnius also offers many opportunities for interesting leisure. I am talking not only about the foodie culture that has flourished in Vilnius over the last decade, but also about the abundance of events and the variety of artistic projects. For example, in the MO Museum you can see the works of world-famous contemporary artists, and the offer of the Vilnius classical music scene is commensurate to the repertoire of concert halls in other European capitals. It is also refreshing to walk around the renovated parks or the really lively Old Town. Klaipeda, where my mother lives, is a bit quieter, but the fact that it (and the sea!) is less than four hours away from the capital - similar to the time some people in the States will spend commuting - shows that the compact size of Lithuania is an advantage.

When choosing a career path, we all consider many elements - from personal life to the kind of career we want to create and where is the best environment for that. When choosing a place for professional career development, it is worth not forgetting that there are many international businesses in Lithuania, as well as interesting opportunities in the field of public policy and the non-governmental sector. When working here, it is possible to enjoy the already mentioned advantages - the compactness of cities, nature, fresh air, the fact that it is easier for young people in Lithuania to earn trust and start doing really interesting things at work. I believe that after considering all this, Lithuania, as a place for career development, ranks on an equal footing with other countries in the world, often outweighing them.