Isilay Ucgun, Associate at our Istanbul office, shares valuable advice to women starting in the tech industry, the importance of taking stock of life choices, and her journey into the field of data science.
Meet Isilay Ucgun, Data Scientist Associate in Istanbul
Taking off… on the road
I was born in Adana, Turkey, periodically living in many parts of the country due to my father's work; this instilled in me a love for meeting new people, exploring new places and trying many different things. My desire to see more drove me, informing me who and what I might want to be.
At first, I wanted to be a pilot, thinking it would be a convenient way to travel the world, but this dream was short-lived owing to my poor eyesight. Undeterred but unsure, I was torn between two very different career choices: medicine and engineering; it wasn't until later, when discussing options with my school mentor, that I realised other fields could enable me to explore the world, improve myself and meet new people. I made a pivotal career choice that I consider the first turning point of my life.
Wearing several different hats
Following my instincts, I chose to study Management Engineering at Istanbul Technical University, an academic and cultural combination I believed would best prepare me for my specialised field and allow me to explore new opportunities and forge unique experiences. Moving to the largest city in Turkey, my perspective widened, and my hobbies diversified, constantly changing as I discovered more. At the time, I tried paragliding, daily art workshops, candle making, meditation, and ice skating, though I was always searching for a pastime I could commit to more regularly. This prompted me to begin working as a consultant even before graduating; if you are a Management Engineering graduate, you can work in many fields, but generally, the domain in which you start will be the one you progress in and remain in the future.
Value in complexity
I thought I had found the field I loved until I started working on a data warehouse renovation project for a telecom company, unaware that it would change my career path. This project allowed me to see the importance and value of data if used correctly – looking at raw data at first glance seems worthless. Still, when you begin to pay attention, the possibilities of what it can reveal are almost unbelievable. Playing with data appealed to me so much that I ended up studying and completing a Master's degree in Data Analytics. I then combined my two passions to become a data scientist working in consulting.
Starting my career as an IT consultant, I saw how different sectors gave little significance to data; it went uncollected or was stored without processing. Personnel in the data field were few and far between, and they only appeared to be tracking basic KPIs such as sales and revenue rather than doing any form of analytics. By this time, data had become something of a challenging friend to me, but one for which I have great compassion.
After working on different national and foreign projects as a data scientist, my path crossed with Metyis, a company that recognises the significance of data.
Passing the test
When choosing a job, I have some essential criteria to assess a company’s suitability. Some traits I look for during the recruitment process are internal communication, challenge, flexibility, culture, training, and individual growth. As companies evaluate me, I am simultaneously doing the same, gaining insights from the interviewers' attitudes, conversations I've had with people who work or have worked at the firm, and conducting online research. These steps have never failed me yet.
I joined Metyis as a data scientist at the Istanbul office on the first day of this year, welcoming both the new year and new beginnings; happy that Metyis successfully passed all my criteria and continues to uphold them, for which I am incredibly grateful. Currently, I am working with teams from different countries for a client in the audio field. We work together to create value. It is great to have people who will support you on this path. I've been on this project since the beginning; it's fantastic to see the positive effects of our work.
Job satisfaction depends on many factors; if one link in the chain is missing or weak, it affects the chain's credibility as a whole. In my chain, the most crucial connections are the harmony I have with fellow team members, opportunities for self-development, work-life balance and doing value-adding work.
A diverse team, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, age, sexuality, disability, and more, promotes the consideration of varying opinions and eclectic life experiences when tackling projects and overcoming changes, which leads to more creative and effective results. Metyis is acutely aware of the merits of inclusivity and does its utmost to support and maintain this diversity, particularly in breaking down the gender gap in fields such as data science.
On this note, I'm often asked what advice I would give women pursuing a tech career. The first advice I would offer is to continue learning, finding new challenges and gaining experience in areas that interest them. It's also essential to allow yourself to fail sometimes, taking in the experiences and knowledge gained. Secondly, do not expect other people to notice your work; you must promote yourself and build a support network. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, do not let anyone or anything stop you.
Ultimately, I believe a person should be evaluated independently of their gender. The skills required to be successful in data science, such as having a structured approach, creativity, analytical ability, and problem-solving techniques, have little to do with anybody's gender. Anyone who makes the best of their work is valuable in any domain.
Time and environment
Aside from working as a data scientist at Metyis, I am constantly pursuing opportunities to develop and excel, attending business-related meetings and training in other specialisations. This way, I am better positioned to understand the purpose and effect of my work – working unaware of the project's overall objective is like doing a puzzle without looking at the picture on the box.
Contrary to the past diversity of my hobbies, two things I love to do outside the office have never changed: spending time in nature and caring for animals. As I reflect on my experiences, my favourite quote by Atatürk, the founding father of the Republic of Turkey, comes to mind: "A person who does not think differently from her/his time and environment cannot grow beyond."
He has inspired me in many ways, such as the importance he gave to science, world peace, education, art and women's place in society. I have lived this advice more profoundly than I realised, making the most of my choices in life and succeeding in attaining my first dream to travel.