Case Western Reserve University’s Women in Tech Initiative is proud to shine the spotlight on distinguished alumna Umit Yalcinalp, Ph.D., (GRS’ 91, computer science)
Currently an architect at Oracle working in the Next Gen application development environment, Umit has been working in IT for 30 years. In addition to her corporate experience, Umit worked in academia as a visiting professor at both Occidental College and Mills College, and was recognized as the first recipient of the Annette Chan-Norris and Evan Norris Endowed Visiting Professorship in Science & Technology at Mills College for bridging industry with the college.
She is an accomplished software architect skilled in end2end architecture of complex systems, from conceptualization, development, integration, consulting, deployment to support, as well as evangelism, outbound reach, partner management and mentorship.
We were honored to interview Alumna Umit Yalcinalp, Ph.D., (GRS ’91, computer science) by phone to learn more about her career path and share advice that she’s learned throughout her professional journey.
Is there any advice you’d like to share with students or those that are looking to get into the tech industry?
Answer: Resilience is extremely important. I’ve been in this profession for 30 years. There aren’t that many people in the tech track in Silicon Valley in my age group. Realizing that scares the hell out of me, and being able to grow and reinvent yourself is critical You need to understand that bad things are going to happen to you. They just do. I got laid off. I moved on. I returned back. I had to leave because of health issues. I don’t have children, and many women go through the phases of figuring out if and when to have a child, how long they need to take off for maternity leave and all the things that go along with parenthood that impact a career. That’s especially true now that we’re seeing everybody locked up in their houses and working remotely due to COVID.
But the comeback can always happen. It might not be rosy. If somebody says your tech career will always be glorious, it’s not. It will have glorious spots, but it will also have bad spots.
I’m a Star Trek fan and one of my favorite quotes from Star Trek is “never give up, never surrender.” That’s so true. You don’t give up, because you will always find something else or re-invent yourself in a different way. That’s why people actually move on to different roles in their careers—to try different things. Whether you’re an architect, a programmer, or a product manager. It’s important to know that there’s not just one career path with very established steps like a lot of people believe.
Are there any tips you can offer about what to consider when people are interviewing or negotiating a job offer?
Answer: I was born in a different country and still have family there. For me, it’s always been more important to negotiate the length and terms of my vacation benefits so I can go see my family than to haggle over a couple thousand dollars. When I was first getting established in my career, I actually looked harder at places with more flexible time off policies than those that limited their employees to very small increments of vacation time. You can get a sense of whether a company is going to be really pedantic about accounting for your time by not only looking at the company’s policies, but also through the hiring manager’s attitude.
In the beginning of your career, when you’re an unknown entity, it’s still important to negotiate for what’s important to you, even if you don’t have much negotiating power. And don’t always look at compensation as just salary. Other things like stock, time off, or the ability to get involved with other side projects factor in to total compensation and can be negotiated for. As I say, we are not robots. Everybody’s needs are different.
Later in my career, I started asking salary questions of my peers that already worked at companies I was interviewing with, in hopes that they’d let me know what to expect. For example, at Sun Microsystems, we had an internal list of salary ranges. Employees would know what a person coming in at a certain level would be making, and if different regions made more than others. Nowadays, I think ranges are more confidential. People often refer to Glassdoor to get their data. But I’ve found it really helps to get that data from internal people if you can.
How were you able to position yourself as you grew in your career? How did you advocate for yourself to be able to take on new responsibilities and move up to more senior level positions when you felt you were ready?
Answer: I don’t know whether I ever deliberately or consciously followed a process. One of the things that’s always been important to me is pursuing things that are new and exciting. I follow the industry trends a lot. When opportunities presented themselves, I’d ask myself whether I should take a leap of faith to follow the opportunity, or if it was better to just keep reading about it on the side. For example, in 1996, I was part of the product team that developed Sybase’s first web product. One of my former colleagues was recruiting for the position, and when they called me about the opportunity, I had a gut feeling that what they were working on was going to be an important pivotal point in the industry. The worldwide web, internet and browsers were all just beginning. Suddenly, I had the opportunity to work on a product that was going to give access to a database directly on the web. That was exciting.
And when I went to Sun Microsystems, there was the whole rise of Java. I knew that was somehow going to take over the industry. I could see the excitement around Java and realized what they were trying to do was build a platform. I wanted to be part of it. Sometimes I was just lucky. Sometimes you’re at the right place at the right time, even internally within a company.
Also, I was always reading on the side to know what was going on in the industry. I always wanted to know what others were working on and what technical problems they were talking about. Staying fresh and talking to people in the industry really gives you an edge when a slump happens and you want to do something else. You have to be thoughtful about positioning yourself to get into areas where you want to work, even if it requires learning new skills or doing some work on the side first.
Here are other articles for Q&As with Umit:
- Seeking a Job in the IT Industry and Growing Your Career
This program would not be possible without the generous support of its sponsors, as well as supporters of the Women in Tech Initiative. Many thanks to:
- Craig Newmark Philanthropies
- Individual Donors: Ben Gomes (CWR ’90) and Deborah Weisser
In 2013, the Huffington Post featured Umit as one of the “15 Technical Women to Follow on Twitter” according to CWRU double alumnus and craigslist founder, Craig Newmark (CIT ‘75, GRS ‘77, computer science).