Q&A with Dr. Yalcinalp: Talking About Tech and Knowing Your Audience

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)

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.

Question: When you’re at a dinner party and you’re mingling with non-industry folks, how do you explain what you do to them?

Answer: Oh, I just tell them I’m stylish!

Seriously though, I was taking a photography course once and the other students were talking about Adobe. I told them that I was one of the people responsible for the workflow they were talking about. Everybody laughed.

People have really funny ideas about what a technologist should be. Like they shouldn’t look good, that they should be locked up in a corner somewhere. I’d like to dispel those notions. What they don’t realize is how much interaction is needed to be able to build technology. The team composition and who you work with is so important because you’re dealing with them for many, many hours in a week.

Programmers get a bad rap, too. Not everybody working in tech is a programmer, and some people move in and out of those positions. I have a lot of friends who started as developers, then went into product management, into management, and then back to programming. This is a versatile world with lots of opportunities.

I try to tell people that are starting out that you might initially think your career is going one direction—like up a set of stairs—and you’re just going to climb up toward the top. But no, the steps go in all different directions and you never know where they’re going to lead you. That should actually give you more flexibility in being able to enjoy what you’re doing. As I said before, opportunities can present themselves out of nowhere and you have to be cognizant of that, knowing sometimes you’ll take them and other times you’ll leave them on the table.

Question: You’ve done a lot of presentations over the years, specifically about principles and capabilities within architecture. Can you give us an idea of what that looked like and what some of the key takeaways that you’ve shared have been?

Answer: When I was in graduate school, my advisor didn’t like the presentations I made. He said that I wasn’t engaging enough and I wasn’t getting my points across. Looking back, he was right. I was so too concerned about how people would perceive me, but now I’ve kind of forgotten about that. That comes with age maybe.

Over the years, I’ve made the switch to really trying to make my point. I consider my audience, what they’re trying to learn from me and what I’m trying to convey to them. I want to know exactly what my audience is expecting. Some want a very technical presentation, while others are expecting something more business oriented. Engineers are looking for details about things like components, interaction patterns and interfaces, while senior level management is more concerned about the business ramifications of what you’re building. So, it’s crucial for an architect to understand the audience and be able to tailor a presentation for that particular audience.

Question: A number of the presentations you’ve done have really educated people about your role, your responsibility, and the mentality of an architect. Can you share some of your problem-solving techniques, or just talk about the mental bandwidth it takes to present yourself in that realm?

Answer: One of my guiding principles is to present myself in terms of the problem needing to be solved.  That is always the driving force when I interact with others or try to explain what needs to be done. Over the course of my career, I’ve seen that sometimes as technologists, we forget the more high-level perspective and that needs to be part of the mix.

I think the architect’s role is not only technical, but also working with the product management team and working with other architects and people in other divisions to really guide the ship in the right direction and make sure those high-level decisions are made appropriately.

I see it as more of an interactive role, as well as a researcher. When I’m teaching, I always tell my students that when they graduate, their journey is just starting. They’re going to learn so many new things, and the technology changes all the time.

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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).

  • Umit is a sought-out speaker at conferences ranging from SOA, QCon, JavaOne, Cloud Conferences, Grace Hopper on Cloud Computing, PaaS, architectures, identity management, and women in technology.

  • She is the co-founder of the Turkish Women in Computing group and enjoys mentoring other engineers & students. 

  • Among her publication credits, Umit is the co-author of Web Service Contract Design and Versioning for SOA, author of a popular SOA book, founder of myappellation.com, editor of and contributor to well-known WS-*, Java, SOA specifications, and the author of several patent applications as well as leader of teams in this space.