What are you best known for?
This is a tough one. I have many passions and you’d get different answers from different people. To some I am a professional musician working on an album, to others I am an academic overachiever, while many know me as the publicity director of “Doga Icin Cal”, a non-profit music project.
Life is too interesting to be pursuing a single goal. Having multiple passions and spending time with dedication to excel at each is what defines me. I am able to do this because I focus well, I am an efficient and a fast learner.
I was born and raised in Turkey in a middle-class family. It meant that I had to get into best schools, also earn scholarships and tuition waiver to survive in this life. I constantly ranked in the top 0.1% in exams that placed me in the top high school and college in Turkey. I did this by studying very hard. Even then, I was able to make time to work on music and go out with my friends.
With full engineering coursework in college, I pursued music. I attended countless classes to qualify for a band and performed in many concerts. I even had to take make-up exams due to concert scheduling conflicts. During this time, I persistently pursued joining a lab to build robots. It wasn’t easy because you needed to be a masters student to have a chance. I was a sophomore. I digested 3 years worth of course material over a summer and got in. It fulfilled my technical creativity where I developed algorithms that received paper awards and became a chapter in a book.
Beyond your work and studies, what are you passionate about?
My passions are integrated into my work and studies because I bring my whole self to everything I do.
Firstly, I am a philanthropist with my time, energy, knowledge, and money.
My heart lives in Turkey where I passionately bring and use knowledge and influence to help. Being good with the press and delegations, I volunteered and was selected to represent Google with all Turkish delegations such as the First Lady, Economy and Commerce Ministers. To help our democracy, I facilitated establishing a YouTube channel for the Turkish President share his view and receive questions, to which he responded on live TV. I shared with Turkish entrepreneurs how they could effectively run organizations in the 21st century. I also shared my views with the Minister of Economy on how to start a Venture Capital ecosystem in Turkey. (paper here)
To help reach her potential, I paid for my sister’s MBA and hosted her when I had little money. Her life has completely transformed, and it is the most rewarding thing I’ve done in my life. I currently mentor two underprivileged teenagers.
Having immense passion for learning, topics as diverse as macroeconomics, leadership, music theory, nutrition, finding your purpose fascinate me. For example, I studied nutrition, lost 35 lbs and shared my knowledge in a nutrition blog, where I distilled and simplified the complexity of what to eat in a common sense approach. Inspired by these, a dozen of my friends lost weight with my direct support. wholefoodisgood.blogspot.com
What would you change in the US?
The way people interact: People have been increasingly isolated due to urban sprawl, technology, TV among others. We need to have more frequent and deeper relationships.
The way people eat: Big Pharma, Agribusiness, Fast Food industries have all been profiting from junk food consumption. This need to change. We need to cook again, we need to make food a centerpiece of human interaction and culture.
The way people seek happiness in life: In a capitalistic society like the US people are encouraged to buy things to feel happy and validate themselves. However, extrinsic motivators like money, power and status puts you on a hedonic treadmill where you need more each year to be happy. Intrinsic motivators such as relationships, self development and helping others are the way to go and need to be encouraged.
The way we educate kids: We are still educating kids the way it’s designed in the industrial age. One size doesn’t fit all. It’s too linear, too standardized.
What other achievements (not only academic) would you like to share?
Everything I achieved was hard earned and was the result of tireless work with self-direction, ambition, persistence, intelligence, creativity, risk-taking and confidence. I am grateful for having a supportive family and the drive that has been in me all my life.
At the high school for gifted students, I made it to the computer science olympiad team, which required a grueling admissions process that was in addition to regular student work. I wrote a paper of master’s thesis quality on how to recycle coal ashes. It was exciting because it gave me a chance to be a scholar at 15 and have a totally different school experience. Molding schools/jobs to who I am has been undercurrent of my life.
While doing my PhD at Stanford, I discovered a finance consulting opportunity. I knew my modeling skills could make a real impact, though I knew very little about finance. Confident I could learn fast, I took a risk and applied. Once selected I simplified complex finance issues that plagued the executives for 20+ years.
Being a musician at heart, along with dedicated practice, I taught myself to be proficient with over 8 instruments. It’s been worth every second.
How I best express myself is through singing/composing songs. By sharing my ambitions publicly I attracted a producer in Turkey who will publish my album in 2014. As a professional endeavor, I spent most of my vacation in a Turkish recording studio. (Music videos at youtube.com/taylan)
Share an example of something you have been a part of (including created, led, or joined) that you consider unique, even if no one else does. Why do you think it is mould breaking?
I am a leader in the humanitarian and environmental movement to make Turkey even better.
Since 2011, as publicity director I am part of the core team of “Doga Icin Cal” (Play for Nature) musical movement to create awareness on environmental issues in Turkey. I support the cause with music, my passion for environment, experience in public speaking, and online marketing. I set up a platform to monetize our music to bring significant funding. I also conduct regular TV interviews sharing our views on how to save the environment. All that work made me part of the core team as the publicity director.
The significance of this movement (youtube.com/dogaicincal) is that musicians from all over Turkey with varying styles contribute to the same song. Our differences produce richer sound through our various interpretations. The song produces deep feelings which unify and bring us together as a Turkish people.This strongly parallels how different people have different reasons to care about the environment yet ultimately we can make a difference together.
My involvement started when I was featured in the press regarding my musical aspirations. I got invited to play accordion in the next song to be produced. This was a great honor because I was in the company of elite musicians and I could play a part contributing to the discussion on how to save the environment.
What are your guiding principles in life?
I have responsibility to humanity: I care deeply about the underprivileged (financially, educationally, etc.) and I come up with products/projects to help them. It's in my blood.
Challenge the status quo: My mind always works on how to make the world a better place. I am especially energized when the status quo is unfairly taking advantage of people.
If you don't ask, the answer is always "NO": I take initiative. I always have. I pursue things in my life that most only dream about and don’t act on.
Close friends and family are very important. Cherish and nurture them: They mean everything to me. I am always there for them and they know it. It gives me great joy to help them.
Living the essence of who I am: If I stay true to myself I live a more purposeful life. A by-product is that I emerge as a leader by inspiring others.
Check with head, heart and gut in decisions: My analytical mindset served me very well all my life yet I came up short when I went up against my heart and gut. Now, I embrace all three in the way I live my life.
Never reveal a secret: Being trustworthy is the pillar of my integrity and a strong friendship.