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Tech-Talks’ in Turkey: Becoming a Product Manager, with Berkay Soyer

In our ‘Tech-Talks’ series, we share real-life stories from key characters in Turkish-tech. These journeys offer lessons and tips for anyone who is interested in joining the tech-industry.
Today, we are going to share Berkay Soyer’s story. His impressive rise in Turkish tech is an amazing example of how someone with the right mindset, can develop the necessary skill-sets, to succeed in tech. 
Berkay’s journey began with a world-class education at Koc University, where he received a scholarship to study Economics. With a hunger to learn and expand his horizons, Berkay studied in Vienna thanks to the Erasmus program, describing it as “one of the best times of my life”. 
Like many new-graduates, Berkay tried a variety of jobs, including at one of Turkey’s leading banks, Is Bankasi. When he discovered that he was drawn to the fast-moving and entrepreneurial environment of the tech industry, Berkay decided to join a startup. 
Thanks to a positive investment climate - with funds flowing into the Turkish tech scene from the US and EU – and armed with a positive mindset, in 2016 Berkay landed his first tech-job.
He became the first product manager of Armut, a leading services marketplace in Turkey and an award-winning startup with one of the highest growth rates in the country. 
With very little prior experience, and like many newcomers to the tech-industry, Berkay learned on the job. He recalls that “in the first 6 months as a product manager the most challenging thing was understanding developers…and they have technical jargon!”. 
In order to speak their language, Berkay explains, “you have to learn technical literacy like what does an API do, what is Front-End and Back-End, CSS, HTML…and especially SQL”. 
To achieve this, Berkay taught himself how to code and this enabled him to work effectively with developers: “Empathizing with developers is very important, otherwise you aren’t going to understand that they are solving very, very hard problems, which sometimes take days to solve”.
Berkay also read everything he could about lean startups and agile development. By cultivating a continuous learning mindset he was able to perfect a combination of hard technical skills – coding different languages – with soft human skills – communicating and working in a team.
This is the skill-set combination, often referred to as T-shaped, that the jobs of future industries will require. 
Last year, Berkay became a product manager of Dolap, Turkey’s leading C2C (customer-to-customer) fashion marketplace, which is part of Trendyol Group, Turkey’s largest and fastest growing mobile commerce company (backed by Alibaba). 
Today, Berkay is an experienced Product Manager who has a very eloquent description of what his job involves; his focus is to make sure that the product is addressing “the customers wants, needs and problems” by “creating a product that customers love”. 
During “product discovery” Berkay interviews customers and writes SQL queries to analyze customer data so that he can identify product-improvements. Another crucial task is “product execution” which involves collaborating with developers and designers to “solve problems efficiently and iterate”. 
The role of a product manager is often described as being a mini-CEO of a startup within a startup. It’s a very appealing job in tech that combines technical knowledge (how to code) with entrepreneurialism (delivering what the customer wants) and team-work (collaboration with developers). 
Given the popularity of this role, when I asked Berkay what advice he would give to people who want to become product managers, he told us that “a lot of people don’t know where to start…they need some catalyst like a role model in the tech industry to help them or Le Wagon can be definitely a good starting point for them as well”. 
Having been mentored successfully at Armut, Berkay knows how important it is to learn from others who are willing to share their knowledge, experience and wisdom. 
Another crucial piece of advice for aspiring Product Managers – given the emphasis is on “product” – is to go out and build something. As someone who regularly reads CVs, Berkay has a strong preference for a candidate who “has built something and launched it”.
This entrepreneurial mindset highlights the similarities between the roles of product managers and founders. Berkay explained that “founders and product managers have very common skills in the beginning at a startup, because what you do is understand the customer, build something, and then iterate over it”. 
When it comes to the future of Turkish tech, Berkay is optimistic about where things are heading. Several major successes this year have sent very positive signals to the global startup and investment community. This includes the emergence of Turkey’s first unicorn, Peak Games, which was acquired for a reported $1.8bn by Silicon Valley based Zynga.
However, if Turkey is to continue to realize its potential in the growing tech industry, it will need to cultivate and retain tech-talent. Berkay told us that “the biggest challenge in the tech environment - which Le Wagon is kind of solving – is talent in Turkey… a lot of people are going abroad to Berlin, London, Barcelona… I now have 4 friends in Berlin!”. 
With an intelligent and energetic population, there is no doubt that if more people can learn the necessary skill-sets – just like Berkay did - the Turkish tech industry will embrace them and continue to develop its increasingly impressive global reputation. 
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