Product Development



March 18, 2024

Behind the Innovation: Meet Ugur

Behind the Innovation: Meet Ugur

Behind the Innovation: Meet Ugur

Every week at OAK’S LAB, we highlight one individual from our team who had an exceptional performance and achieved a standout outcome. We call these people “Legends of the Week,” we acknowledge their hard work, passion, and dedication, which continue to drive our success. Each Wednesday, our CEO, Jake, sits down with the previous week’s Legend and interviews them in a podcast-style session over lunch to share more of their story with our entire team.

Ugur's path from Ankara to tech leadership at OAK’S LAB is a testament to the power of passion. Transitioning from university in Turkey to a pivotal tech lead role, his love for programming and technology has driven his journey. 

From embracing coding over formal education to innovating in AI, Ugur's story highlights his inventive spirit. He demonstrates how endorsing one's interests can lead to impactful achievements.

Rapid-Fire Questions

Jake: Ugur, your leadership and work at OAK’S LAB set a high standard. Your positive energy and support for others are invaluable. We're grateful to have you as our legend of the week.

Ugur: Happy to be here!

Jake: So let's jump in with some icebreaker questions first. What would an AI learn about you from your McDonald's order?

Ugur: I usually get a Big Mac or a double Big Tasty. I'm more of a sauce-in-the-burger guy. McDonald's burgers don't taste too much. You can get the taste from the sauce itself, so maybe something along those lines probably.

Jake: What songs are on your coding playlist?

Ugur: Multiple Imagine Dragons songs, some Eminem, and maybe some Metallica. It gives me energy. It gets me going while I'm coding.

Jake: If you had to choose between no McDonald's or no pop music for a year, what would you choose?

Ugur: I can definitely give up music for a year, but I wouldn't give up on McDonald's. I enjoy it much more. It might sound like I'm just a fast food eater, probably I am, but I like what I eat.

Jake: What's the most exciting AI development trend in the past year for you?

Ugur: ChatGPT, large language models with text-to-text generation. For me, it's actually the image generation part. I'm testing Midjourney and some stable diffusion locally. It's visual from the text, and recently, there's video generation, which I'm looking forward to! You write a prompt, and it becomes a video.

Ugur enjoyed lunch with the team.

Ugur’s Background

Jake: Moving on to you. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Where are you from, and where did you grow up?

Ugur: I was born and raised in Ankara, Turkey. As far as I know, our family has been in Ankara. Then I moved to Trabzon, where I studied at university, which I hadn't finished, and I was kicked out in my 9th year. We had no hard restrictions back then, and I was just enjoying the university and coding.

Jake: So let's double down on that again. That's a big detail. So you dropped out of college, or you were kicked out?

Ugur: I was kicked out. I didn't drop out willingly. 

Jake: What was the reason?

Ugur: I was studying statistics and computer science. I was more into the computer part, but the math part was not math-ing for me. I stopped seeing numbers, which was when I realized this was not mathematics anymore. It's something else.

I was focused on computer coding and I started a part-time job for a technology partner of the University. And I was like, this is nice! I was skipping school because of it, and after my sixth year, I came to Prague for an Erasmus internship. When I went back to Turkey, I didn't continue studying. I probably had two to three semesters to finish, but it was mostly mathematical and statistical stuff that I didn't like at all. I didn't want to memorize it, so that’s when I kind of stopped going.

University was more of a social place for me, where people learn how things work. I was there by myself and living with two other people from the faculty, and it was like learning life there in a different way. What I have learned wasn’t relevant to my professional life. So, I just focused on what I was enjoying. I didn't think I should focus on code and make money from it. I focused on coding, and it made me money in the end.

Ugur at our annual Christmas party.

Jake: You grew up in Turkey and moved to the Czech Republic for Erasmus. Then you moved back to Turkey and then back to the Czech Republic. You also lived in India for a while, right?

Ugur: Yes, that's true. It was my first year of university. My mother was going to India for a temporary job for three years. I was in Mumbai for three or four months and then went back to visit some places with my mom. We were in Mumbai most of the time and went to Hyderabad and New Delhi. India is a big place to go around, but we were able to visit a couple of cities, and it was a great experience to see this kind of different culture.

Jake: Very interesting. In your free time, what are your hobbies? What are some things that you're really into?

Ugur: You will find me playing games. I like to rest completely, or if I think I have rested well enough, I would research stuff, either improving what I do or learning new things like AI. I'm learning to use stable diffusion to create images, videos, or other tools.

Jake: What is the best game of all time that you've ever played?

Ugur: That's a tough one! Story-wise, Diablo is always a good story, especially 3 and 4. Overall, the game was bad, but the story was really nice. Call of Duty is pretty straightforward, and you can release your stress.

Jake: Didn't you or don't you still offer tutoring sessions to learn engineering?

Ugur: I was advising people in Turkey on how to get into the technologies and kick-start them into the field. Then, a couple of people were able to start a job from that, and they were reaching out to me and asking more questions, which I was happy to answer because I could help them out, and that's something I like to do. I'm still learning how to do these things at OAK’S LAB as well. I have a lot to learn, but I tried, which was an interesting experience.

Jake: That's a great way to give back to the world. You can be really proud of the lives you've positively impacted. Tell us something that only a few people know about you.

Ugur: When I was in India, I took courses in C++ and SQL. So, I actually had my entrance into the professional world other than university in India. It was a certificate course from Microsoft. Some third-party was providing it, but I kind of kicked off my coding there.

Ugur at our office in Prague.

Professional Life

Jake: What were your original career plans? Were you always thinking of going into tech?

Ugur: I enjoyed interacting with PCs, mostly playing games, and then in high school, we were learning HTML and CSS, and I thought it was very interesting. I was copy-pasting a code and putting it onto the website, and it was fun. That was my thought process. I went for it in the university as well. I just went for it. I was always breaking stuff, fixing stuff, and learning from all these experiences I was going through.

Jake: It shows how bright you are and that you can self-teach yourself and teach it to others. So, what was your first job in tech?      

Ugur: It was the job I mentioned that I got at the university, and then somebody reached out to me to help them build an e-learning platform.

Jake: What was your biggest learning from building this platform? 

Ugur: I was helping with bugs in production and data inconsistencies. I have learned how to work professionally with people.

Jake: So what happened after? Where did you join next?

Ugur: I came to Prague for an internship. We were working on Yellow Pages for Belgian companies. I was learning React and some other things, and then they offered me a job, but they didn't follow up on the visa process. I started working on a warehouse management system when I returned to Turkey. I was working on the front-end part.

Time at OAK’S LAB

Jake: In my notes, I have that you joined us on October 2nd 2019. So it will be five years soon. What an unbelievable ride! You've worked on many different projects. What was the one that you're most proud of?

Ugur: LifeBrand. I talk about LifeBrand a lot! I enjoyed, learned, and probably progressed the most, and I’m proud of LifeBrand. It was my first project as a tech lead. I took over Tom Varga, who has built an MVP.

Ugur, Peter, Vladan, and Sára pause for a coffee break.

Jake: We launched it on the market, and TJ was so impressed with the MVP that he engaged with us to take that MVP and turn it into an enterprise-level software product. It was a wild ride, and the outcome was awesome! LifeBrand raised 64 million dollars in funding, their Series A in 2022, and just a month ago, they raised another round of 27 million dollars. So they're on fire, and major league teams use them.

Ugur: Some of the biggest teams, such as the Philadelphia Eagles and 76ers, use them. We built a file and white label there so they could give it to the Philadelphia Eagles, and everybody from the team could use that platform to clean their social media. Back then, football players usually had issues with Twitter. The team wants them to be clean so they don't get any clash from the public with their past.

Jake: Moving to your most recent project, CapHub. You guys successfully built the MVP. Can you share what are you most proud of?

Ugur: We were able to make the scope straight instead of going up or down. We were able to show the value of the MVP.

Jake: We often work with founders who are huge visionaries, and that's their job. Think big, challenge the status quo, and come up with almost impossible things. Our job is to take that big vision and structure it so that we can break it down into sizable amounts that they can build and ensure that we're building the right thing for the customers right out of the gate.

Ugur coding at our HQ in Prague’s city center.

Tips for aspiring engineers

Jake: You are one of the tech leads who joined OAK’S LAB as an engineer. How long did it take to grow to a tech lead, and what would you recommend to some aspiring engineers?

Ugur: One of the things I'm able to do, without even knowing what I'm doing, is being active overall. You don't have to be active in general for every topic, but if you're on some topic, showing yourself what you do and how you do it helps you a lot. If you're curious about something, ask.

The second thing for me is I always say yes to all the chances I can find. It's a different role, and it takes your attention to the context of the product itself. Being a tech lead means being aware of what you're building, not every tiny detail. You need to know how the whole thing works.

I would say bring your 100% every day, and I just want to clarify that bringing your 100% every day doesn’t mean the same thing every day. Your 100% changes every day. You have a different capacity for every day. But if you bring your A-game every day, you'll get there because it's all about attitude, how you do things, and your curiosity about what you're doing. That's my case. I don't want to generalize it. That's my game.

Jake: Nice, bring the A-game! We can wrap up with these wise words. Ugur, thank you so much. You're an example for a lot of people to follow.

Ugur: Thank you, guys!

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