I made a career change five years ago, and it was the best decision I’ve made in my professional life. From time to time, I’m asked about that change — what motivated it, how I landed at the Oracle Innovation Lab after a career in construction with LendLease, and where my experience in academia fits into everything. In discussing my move, I have found myself repeating three simple pieces of advice I would offer to anyone contemplating a similar career move:
Follow Your Passion
I have always been interested in technology and how people interact with it. I also love building things. My first childhood memories are of my brother and me playing with LEGO bricks. I always cared more about how to build with them than the look or feel of the finished product, and I think that helped propel my early decision to become a civil engineer. During my time as an undergrad, I recognized that I really enjoyed management more than engineering, and I adjusted my focus accordingly.
While I was getting my masters, I discovered I loved teaching others. At the same time, I wasn’t interested in becoming a full-time academic, so I found a compromise… and a challenge: I decided to work in the construction industry while also continuing with my education to get my PhD. That way, I was able live in both worlds. Once I finished my doctorate, I took an adjunct faculty role at Northwestern University to follow my passion for teaching and continued working full time at Lendlease.
I saw firsthand the disconnect between academia and industry — and my work since has in many ways involved efforts to bridge the two. Ultimately, my path has been defined by finding ways to pursue work that I enjoy and adjusting as new areas or ideas captured my interest.
Focus on Your Domain
I spent several months networking with others in an attempt to enter the technology field before realizing that my best route was to focus on my own domain, construction.
That’s when, in 2010, a good friend and I organized a conference called “TechforConstruction” that sought to unite people from industry and academia at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. Our first event drew around 150 participants and greatly exceeded our expectations, making us even more excited about bringing these two worlds together.
We hosted three of these events in total, and at the last conference I was asked to write for an industry publication. After finding that process rewarding, I began writing about different tech and construction topics each quarter. The exposure from these articles eventually opened up additional opportunities to speak at conferences about the practical use of tech in the field and to serve as an advisor for a startup. All the while, I continued working on projects that involved large-scale technology implementations in the telecommunications infrastructure field. All of these opportunities came from that first idea to focus on my domain by exploring the nexus of construction and technology.
Explore and Learn Every Day
I have always loved learning, but it became harder and harder to find the time after graduation as life got busier. At some point, I decided to pick a new topic every day and block out time to read about it. Then I went a step further and set up Google alerts for these topics that would be sent to my inbox every evening at 6 pm. It became routine for me to sit in a dark room and read the day’s articles as I rocked my child to sleep. I found having a dedicated time when I could focus on learning amid a busy work and personal life really helped me.
I still have this habit, but in my current role as co-founder and leader of the Oracle Industry Lab, I work with some amazing experts and innovators who expose me to new ideas every day. The Lab team works side-by-side with customers and partners in a hands-on simulated industry setting to turn ideas into solutions we can implement and use today. We have worked with leading companies including FARO Technologies, which leveraged the Lab to test and develop FARO Trek, an automated scanning integration with Boston Dynamics’ mobile robot Spot. I’ve also taken on the challenge of expanding my domain to other industries in the past few years. I now can see the opportunities and similarities between multiple industries from construction to telecom to utilities to hospitality to food and beverage, just to name a few. So much to learn!
As I said, my decision to take on this role as vice president of innovation at the Oracle Industry Lab was the best career choice I’ve ever made. It has allowed me to pursue my interests and continually learn in a community of kindred spirits. I’m beyond grateful and thrilled that every single day I get to work with such talented team members, customers, and partners.
Burcin Kaplanoglu is vice president, innovation at the Oracle Industry Lab in Deerfield, Ill. He is active in industry organizations and on LinkedIn where he provides educational content related to technology, innovation, robotics, AI and industry use cases.