Voices of IBM volunteers: An interview with Bariş Abi and Bilgenur Öztürk—IBM Turkey volunteers at technical high school

Barış Abi (left) and Bilgenur Öztürk are using their expertise to help high school students develop new collar skills.
Barış Abi (left) and
Bilgenur Öztürk are using
their expertise to help high
school students develop
new collar skills.

Anna Astakhishvili
Barış Abi (left) and Bilgenur Öztürk are using their expertise to help high school students develop new collar skills.

Part eight in a series. “Voices of IBM Volunteers” is part of the SkillsBuild program to reach one million young people through STEM-related volunteering in 2018, and five million young people over the next five years. Watch the video (YouTube, 04:20)

The drive to close the global skills gap is among IBM’s most important initiatives. SkillsBuild will call on IBM volunteers to promote activities that enable digital literacy with young people, introduce them to hands-on problem solving, and spark their interest in STEM learning—using resources and support on the IBM Volunteers web site.

IBM volunteers: Bariş Abi and Bilgenur Öztürk

What's your job at IBM and how did you become involved in your volunteer activity?

Bariş: I'm a performance marketing campaign manager at IBM, and in the beginning of 2017 I was having a casual talk with Ceyhun Gocenoglu—the IBM Citizenship manager in Turkey—about my work experiences. He told me about IBM's volunteering program, where I could use my knowledge and skills in relevant activities. I enthusiastically accepted his offer. I believe that knowledge and experience have no value unless we use them; they must be shared.

Bilge: I started working at IBM in June 2017 as a user experience designer, and very soon received an e-mail from Ceyhun about volunteer projects in our country. I was always interested in volunteering where I could use my professional skills as a designer. I believe design tools can help solve problems in our society and I wanted to be a part of it. But it’s not always easy to find the right projects by yourself. After I met Ceyhun, we discussed some different opportunities. It is really great to work in a place which gives you the support and programs to figure out how you can you help.

You both volunteered at Maçka Vocational Technical High School. Please tell us about your volunteer project.

Bariş: In 2017 and 2018 I had a chance to give two lectures to students in the web design department. Both lectures had over three hours of content about website visioning and design. When I interviewed some of the teachers, to get their valuable input on how I could help, I learned that these young brains are being educated with structured information, which is fine but generally falls short of being the "latest and greatest." It can also lack visionary information, which can serve them as a seamless map when they try to shape their future. To fill that gap, I felt it would be valuable to first share my experiences and knowledge with them to accelerate and equalize their starting point. Helping these young people see a path to where they're trying to go can be a motivator for all us because while we're investing in their future we're investing in ours too.

Bilge: I presented a lecture about human-centered design to students in the web design department. Even though it was a short amount of time, only two hours, it was a great experience for me. During my professional career as a user experience designer, I usually meet with lots of designers, developers and other professionals, but we forget we’re creating for people—our focus on the people, the user, sometimes gets lost in other requirements and heavy stress from business environments. And that's the topic I focused on in the first part of the lecture. I wanted to influence the students with real user stories. Consequently, my aim was to make them realize their design decisions will have a significant effect on users.

The second part was a hands-on workshop. The students designed a mobile app according to a brief with quick hand sketch, then they prototyped it with a mobile, and finally tested it with each other.

I am excited about this project because if I can inspire even one student then they can start to use design thinking early in their life. And I believe this mindset has the power to impact their life positively.

What skills from your professional work are you using in your volunteer work?

Bariş: I can say communication is the primary skill I use because I believe young people can always benefit and deserve better communications. Additionally, user experience design, design principals knowledge, wireframing, prototyping and project management. I also mention the IBM design thinking methodology.

Bilge: My professional skills as a user experience designer gave me the benefit of being a credible presenter with the students. I have also given training sessions on design; designing quick wireframes and prototypes. As a guest speaker to their classroom experience I think the students appreciate our real world knowledge--it's a perspective they don't get often.

Is there anything from your volunteer experience that has surprised you?

Bariş: I always try to shift the students' expectations, and show a vision different from a classical understanding of web design approach to user interface design. And I always try to make them get the idea that it's all about the evolution of human interaction. In my 2017 lecture, I gave an introduction that talked about the golden ratio—something we see not only in mathematics, but often in nature, art and architecture—and shared some real world examples to help them imagine easier. One of the students raised his hand and said that the ratio explained why he had better grades than everyone else, and "why all the girls like me." I replied sure, why not, but that he should try to keep the ratio consistent until he reached my age. Young brains are fast, so we should think twice with what we say.

Bilge: Several of the students in the session I led had experience with quick sketching, but most had never created prototypes before. It was a happy moment for me to see their excitement when they realized how easy it is to give life to their ideas.

Why is this volunteer work important to you?

Bariş: Good design wins it all. These young people are our future and we all deserve to win.

Bilge: I love every aspect of design. Teaching people about design and witnessing their excitement when they see their creations is a great satisfaction for me.

What is your hope or best wish for those impacted by your volunteer activity?

Bariş: Even if I could influence one of them and ignite a spark through their path, it would be a priceless output with our volunteering efforts. I hope, they do and feel the same when the time comes.

Bilge: I hope the students always remember to consider the people they impact in whatever they do—in their designs, but also in their lives.

For over 100 years, IBMers have created positive change in the world through their day-to-day work and their service in local communities. Since 2004, nearly 300,000 IBM employees and retirees have contributed more than 20 million hours of volunteer service.

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