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Microsoft’s Jack of All Trades

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Murat Ozturan is Microsoft’s group program manager for database migration. Photo: Bill Hamilton

A 24-year veteran of Microsoft Corporation, Murat Ozturan ’89 has a professional career at the leading edge of technological innovation. But his college career started in an old-fashioned way—a search through a printed directory of colleges.

Remember those? He certainly does. That’s how the Turkish-born technologist found IUP. One day as he was flipping through the pages, he stumbled upon the university’s entry and read about a special program for international students.

The program, as he recalled, offered foreign students a waiver that allowed them to pay tuition at in-state rates. He had been interested in a US education because of technological advances in the country. Suddenly, that education was attainable. And not just for him, but also for his two brothers, both of whom followed him to IUP. 

“My family owes a big debt to IUP,” Ozturan said. 

He repaid a bit of that debt recently, when he returned to campus to offer advice to young researchers and other members of the campus community. During an hour-long talk that concluded the Research Experiences for Summer Scholars program, Ozturan stressed that those who will be successful in our rapidly changing society are those able to learn new skills, only to unlearn those skills and learn something else. 

Anticipate the waves and try to catch them, he advised.

“Life is not going to be straightforward. Everybody is looking for one magic solution: If you do this and then this and then this, you will find success and happiness. But life is a series of waves. You need to be able to catch the waves to be successful and happy in the end,” he said.  

“If you are just sitting on your surfboard, the scenery might be beautiful, you might be comfortable, but you are basically shark bait in the middle of the ocean. You are dangling your feet and hoping nobody eats you.”

Ozturan said he managed to catch his wave back in 1993, when he joined Microsoft as a systems engineer just a few years after leaving IUP with a computer science degree. His career has taken him around the world, but today he is based at the company’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington, where he is group program manager for database migration. In that role, he leads the effort to bring database users to Microsoft’s cloud-based Azure platform.

Before that, Ozturan was chief technology officer of Asia, Pacific, and Japan for Microsoft Global Enterprise Services. That meant he was responsible for developing technical strategy throughout the region.

His first time in the United States was on his way to Indiana to begin college. He recalled that, back then, international students came with only a suitcase and the hope they would have an American roommate who arrived with all the dorm-room essentials, such as a small refrigerator. 

Ozturan said the waiver program for international students may have made it possible for him to attend IUP, but the beauty of the campus and the quality of the faculty kept him coming back. 

He said late professor Ludo op de Beeck had a significant influence on him. Originally from Belgium, op de Beeck taught French, German, and French literature at IUP for 39 years. He also was closely associated with the international student program. 

Ozturan came to know op de Beeck through his French classes. “My second language was French. I decided to keep up my French and started taking French classes,” he said. “I took a class every semester with him. He was very eccentric, and he challenged his students to be different.” 

The lesson, Ozturan said, was that you have to be different to create new things.

That interest in creating new things led Ozturan on a different route through college. He studied computer science, along with French, physics (focusing on optics), and math.

He said he often butted heads with his computer science advisors, who were rooted in mainframe technology and interested in the basic science of computers. They didn’t understand why he expended effort on minor courses of study, and they encouraged him to pursue a more focused academic track, he said. Ozturan, however, was interested more in the application of computer technology, especially to everyday life, than in the basic science of it.

Family members who accompanied Ozturan to IUP in August included 12-year-old Berke, son of Murat and his wife, Asil, and Murat’s brothers Kanat ’95

Family members who accompanied Ozturan to IUP in August included 12-year-old Berke, son of Murat and his wife, Asil, and Murat’s brothers Kanat ’95 and Korat, who also studied at IUP in the ’90s. Photo: Keith Boyer

With the advent of personal computing, he sensed a major change coming and, with it, an opportunity.

In fact, IBM had introduced its PC just a few years before Ozturan started college, and in 1985, his freshman year, Microsoft introduced Windows 1.0.

Ozturan considers himself a jack-of-all-trades, capitalizing on a background that has enabled him to connect seemingly unrelated events and trends. 

“I appreciate the specialists, but there is a need for both,” he said. “At Microsoft, we have ‘bits and bytes’ specialists. They might not even be aware of how the code they write is ever utilized, and they don’t care. But they do an amazing job, and you need that expertise and deep knowledge.

“But you also need the jack-of-all-trades who can see the broader scale of things and put the pieces together. I enjoy that role, but that’s not the recommendation [for academic and career paths] I would give everybody. The most important question is, ‘What do we enjoy?’”

To his audience of young researchers, he stressed another important question they should address when determining their paths: “Why?” as in “Why do you want to do what you want to do?”

“After you answer the ‘Why?’ question, that becomes your vision,” he said. “How, what, when, who—those are easy answers as soon as you can tell me why.”

And technological change, he reminded them, is occurring at an unprecedented pace and will only continue to accelerate.

“You need to be open and adapt to new ideas,” he said. “Trying to resist it is not going to help, because it is not going to go away.”

Those who wish to stay in their comfort zones, he warned, won’t find the same “happy end.”

“You’re going to miss the waves, you’re going to miss the fun, and you might become shark meat.”