The son of two school teachers, Çağrı Karahan grew up with a genuine passion for learning—which is why he was excited to join Udemy, a global leader in online education and a company Karahan has had his eye on since the start of his career.
After graduating with a degree in computer science in 2006, Karahan earned a master’s degree from Milan Technical University in Italy and began a PhD program in cognitive science. He also founded two tech startups and worked as a software engineer at global companies such as Nielsen, Amazon, and eBay. Karahan’s career path has taken him around the world, from his hometown of Ankara to Silicon Valley, and now close to home again in Istanbul.
Right before the pandemic hit Turkey in March, Karahan was hired as a director of engineering at Udemy, where he is able to blend his passion for education and tech and has been tasked with leading teams across product, design, and engineering. (Psst: He’s hiring!) “I love building teams and products—doing it for Udemy was an offer I couldn’t refuse,” he says.
Here, Karahan shares his experience working in different countries, the best part about Udemy’s company culture, and what he looks for in new hires.
What attracted you to work at Udemy?
My parents are both teachers and I was raised in a learning-first environment. Therefore, I’ve always believed that education and learning is the key to improving people’s lives and impacting the world in a great way. Moreover, online education is ushering in learning to every corner of the world and I believe Udemy is at the heart of this change. That’s why I’m here and very honored to be a part of it.
What are you responsible for as a director of engineering?
Leading and hiring teams across product, design, and engineering is a big part of my job. We are very focused on building an environment where the teams in Istanbul work in harmony with the rest of the global Udemy offices.
You have moved around a bit throughout your career, with positions in Heidelberg, Germany; Palo Alto, California; and Milan, Italy, among other places. How do you think your career and your life have benefited from working in different cities?
It has enriched my personality a lot. These experiences have allowed me to broaden my perspectives and changed how I approach problems in life and work. Having worked with people of many different cultures and from all over the world has taught me there’s something to learn from everyone. This experience adds up to a global understanding of how diversity makes people and teams much stronger using many different patterns to solve problems and build great products.
What do you like best about the company culture at Udemy? What do you think sets the culture apart from other companies like it?
Udemy has a great culture, and the people—or Udemates, as we are called—always come first. Their health, safety, and happiness are the most important things to the company. When individuals feel like they are an important part of the company and its success, they feel ownership of everything in the company.
Diversity is important to us as well and we are strong believers that diverse teams are necessary to build a good product and serve our global base of students, instructors, and customers. Transparency is also an important part of Udemy culture. Through various meetings, everybody is informed about what’s going on in the company. Moreover, Udemy has a great engineering culture that enables each engineer to strengthen their skills by working on problems using the latest technologies.
What do you look for when hiring engineers at Udemy?
We’d love to work with people who enjoy problem-solving and have a deep love for computer science. Other than that, we believe in rock star teams instead of rock star individuals. We are individually humble and collectively proud of being results-obsessed. We are always learning and love working with people who consider themselves lifelong students.
What skills and traits does it take for an engineer to succeed at Udemy?
Strong in computer science fundamentals, a love for solving problems at scale, learning constantly, and a belief in collaboration and team success.
What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?
If you are not having fun, you are losing.