SAP Champions: Spotlight Interview with Nil Peksen
I realize we’re now in May… and you may be wondering why I never conducted a Member of the Month interview for April. The answer is this: After much reflection and discussion, we’re moving in a new direction — and, as part of that (and after 8 years of interviews), we’ve retired the Member of the Month series (although we’ll continue to maintain the Hall of Fame). Moving forward, we’ll be bringing everything under one umbrella, the SAP Champions, with a new series of discussions: the Spotlight Interviews.
I suppose the seeds for this change were sowed back in March, when I conducted an interview with Tammy Powlas. That same month, I also conducted a Member of the Month interview with Michael Keller, and in the intro to that post (as well as in the interview with Tammy), I explained that I was looking to expand beyond the limitations of Member of the Month (a series for newer, up-and-coming members) with additional interviews that would allow me to celebrate worthy and well-established contributors.
But after further consideration, I — as well as the rest of the organization of which I’m part — felt as though perhaps we were separating excellence for artificial reasons. Newer members would go into the Member of the Month category, but veterans would be spotlighted in a separate series of interviews. And it didn’t end there. We also had other channels and initiatives for member recognition, with separate criteria. For example, featured contributors focused on bloggers, and SAP Technology Ambassadors were limited to SAP employees (who were only eligible for Member of the Month once a year).
Examining all of that — even as I was toying with the idea of introducing a new series of interviews — our team found ourselves facing one question…
Or more specifically…
Why all these different categories when ultimately what we really want to do is recognize the very best and brightest within the community? If that’s the goal, then do we really need to (and should we) differentiate SAP employees from other members, newcomers from long-timers, bloggers from Q&A aficionados, and so on — while putting each group in a different place with a separate brand? Wouldn’t it make more sense to unify the greatness under one name?
With the SAP Champions, we already had a program in place for members who give the most to SAP Community — on and off the site (community.sap.com). So it made sense to expand upon that, opening the program up to those who previously might have received Member of the Month recognition or might have been a featured contributor or might have gotten an invitation to become an SAP Technology Ambassador.
By taking this approach, we introduce a consistent, consolidated approach to elevating (and partnering with) the members who serve as SAP Community leaders. And by launching a new series — the SAP Champions: Spotlight Interviews — we have the luxury of introducing more valuable members to the community. Best of all, by making this series flexible, I can conduct interviews with existing SAP Champions and bring new SAP Champions to the community’s attention — as often as required. Instead of posting twelve Member of the Month interviews annually, I can conceivably do Spotlight Interviews every week. I can even bring others into the series, so that my colleagues can publish conversations with SAP Champions, SAP Champions can conduct video interviews with each other, and more!
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s begin with an interview, conducted by yours truly, with one of our awesome existing SAP Champions: Nil Peksen.
Nil first came to my attention in 2018, when she entered the Explorer Scholarship contest for SAP TechEd. With her entry, she earned herself a pass to the conference in Barcelona. While in attendance, she made her presence known immediately with her recaps at the show and video interviews at the SAP Community booth.
Moving into 2019, Nil became heavily involved in community-related events, such as the SAP Inside Track in Walldorf and SAP TechEd itself. Last October, she drew a big crowd with her own presentation in Barcelona and participated in one of our Influencer Fireside Chat sessions.
Not surprisingly, by the end of the 2019, Nil was welcomed into the SAP Champions program.
Now, in 2020, it’s my privilege to conduct this interview with her.
Thanks for taking the time to chat with me today, Nil!
The pleasure is mine, thank you!
When you first entered the Explorer Scholarship contest, did you ever imagine your journey would include becoming an SAP Champion?
I believe the Explorer Scholarship is the most surprising and beautiful twist in my life. Since the first announcement till today, I achieved many unexpectedly amazing accomplishments. Announcing as Champion is the latest but gold achievement since the beginning of my Explorer Scholarship journey.
In an SAP Champions shirt for the first time — a “proud and happy moment,” Nil says.
What was your first thought when you were asked to join the SAP Champions program?
Something happened earlier than expected, but it is OK! I’m going to make it far, and I deserve every bit of it. Let the new adventure begin.
When did you first join the SAP Community and why did you sign up?
When it was those beautiful SCN times in 2004. Those were the times that the forum culture was highly popular, and I noticed SCN. I was planning to shift my career from a software developer to being an SAP consultant. Luckily, my whole answers were in SCN. Before accepting consultancy offers, my decision was clear about which module or technology that I want to focus on.
During my SAP Community journey, I involved the community with many different SIDs. I worked as an SAP BW, BPC, BO consultant, and technical roles for 15 years with many different companies, and I had to use different SIDs for every company and even for every project. Sadly, It is quite not possible to get together all those SIDs, but I am finally here with my personal ID since 2018.
You’re based out of Oslo, Norway. What can you tell me about living there? Are you from there originally? If not, how did your travels and career bring you to Oslo?
I am currently in my hometown Istanbul, and I am originally from Istanbul, Turkey.
My Norway journey started 2 years ago with a radical decision. In 2017, I noticed that I settled down for a longer time without challenges. Stimulation made me stop learning and aiming for more. It was a kind of comfort zone. There were some incremental changes that I tried but radical change needed, and I was feeling brave to step out.
First, I quit my 8-to-5 job — a week later, then moved to Norway.
Norway is a country where nature is nearly untouched. It is the land of the Vikings, the northern lights, polar bear, the majestic fjords and mountains. Being in Norway is being in a pretty cool place if you are a nature lover.
I believe the experience of living in Oslo highly depends on what kind of person you are. I was born and raised in one of Istanbul’s oldest districts, where it is super multicultured. I experienced many different cultures, religions, and diversity during my lifetime. I am currently in the same neighborhood where there is a mosque, church, and synagogue together. I celebrate Easter, Eid, and Passover since my childhood, so it was quite easy to make friends and feel a part of the Norwegian community.
When life was going great in Norway, some changes happened a few months ago. Some job-wise external circumstances and changes happened, which might have dramatically adverse effects on my career, so I decided to quit.
Because of the pandemic, I turned back to Istanbul, and I have literally no idea when I will turn back to Oslo.
In your bio, you describe yourself as a “freelance SAP BI and Analytics Consultant/Architect.” How did your education and career path lead you to this area of expertise?
I was a working student at high school and college. My career started at 16 years old.
I worked as a software developer during my computer programming and after engineering education. While I was working as a developer in C++ and C, I noticed some signs that my hyperactive mindset is not perfectly matching the software developer role. Being a working student allowed me to explore my creativity in an area of interest, and if I shift my focus to a more dynamic field like ERP. Sadly, there were no ERP or SAP-related courses at the college, but my company helped me to fill the gaps in SAP and opened my mind to think from every perspective. I feel that the experience I gained at work was truly valuable — as it has prepared me for my SAP career thus far.
According to your bio, you also develop “mental wellbeing and healthcare-related Computational Neuroscience ideas.” What does that mean exactly? How did you develop — no pun intended — an interest in this area?
Well, it is quite weird, but it is true: understanding the human brain is my lifetime passion!
I think the human brain is the most complex and cool structure in the known universe and an endless number of mysteries surrounding its working mechanism. I’ve been reading brain-related stuff for 20 years. Actually, it is a quite tough passion because the complexity of brain functioning and neurological events needs a multidisciplinary and multicenter expertise approach. No single disciplinary knowledge or expertise can sufficiently achieve the task of understanding the brain. This is why I need to deep dive into other disciplines and different topics like psychology, biology, medical science, deep math, et cetera. Years later, I noticed that I have the ability to understand human behaviors from a neuroscience perspective. There is a strong link between mental health and physical health, but we as a human cognitive species are mostly ignoring this link.
In our modern lives, we are experiencing stress caused by health issues, and there is an exponentially growing risk. We have a single definition and cause/output called “stress,” but everyone reacts entirely differently. Unfortunately, we are the human species not engaging themselves to identify their own stress factors. We are in the tendency to ignore stress until experiencing a physical disorder. Luckily, promising computing technologies and approaches are developing around this topic, and the global neuroscience market is rapidly growing.
Let’s shift back to my neuroscience journey in SAP. I am a typical engineering mind–settled person, and I don’t believe coincidences or miracles. Somehow my Explorer Scholarship proved that that “coincidence” refers that you’re on the right path and miracles are real!
It was the first time I met with a wearable EEG headset in “design thinking” stand at SAP TechEd Barcelona in 2018, and I had a chance to meet Professor Oliver Quiller, who is the president of wearable EEG device company EMOTIV. Those were the great, once-in-a-lifetime moments — that first time I believed myself how I am on the right path.
I am still trying to raise awareness around this topic, and I am also developing apps with gathering medical health data and brain activity data together to gain new perspectives both for neurological and physical disorders with neuroinformatics. I am using medical IoT devices and EEG — electroencephalogram is the device that records and deciphers brain weak but distinct electrical activity — as hardware.
A lot of people are still asking why SAP? Why did you develop all that stuff in SAP landscape?
First and foremost, I am an SAP person and I feel like SAP is my safest home. (We nearly raised together!) Secondly, I had two important aims while developing the idea: I’d like to show SAP is not just an ERP tool — there is more! — and if you have a passion for learning SAP or are bold enough to change your profession or may be eager to learn new technologies, there are trial accounts that you can develop every crazy idea over SAP.
I had previously only had an on-premise experience. While developing the idea, I learn SAP HANA Cloud Platform, and I build everything, not in my comfort zone, which is SAP analytics but UI5 and Fiori.
Few weeks after my Walldorf presentation, dear Jan Penninkhof invited me to participate in SAP One Billion Lives program from SAP Netherlands. I participated in the Netherlands country finals and the idea was nominated as Netherlands’ winner. Then we worked together with SAP Netherlands employees to develop the idea for the London finals. We together did great — however, failed at finals. No matter what happens, I am super happy and proud of the result of the achievement.
Last but not least, my idea and prototypes proved its potential in the academic field too, and I had a 100 percent PhD scholarship offer from the University of Utrecht about neuroinformatics. Sadly, the one and only requirement was not working in any area and focusing full time on studies — and was not a possible prerequisite because of my financial responsibilities. I kindly rejected their offer, but my passion is still alive. There is a bright future that we will experience brain-machine interaction devices and alternative healthcare solutions combined in this area, and I will keep on working in my way.
Perhaps that’s a good segue into your neuroscience company, Mindeed.io, which you started last year. How did that come about?
Right after SAP One Billion Lives finals, I turned back to my daily life in Oslo with earnings of 1 Billion Lives. Those are the precious and great experiences that pushed me forward to found my own company, Mindeed.io. (M refers to Mind and Mental. It is Mind or Mental indeed.) It is a small start-up company, and I am doing my research under the name of Mindeed.io.
What can you tell me about neurodiversity and how you advocate for it?
Neurodiversity refers to the idea that neurological differences, such as those seen in autism or ADHD, reflect normal variations in brain development. There are many groups in neurodiversity, and I need to underline I am not part of the contrasted group with the “medical model,” which views conditions such as autism or ADHD as disorders to prevent, treat, or cure group. The only thing that I believe and support: we can relieve the burden of neurological disability without altering the essence of the person.
Just like all types of medical conditions, there are differing degrees of autism, and I am a less symptomatic, proud autism spectrum–disordered person. The signs of autism spectrum varied during my lifetime, and my symptoms were rare, and the only method offered by doctors was having a medication or prototype treatments during my lifetime. Luckily, I have a great mother who was aware of neuroplasticity 35 years ago. We focused instead of seeing autism as a disorder that needs fixing. Autism is a characteristic of me, like having brown hair or being left-handed.
No matter how happy a person in my skin, I had to fight against common bias about autism by hiding my disorder. Many obstacles may have negative effects over my educational and professional life, and hiding my diagnosis was the best option for long years.
Previously, I was mentioning my diagnosis as ADHD. It is true, I have ADHD, but I have more. It was the first time last year in my TechEd presentation I openly shared my story, and I’ve been feeling quite brave since the previous year.
No matter which terms you use to describe autism and spectrum disorders, it’s essential to recognize the different abilities and strengths that neurodiverse individuals have.
As an adult with autism, I believe there are many ways to look at autism, so with advocating neurodiversity, I am trying to help society to discover new outlooks. There is something more important than raising kids with highly dangerous medications or dealing with adult autism with standard medical methods. There is beyond, and here is the proof. I am voluntarily working at support groups and developing alternative computational neuroscience ideas. I believe being neurodiverse simply means having a brain that’s wired differently. We are all simply variations of the human brain, and there are no “different” or “abnormal.”
We’re covered your professional expertise a great deal. Let’s shift to your SAP Champions area of expertise. SAP Champions have all kinds of specialties when it comes to community activity. Some focus on answering question, others are prolific bloggers. In your case — and I hinted at this in the intro — I see you more as an events expert. Can you tell me what you like best about community-related events?
I am not an event expert, indeed, but I am brave enough to participate in an event in another country without knowing anyone.
To be honest, I noticed something different right after my Explorer Scholarship. There is a kind of unique motivation about SAP TechEd provides, and I need to keep it alive all year long. SAP Community events provide this motivation, and especially Inside Tracks are literally broadening my horizons. I firmly believe that we should all try to keep SAP TechEd fire burning all year long till the next possible TechEd. In this regard, participating in SAP Community events and meeting like-minded amazing people is one of those required motivators. I am doing my best to participate in every possible activity to fuel my motivation, learn something new, refresh my technical knowledge, and gain more insights…no matter where it is.
Last but not least, I believe that the local community is a cornerstone of the SAP ecosystem. To support this, I’ve been organizing Stammtisch events since 2018, both in Oslo and Istanbul.
You also support people who are interested in organizing an SAP Inside Track or similar event. How does that work normally? And how is it working now that in-person gatherings are not currently possible?
Since the beginning of my active membership, I’ve been sharing my honest and unbiased thoughts about SAP Community events over social media and blogs.
Since 2019 July, I am a proud SAP Inside Track Council member. We are supporting anyone within the community in organizing an SAP Inside Track or any other community-driven event with sharing our experiences. There is still a lack of information about community-driven events in some regions, so we are all doing our best to bring this great format to even more people.
The coronavirus pandemic has also changed the way of organizing SAP Community events. First, Stammtisch events went as a virtual format, and Inside Tracks are going virtual too. Honestly, I am feeling sad. I believe humans are sensory creatures, and in virtual events, we have quite limited interaction. When I compared to live events, I feel like a virtual event is just another browser opened on a laptop. I hope pandemic days will over soon, and we gather together in live events as quickly as possible.
Do you have any general advice for members looking to get the most out of SAP Community?
SAP Community is a great place to learn, grow, share, discuss, and interact with like-minded great SAP people. There are many trials and sources — you may develop your ideas, improve your skills. There is openSAP, which is an excellent source of learning new technologies and the latest innovations.
Alongside the positive aspects of technical and self-development, the SAP Community is a great place to interact with people who come from diverse cultures. Learning about other cultures allows you to move outside your bubble and find new ways of thinking and new ways of approaching problems. It simply stimulates the mind, and I think the SAP Community has a great harmony about this. Your gender, identity, or ethnicity doesn’t matter in SAP Community. Step out and discover it.
One last question: When you aren’t busy doing stuff I’m not smart enough to understand, how do you spend your downtime? Any hobbies or favorite activities that help you unwind? Anything new or that has changed given today’s state of affairs in the world?
When life was normal, and when I had a full-time job, my favorite downtime activities were watching movies, finding new destinations to travel, and I caught every single possible time to go. However, I am a serious downtime killer, especially in these pandemic days. I am not watching TV or not reading the news, and I am trying to stay away from social media as much as I can. I am trying to keep myself busy so far and developing a new quite unconventional scenario with SAP Data Hub with gaining new technical skills. (Blog post series is on the way.)
Thanks again for taking the time to talk to me, Nil. Any closing thoughts?
Thank you, Jerry! This interview is the other big honor that I gratefully appreciated. Last but not least, I’d like thank to [members of the influencer programs] for their support and encouragement. I will keep on proudly following their paths.