Born in Istanbul and growing up in the midwest, Kerem Suer has had the opportunity to experience vastly different cultures. He eventually landed in San Francisco where he has started a family and worked on an impressive list of products, including FitBit, Omada Health, Lovely, Pinterest, Dropbox. Kerem inspires people to follow their heart and do work for themselves, not for the money. He would say happiness is his currency.
How did you discover your passion?
Kerem: I think I’m still figuring out what my passion is. So far, I can say at different stages of my life, I unlocked different passions that lead to what I love today, which is solving problems through principles of design thinking. As I’m doing this, I’m learning different methods and skill sets to solve these problems. As I get exposed to more problems, my passion shifts shapes.
Can you describe the greatest adventure of your life so far?
Kerem: I’m a pretty normal guy. Usually. But there’s this stage of my life in which I’ve been a competitive athlete, up to an international level. My parents signed me up for the sailing school on my 2nd grade summer break. I didn’t know what to make out of it. I kind of went with it. I must have performed well because the sailing club coach wanted me to attend the training with their junior team with kids range from 10-15 years. It was definitely fun. Technically, I would spend more time in the sailing club than school.
I advanced through teams rapidly and came to a point that my sailing club sponsored me to represent them at the Regionals and Nationals. At age 14 I was drafted to the National Sailing team to compete in European Championship in Slovenia. Next year, I went to the Worlds in Portugal. Over time, I competitively sailed at 140 regattas in various coastal port towns of Europe. So I guess it’s not a quick adventure, but I consider my youth from age 8 to 16 a pretty interesting stage. Lots happened. I had lots of fun.
Derek: That’s amazing! How do you think this has effected your life and how you approach things?
Kerem: Sailing is a very interesting sport. There are certain things you can control— your boat, sail, angle, direction, maneuvers. And there’re hell a lot of stuff you cannot control— wind, waves, current. You need to adapt, calculate and surround your decisions with these factors. In sailing races, just like any other race, you want to get from point A to point B before your opponents. To do that, you need to take the fastest and/or quickest route. Sometimes these can be different. For example, there might be more wind on the west side of the course— meaning you will go faster (more wind = faster you sail), but that could also be the longest route, you can however still finish in front of your opponents. So you need to make quick critical decisions, strategize early on, but always adapt to those factors you cannot change. Since I was exposed to this sort of decision making early on in my life, I have learned to use these skills in different stages of my life.
I’m not sure how directly I can relate the things I do outside of my sailing life to these skill sets now, but I would like to think they have contributed to the person I am today. I often zoom out to focus on the bigger picture, weigh what I’m doing to understand the impact it’s making to the higher level goal. I adapt really fast to newer environments…
“I like to make speedy decisions, not to be mistaken by careless decision making.”
I like to think about worst case scenarios, not so I can depress myself, but so that I can have plan B and C down the road and be prepared.
What will be the biggest challenge for today’s youth be as they enter the workforce?
Kerem: Alright, you studied hard, read books, passed tests, wrote essays and you’re done. You are now employed by the Next Big Thing, Inc.. You made it, right? Not quite yet. Because no one actually thought you to work with a headache project manager, introverted developer, or a highly egotistical designer. You will get challenged, be put into the spot, be underestimated. You may even start questioning yourself. Why did I even choose this job? You actually know exactly why you chose— you chose to be a designer to solve problems, to make _things_ better, to research, empathize, understand, define and obsess about the best possible solution. Keep pushing, keep learning, these speed bumps validate your path to success. Always try to do your job better. Never quit your job. Life is a continuous lesson you learn. Keep pushing. Keep asking questions. Be curious.
“The biggest opportunity in life is the one you have right now.”
What do you imagine life will be like in 2050?
Kerem: No more cables. Battery life is not a limitation for electronics anymore. We have free and fast internet— wherever you are. We now travel with autonomous fast aircrafts, 40 minutes for NY to SF. Humans finally cured cancer. Working at an office is not a thing anymore, people work at virtual offices. Robots with artificial intelligence are now capable of starting businesses, humans can work for bots. DMV finally has a responsive website. There are people writing articles on “Why Designers need to know how to _______”. Still.