A Follow-Up on My Presentation – Questions&Answers #10 Studies and Continued Education

In this series, I will comment on the written feedback I received after my presentation. Also, I will answer the online questions asked by students I had no time to amply reply to during said presentation

Lehren für Unternehmensführer – das Leben, das Wissen, die Informatik und die Ethik

(Lessons For Managing Directors – Life, Knowledge, Computer Science and Ethics)

„Innovative Entrepreneurs“/ Summer Semester 2010
Leadership in growth-oriented enterprises

Today: Studies and Continued Education

How important were your studies at Munich TU for your later achieving such an important position in your enterprise?

Without my TU diploma, I would hardly have found the sort of job that allowed me to work in important projects from the outset. Without this job, there would have been no network, without the network, there would have been no company foundation. If you see it like this, my studies at Munich TU were indirectly helpful. I was taught the – as I believe – very necessary competence in bookkeeping and business economies at grammar school (Business branch of “Jacob Fugger” Grammar School). That was good enough for understanding numbers and supervising the mercantile part.

I would like to know if you consider studying mathematics and computer science at TUM more advantageous than at other universities. Do students who studied at Munich TU have better chances than others when they want to build up their own company?

Studying at TUM:
To me, it seems that applicants from TUM are usually better qualified than those from other universities. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule.
Personally, I very much appreciate the opportunities offered to students by the TUM program “unternehmerTUM”. I am particularly in favour of the team projects, various additional training programs, for instance for project management and the mentoring program. In this way, TUM improves chances for more than just a successful company foundation.

Since you were a student, computer science has developed quite fast in all kinds of directions. What steps did and do you take in order to always be up to the current standards? Do you have special programs for continued education at your company?

Continued education is very important. There are two reasons for this: firstly, the technology in use develops faster and faster. Secondly, the value of certificates has increased. For instance, especially when bidding for a federal project, you absolutely have to prove the qualification of your enterprise by documenting your employee’s expertise. Interestingly, it is especially the “higher-value skills” for which you have to show particularly “waterproof” certifications.

Is there any skill or competence you already started acquiring while you were a student and did you use them for finally arriving at the place where you are now? Was it always your dream to have your own company, or was it more like “accidental”?

Skills and competence:
I think it has always been a huge advantage for me to be working to earn extra money when I was at school or at university. It started with me getting paid for cleaning our grammar school during the summer holidays. I continued by tutoring a lot of pupils when I was at high school and working during vacation times, for instance at a freight forwarding business and as the night-watchman of a petrol station. All these jobs taught me a lot. When I served my time in the army (regardless of me bitterly fighting against recruitment and many attempts not to be drafted), they made me, who was doing my obligatory time (W18), training supervisor (in 1970, there were not that many graduates from high-school). During this time, I was responsible for five very different groups at intervals of three months each and my experiences include some quite unbelievable things.
And at university, there was no doubt: as soon as possible, I wanted to be a tutor. I succeeded quite quickly in mathematics (basics) and computer science (practical course in programming languages). There was the advantage of me earning quite good money and learning the material again, gaining even higher proficiency. And I also had to develop some leadership qualities.    
At school, I did not only do quite well at mathematics, but also often played “class clown”. I liked doing presentations (which I still do to this day). I think this was also good practice. Surveys at RISE (St. Gallen) show that entrepreneurs and top managers spend most of their time talking and what they mostly talk about is their “story” 🙂 .
Dreaming of my own enterprise:
That was never one of my dreams. Rather, you could say that I always dreamed of not having to live in a system where I would have to be squeezed into a position as part of a hierarchy where probably unreasonable things are decided and I would have to obey and fall prey to those decisions. To me, the career of a freelancer looked too unstable in the long run. That is why I wanted to build up my own system. Maybe I only thought it is better in life to sit “at the steer” than “on the backbenches”.

In retrospect, would you again be courageous enough to take the same step? Or would you consider the high risk and the enormous effort too much and therefore prefer being a salaried employee in an IT enterprise?

I never considered the effort for the enterprise all that high. When I was a salaried employee at Siemens and Softlab, I really worked quite hard. As a self-employed entrepreneur, I was far better able to organize my own time myself. Today, I find it hard to discern between work and leisure time. Both should be enjoyable. But the social life must not suffer, either. It is always both part of work and part of leisure time. In other words: for me, the concept of work without social life is terrible. Above all, I am very glad for always having had enough time for my family and children.
I am very happy with my decision. Especially the development I saw with many of my Siemens colleagues (some of them retired at the premature age of 53!) proves to me better than I would have imagined possible that I was right in living my life the way I did.

Compared with today, how was the computer science situation at TUM in the late 1960ies? Can you give a compulsory/thorough comparison?

At TUM and other universities, computer science was easier. I do not know where there are supposed to be as many branches of computer science as there are chairs: applied, theoretic, technical, … neither am I sure that we need media informatics. But I may not be the right person to judge.    
Of course, it is remarkable how many opportunities for practical work there are both at university and out of it. In 1969, computer time was an extremely rare commodity.
Today, it is also a lot easier to concern yourself with informatics before you start studying it at university. I knew quite a few young people who, even when they where still at school, did excellent programming work or even realized rather huge software projects all by themselves or with friends. Or some who even at quite a young age work in open-source-projects.    
And the most important factor is: access to literature and knowledge. When I studied at university, there was practically no IT literature. We were happy if we managed to get hold of the magazines by ACM and IEEE. The first Unix book was sensational, even more sensational was the first German edition (incidentally translated by my friend Dr. Hans-Peter Huber). All of a sudden, there were printed books on programming!
And not to forget: access to programs through OpenSource! I still remember how important it was for me in the 1980ies to be able to see the Unix sources. This was extremely important and a great rarity. And it was very important for my work and development as a computer scientist. All of this and much more is today available to all students and also all humans. …

My next post will answer your questions on capital.

(Translated by EG)

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