Place of residence: Saarbrücken, Germany
Where were you born? Near Bonn, Germany
What did you study?
I studied Computer Science at Saarland University and specialized in Security and Privacy. My BA and MA thesis were related to privacy on Android devices.
Describe your position to a person who doesn’t know what you doing:
I am developing open source software. Software I am making publicly available including the source code, so people can evaluate it and decide if and how they want to use it with their personal data.
Please describe a day in your life:
I wake up, have breakfast. Turn on my computer and this lasts until lunch time. After lunch I am going back to my computer, often until the evening. I am not always coding, I also do some research and some relaxing stuff such as reading articles. I often finish off my day with watching a movie.
Can you describe in your own words few of the projects you are working on now:
I have two big projects I am working on: The first is microG, which provides open source alternative to Google services on Android devices. My second project is Dino, which is an instant messaging app using a federated communication system called XMPP.
In your opinion, who is the most influential person/company in the world of technology these days?
I don’t think there is a single person that is the most influential. It’s almost always more than one person behind important things. The big companies, while influential, are not primarily contributing or building something for society. There is no one that I would like to follow. I prefer to do what I am doing now and provide people with tools that they are in control of. I am redoing what companies did in the past, but in a different, and in my opinion better, way.
If you can pick one app/product/project existing now that you wish you were involved in, what would it be:
Probably all the things that I am redoing with microG. If I was in charge of Google, I would have done it open source from the beginning.
How do you see technology evolving in the next ten years in the privacy sector?
I guess with GDPR we’re going to see a shift into more privacy protection. We are in a phase, where everybody is realising what privacy means. For example Google Analytics, which was very popular the last 15 years, is now illegal to use in Austria and France and this will soon spread all over Europe. We’re going to see technology moving to the direction of privacy, as until now they didn’t give much notice of what users want or don’t want or need. Perfect example would be Cookies: Nobody would agree on tracking cookies if it was as easy to disagree. Weeks ago European Parliament decided that you have to make it as easy to disagree as to agree and if the browser has some kind of configuration to disagree by default, websites have to comply with that.
What are the two characteristics you have that make you successful in your field of expertise?
When I am working on things, I work really deeply. I am really focused on what I am doing. Going into detail does help my work and my aims. I am really enthusiastic and trying to focus only to what is important for the society.
What is the most difficult thing you had to deal with during your career?
Things in my career weren’t hard, as things somehow worked out. I just followed this path, it was there for me and it made sense. In a perfect world my work wouldn’t be necessary, the things that I do, I am doing them because other people are not doing them correctly for the society. If they were right from the beginning my work would not be needed.
What is your greatest achievement up until today?
microG is the biggest thing I am working on but there are also smaller things. Doing the first version of microG was a big achievement. It was working in a technical level but it was hard to use. Since then I am not only improving it and adding new features, but also make it easily accessible. There is always more to do than done.
What do you wish yourself with respect to your career?
Next to my open source work, I am doing paid work as a freelancer and I’d like to do less of that. I am trying to focus more on open source development. I would like to get more donations towards my open source projects so I don’t have to do any freelance work because it is paid.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
At the same space and the same sector. I don’t think privacy issues will change completely very soon. It will take quite a long time, even with regulation implementation.
What is your next goal?
I will continue my work and develop microG and Dino. For microG, I want to make it compatible with more apps and all devices out there. I don’t want users to have to buy new devices. I want to avoid electronic waste. For Dino, I want to make sure it can compete with commercial messaging apps at the feature level, so that it will be more suitable for everyone and not just a small niche of users.
What tip do you have for young people who want to start out in computer science field?
Computer science is a broad field and can be somewhere on the range of theoretical research to practical development. I think if you want something more practical, maybe you should consider not to go to university. A lot of what you learn there might be not useful for software development. If you don’t know which path you want to follow, then university is a good choice so you learn if you like to do research. Of course university gives you a lot of insights and access to certain people, professors that can answer your concerns and most complicated questions.
If you could say something to your younger self what would it be?
I wouldn’t change something, I would take the same path. Having followed this path, gave me access to people that otherwise I wouldn’t have met. I would say, to my younger self: Do the same, do what you want to do.
What is the invention of the century in your eyes?
I think computers are probably the most important invention of the last century. Of course they looked different in the early days, but the ideas of what could be done, like smartphones, smartwatches and so on, are already very old – it was just that the technology was not ready back then. Now we have the technology and computers are everywhere.
What can’t you do without? (app/product…)
Using my computer everyday. I can do without my computer for a week, but at some point I need it for my work. There is no specific app that I wouldn’t be able to replace with something else – worst case by developing it myself – but that requires a computer in first place.
Which famous person would like to have dinner with and why?
In general I don’t like famous people. I would prefer to sit down and have a chat with everyday people and learn what they do.
Where would you like to travel next?
I’m a person that likes to travel, meet people and societies face-to-face and to explore nature. The next locations I would like to visit are Thailand and New Zealand.
If you were asked to stay on a deserted island for 6 months what 3 things would you take with you?
Before entering high school I was asked the same question. Back then I did answer: a computer, electricity and my best friend. Now I would answer: a computer, electricity and my girlfriend.
Do you have a person who influences or motivates you?
I influence myself a lot. The reason I started the microG project was for me – because I wanted it for my daily life – and then I started developing it also for other users, beyond my own usecases.
What is the greatest miss? (you thought it will never work but turned out to be a great success)
When I started the project microG, I didn’t think it would be so useful for other people too. Back then, it was a much smaller project and far less needed, because more of Android was open source.
How did Covid-19 change the way people view technological development? With Covid people started using computers much more. They had to stay at home and use them for work, video conferences etc. Especially for some older people, this was a big change if they were not using computers a lot before. With people using computers and technology much more everyday, it becomes more visible how much we rely on it and the companies that build it.