Roland Dürre
Tuesday January 27th, 2009

Great Orators and their Stories – #3 Hans-Strack Zimmermann

I met Hans Strack-Zimmermann often and in many roles. I know him as a real pioneer of information technology. At CERN, he set the corner stone for the world-wide-web, he made Unix a standard at Siemens, and he promoted the IXOS archive system. Many of his ideas and activities supported the creation of Brainloop. In terms of “scrum terminology”, he was always the “product owner”, the visionary type who promoted themes.

Like all those I am writing a tribute to in this series, Hans is, of course, not “just” a “professional” orator. He is director of his own enterprise with technological knowledge and always prepared to take up a new challenge. Although he has been at the top, he always remained down-to-earth. He never adapted “in the interest of less friction” and always stood up for what he believed. He fought with passion for his projects. As an orator, Hans has special charisma. His audience – no matter if customers or employees – was downright swept away. What had to be said was said and he did not believe in beating around the bush. For him, there is no difference between talking in German and talking in English.

I was privileged in having had the chance to witness him in various situations: as project manager at Siemens, as orator on IT events at SAVE (that is the community of Siemens users), GUUG (German Unix User Group) and GI (Gesellschaft für Informatik) and, of course, as co-founder and managing director of IXOS. Or at the Uniforum in the USA.

Hans and I first met during my early days at Siemens. Still a hierarchically insignificant factor, I found myself sitting in a rather unproductive meeting. We did not seem to make any progress, the bureaucrats discussed various problems and everybody kept reminding everybody else what could not be done. Then entered Hans – after a short time all problems were solved and decisions were made. I was truly impressed and ever since that time we have stayed in contact.

When we founded InterFace Connection in 1984, he was just busy promoting SINIX, the Siemens Unix version. Our (the Connection’s) priority as an enterprise was to develop a product for Unix. So we were in the same boat. As it turned out, the results were quite impressive.

Once in a while, Hans displays a tendency towards cynicism. I remember well how, regardless of massive protests, he took his SINIX team and moved out of the Siemens headquarters building in Neuperlach-Süd (at the time, the building was nicknamed Legopark or Nowosibirsk). He rented some offices in the Charles-de-Gaulle-Str., near the Pep (also in Neuperlach) but somehow closer to real life. As reason for moving he simply said: “As you keep the cattle, so the beef will taste”. When he said this, I found it rather harsh, but in retrospect I understand very well what he was saying.

He was right. The Neuperlach Siemens office building is not good enough for motivated employees who are prepared to go to the limit of their potential. Humans will get used to anything, and then the gloomy atmosphere will no longer be noticed. Freedom and thriving activity promote creativity. Many people are not very comfortable if they feel like soldiers confined to concrete barracks buildings. Even the comfort of a good restaurant cannot make up for that.

By the way: in my paper on ethics&informatics, you can read what I think about “gated communities”.

For the project SINIX, moving out of the headquarters building was a real godsend. It is quite possible that the project might have been a failure otherwise. The SINIX team was fascinated, they grew to be a really competitive unit and their achievement was excellent, even by international standards. The spirit of the “Charles de Gaulle-Str.” almost became proverbial. SINIX, Informix, HIT and CLOU became success stories – both on the market and economically spoken – for the Siemens AG.

In 2004, Hans spoke as the principal orator at the 20th anniversary of InterFace AG. He used very simple metaphors and predicted a positive future for us, and he motivated us to continue with confidence and enthusiasm. His wishes for us came true. We had another five successful years so far.

Currently, Hans is – among other things – busy working on a very ambitious but beautiful project in Mallorca. Since he wished us so well, I would like to reciprocate and I keep my fingers crossed for a particularly successful finish of his project!

RMD

(translated by Evelyn Gemkow)

1 Kommentar zu “Great Orators and their Stories – #3 Hans-Strack Zimmermann”

  1. IF-Blog » Blog Archiv » Computer Vintage #11 “Der Forschungspark in Neuperlach” oder “Broken Dreams” (1975 bis …) (Tuesday April 21st, 2009)

    […] Freund von mir hat dazu mal gesagt: “Wie man das Vieh hält, so schmeckt das Fleisch”. […]

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