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Blog It Forward – Matthias Steiner

While some are just complaining that our beloved community (platform) is going downhill and eagerly pointing out the negative trends like blog abuse etc… others are opting for a different route: like Moshe Naveh  with his Blog It Forward Community Challenge. Instead of whining about the things that “were soo much better in the old SCN” he takes a pro-active approach and kicks off this initiative leveraging the core asset of our community: passionate individuals that love sharing and spreading quality content with a positive attitude. It’s a chain mail, but in the most positive way!

As such I feel very honored having been asked by one of my personal heroines and true community champion Marilyn Pratt to join in the fun and pass on the baton torch to do my little part in shining the light on what makes this community unique and special.


So according to the bif rules I should introduce myself before blogging along and while it’s always hard to do I guess it goes back to good manners, so let’s get it over it. My name is Matthias Steiner and in my new role as Cloud Platform Evangelist for Neo I find myself in the privileged position of having a job that allows me doing something I love: interacting with the developer community day-in/day-out.

Being a techie by heart there’s nothing more thrilling to me than pioneering emerging technologie, sharing experiences and discussing best practices with my fellow peers. I’m a passionate blogger and tweep and I love spending my free time with family and friends doing outdoor activities like biking and swimming during the summer and skiing and snowboarding in winter.

Fun facts about me/my country

Hm, one fact little people know about me is that I’m actually not German, but Austrian. Inline with the common tradition of neighboring countries making fun of each other that usually makes my German colleagues come up with all sorts of ‘lame’ jokes about my origin. Lately, I had to endure lots of jokes about my namesake Matthias Steiner, an olympic gold-medal winner from Austria (who now competes for Germany) and who had a bad accident this summer in London. (Oh, and let me tell you… when it comes to establishing your digital identity on the web it’s quite a challenge to go head-to-head with a true heahyweight! πŸ˜‰ )

Besides that Austria is known for its beautiful landscape (the Alps) and for many classical music composers such as Mozart, Schubert, Strauss and Haydn. Other famous people from my homecountry include Arnold Schwarzenegger, Siegmund Freud and Ferdinand Porsche, founder of the famous sports car company (in random order!). For more interesting facts about Austria please refer to this list.

The questions:


1. What was your dream job as a kid?

As many others I just wanted to be like my dad – a pilot! He always came back from his flights with little presents, exotic fruits and interesting stories about foreign countries. My mom used to be a flight attendant so airports, airplanes and travelling the world was something I was brought up with and something that shaped my view of the world early on. I flew alone to my grandparents in Austria when I was a mere six years old and during my youth I was able to roam the world at almost no costs at a time when flying wasn’t as affordable as it is these days…

(Un)fortunately when I was done with school airlines didn’t accept applications from people with glasses (damn all that late-night reading under the blanket with flashlights!) and so I turned to the next best thing: computers and programming.

2. What was the most fun project you ever participated in and why?

Well, I already blogged about my most favorite project in my professional life a while ago, so today I’d like to share an experience I made outside of the enterprise world.

In my early twenties I was very active in a non-profit organisation called CISV (Children International Summer Villages), which has been founded just after WWII with the vision to raise a new generation in a peaceful way. In the very first camp that was held, Doris Allen brought together 4 kids and a leader from every country involved in the war and they lived together 24/7 for four weeks. In the sixty years since then hundreds of such ‘villages’ have been organized by volunteers around the world.

I had the privilege to lead a delegation from Germany – two boys and two girls all 11 years old – and attend a village in Michigan City in 1999. It was one of the most mind-changing activities in my life:  spending 4 weeks with people from 12 different countries and seeing little kids (and young adults) that barely speak the same language become close friends, overcoming our differences in upbringing and heritage in every day life situations and living together as one big family has had a lasting effect on my way of thinking about globalization. It’s one of those things you have to experience first-hand in order to fully understand it…

3. Describe an instance when empathy in a project, development, collaboration, work experience, or community interaction turned a situation around (or should have)

Though one! I thought hard about it, yet I couldn’t think of a crisp example. :/

However, during my thinking it dawned to me that there is indeed a close sibling to empathy that does turn around projects, which is cultural awareness (guess it alsorelates to what I wrote in reply to question 2.) In my past role as Software Architect for Custom Development I have been involved in many distributed development projects and as such I have worked with colleagues from all over the world.

Especially in regards to interacting with my esteemed colleagues from India I learned that being able to relate to their traditions and way of thinking is crucial to effectively working with them. Let me explain: in the western world people usually try to separate between private and professional life to some degree, while in India the two are much more connected. In other words, without a personal relationship it will be very unlikely to have a good working relationship. (In the meanwhile I got to the believe that this is a universal truth regardless of origin, especially in high-paced enterprise software projects!)

In daily life this means that when working with people from India it is important to regularly communicate with them and also talk about private things in order to establish a level of trust and the foundation for a successful working relationship. While in Germany regular inquiries for status updates may be regarded as a burden, some sort of micro-management or even be interpreted as doubts about one person’s ability to get the job done, in India it shows that you are interested in the work of a person and by regularly checking the progress you underline the importance of their work.

Another concrete example is the use of CCing managers on emails. In Germany people may get curious on why you include their managers in your emails and may see it as a micro-escalation, while in India people regard it as a positive thing when their managers are included in the distribution list. For them, it indicates that their contributions are important to the success of the project.

Those are just two examples (and stereotypes of course!), yet they do matter and they can be the difference between a successful project and a failing one. People that go by the rational “no news are good news” when leading distributed development projects may be up for a harsh wake-up call…

Before I hand-it over I quickly wanted to pick up on something that Marilyn wrote and share an interesting TED talk about empathy that I was instantly reminded of when she forwarded the blog to me.

The meaning of the word ’empathy’

In my opinion the stated Wikipedia definition of the word ‘empathy‘ comes very close to the German word “Einfühlungsvermögen“, which I personally would translate to a person’s “ability to relate to the feelings of others.

If you break down the parts of the German word you end up with: Einfühlung + Vermögen. “Einfühlung” is the noun from the verb “einfühlen“, which would translate to “tap into someone/something’s feeling” (correct: to emphasize, to relate)  and “vermögen“, which as a verb translates to “being able to to something.” Interestingly enough, as a noun “Vermögen” means wealth…

Talking about Empathy


TED Talk: Frans de Waal: Moral behavior in animals

Next one please!

With this… I would like to conclude for today and hand it over to some of the community members that have been influencing me over the past years. In addition to the question Marilyn asked me I’d like to ask them to answer the following questions:

  • Who has been your personal hero/role-model in your youth and why did you admire her/him?
  • What made you start actively participating in the community and why would you recommend to people to give it a try?
  • (Bonus) What is your favorite conspiracy theory? (You don’t have to give away your view on the matter!)

So, I blog it forward to the following people: Jon Reed, DJ Adams, Dick Hirsch, Matt Harding, Alisdair Templeton and – last, but not least – Oliver Kohl. Well, that list may not look very inclusive at first glance, yet to my defense, I’ve reached out to two of my favorite ladies from the community: Sue Keohan did already wrote her BIF blog already and the other is moving at the moment (with a toddler.) Of course, plenty of other people came to my mind that I would have liked equally well to blog forward to, yet I’m confident that they will get pulled sooner than later anyway…

Update: Very thrilled that together we got Björn Görke to join in… ah, the power of peer pressure on social media! πŸ˜‰

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  • Ah, so you wanted to be a pilot!  Nice picture

    Great observations re: the cc: - in the U.S. I do think it could be interpreted either way - escalation, or just keeping them informed. 

    Great to know more about you too...

    • Thank you Tammy for your nice comment. Yes, that's a great initiative and I'm really looking forward to getting to know soo many community members...

      Of course, you would have been on my short list as well, but being the most active community member of us all of course you already were in the first wave πŸ˜‰

  • Matthias, it is such a relief to hear from you - after dropping that weight in London πŸ™‚ - I was wondering if you were OK!

    Seriously, your blog speaks volumes about what makes you such a great person to know - bright, thoughtful, sensitive.  And I love the fact that you enlighten us with your blogs (and insights) every time you write.

    BTW, I thought your accent sounded suspiciously Austrian, but thought better than to comment on it.

    • LOL, yeah I'm ok. Had a bit of a stiff neck for a few days, but back in the saddle now πŸ™‚

      Oh, and of course I could not trick you about my origin. I may be able to prentend being a local for my german speaking colleagues, but no way I could trick the workflow goddess πŸ˜‰

  • Hi,

    The peace camp you attended sounds very special. It reminds of the Servas organization I once belonged to. Servas started after the WWII and gathered families who were safe havens for Refugees running for their lives. After the war it transformed to be an organization of families and individuals that host travelers from all over the world. In exchange the travelers host other people who come to visit them in thier countries. This way Servas hopes to decrease intercultural hostility and support peace between people.

    It really added an important side to my trip and to the person I've become today.

    When someone will blog about farming, I will talk about my Woffing experience:).

    Matthias, thanks a lot for joining! Very special blog.


    • Thanks Moshe - both for your comment and kicking this off! As I said I love the initiative...

      It does indeed sound as if Servas and CISV have many things in common, matter of fact CISV also provides exchange programs.

      Now, I sure hope someone will blog about farming - you got me curios πŸ˜‰



  • Nice one!

    Oh, and while I totally agree that Marilyn is addictive, you might want to add an extra "e" there... πŸ˜‰

    I need to come up with mine asap, I'll run out of people to point to....


    • Thanks Frank! (Oh, guess that was a Freudian Slip... silently sneaked in the missing e.)

      Yeap, you better get started with your own and you better run the spell-checker a trillion times as I'll be after you /JK

  • Matthias,

    Thank you for joining this discussion. We can always count on you to have something meaningful to share.  I bet you do get a bit of teasing about not being German.  After I spent six months in Treibach, Austria, I was so proud of the conversational fluency I had achieved teaching myself German and was disappointed to be told by people in Graz that mein Deutsch war ganz Kärntnerisch πŸ™‚



    • LOL! πŸ™‚

      That's what I like about this initiative... you learn so many new things about people. So, this time in Vegas when we have lunch together I want to hear it! πŸ˜‰



      • Las Vegas?? Oh oh, it's just a few weeks away. Ah, ist Schade das ist mein Deutsch jetzt ganz schlimm!  But I must say, it did come in handy back in the 90s when often the R3 help documentation was liberally sprinkled with German expressions πŸ™‚

        See you soon!


        • True indeed. Already in full prep cycle for TechEd - in principal the year is almost over already with all the conferences ahead.

          Oh, your German is still great - you know how it goes. People everywhere appreciate it the effort and it also lowers the entry barrier for them to reply back in equally non-perfect English. And besides... it's the accent that I'm really looking forward too...

          See you soon!


          PS: Dang, still have to catch up on so many of the #BIF blogs...

  • Hi Matthias,

    Loved reading the blog. Guess what, regarding Ccing managers, I have an interesting experience there. I was of the same opinion as what you say, that it is an acknowledgement of work done until I had a different experience, and it was actually taken as an escalation. Indian culture is not that easy to understand, you see! πŸ˜‰   I have devised a new process for myself 'Learning Project Culture' whenever I am being moved to a new project to make my life easy πŸ™‚ . Thanks.



    • Hi Kumud,

      thanks for the feedback! Yeah, I guess there are no binary rules when it comes to social interaction regardless of whether or not multiple cultural backgrounds are involved. πŸ™‚

      I just noticed Fred blogged it forward to you - looking forward to your piece!

    • Wonderful to have your validation of that cultural cue.  I'm glad I CC'ed the manager of a colleague who I awarded a peer recognition too.  Did the right thing?

      • Dear Marilyn,

        Your act was supercool! My understanding of Ccing managers went wrong when I tried to follow the assumption of keeping them updated of daily activities carried forward from one of my former projects! Project Culture is the most important thing to me now!



  • What a fabulous post (on so many levels).  As always, digging into your links, video, references, enjoying your prowess as master story-teller is not a nominal feat.  It takes time, energy and is extremely rewarding to your reader (and in my case, your fan).  Your TedX video subject, Frans de Waal took me on a facinating journey of exploration around the concepts of Reciprocity (fairness) and Empathy (compassion).  As complementary pillars of humanity I loved the way those themes were applied to examples in the primate world.  And I loved the concept of emotional contagion.  One of my favorite moments in the video occurs around minute 4:20

    As always, I learn so much from you Matthias.

    By the way, last year after SAP TechEd Madrid, I visited the Prado (my first visit) and spent a magical hour in front of the triptychs  representing Bosch's Garden of Earthy Delights.  Every point in de Waal's video can take one on an empathy journey.  Thanks so much for the wonderful resource and your stories.

    "Maybe stories are just data with a soul.” — Brené Brown

    • Many thanks for your flattering words Marilyn! Glad you like the video... it sure had a lasting impression on me; especially like the end where they do the fairness test (around 14:30.)

      Looking forward to what you plan for us this year at SAP Teched !!!

    • Hi Midhun,

      yeah, even a techie like me realizes one day that there's more than just coding and that in order to be successful in a team you need to understand the people you work with and what drives them. Especially as you progress in the technical career you will realize that the job of an Architect is 90% about communication: with the dev team(s), the sales guys, the project management and most importantly also the customer. Usually you have to hold your ground with experts who are much more knowledgable about the business context and enterprise software (not to mention "project politics"). So, yes... so called 'soft skills' are what makes the difference between a great developer and a great architect.



      • You are absolutely right Mathias. I don't have vast experience like you in the IT industry but for each important steps I am taking I used to get advice from my friends who are experts in IT industry.

        They told me the same as you said. It's all communication gonna help in the future than coding. Thanks for your valuable opinion. πŸ™‚

        - Midhun VP

  • Hi Matthias,

    Everyone hero is always father! You have mentioned very nice sentence. I liked it very very much! πŸ™‚

    As many others I just wanted to be like my dad - a pilot! He always came back from his flights with little presents, exotic fruits and interesting stories about foreign countries


    Hari Suseelan