New HANA Distinguished Engineer Thorsten Franz – the Barely Authorized Q/A
Thorsten Franz made some big waves – even by his standards – when he announced on SCN that he was leaving his job of 14 years to form his new HANA startup, operatics. Now I get to break some more Thorsten news of my own – by introducing him as our next HANA Distinguished Engineer.
To mark this mlestone, we have a great Q/A to share with you that digs into Thorsten’s views on HANA and why he chose to make his entrepreneurial leap into HANA startup land.
But before I get to that, I want to mention something about becoming a HANA Distinguished Engineer (see the full HDE qualifications and nomination form). David Hull of SAP, who drives our HDE Council, has been an advocate for rigorous standards for HDE selection. We are looking for that combination of HANA mastery (backed up by field work) and a passion for sharing that know-how with the community.
Why does this matter? Because if there is any perception that the HDEs are a “club of friends,” then we have failed miserably in our efforts to fairly evaluate those who qualify. So whether you are as visible in the SAP community as Thorsten, that matters not. If you are making a difference to customers and the SAP community with HANA, you deserve consideration. Becoming an HDE is not supposed to be easy, but something to aspire to. Like most honors, it should be a byproduct of doing things things the right way, not who you know.
Which being me to Thorsten. You can check out Thorsten’s HANA content on SCN.later – for now I’ll bet you’ll want to read on for Thorsten’s frank views on starting his own company, why he’s betting his livelihood on the OLTP-OLAP convergence, and, yes – what he would say to Bill McDermott if he had the chance. Thanks to Thorsten for sharing his views in such an open manner, and congrats.
Jon: You recently said you are literally betting your livelihood of on the OLTP-OLAP convergence. Why?
Thorsten: The time for this convergence has come because a) it makes a lot of sense to begin with, b) and it’s now possible. It’s happening as we speak and contributing great value at several levels. Users make better business decisions because they have dashboards and key figures embedded in their transactional work environments. IT can reshape applications faster to accommodate new demands and opportunities.
The next step will be reducing TCO when sidecars and satellites at the server, database, and application level go away. And don’t underestimate the immense creativity that is being released by a whole industry being faced with new technical possibilities.
People go back and rethink old pain points. They throw away the crutches they’ve been leaning on and begin to walk. They brainstorm and discover new business models and new possibilities for creating value. Finally, from my personal business perspective, it’s a good time to be a founder when companies are investing and looking for new partners, who bring new skills to the table.
Jon: Leaving a great job you’ve had for 14 year can’t be easy. How did you know the time is right?
Thorsten: I’ve had the fortune to work for a very innovative company and liaise closely with many of the best and brightest in SAP’s platform development. I’ve been building prototypes and applications on top of HANA, trying out new development tools, and discussing the future of the platform with SAP before many of SAP’s own application developers even heard of these things.
I combine fourteen years of experience in huge custom SAP development projects with a head start in SAP HANA. Thanks to SCN and my community engagement, I’ve got a fantastic personal network that helps me in many ways.
From a market perspective – the industry is tough if you’re a small company or an independent contractor. The rules are in favor of the big ones, but in exciting times like these, when you have invested a lot of work into developing skills that are in demand, it’s easier to find a place at the table. Bottom line, one should strike while the iron’s hot. It’s glowing in white heat right now.
Jon: We all know to push out of our comfort zones but when you do it, you feel the breeze. Were you afraid to do it and how do you deal with that?
Thorsten: I realized that while it would be hard to give up a job I love and take the plunge, there was no point in waiting because that would never get any easier. Realizing I was going to be an entrepreneur was much like realizing you’re seriously in love. It’s not something that leaves you much choice: To be with your partner, you might have to move town, quit your job, give up things that you value. But you don’t have much choice once your heart is burning.
How do people deal with fear? Alcohol! Just kidding. I collected data, learned as much as I could, and spoke with many experienced people in my network about how to survive and possibly thrive as an entrepreneur, and now I’m down to “sometimes nervous but overall extremely confident.”
Jon: You’re betting your new company’s future on HANA. Why are you so confident in such a relatively new product?
Thorsten: If I’ve ever seen a company committed to something, it’s SAP being committed to HANA. HANA is already able to do some amazing things in a stable and reliable way. Some parts of it are stable, some are just overcoming their childhood diseases, and new parts are being introduced with every release. It takes a lot of talent and commitment to combine innovation and reliability.
I’ve watched SAP closely in the past years, and I’ve seen their very best people from all over converge on HANA. The evolution of HANA is not only driven by the passion, vision, and decades of experience of Hasso and Vishal – I see the same passion, vision, and experience at work in the lower ranks. That makes me confident that SAP and HANA will stay ahead of the game in the foreseeable future.
Jon: What is a strength of HANA that does not get enough attention?
Thorsten: Ha! That’s a tough one because SAP’s marketing is making sure that we all hear a lot about each and every one of HANA’s strengths. But here is one that few people have seen (yet): HANA has great potential as a composition platform, bringing data from all over the enterprise together and connecting it in meaningful ways.
Ultimately, the core value of HANA in my view is that it removes the barrier between transaction-processing and analytics, thereby redefining IT landscapes and even the way companies conduct their business. That goes way beyond “increased speed”.
Jon: Community work is in your lifeblood. What is your advice to those who feel too busy to contribute much?
Thorsten: Sometimes it’s not really a busy schedule that’s the enemy, but perfectionism gets in the way of becoming a contributor. Don’t be afraid to be wrong in public. When you contribute something, it doesn’t have to be the final word on the matter – it’s a dialog, it’s okay to be imperfect. Just get your contribution out of the door, warts and all, and let others pick up the ball and run with it. We all learn from each other. Try to contribute something small, write something in a casual tone, like you would tell a friend and colleague about an interesting thought that crossed your mind, or an interesting detail you learned about.
Jon: Does the SAP community play a role in your own HANA skills development? If so, how?
Thorsten: Yes, very much so. Being an active member in the SAP community has allowed me to meet fantastic people from whom I have learned very much. SAP Community Network as a platform for blogs and forums, and SAP’s HANA-related sites make a wealth of information available that allows everybody to build their HANA skills.
Also, SAP is now a much more open and dialog-oriented company than they used to be, offering Customer Engagement Initiatives and other opportunities to engage with SAP and exert influence. That culture of openness is not exactly the same as the SAP community, but it’s very closely related and the two are mutually beneficial, so I believe it’s fair to give the SAP community some credit for promoting that particular mindset within SAP.
Jon: Give us a highlight of your HANA involvement to date.
Thorsten: Speaking with potential SAP HANA users – and having a strictly non-IT, non-technical discussion about the things that really matter: the purpose, the value, and how the technology can actually change work and the business for the better. There’s a very special moment when users understand that this is not their usual meeting with an IT person, but an opportunity to really be heard and understood and to get some real value delivered – that moment is always a highlight.
Jon: What was it like to find out you are now a HANA Distinguished Engineer?
Thorsten: I was very happy, as it’s a great honor and recognition, and a great opportunity for my work in the future. Hopefully, it will open doors to many interesting projects and collaborations and help jump-start my new venture operatics. It’s also a great obligation – the Distinguished Engineers program is paying it forward to me, and I hope that my community contributions about HANA will make them happy to have chosen me.
Jon: Many of us know about your physical fitness transformation. What’s one thing the community may not know about you?
Thorsten: I used to play jazz guitar. That’s a musical tradition where collaborative improvisation (or, as my teacher used to call it, “high-speed composition”) is at the heart of the creative process. Of course, you practice hard to acquire a lot of musical material and the mastership to quickly and flexibly recombine it and create and integrate entirely new elements. So there’s a big investment in intense preparation, but once you’re on the stage, you let loose and just do whatever feel right in the moment. I no longer play any instruments, but the improvisational mindset is still alive in me: I still love to take risks and improvise when giving talks or live demos, even at conferences like SAP TechEd. Talk about adrenaline.
Jon: If you could say one thing to Bill McDermott today, what would it be?
Thorsten: During Bill McDermott’s and Jim Snabe’s reign as co-CEOs of SAP, each employee could choose which of the two they’d regard as “their” leader, with whom to identify and whom to follow with their heart.
I believe that introverted German techies tend to follow Jim Snabe, whereas extroverted business-oriented salespeople follow primarily Bill McDermott. (Consultants are in-between and, depending on their individual character makeup, lean more towards the geeky end of the spectrum with Jim or to its business and sales end with Bill.)
Now that Bill steps up to become the leader of all SAP employees, I’d like to remind him that in order to be a strong and effective leader, he must inspire and win the hearts of the employees who see themselves on the Jim end of the spectrum and used to regard Bill as “the other co-CEO” (as opposed to “their co-CEO”).
It translates to crossing a transatlantic culture gap: SAP is like a brain with a European and an American hemisphere. As the American hemisphere matures and becomes dominant, SAP should strive to learn to be ambidextrous and use the best capacities of either hemisphere – and avoid the structural neurological damage that results from trying to make a left-handed into a right-handed person or vice versa. Give Walldorf a hug, Bill.