https://si0.twimg.com/profile_images/2738552054/927bb048b9a694d2aea8f90cce9f1a84.jpegThorsten 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.

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36 Comments

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  1. Andy Silvey

    Hi Thorsten,

    congratulations with the recognition and all the best with the business.

    As you grow and need people we’re all in the queue 🙂

    Andy.

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  2. Fred Verheul

    Wow, a great honor and well deserved. Congratulations Thorsten Franz!

    Great answers as well, especially at the last question. Now let’s hope Bill is listening…

    Thanks Jon Reed for conducting the interview and writing the blog post. It’s been a pleasure to read.

    Cheers, Fred

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  3. Akshay Gupta

    Vow! This is just amazing. Congrats Thorsten Franz

    Besides the HDE, with your new Operatics adventure “HAN-A-MAN” sounds super, wouldn’t it?

    And the last paragraph was just superb, perhaps you let loose and just said whatever feel right in the moment. Super Nice!

    I didn’t knew about the transatlantic culture gap 😕

    All in all, this was a terrific one.

    -Akshay


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  4. Moya Watson

    Excellent, insightful interview.  Thanks to the both of you for bringing this out.

    One thing that really impresses me about this story (besides the alcohol) is the focus on the “little guy/gal.” Both Thorsten Franz and Jon Reed acknowledge that the power of large companies and visible engineers to be noticed and recognized, while at the same time flipping that on its head – Thorsten leaving the embrace of a big player, and Jon nodding to not having to be a community god to become distinguished.

    When I read that together with the promise of removing “the barrier between transaction-processing and analytics” – I wonder if new worlds will open up for the person sitting at the very end of the SAP system, entering data all day long.

    In that case, I can’t wait to see what insights our otherwise silent or currently unknown workers will be able to surface in this kind of world.

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    1. Jon Reed Post author

      Moya that’s an excellent comment and I don’t know that I have all the answers to what you have raised here.

      But here’s what I can say, if it’s not too dreamy for you – I believe that we are entitled to at least semi-fulfilling work lives that bear the stamp of our unique talents and perspective. Some make the choice – I would argue the mistake – of only finding that self-expression outside of work. I know because I have made that mistake myself.

      I believe it’s important to have something to aspire to in the cubicle as well. My goal with a piece like this is not only hold up a role model that I have seen not only do the great things but the small thoughtful things that really leave an impression. It’s to demystify the process of getting there, to speak more openly about obstacles and fear encountered along the way.

      Basically, to spark the imagination about what is possible. Sometimes we need to be encouraged or lent a hand to take those steps and see ourselves in that light. I’ve seen Thorsten do that for others many times.

      I realize that doesn’t answer all your points and I’m not sure I have the answers, except I would urge anyone reading not to wait for changes to come but to find a way to be a part of them. Easy for me to say? Perhaps. Not easy for me to do it though…

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  5. Michael Eacrett

    Welcome to the HDE ranks Thorsten. So well deserved. 🙂

    Great blog, both in content and in style Jon.

    Love the quote “Don’t be afraid to be wrong in public“. It really captures the huge leap of faith pf putting ourselves “out there” that some feel they must take to join and partipate in a community – once you do, it becomes much easier and so very rewarding.

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  6. Marilyn Pratt

    Enjoyed every word of this thoughtful interview.

    Kudos to Jon for the format and smart, provocative questions and to Thorsten Franz for his incredible candor, deep intelligence and courage.

    What strikes me in reading this is that SAP is honored and lucky to have quality minds aspire to be distinguished HANA engineers. I think it a smart move to welcome a candidate who will challenge thinking, be bold in efforts, and not shrink from experimenting.  Thorsten has always been a wonderful supporter of ideas such as “inclusion”, “empathy”, “design thinking”,
    well before they became buzzwords.  Most recently he has been a mentor and sounding board for  #FAILfaire and I’m LOVING his advice to not be fearful of errors.  Looking forward to his participations in such dialogs in the upcoming SAPTechED events.

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  7. Thorsten Franz

    Thank you so much, Jon Reed, Moya Watson, Michael Eacrett, Susan Keohan, Akshay Gupta, Frank Koehntopp, Fred Verheul, Andy Silvey, and everybody else who was and will be so kind to comment, encourage, and congratulate. As a newly-minted HANA Distinguished Engineer, I will have to remind myself much more frequently than before that it’s okay to be wrong… even after all these years of being an SAP Press author and an SAP Mentor, and a loud-mouthed one, too, I am slightly intimidated now. 🙂

    I’ll remind myself that the HDE program is not about pretending to know everything, but about making learning a community experience. The HDEs, like everyone else in the HANA space and on SCN, are here to learn, and to learn collectively and share what we learn.

    Thorsten

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    1. Jon Reed Post author

      The HDEs, like everyone else in the HANA space and on SCN, are here to learn, and to learn collectively and share what we learn.

      Could not agree more Thorsten.. In my view, the greatest strength of HANA for SAP may be the re-invention of learning that is coming along with it via pioneering MOOCs, HANA Academy and so on. And, I like to think, HDEs. 🙂 Learning via community networks is a powerful force…imperfections and all. Onward…

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  8. Graham Robinson

    A great piece Jon. Congratulations Thorsten on becoming a HDE – but even more congratulations on this amazing new path you are taking. I am 100% certain you will be successful but I also know that there will be ups and downs as well. I am looking forward to hearing about all the war stories – good and bad – and if I can ever help with anything you know you just need to call.

    Cheers

    Graham Robbo

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    1. Thorsten Franz

      Thank you, Anita! If I get a t-shirt with

                     “@operatics_de”

      on the back and

                     “I { } Walldorf”

      on the front, do you think Bill will wear it? Night and day?

      Which is better: “I { } Walldorf” or “I { } WDF”? Or even “I { } WDF03 (no matter what they say)”?

      Thorsten

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    1. Thorsten Franz

      Good to hear from you, Bill, and it’s great to see you engage here on SCN. If I bring an “I { } WDF” t-shirt to an SAP Mentors meeting at TechEd Las Vegas or Amsterdam, would you put it on and give Walldorf a hug? 🙂

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  9. Jeanne Carboni

    Excellent interview, Jon Reed!  Congratulations Thorsten Franz and good luck on your new endeavor. Welcome Bill McDermott to SAP Community Network!  See you all at SAP TechEd! Stop by the Clubhouse and the photo headshot booth to meet the team behind SCN, get your profile picture updated and experience the history and future of the community!!

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  10. Uwe Fetzer

    Congratulations Thorsten Franz for becoming an HDE (and Jon Reed for the excellent questions).

    Thorsten, if you still have your guitar, place it near your new desk and play along everytime you get stuck in a blind alley (and it looks cool if your customers see it).

    During my long injury period this year I began to learn Blues Guitar (not far away from Jazz I think). And since I’m able to work again, it’s so mind refreshing to improvise every now and than during the day. Or maybe it’s just because at the same time I stopped smoking and I just need the regular break….

    See you in AMS

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    1. Thorsten Franz

      Great idea, Uwe! I’ll bring the guitar to work. Picking it up and playing for a few minutes is an excellent way to give room to thought, and to activate the brain more holistically. 🙂

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  11. Vijay Vijayasankar

    Welcome to HDE, Thorsten ! Can’t wait to chat about your new adventure when we meet in Las Vegas

    This is probably the best into yet of an HDE – Jon has set the bar way too high now on how it is done.

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    1. Thorsten Franz

      Can’t wait either, Vijay, and yes, I’m very honored to be introduced by Jon. I don’t know if some day it will be my turn to introduce a new HDE recruit to the community, but when that day comes, I’ll steal ruthlessly from Jon Reed. 😉

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  12. Douglas Cezar

    Great inteview Jon and Thorsten!

    It’s inspiring to live and work in a time where people like you are together.

    I find myself in an earlier point on the path of being in love with HANA, Mobile and entrepreneurial thinking, hope I can bring something useful to the table soon.

    Best regards and good luck!

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