I was born in a sleepy small town in West Germany on 20th of April, 1976 11:40, which is in the Chinese year of the dragon and the sign of the zodiac Aries. Not that I believe in astrology, but some traits of Aries certainly apply to me: I am very persistent, strive to perfection. I have strong ideas and opinions, and can argue relentlessly for them. I rely on my mind and sharp thinking to make decisions. My life would be easier if I were less dogged and determined, and had a more relaxed attitude.
Other people say I'm honest, straightforward and friendly. I get along with others pretty well, because I can tolerate other opinions and cultures. I am very willing to help others and share information. I have a strong sense of right and wrong, and always act according to my moral standards and values.
|In Stuttgart, October 2002|
At a company training on July 2002, I've determined my Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® in a self-test. According to this test, I'm type INTJ: Introversion-Intuition-Thinking-Judging. According to this theory, the following characteristics are associated with this type:
[Type INTJ people] usually have original minds and great drive for their own ideas and purposes. In fields that appeal to them, they have a fine power to organize a job and carry it through with or without help. Skeptical, critical, independent, determined, sometimes stubborn. Must learn to yield less important points to win the most important.
I'm clearly but not obviously introverted; working best independently on my own, though I'm also a good teamplayer and can talk with colleagues, friends and acquaintances without inhibitions. Communicating with a large group of people exhausts me; I regain my energy while reading, walking or cycling. I present my ideas only after thoroughly thinking them through. My decisions are based on logic and objective analysis of cause and effect. I like a planned and organized approach to life and prefer to have things settled. This is one reason why I chose to become an engineer. However, I can still be very flexible; in fact, most of my dearest memories are connected with spontaneous events and decisions.
I prefer to be independent and have my own say over things. However, I also need the warmth of an intimate partner; my parents have brought me up with a lot of love and affection, so I want to share this intimacy with a partner, too. I had always longed for a stable, long-term relationship.
My mother has told me that at age 1 3/4 I started reading the big title page letters on her fashion magazine. Later, in primary school, I watched the mathematics, physics and chemistry courses of television lectures. Of cause, I did not understand a word, but the formulas and experiments fascinated me. And I believe this helped shape my brain in a way that has been making it easier to grasp technical things.
Speaking of technics, my favorite toys for many years have been Lego® bricks. Building entire towns, vehicles or spaceships from those simple elements captivated me for hours. Whenever I had finished something, it didn't take long until I tore everything down again to start anew. I still remember the four or five endeavors to sort the two large boxes of bricks; each of them took several days.
Later, I increasingly got hooked on technical items. I always delighted in dismantling broken toasters, cassette players, radios, etc. In addition to my cassette recorder, I got a two-track tape drive from my father. I hooked them all together with an old radio, and created my own greatest hits compilations (to which I listened to while playing with Lego® on the floor). When I was in sixth grade, I (like many of my classmates) experimented with fireworks, igniting self-made mixtures of salpeter, sugar and charcoal powder on the windowsill (Disclaimer: This is dangerous!) and watching it burning ferociously and giving off clouds of smoke.
Speaking of school, there were subjects like mathematics, physics, chemistry and English, where I was highly motivated and usually best of class, even though teachers always complained that I did not participate enough during class (hell, I already knew most of the stuff, so why should I bother to lift my finger and risk even more being seen as a geek by my classmates). On the other hand, there were those non-scientific subjects like history, German and religion, which bored me. Though I was clearly capable of mastering those subjects, I could not discern what exactly was needed to excel; grades were based on the teacher's subjective opinion that on solving a formula. So in these subjects, I was economical with my energy and did just enough to stay in an average position. I got the worst grades of my school career in Latin, because I was too lazy to memorize the vocabulary and had to guess most words in translations.
|digital photo, August 2001|
Finally, I got addicted to the ultimate electronic gadget at that time: homecomputers. There's no denying that I'm highly gifted in technical, logical things. Actually, writing computer programs is very similar to building objects from Lego® bricks: You have a limited set of distinct elements, which you combine to modules, which in turn are assembled into a complete thing which serves particular purposes. Even my hobby juggling bears some resemblance to this, because it's based on patterns based on simple moves, too.
An article about computer geeks made me aware of Asperger's syndrome, which is a light variant of autism. This condition is particularly predominant among engineers, mathematicians and other scientific professions, and it may help explain some of the particular challenges I've been facing in my life. Anyway, I would never describe this as an disease I'm suffering from; for me, this is rather a scientific name for a particular condition which results in a unique set of talents and characteristics. For me, it was an important realization how I am different from other people, and how others have similar ways of life.
I have preserved a large part of the curiosity and fantasy of a child. Except for a period in my youth when I wanted to have a satellite dish to receive the arising private independent television stations (but had to give in to my parents' opposition), I've been critical of television as a means for entertainment. I prefer to read novels or watch a movie together with friends rather than passively consuming soap operas and advertisement-filled feature films. Consequently, I have not owned a television set since moving out. Today, the Internet represents a much more diverse and interactive medium, and not just for entertainment, but also as a means for an individual to change the world for the better (a little bit).
Through the open source software community, I am able to collaborate with diverse people all over the world, while helping improve free alternatives to commercial software for the common good. I really feel at home there, among all those motivated professionals and talented volunteers (something which is not necessarily true at work). As a perfectionist, I hold myself to the highest software engineering standards, so my bug reports or enhancement requests are often well received because they are precise and with attention to detail. Even though I am not a native speaker, I enjoy to formulate and express myself well in the English language which dominates the software world. I learned that unambiguous communication is the key to getting along well in a multi-cultural context.
I have been involved in a couple of projects and have also published tools and projects that I have conceived on my own. Both at work and as a hobbyist, I have benefited so greatly from the wealth of tools and information that I gladly give back (by providing answers, suggestions, bug reports or fixes) whenever I can. I am very helpful and friendly, and do not show any reserve in a professional meritocracy that operates mostly over email. Observing comments, feedback and the occasional thank-you note for my work products is a very pleasing experience.
|digital image manipulation, February 1999|
Maybe my biggest asset is my creativity, my ability to see things from a different angle and provide fresh insights into any discussion. I am presenting many of my creative hobbies on this website: For many years now, my artistic ambitions are expressed through textile painting. I also like to do digital photography and image manipulation. For more than ten years, I've played the piccolo flute in my home town's marching band. I'm still at beginner's level at piano playing; sometime in the future, I'd like to learn tap dancing.
Music is an important part of my life. Fortunately, I am allowed to listen to music (through some high-fidelity headphones) during work. I have a large collection of CDs from various interprets (cp. my musical preferences) which grew even larger since the invention of the MP3 file format. I recorded two Karaoke CDs - just for fun.
Most of my interests are intellectual and combine multiple benefits. For example, I've got a TIME weekly newsmagazine subscription to be both informed about current worldwide events and to practice my English language skills in parallel. Though I haven't been to an English-speaking country yet, I'm quite fluent in (especially reading) English, work in an American company, read English novels. I have to thank my excellent English teacher (Mr. Boxhammer) of the last three years of school for providing an incentive to hone my previously mediocre language skills.
|portrait October 2006|
For many years until I started studying, I've read the German edition of Scientific American; I'm still especially interested in particle physics and cosmology (Stephen W. Hawking: A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes) and Artificial Intelligence (Roger Penrose: The Emperor's New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds and the Laws of Physics). Beginning in 2001, I've read some interesting books about the psychological side of human interaction.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not a deep thinker mired in theory. I also have a great sense of humor, enjoying cabaret, slapstick and British black humor. I've watched the entire Monty Python's Flying Circus series rolling on the floor. I also like Woody Allen movies for their satirical, intellectual humor.
The older you get, the more important it is to get enough physical exercise; this is especially true for office workers like me. In summer, I get plenty of fresh air on my bicycle; in winter, I regularly go swimming, and in the seasons in between, I focus on jogging and walking. I've never been an athlete, but by now I think I've found the right dose of workout for me.
In my youth (as my dentist is still able to tell you), I was very fond of sweets; instead of sandwiches, I even got some cookies for school break. I still like cakes and chocolate more than liquor and beer (and I despise tobacco), I try to balance their consumption with plenty of fruit and vegetables. Changing one's diet really makes a difference; I can feel it every day. Since the meat scandals of 2001 and foot-and-mouth disease, I've also reduced my consumption of meat.
This overview would not be complete without a list of my personal problems and challenges. As I've told before, I'm best at logical and technical things. I'm not that talented at human interaction, especially when it is spontaneous, with unknown people and face-to-face. Networking and socializing is hard work for me. Though everybody describes me as very friendly, at first contact I am often reserved and hesitant. It can take some time until the ice is broken and I am able to reveal my inner, vulnerable self. I am somebody who has a few close friends rather than a thick address book of contacts. These traits are worst when it comes to the other gender. At school, I did have a crush on some girls, but I only admired them from a safe distance. Besides, puberty dealt a huge blow to my self-image, and it took years to regain a healthy sense of my body. I had my first real relationship at age 21, which is quite late, but surprisingly was not uncommon among my fellow students at that time (some of them still hadn't had a relationship). I am intellectualizing my feelings, instead of showing them like everybody else does. I guess that can be hard for others.
It is a challenge to find a balance between my "normal" human needs of fun, friendship, romance and intimacy and my "special" talents and interests. The past has shown that I become disturbed and eventually depressed when I neglect one over the other, so the key is in walking the fine line in between.
In May 2003 my brother arranged an email contact to a co-student in Hannover. Over the course of early summer, we exchanged emails, then called each other regularly. When I visited my parents during the summer holiday in August, I drove 130 km for a first date, then went on to see her two more times during my one week of vacation.
We fell in love, and had a long-distance relationship (600 km) over a year, until she finished her education and moved in with me in July 2004. Her jobs required her to first work night shifts, then moving to another state, then briefly to another town for work, so we again often lived apart, only joined by long phone calls and occasional visits. Finally, things settled down, she moved back in, and we got married on 07/07/07.
On May 12th, 2008, our daughter Hannah was born. I took a (welcome) break from work (in a deteriorating economy, with many mergers and constant restructuring taking place, there was no long-term vision and commitment, and few real programming challenges), and spent one year at home, caring for my little daughter and watching her grow up so quickly. In my spare time (mostly when little Hannah was asleep), I kept devouring blogs and books about software development, and spend a lot of time on my personal projects.
My main challenge for the future is to settle back into a satisfying and rewarding job while being a good husband and father. A child changes all aspects of life and provides new perspectives. So far, I'm very happy about most of it (except for the fact that it's harder to find time for physical exercise now, and I have gained a few kilos). Many big decisions lie ahead of us. I hope that we'll have the strength and a little bit of luck to make our wishes come true…
I'd like to close this most personal page with my favorite advice for a happy life:
Work like you don't need money,
Love like you've never been hurt,
And dance like no one's watching.
Ingo Karkat, Nov-2002; last update 06-Jul-2009