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“Never a standard approach” – on the ability to always create something new and why, when you’re on a never-ending journey, it’s important to switch off from the grid every now and then

Mario Apitz, 37, is one of the three founding members of *um and has been Director of Operations for the past seven years. From the very beginning he's been leading the central department he established, so knows every single detail – you could wake him up in the middle of the night with any question and you'd be sure to get a precise answer. Luckily he was able to find the time to speak to us during the day.

TUM PM42 Interview MA

"We always deliver customized services." Mario Apitz holds his promises.

Hi Mario. It's great that you've found the time for us in between meeting customers and handling existing and prospective employees.

Don't thank me, thank the colleagues who I've left to get on with the work without me. (Laughs.)

So much to get done?

Always. We certainly can't complain about a lack of things to do. In fact... we can't complain about anything at all, actually. Things are going well and it's fun.

So how is a typical working day?

A 'typical' day is actually very varied. It's always about new ideas and solutions. Of course there are routines too, in the processes and in communication. That's important.

How would you describe your role?

I lead four operations teams and the datacenter team, in which there are fifty brilliant experts in total. It's my job to coordinate and push them so that together we can deliver customer-specific and top-quality services. We never take a standard approach. We always deliver customized services and make customers happy.

What do you do when you aren't creating customized services? What makes you happy?

Well, what I do makes me happy. But twice a year I take some time out to go back to the Middle Ages for a few days.

To the Middle Ages?

Yes, that's right. To a big, authentic Middle Ages-style camp within historic castle grounds. With proper hand crafts and an open fire, without electricity, internet, emails or phones. It grounds me a bit and it's now an important polar opposite to my technology-based life. Otherwise I wouldn't know anything different.

And you're not born after 1980, so you're not a digital native.

That's true, I'm not a digital native. More of a 'nerd', you could say. I belong to the C64 generation, I grew up with the Commodore...

...and then straight into the digital industry?

Almost. After finishing school I took on some administration jobs to finance my studies. At the same time I studied law for seven semesters until I realized that I didn't want to spend my life with lawyers.

And then?

Then I finally made my passion for technology into a career. I continued working on the side while studying technical information and graduated as a Dipl. Ing. (Master in Engineering).

How did you eventually end up at *um?

I started at Pixelpark, which you could kind of call our 'nucleus', because many of our colleagues met there. One day I had a beer and a relaxed conversation with Ravin [Mehta, his manager; author's notes] about what could be done differently. About starting something new. Not like any of the normal internet agencies, but also not a dry technology cave that only offers infrastructure.

A few months later he told me about Unbelievable Machine. And that ticked every box! I made the good decision to leave my comfort zone as an IT operations manager and set off on this exciting journey.

And what was your goal?

To conquer service regions that no soul had ever entered before. (Laughs.) There isn't an ultimate goal, because the journey just hasn't stopped since then – it just keeps on going with unbelievable speed. We always have new challenges to solve and we always have new ideas.

So you're pioneers.

Absolutely. When we started out there weren't any clouds in Germany, for example. We've contributed to the current technologies and set the standard.

But that's not enough. Cloud computing describes only the infrastructure with data centers and servers. It's like a standard tool, like a screwdriver. It's good to have one, but most importantly you need to know how to assemble great things with it.

And *um knows how?

*um knows, yes. Our motto is 'team and service first!' The individual needs of the customer come first, then the technology. Every customer has a fixed, local operation team consisting of excellent specialists. We're always looking to see what the customer needs and then offer customer-specific solutions based on optimal, technological infrastructure. That's how we clearly set ourselves apart from the 'big fish' like Amazon, which offer ready-made packages and solutions.

Let's go back to the journey you mentioned. What path will it be taking next?

Just keep going forward, I'd say. (Laughs.) The next stops are definitely Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things. If all things – lamps, fridges, etc. – are part of the internet and need to be accessed from everywhere, it creates particular demands on the availability of systems and data. Cloud services provide good conditions for such cases.

It sounds as if you can barely wait...

We're already perfectly set up for it. When it comes to scalability, data protection and security we already offer everything you could possibly need. We're not short of ideas, either. That said, we could do with a few more colleagues. That's why I've got to get going now.

So keep enjoying the journey.

Thanks. I'll be in touch. (And off he goes.)

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