"We can't control the wind, but we can set the sails." When he was young, Markus Kohout would never have dreamed that this Viking wisdom would one day be a very apt description of his own life. Why would he? Markus comes from Guxhagen in the north Hessian district of Schwalm-Eder. Far from the sea. Not wanting to offend the people of Guxhagen, but a small village of 5,000 souls in the backwoods of Hesse really does not have that much to do with the Vikings. But with the A7 motorway close by and a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant visible from afar, maybe it does have something worth seeing.
In his youth, the voluntary fire brigade offered adventures that were closer to home for Markus than Viking tales. With the motorway close by, there was always plenty for the firefighters to do. "I always like to get involved and need action," says Markus. "Being out there at 2:00 in the morning, wearing heavy duty breathing apparatus and trying to put out a car that's on fire is an existential borderline experience in itself, and one which has sharpened my view of my own possibilities and limits in stressful situations."
After leaving school, he wanted to build upon this experience, and first of all he enlisted in the German Armed Forces in order to lay a financial foundation so that he could study. Even at a young age, he was driven by a certain business sense, he recalls . As a 13-year-old, if he wasn't messing around outside, Markus loved to pass the time playing computer games. "It didn't take long for me to want to know what was going on behind the scenes, and I started programming," he says. At 16, he had already started to earn his own money by creating websites, apps and online marketing tools.
At the time, it wouldn't have occurred to him that this might possibly be his future career. "I wanted to get dirty. Like when I was in the fire brigade, I was much more interested in handling heavy equipment or building machines than doing an office job," he says. But nevertheless, he continued his programming activities. "To me, it just wasn't work." Today he is sometimes amazed that, at the age of 30, he can look back on more than 15 years of programming experience.
The fact that he found programming so easy almost cost him his degree. On top of his studies at the renowned ETH Zurich, he was also working in a startup company specialising in software solutions for personnel resource planning, proving he had his finger right on the pulse of the market. "The startup was successful, I became a partner at 23 and broke off my studies at the elite university," reports Markus.
In 2014, after a total of four years, for two and a half of which he was the Chief Developer, he sold his shares. "At 25, I suddenly had a lot of money in my pocket, wanted to travel and see the world." Blindfolded, he threw darts at a map of the world and ended up in Rwanda as a result. "When I left for Africa, I didn't have a clue what to expect." He had rented a co-working space in the capital Kigali ("to do a bit of programming"), travelled a great deal, and got to know different people and their life plans. Later on, his travels took him to East Timor and Hawaii, among other places, where his passion for the sea was kindled. "I acquired a deep-sea sailing licence and did a fast-track course at the distance learning university to get my Bachelor's degree in computer science," he says. The sails were set for his future.
On this journey through life, however, the small fortune he had earned from the sale of his startup shares soon melted away. "I didn't save, I just invested in myself," he says with a grin. "But my wanderlust has now been satisfied to some extent." The master's degree in computer science he did at the RWTH Aachen University was a fairly laid-back affair. The path to a doctorate was already mapped out. But that came to nothing. "In the end, re-entering the business world was a more attractive proposition than a long-term commitment to some university department," says the widely travelled free spirit.
Quite by chance, he came to BFFT in Ingolstadt in September 2018. "Team play is part of the corporate DNA here; even after the re-branding to EDAG Electronics, it's always primarily about the matter in hand, you're not slowed down by hierarchies," says Markus. In performance engineering, a new offer for algorithm optimisation of customer software, his programming passion can be given free rein in a really strong project team. "We're creating something really big here right now," he says with conviction. The more functions a vehicle has, the more intensive the coordination of the software and the hardware has to be. "Here, we think right outside the box," says Markus. As a result, the segment and team leaders are now also following at the progress of the performance engineering project with great interest.
Having a lot to do and entering uncharted waters is something that Markus seldom experiences as stressful. "When you're in a firefighting situation with your breathing apparatus on, you learn how to deal with dangerous situations without panicking: just take a deep breath." And then there's the wisdom of the Vikings: to set his own sails and make sure he stays on course, he slows right down in his spare time. I usually spend my holidays on the high seas, as the skipper of a chartered boat. A week with a nice guest crew, wind in the sails and generally not moving faster than eight knots an hour - that's just 14 km/h - leaves you feeling wonderfully calm."