Published on: 09 November 2018
Written by: Nick Stracke
As usual for AI* Interviews, I ask Johannes for his current favorite song to start off the interview in a relaxed atmosphere. He replies ‘Feel it still’ by Portugal man, which is an excellent favorite song to have. We have a great time listening to it and then finally begin with the interview.
Can you tell us something about yourself?
I am Johannes. I am 19 years old and I am nearly 20. My birthday is on the 23rd of December. So yeah, I am a Christmas boy. Also, I enjoy being in CognAC. In my free time I enjoy building stuff, especially electronics and software as weird as that may sound.
23rd of December!? Do you think that’s a good birthday?
I don’t mind it. The thing is, if I wanted something really big, I could ask for it. But usually my parents don’t want me to feel like it’s the same so that is why I usually get two sets of presents.
You mentioned that you build electronics. Where did you learn to do that?
Well, on my own. It’s a hobby. But actually, when I went to England for my exchange year, I had a course in electronics in college. So, I had education in electronic engineering.
I guess it’s safe to assume that you haven’t been living in Germany all your life then?
No, but I was born and raised in Berlin and I lived there for the first 16 years. Then I went to England for my exchange year and I stayed there exactly for one year. I took some fun courses there! For instance, I could take computer science courses and electronics which you cannot do in Germany. Not as extensively at least. Also, I did my English A-Level there. After that year I went back home to Berlin for a year and now I am in Nijmegen.
You stayed home another year after you got back from your exchange year?
Well the degree I got in English usually takes two years, but I did in one year by doing twice as many courses. As a result, however, I only had the first level of Mathematics. Unfortunately, German universities want you to have Mathematics on the second level to follow any technical programmes. Furthermore, English degrees come out really late and at that time German universities were already closed. So, I could not join German universities.
To compensate for that I stayed one more year in german college and also redid the second level of Math in England. I flew there just to take the exam. So now I can follow technical programmes in Germany.
So how did you end up in Nijmegen?
Well, as I already mentioned, English diploma come out too late for German universities. So, even though I redid the second level of Math in England, which would allow me entry to technical programmes in Germany, I could not use it. Again, I would have to wait another year. This is when I started googling to check where else I could study. That was in July and the only university that was still open was Radboud because at that time they did not have a numerus fixus but all the other universities had. So, I applied immediately. It was literally the only university that I could go to. Otherwise, I would have had to stay another year in German college.
Why did you decide to study AI in the first place?
I have a lot of friends doing computer science and I think it’s very specific. You learn like one little subject, but I would like to learn more than ‘just’ how to program. It’s not my goal in life to just sit in front of a computer all day and program. I want to learn broader stuff and I am actually really interested in the psychology parts. I think that psychologists are always a bit creepy. So yeah, I am really happy with my choice, and I think it was better for me than computer science.
What does that mean for your master. What kind of master would you like to do?
Actually, I would like to do a Master in robotics that focuses on AI. There I could use all my knowledge. I have always had to idea of making my stupid electronics smart. I think that’s the way to go for me.
Do you already have an idea where you could do that?
I would really like to go to Japan but it’s not that healthy for me. In the big cities the air quality is really bad, and I have problems with my lungs. I also do not want to run around with a mask. This is why I have been looking for good universities in Europe. I really like Switzerland.
So, you don’t want to stay in the Netherlands?
No, not really. It has been very nice here but now I’m kind of done and I would like to move on. It’s nice to move through countries and meet different cultures and new people. Switzerland is expensive, so I will have to apply for a scholarship. I also know some people there which could help as well.
By now we had talked enough about Johannes background and we moved on to Johannes’ personal side.
Do you have any siblings that are your age?
I don’t have any sibling my age. I basically grew up as a single child. However, I do have a half-sister and a half-brother. So, I have one full sibling basically. My sister is eight years older and my brother ten. But I am already two times half-uncle. So, I am a full uncle. When I was small my sister used to live with me, so we had a childhood together. Now, they are both working.
Talking about your childhood, did you have a childhood hero?
No, actually not. I don’t remember me thinking: ‘I wanna be that guy!’. I always thought my grandpa was cool because he was always reasonable and never got loud or emotional. Also, I thought that my uncle was really fun because he did a lot of computer stuff which was like magic to me.
So, when did you get your first computer?
In the first grade of primary school, I think. It was a desktop and I got it from my dad. He has his own one-man company and every time he got a new computer, I got the old ones. That is how I got my first computers.
How did you start off with computers?
C’mon, I just played games. I was playing a lot of browser games. I played every action/arcade game that you could play with the flash player. I played it together my friends and we competed against each other. However, that got me curious how they did it. How their games were programmed.
When did you start programming then?
I started when I switched from primary school to high school. I was still quite young. Actually, it was one of my teachers and I thought it was amazing. He was really motivated and had this work group where he showed us. He really got me into programming. It really felt like magic to me in the beginning.
It was fun because he also just started programming since he was a physics teacher. He did not know everything either and just told me to look stuff up in the references. This got me to this philosophy to just look stuff up and try myself. We basically learned programming together even though he was my teacher.
What kind of programs did you write?
Basically, my own games. A bit later I wrote a program to show how the tides work. You could rotate the Earth around its center and see how the tides would change. I made some animations for that. It was pretty fun. I wanted to apply for Jugend forscht with my program but I was too late. I still have that program somewhere.
We already talked a bit about it but what are your hobbies? What do you do next to uni? For instance, in your free time? What is your passion?
I really do enjoy electronics. That is my main passion at the moment. Trying out all the stuff that you can get from China.
How did you start off with that?
Basically, just on my own. I googled quite a bit and tried more with Arduino and such. My uncle helped me to get started. That was when I was fourteen or fifteen, but it was a really long process. When I started I did not do a lot. I really got pushed into it when I went to England. This is where I really learned it. Before that I was just googling. That really got me interested because I finally understood what I was doing without having to google.
So why did you not decide to study something in that direction?
That’s a good point. I really would like to. But I thought I was pretty good at programming. I mean, there were people that clearly showed me I wasn’t, but I thought I was decent. I did not want tot waste that. And people always say don’t study your passion. And yeah… that’s it…
Is that true? Why not study your passion?
I don’t know. I guess it probably loses its charm. Now it’s really fun because I can learn electronics in an evening school if I want to but if I study AI, I can make my electronics smart. For now, I know all the basic components to make simple products. I mean, I can’t build robots that take over the world, yet. But I can do all the stuff that I want to in electronics - but not in AI. So, I thought I had more to learn in AI. I mean, there is still a lot to learn in electronic engineering as well but it’s more basic.
That was all very interesting and gave us a good look into your life. So now let’s talk about CognAC. How did you end up at CognAC? Did you immediately join in your first year or later?
Yes, I joined in my first year. At the beginning I was a bit skeptical because when I got here, I googled CognAC and the website only showed me random activities so I really wasn’t sure at first.
On a side note, did you already know about the concept of study associations?
No, not really. Perhaps, this is why I looked up the website. I thought it would explain the study. I didn’t know that a study association would only wrap around a study. But I did not find anything on the website, so I was rather disappointed. But then they explained in the introduction week and I was like this sounds fun.
Did you enjoy your introduction week?
Yes, I did. I was happy that I joined. At the very beginning I was still skeptical though. But after the first activity I thought that it was a good choice, because it was fun. The introduction week really got me involved with CognAC.
What committees did you go for in your first year?
Obviously, I went for the WebC. That was the one I really wanted to join. But I also really tried to balance my committees a bit. I wanted to do something outside of uni. Back at home I was giving programming workshops, so I thought I could join the SC as well. I also joined the XC because I thought it would be great to get some contacts in business.
(At that point Johannes seemed a bit disappointed and I asked why)
It was more of a secretary committee for me. That was not a lot of fun for me and I also did not get any business connections. However, I joined the SymCo and that was a lot of fun. I didn’t know what a Symposium was. Someone explained it to me and I thought: ‘This is amazing! I wanna be part of this’.
So you did four committees in your first year? That’s already quite a lot for being skeptical about CognAC at first!
Yeah, I don’t know. The committee presentations convinced me, and I could not quite decide. So, I thought let’s go for all and see what happens. Luckily, I had enough time, so it was a really good choice.
Which committees are you doing now in your second year?
Obviously the WebC! I am also doing the PaparaC because I wanted to do something different and I joined the Parents day committee. This year it will be an international parents’ day and for me it’s kind of a SymCo replacement. Some big event that you can work towards.
Alright, so what is your favorite committee?
Yeah, you know, no offense but it’s definitely the WebC (surprise!). It’s kind of a secret but, you know, it’s the WebC!
Would you like to talk more about the WebC? Is there perhaps some specific feature of the WebC that stands for you?
Oh yeah! You probably know it’s the Cognsulter. It’s a bit broken. Also, people keep complaining about the name, but I was polling for names for two whole months before I made a decision, but people did not come up with anything better. The Cognsulter it is
How much did you work on it? Was it a lot of work?
More than I wanted to! The framework we are using was actually kind of new to me but in the end, it worked out pretty okay. It was not ready not be released but it was. So… I am still working on it to make it better. I want to make it work on mobile. I want to create a better doodle.
I actually have another question! You know, there are a lot of rumors about you doing a lot of extra courses. So how do you manage to do so many extra courses next to your studies?
I don’t know. In the first semester I did not do any extra courses because I thought it would be scary since I didn’t do it before, but I had a lot of free time. I did not mind but I thought I can do something extra when I am paying for uni anyway. That’s why I took some more courses. I was lucky that I did not have to spend a lot of time on the programming courses so that helped a lot.
On that topic, is it true than you want to finish your Bachelor in two and a half years?
Yeah, I want to do that. So, I can go to Japan in my very last semester. I could also start my master earlier, but I would rather go to Japan. It is a bit stressed and I don’t have a lot of free time but I really want to have half a year off.
As you might or might not know, there are some CognAC typical questions. One of the is: What is your favorite Disney movie?
I must admit I am not entirely knowing my way around the Disney movies but the movie I thought was really nicely animated and that a lot of people did not like that much was Frozen. I thought it was really funny animated and I really like that one for that reason. I was like these effects are amazing and I also thought it was a fun story. And obviously I love the song.
Do you have a guilty pleasure?
Well, everyone has at least one. (Johannes stops talking so I ask again) I am sorry but to refer to a famous person, namely the leader of the labor party in England, that’s far too naughty for you and I think I’ll stick to that. (Obviously, I keep pushing for it until Johannes finally gives up). Everyone in my hallway probably knows that I do sing under the shower. That’s it.
At this point I ensured Johannes that he is a really good singer to cheer him up again and then asked another question: If CognAC had a pet, what kind of pet would it be?
I mentioned that CognAC used to have a pet fish. Johannes had actually heard about it, but I mentioned that it had died and that’s why we don’t have a fish anymore.
So, last questions, do you want to give anyone a shout out?
Obviously the WebC, including the new members! We are integrating them perfectly. Also, all the other people who do committees for doing all the great work.