Went 280km/h (174mph) in a Porsche Panamera in Germany!
Those of you who've been following my blog lately already know that I am going through some sort of mid-life crisis that involves going out there to meet people and make videos. It all started with Embedded World early this year, then continued at ESC Boston a couple of months ago and the latest chapter just concluded as I returned from Germany after spending a week at SEGGER's headquarters to produce a video to highlight their 25th anniversary.
UPDATE 07/26: Video now up!
And what a week it was. It left a profound impression on me for many different reasons that I will try to put into words in this blog post. I will also tell you how I ended up going 280 km/h (174 mph) in a Porsche Panamera, thanks to Alex, SEGGER's CTO.
Traveling to Europe from Canada usually involves a 'red-eye' (overnight) flight. Not so bad for people who can sleep on a dime, which is not my case. So when I finally made it to Dusseldorf after 2 connections (Montreal & Frankfurt), my 'batteries' were down to about 20% and I ended up needing all of the remaining energy to make it to the hotel.
It was my first time driving in Germany and with almost 30 years of driving experience, a good portion of this experience driving in big cities like Montreal and Boston, I didn't expect driving in Düsseldorf would be a challenge. It took about 30 seconds of driving to realize that I had been overconfident. Even with the navigation system in the very nice Audi A6 that I was driving, just getting out of the airport's labyrinth proved to be a challenge. The GPS wasn't fast enough (recalculate!) to compensate for my numerous mistakes and I was left on my own, trying to make sense of several unfamiliar road signs:
Once I finally made it to the hotel, after looking for a parking spot for at least 45 minutes, I collapsed on my bed for a much needed two hours nap. I woke up towards the end of the afternoon, slightly refreshed and really hungry.
I remembered one of Niels recommendation for a good beer and a good meal: Uerige in the Altstadt (old town). Luckily enough, thanks to SEGGER for having me stay in the most interesting part of the city, the Altstadt was located at walking distance from the hotel where I was staying so I didn't need to drive. Walking towards Uerige was a real pleasure as I followed a path right by the Rhine and the weather was simply fantastic.
As I walked, one thing that struck me as different from home was to see all these people drinking beer while walking or sitting on a bench or otherwise chilling out in public places. We don't see much of that in Canada as open liquor is permitted only in private residences or licensed premises.
Once I made it to Uerige, I could tell this place was wildly popular and all outdoor tables were taken. Following Niels advice, I tried an Altbier and must say that I really liked it (thanks for the tip Niels!).
The rest of the day was spent on walking around a bit, wishing my wife and kids would be with me to share the moment and have a Gelato in the Altstadt.
For my second day in Germany, the goal was to meet the SEGGER team, present what I had in mind for the video, discuss different ideas, assemble and run some tests with the new lights I had ordered.
Driving to the SEGGER office ended up being much easier than the drive between the airport and the hotel. I was getting familiar with the road signs, which helped a lot.
As soon as I entered the office, I felt very welcomed and offered to use one of the meeting rooms as my office/studio. I met Ivo, Managing Director at SEGGER, with whom I had been in touch several times in the last few weeks to plan this trip. Ivo did a great job at making me feel comfortable and introduced me to Johannes, engineer at SEGGER, who would be my go-to guy for the week. To have someone like Johannes help me with setting up, fine tuning, get a second opinion, etc, was an unexpected bonus. Add to that the fact that Johannes is a passionate hobbyist photographer and that we both share a common admiration for Casey Neistat's work with his vlog, I had the perfect person to assist me. Things were off to a great start.
I then met the management team in the training room where I would present my ideas for the video(s). The whole team was united for the week and the company had just had their best month in terms of sales in its history. Needless to say, everyone was in a good mood and you could feel the excitement in the air.
The management team - From left to right:
Paul, Dirk, James, Claudia, Rolf, Ivo, Harald, Alex and Shane
After lunch, I spent the afternoon setting up the studio in the meeting room and walking around with Johannes to get introduced to everyone working at SEGGER.
The day started with an 'interview' with Johannes, who's very knowledgeable about the whole range of SEGGER products. After lots of tweaking with the lights, camera positions, etc, we felt good to go. I asked Johannes to say a few words about some of SEGGER's products (J-Trace PRO, SystemView, Embedded Studio) and he didn't look intimidated by the camera at all.
In the afternoon, it was Rolf Segger's turn to face the cameras. Despite his apprehensions, he agreed to sit with me and be recorded. The founder/owner of a company is often the best person to talk about it because of the emotional connection. In Rolf's case, even if it's been 25 years since he founded the company, you can tell that he is still very passionate about it (maybe more than ever). He also comes through as authentic and as someone you can trust, which makes for great interviews. But the question was, would he be intimidated by the camera and lose his natural charisma? You'll be the final judge, but in my opinion, despite Rolf's numerous 'I suck at this' auto-critics, I believe his character and passion for the company came through (video to be published within the next 10 days or so, stay tuned!).
At the end of the day, I was invited to join Paul, Shane, James, Alex and Johannes for dinner in the Altstadt. I forgot the name of the restaurant that we went to, but to my delight, they were also serving altbier!
And what do a bunch of guys with beers in a German restaurant talk about? Cars of course. I learned that Paul is the owner of a Lotus and Alex is the owner of a Porsche Panamera. They learned that I am the owner of a Honda Odyssey and I could sense that they were a bit jealous (one day, I will tell you the story of that time when I drove at 125km/h in a 100km/h zone - fun times!).
As the night progressed and the truth serum (altbier!) started to kick in, the discussion shifted to work related matters.
Earlier in the day, Rolf (the founder of the company if you are following) had shared with me some of the reasons why he thought the company had been so successful over the years, despite very little marketing efforts. He mentioned things like great team, constant improvement, closed-loop development, great products, great support... But as I was sitting at this table and listening to my new friends' stories, it became clear that Rolf had overlooked one key ingredient: himself. His integrity, loyalty and respect for the people who work with him had clearly made a big difference over the years.
As I was walking back to the hotel, feeling grateful for the great day I just had and the new friends I had made, the Rhine Tower (Rheinturm) started to shoot light rays into the sky.
On day 4, my goal was to capture as much 'B-roll' as possible. If you don't know what B-roll is, it is basically footage that can be showed in the final video when the interviewee speaks, to make it more interesting to watch. In the case of SEGGER, I knew I wanted to capture some footage of the J-Link being built & boxed (all done in-house), some employees working at their computer and also some meeting shots.
I interiewed a couple of other engineers in the company: OIiver and Martin. Oliver talked mostly about embOS/IP (embedded IP stack) and Martin talked about embOS (RTOS).
My last day at SEGGER was also the day when the company was having a celebration for the 25th anniversary. The party was starting at 4pm, so it gave me some extra time to capture more B-Roll footage (word of advice for aspiring filmmakers: you always need more B-roll!).
Earlier in the week, I had asked Johannes if by any chance he had a drone that we could use to capture a view of SEGGER's offices from the top and maybe also capture a bird-eye clip of the party. The good news was that he had a drone, the bad news was that it was a rather low-end one, not meant at capturing high quality footage. We gave it a shot anyway but with no gimbal on the camera and some decent winds on that day, we could not make it film anything usable.
As Rolf was coming back from lunch, he saw us struggle with the Parrot drone and suggested to Johannes to go buy a DJI drone for the company. About one hour later, Johannes was back with a DJI Mavic Pro, charged the batteries and quickly read about how to operate the new toy. We would get footage of the party from up above!
Before the party got started, Alex offered to give me a quick (!) drive in his Porsche on the autobahn nearby. How could I refuse.
The fastest I had ever drove a car in my whole life was about 160km/h (100mph) when I was about 20 years old and fearless. As Alex pushed the Porsche past 260km/h, the other cars on the road that we were passing and that were probably going at 160-180km/h themselves, looked like they were idle. The footage that I managed to take with my phone (to show to my kids) is a little shaky, and the shakiness has nothing to do with the road conditions, if you know what I mean. Alex offered me to drive the Porsche on the way back but the alpha male in me had temporarily vanished and I passed (next time though!). Thanks Alex for the ride. As expected, the Porsche story made a strong impression on my son and his friends.
Back at SEGGER, the party was getting started and I spent a good part of my evening taking photos and videos but I also took the time to eat some great food and meet new people.
My week at SEGGER was coming to an end and it had been a very rich experience. I felt privileged and honored to have had the chance to get an inside look at the company, bond with the team and be a witness to the 25th anniversary celebration.
Thank you to everyone at SEGGER for the warm hospitality and for the opportunity.
From what I have seen and felt over the course of the week, the 25th anniversary is only a milestone. The company has huge momentum moving forward and is led with passion and integrity. I foresee many more 'record months' in front of them and many more years of positive growth.
Now, let me see what I can do with all the footage that I have...
Thanks for reading!
Wow, what a great opportunity!
What do those signs mean, by the way? The only one I understand is the one with words (Ausfahrt = exit; those German words may be long and stuffed with consonants, but at least they make sense from an etymological standpoint if you know the word roots)
from left to right:
1. Kreuzung oder Einmündung mit Vorfahrt von rechts
you will find this sign at crossways that are dificult to identify and need special attention. (at this crossing the car from the right has 'has right of way')
2. Verbot für Fahrzeuge aller Art
here you are not allowed to use this street. Often found with additional signs that specify more detailed what is allowed/forbidden.
You are not allowed to stop or park on the street. Often found with a white arrow that marks the start and end of the area.
at the next crossing you have 'right of way'.
Exit on a highway.
- tried to describe it as good as i can - its no legal advice ;-)
sunny greetings stefan
The Germans have many interesting words:
As for the road signs, check out:
Hi Stephane. Thanks for the 'report' on, and the photos from, your trip. The SEGGER employees look like nice people. I can see that the "dress code" for German employees has changed a lot since I was in that country 30 years ago. (Back then all managers wore dress shirts & ties, and all women strictly wore skirts or dresses.)
Interesting! When I was packing, I wasn't sure what clothes to bring with me as I had no idea if there was a dress code at SEGGER. I quickly found out that you could basically wear whatever you want, although I didn't see anyone wearing shorts or sandals despite the warm and humid weather on some days. I don't think it was because of a dress code though.
Rolf was semi-formal and probably wasn't wearing sandals on interview days. If you look down enough, you'll find I and Rolf did actually wear sandals, but I did so with socks on which is sort of a German thing to do I'm told. :-)
Paul? Indeed! Now I remember seeing Rolf in sandals, but I don't remember about you.
edit - while working on the video, just saw some footage with you in sandals. So: confirmed, sandals are fine at SEGGER (with socks?).
With socks? Of course! I am told this is a German thing. Although I have nothing to hide, wearing socks under my sandals makes sure that nothing rubs my tender skin. Ahhh...
Regularly walking from the Hotel am Stadtpark to the office makes you value good footwear. :-)
I am a German engineer currently sitting at my work desk in shorts and t-shirt. my sandals are lying about a meter away so I am sitting here barefeet. The thing about socks in sandals is something that might be typically German but is also considered typically German by Germans - and if there is one thing that is typically German then it is not wanting to be typically German, so most people below 40 I know don't do socks in sandals.
Dress code is a lot less stringent than in many other countries. It strongly depends, however, on the company you work at. But I think that approx. 50% of the people I know can wear whatever they please to work. So do I, luckily. As I ride my bicycle to work, I often start working coming directly from the company's shower. So it would be shorts, t-shirt, barefeet, loose sandals and wet hair :) I didn't muster the courage or see the need, yet, to leave the towel wrapped around my shoulders :)
Very interesting account of your trip. Looking forward to more of your trips in the future
Is this Mordecai from Borderlands ? :)
Have a nice weekend,
Stephan from Essen, 20 miles to Düsseldorf
Wow that must have been a fun week Stephane! I really like your video. It makes me want to work for that company :-). You succeeded in making Rolf confortable in front of the camera, which was a good challenge has you pointed out. Keep on the good work!
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