Jens-Michael Gross, E2E Guru
If you search the channels you most likely associate with social media – Google+, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn – you won’t find Jens-Michael Gross anywhere. Yet, if you perform a Google search on Jens-Michael Gross, you’ll find eight of the 10, page-one results are Jens-Michael Gross on social media.
A click on those Google search results will bring you here, to E2E, a platform of forums and blogs where community members share knowledge, solve problems, and collaborate with fellow engineers. Like it or not, that is social media. But feel free to argue with the Merriam-Webster dictionary which defines social media as “…any form of electronic communication through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content.”
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, I’d like for you to meet E2E Guru Jens-Michael Gross. The Berlin, Germany-based Gross was the first E2E member to achieve Guru status, racking up over 123,000 points and contributing over 10,000 posts. He is primarily active on the MSP430 forum and receives praise and thanks from members across the community for his achievements. In 2012 alone, he contributed 4,000 posts answering fellow engineers’ questions.
That’s pretty social.
Guru meets Dallas
As reported in the Learn E2E and the Make the Switch blogs on E2E, the community team honored Gross this month at the E2E Awards as the E2E Contributor of the year. He also received the EP (Embedded Processing) Contributor of the Year award for the third straight year.
We thought that anyone who helps out other community members at this level, because he finds it a “pleasure to solve riddles” is probably worth getting to know a little better. So we spent some time with Michael, as he likes to be called, during his recent visit to Texas Instruments headquarters in Dallas, Texas where he accepted his award and where he took the weekend to see some local sights.
Community Engagement Manager Blake Ethridge with Jens-Michael Gross at Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas, TX.
While Michael’s English is more than passable, I did have to listen more carefully than usual to catch everything he had to say. But careful listening while we navigated four stories of exhibits in the new Perot Museum of Nature and Science or wandered around Southfork Ranch of Dallas television fame, also allowed me to get to know yet another engineer I respect and admire. (I’ve got a long list that starts with my Dad.)
The full-time job
Michael is employed by Convia GmbH, a company initially focused on home automation and alarm systems for apartments but now concentrating on energy efficiency systems. At one point, the company of then four people worked with a local electricity supplier who suggested Convia develop a device for energy metering and energy management. For this, Michael developed a PHP-based HTML front end and a small Linux/C++ -based database and data collector.
Michael left Convia in 2002 but returned in 2004, writing manuals for the home automation devices, as well as the first, PIC-based energy meters. In 2006, he inherited the company’s hardware and firmware development of the energy meters, now based on MSP430, and the ATMegal128-based access points. He was later involved in client application development, first in Java Script with Java applets, but now written in Flash/ActionScript. Convia now has 10 employees and a solid reputation in Germany, as well as throughout Europe.
“Our energy management system allows real-time supervision of energy (and other material) flow in a factory, analysis of possible energy savings, failure detection, and much more,” says Michael. “We also participate in joint-ventures for developing new technologies for niche markets, including working as consultants and providing sensor equipment and control electronics.”
Michael’s boss usually calls him in for a technical analysis and advice, but Michael also develops the electronics, if required. “They are,” he adds with a smile, “MSP430-based, of course.”
"Your grandfather is dead and you are alive"
Over brunch Sunday morning with other TI-ers, I asked Michael more about what drives his success. Perhaps what impressed me the most were his thoughts about the value of varied perspectives, the willingness to admit you are wrong, and the futility of assuming that the way you have done things in the past is always the way you should continue to do them.
“People say, ‘Well, that is the way my grandfather did it.’ And I say ‘well, your grandfather is dead and you are alive.’”
Michael’s boss frequently calls him in for new projects Michael is completely unfamiliar with because he knows he will bring in an entirely different perspective.
In one instance, Michael’s manager brought him in to "sanity check" a proposed air conditioning system where the heat generated from the air conditioning of one building would power the air conditioning adjoining building. Michael knew nothing about the particular issue but did the calculations to prove that the idea didn't violate any of nature's laws and outlined the conditions under which it could be done. The result was a 30 to 50 percent increase in efficiency.
Looking at problems with a different perspective is also a trait Michael feels is frequently lacking in organizations. He calls this “company blindness” or the tendency by some companies to not do things differently because they are simply looking at it the same way they always have in the past. They are using only “one eye”.
“You know, our two eyes see things differently and yet we so frequently perceive things as flat,” said Michael over his first-ever plate of eggs Benedict. “Each eye sees objects from a slightly different viewpoint in order to give us depth perception. One can observe that depth perception or field of vision decreases with the use of just one eye.”
He feels that for companies to truly be successful, they need to make a conscious decision to do things differently today than they did yesterday. They need to see with both eyes and think twice about things and increase their “field of vision”.
Guru on the go
The trip to the airport for Michael’s return home included a brief discussion about Isaac Asimov (I was able to impress him, for once, given I met Asimov about 28 years ago), Michael’s various books on his Kindle, and Game of Thrones (he feels the show sticks pretty close to the books).
You may never find Michael on other social channels but we like to think he is going to stick around on E2E. After all, even he says he is “…just an addict. I started when I discovered E2E looking for an answer to a question about MSP430 and I can’t stop. “
We are glad to hear that. We imagine the thousands of members Michael has helped so far are pleased to hear that, as well.