Why do I work?

I see reports like "Gen Z vs. Boomer", read books like "The World Is Ending, And I’m Still Supposed to Work?", hear about shortage of skilled workers and claims that nobody wants to work anymore. Especially the younger generations, the Generation Z (1996 - 2013). Well, I was born in 1994. Hence, by definition, I'm part of the Millennials. However, am I so different from people born only two years after me? What motivates me to work almost every day and even enjoy it?

In order to answer that, we have to jump back in time 🕰️.

It's October 5, 2015, I've just graduated from high school (Abitur) and have no idea what to do next. So I sit in front of my computer and browse through the degree programs at the nearest university, Düsseldorf, Germany. Out of sheer curiosity, I spontaneously decide to study "Information Science" with a minor in "History". Later, I would drop out of the latter after the first semester to do my Bachelor's and Master's in "Information Science and Language Technology". It's impressive how the entire future can miraculously move in a positive direction, even though the initial step was taken completely naively. I thought I would somehow find my "purpose" and "passion". I had no idea back then 😀...

Ah yes, why I didn't decide to become a craftsman? Ask my friends and family. If there's one thing I really can't do, it's anything to do with crafts 🛠️.

During my studies, I fell in love with natural language processing and coding web applications. I wrote my bachelor's thesis on the "Use of digital voice assistants in the private and corporate environment", which was intended to reflect the current status with an empirical study, a survey. During my master's degree, I then ventured a look behind the scenes and tried to create a deep neural network for artificial text generation as part of a seminar - a kind of baby GPT. It was supposed to write texts in the style of Jane Austen -- with a little imagination, it actually did that 🤔. I then finally combined my new passion for computational linguistics with web development by coding a language level search engine for my master's thesis. Her name is Elaisa. Since I wanted to share my findings and the knowledge I learned with my fellow human beings, I published the source code under the MIT license on Github. The thesis is published on Zenodo. Everyone should have access to my 6-month study and use it for their own purposes.

Okay, but how does that answer the question?

Well, the answer is hidden somewhere between the lines.

The interesting part of my life began when I registered on a job portal for students. I was still a bachelor's student and wanted to test out the theories I had learned in practice and see how the professionals did it. Shortly after I registered, I was contacted by a recruiter from the company Acando. A few weeks later, I took the train to the head office in Hamburg for the introduction day for new employees. Over the next 15 months, my professional life was to turn completely upside down. My colleagues, team leaders and mentors involved me directly in real projects and trained me to become a kind of "chatbot expert". It wasn't long before my mentor and I published an article on "Voice services for standard processes using MQTT" in the magazine JavaSpektrum. Shortly afterwards, we presented the results to a large group of developers after I asked the local Java community "RheinJUG" if we could give a talk.

That day, my journey with Cognigy began.

After our talk, a young startup from Düsseldorf contacted me on LinkedIn, which would develop a platform for the creation of chat-/ & voicebots. Acando and Cognigy became partners and I became a Cognigy.AI expert in management consulting. Of course, I used these new contacts directly for my aforementioned survey as part of my bachelor's thesis.

For some reason, I was fascinated by this new technology of being able to create highly complex virtual assistants without any Java code. Moreover, I was magically drawn to the startup vibe, the other side of the table, that of product development.

The decision to leave Acando was certainly not an easy one, after all, I owed my entire professional experience at the time to a handful of people who spent their precious time with a working student. In the end, I informed my team of my decision and thanked them very much for the past 15 months.

The funny thing is that I had no interest in working at Cognigy as a consultant at the time. I applied as an "NLU Wizard" (yes, that was the real name of the vacancy at the time). I happily wanted to do my bit to improve the NLU. To use what I had learned in all the lectures and seminars. However, anyone who knows me or has ever worked with me is aware that I am not a developer today, but a consultant.

This change from applying as a developer to a career as a consultant was the result of a clever move by my managers. After just one month, they sent me to Budapest, Hungary, where I was supposed to represent the company at a startup competition. Giving demos, pitching, networking. I certainly wasn't the best, but I enjoyed it so much that I came back to Germany as a consultant. So in future I only saw the hallowed halls of our developers as a visitor.

Years went by, one anniversary followed the next. Suddenly my LinkedIn profile says that I have been working at Cognigy for almost 5 years 💥. I know there are a lot of people out there who have been working in the same company for 20 years, but I grew up in a time when for some reason you change companies or even industries after a few years -- simply because you don't like your job anymore.

I've been thinking a lot about the "why" over the last few months. I have devoured many books on psychology, philosophy, habits, health, creativity and humanity in order to get an overview and form a picture of myself and us in general. I started exercising weekly to give my physical health the attention it deserved and fell in love with a new passion called dancing. And then an idea came to me. Exactly these developments could help me to answer my inner questions.

So, let me try👇.

It seemed too easy for me at first, too naive. The answer to the question of why I work almost every day of the week, travel around the entire planet for the company and start working as a dance teacher on the side is: I have fun with it, I just do it without giving it much thought.

Throughout the article, I described how I never gave much thought to my next career steps, but instead let my gut feeling guide me. I was at my best when I really enjoyed my current tasks. The freedom to be curious always motivated me to perform at my best. By pure chance, I found that I love my work because I take great pleasure in teaching others, sharing my knowledge, presenting visions to large audiences and ultimately improving myself again and again so that I can be even more helpful next time. You might think that I wanted to climb the career ladder as quickly as possible in order to be successful according to today's ideals. However, for me it feels more like a series of cool hobbies that I get paid for every month. And that's exactly how I want my fellow human beings, my colleagues, to feel. Yes, of course I also work because you need money in capitalism. It's difficult without it. But at least it can be fun, right?

With this article I merely want to share my thoughts, it cannot be generalized and should not be. I may be an isolated case, I don't know. If you have read this far, I only ask you to answer the question of "why" yourself. Everyone is in a different situation and, yes, I have been very lucky along the way. But I have always been motivated by the fact that the next interesting task will be somewhere ahead of me. I just have to find it. Do me a favor and find your source of fun.