Necat Kutlar and Thomas Wülfken aka Wülle are DC’s most senior employees aside from CEO Ole Olsen. They started working for the company in 1995 and 1996. In a recent chat with marketing manager Nina Drewes, they talked about their memories of the past 20 years.

You have both been working at Digital Collections for 20 years. How does that feel?
Unbelievable! I still remember my first time at the office in Hammerbrookstraße. At the time, I was looking for a company where I could finish writing my thesis that I had started at P.INK Software Engineering before their bankruptcy. Thanks to a colleague, I got an invite for a job interview at DC. The first question was: How would you open a file? When I said “fopen”, that was fine. I had passed. This command is one of the basics of the programming language C that we were using back then.

When I started, DC was still in a backyard office in the Eiffestraße. They were looking for software engineers capable of handling TIFF pictures. I found an ad in the newspaper that was so tiny one could barely read it. My first task was to develop a mac application that would convert JPG and TIFF pictures and transfer them to the server. That was the first native Mac application I ever developed for DC.

What product generation was out at the time?

Necat: DC3. I have written a lot of import filters for that system and completely translated it into Turkish.

Wülle: The database was developed by our colleagues themselves and exactly matched the product. That’s why it ran so well and still does. MySQL and Oracle already existed but we didn’t use them yet. We developed everything ourselves. For DC3, I developed a linguistic tool – a so called Dict-Tool – for hyphenation. That was also the subject of my diploma thesis. When I had finished, I went into DC4 development. DC4 was born in the scripting language HTDL that Dennis, one of the three managers, had developed himself. The things we now do in PHP were done in HTDL at the time.

Necat: Dennis didn’t know that PHP already existed, though.

That’s right. So, with his own scripting language, he also started to build applications. The first one was a so called jukebox application with which you could manage music data. That thing first ran on Windows. We then started to develop the whole thing as a web server, making available all the music through the browser and with the possibility to create playlists. Website programming with HTML was absolutely new to me. At the time, there still were browsers like NCSA Mosaic and the Netscape Navigator. When I started studying, things slowly started with the World Wide Web…

: …and then they really speeded up in 1999/2000. While Dennis was further developing HTDL, without getting a lot of support though, Thies and I started with PHP. We installed, adapted and compiled the PHP Sources on Windows and Linux in order to be able to develop web applications at all.

Wülle: DC4 was the first web application. It first ran on Windows, later also on Linux in a HTML written application. I worked a lot on the database and I also programmed the DC4 to Oracle interface. Then, Thies and Necat came over with the next product, the DGS. It was based on the DC4 backend but had a PHP programmed frontend. From that moment, DC4 had two frontends.

: An then, Tim Strehle and our head of departement started developing a light version, called DC-L. So we were building three interfaces at the same time: DC-L, HTDL and DGS.

In order for it to work, we had to compile both scripting languages. At that time, I started working with Oracle. One day, they told me: Here you got a CD, that’s Oracle 8.0.4. It contains a text engine – please install it. And that didn’t work at all! I read up a lot on it and later I even found an error in the install routine. We were one of the first companies to use Oracle text. Eventually, we threw away MS-SQL and only worked with Oracle. Later, we set up a Postgres path as well. DC4 can run on Oracle and Postgres.

Necat: One day, we won Fairfax as a new customer. Tim and the then head of department both went to Australia for two weeks. There, Tim worked that much on improving the DC-L that a whole new system started to come into being. When he was back in Germany, we kept working on it and created DC5.

Wülle: At the time, Fairfax wanted to replace their archiving solution. With DC4, that would have been complicated. So we had a meeting and talked about developing DC5. We thought about the database structure and many other things. You could say DC5 was created in response to customer requirements. Today, there are a lot of DC5 installations. The system is very adaptable. In the end, I finished the installation at Fairfax and I also did the data migration. Today, Fairfax is switching to DC-X.

What was your biggest challenge in the past 20 years?

Wülle: For me, it was that database thing. I did a lot of trainings and practiced every day for four months to get the Oracle certification. It was a real exam with multiple choice questions. I passed and became an Oracle9i Certified Professional. It was very important to me that I could do that. Today, I know a lot of things about Oracle. I really dug into the subject so deeply that I ended up knowing more about it than some members of the Oracle support team. I often called them to report bugs and found it somehow funny.

Necat: I started to be really interested in music and video data. With the programming language Delphi – that’s OOP Pascal programming –, I started cutting frames and finding points of intersection between sequences. You could also do timeline calculation, color correction and draw up statistics with it. Dennis really liked that and together, we developed a native video client. We connected some additional equipment to it so you could scroll through frames and cut stills using the ball mouse. That was a great development for DC! Unfortunately, Dennis left a bit later and took the video knowledge with him. We haven’t done a lot of things in that field since. Later, I was in charge of video import with DC-X and I helped defining the way videos were converted into web format and how previews and thumbnails were generated.

Are there other topics that have been left out according to you? 

Necat: We could have continued working on the music database. And we should have started to work with smartphones back then.

Wülle: Oh I don’t know, everybody still had those Nokias, you couldn’t do anything with them.

How did the computers you started with look like?

Wülle: We all had Macs.

Necat: Very small desktop computers and 21 inch monitors on top of them. They were huge and extended to over there (puts out his arm).

Foto shooting bei DC 1998

At the DC office in 1998

: And we had those very old servers from BIOS and IBM. On the Macs, we had a program to compile DC sources. That process always took forever. You pushed the “compilation” button and then went out for lunch. On your return, the job might have been finished.

Necat: There were problems with Mac at the time. Steve Jobs had left the company and Apple didn’t know what direction to take. They had come to a standstill that lasted quite a while. Eventually, we scrapped all the macs and only had Windows computers for some time.

Wülle: Apple only started to be innovative again when they came up withe the Imac.

Necat: Steve Jobs had returned then.

Wülle: Exactly. But we had already switched to using PCs. Today it’s a mix, some of us are using Macs, others PCs.

Let’s talk about something other than technology. What are your best memories thinking of the company’s life?

Wülle: An absolute highlight was the strategy meeting in May 2008. The aim was to find a general direction for the further development of the company. Before that, I had met with Tim, Torsten and André to speak about DC-X and to draw a first draft. At that time, things weren’t going so well with the DC5 installations. We had a lot of problems and didn’t really know who was doing what and how the responsibilites within the company should be distributed. That’s why we had that meeting.

We drove to Ole’s sister’s house in Denmark with a car full of food and spent two days up here. Only Ole hadn’t arranged with his sister that we would need electricity, so we didn’t have hot water. But we did have a barbecue! So we always had cold showers and then cooked our meals on the barbecue. That was very spartan and good fun.

During that stay, we made a lot of decisions. One of them was that I would lead the support team as I had a very good knowledge of all our systems. Tim would mainly focus on development and Thomas Ammermann was assigned to the project team. When the company moved to the Wendenstraße, that was a big deal as well. And then again to the Hindenburgstraße… for me, that was the second time I moved with the comnpany. For you, it was already the third time, Necat!

Necat: Right. I had already moved from the Eiffestraße to Hammerbrook where we stayed for quite a while…

Wülle: …in a huge office that was always filled with smoke.

Necat: Yes, everybody smoked. But not you, right?

Wülle: Oh yes, I did.

Necat: When entering the room, you were in the middle of a blue cloud. I smoked as well – two packs a day. Coffee, cigarettes and typing the keyboard like crazy. That’s how we worked. We also used to have lunch all together once a week. That was our pizza day.

Wülle: Yeah, in the Demo room.

Necat: And then we chatted away and everyone told the others something – about business or personal stuff, something funny or new ideas, comments or suggestions. And we also had breakfast all together.

Wülle: Right! I had forgotten about that. One of us always had to bring bread rolls.

Necat: Those were really good times. Thies and Dennis used to bring their toys to the office, too. So we played Playstation. Sometimes, men are just like kids.

Wülle: And carrera races! Once, Dennis spent one week building a carrera circuit instead of programming. He also built BRIO-style wooden model railways…

Necat: These kinds of things are a welcome change in the daily work routine. A little wind of change that makes you feel good again – and then you continue working.

And now? Are you ready for the next 10 to 15 years at DC?

Wülle: Yes, my plan is to stay here until I retire.

Necat: I hadn’t planned to stay here forever. But now it looks like I will after all!

Wülle: I like it here. At the moment, we really have a lot of work, but I am happy to do it.

Necat: We have all appreciated working for DC.

Wülle: Yes, and people were always very committed and involved. I believe the company has lived on that.

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