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Stephan Kessler

Lead Developer SAP HANA Data Anonymization  

Stephan's story

At SAP, we build breakthroughs, together.

It’s motivating to know that at SAP the projects we work on not only have a positive impact for our customers but on society as a whole. In our case, data anonymization disconnects data from individuals so healthcare companies can improve COVID-19 trials by sharing anonymized data with researchers.

Stephan Kessler

Stephan Kessler has been with SAP six years and is the lead developer for SAP HANA data anonymization having initiated the project as a grassroots campaign based on his PhD. This product recently won the Hasso Plattner Founders' Award, an awards program with SAP that recognizes innovation. When he’s not creating award-winning solutions with his team, he’s brewing beer.

“I help the world run better by allowing new innovations using data while protecting the privacy of the individuals who contributed that data.”

How did this project come about?

My role is to write software code, but I also have the chance to exchange with internal and external customers on their requirements. In my first few months with SAP I went to DKOM which is our annual kick off meeting for everyone in the tech organisation. That year it was at the Mannheim Stadium and a customer was on stage talking about how much more they could do, and how innovative they could be, if they could use the large datasets collected from customers without inferring their privacy.

I sat listening to this and thought back to my PhD project and thought, “I can do that!”

At the Karlsruhe Institute for Technology I had been working with technology that would allow for exactly what this customer wanted to achieve. I spoke to colleagues about my ideas, and took it to my manager and everyone agreed that I could be onto something. I was spurred on when I heard an SAP board member talk about a similar problem statement and so I emailed him. He was also very supportive. 

I honed and refined my pitching skills, road-showed my ideas to colleagues and senior leaders and eventually the leader of SAP HANA told me to form a small team of 4 or 5 people and start to work on building my product.

What was really great during this time was the willingness of those around me to not only support the idea but share knowledge. My regular work was always a priority, and I may have to work outside of this, but I always felt like I was supported and encouraged to go in this new direction and eventually form my own team.

The product itself is a disruptive technology. Data privacy is a sensitive topic. Usually, when you share data you lose privacy. With this technology we disrupt that thinking. There is no longer a trade-off between using data for innovation and privacy but instead privacy and innovation exist together.

It’s motivating to know that at SAP the projects we work on not only have a positive impact for our customers but on society as a whole. In our case, data anonymization disconnects data from individuals so healthcare companies can improve COVID-19 trials by sharing anonymized data with researchers.

I have learned a lot at SAP, not just from data anonymization, but from my earlier role releasing SAP HANA Vora as a new product. I value the different perspectives from people in different roles and have learned to never stop listening. Every day for me is a refreshing mix of development work and meetings with colleagues, customers and partners and being able to focus on projects I like, with people I like.

One of these people is Kristin. Kristin was my opposite number on data anonymization. She works in Solution Management and whilst I was deep in the technology side, always had the commerciality in sight. She was great at making it tangible for a non-tech audience which is critical when explaining to sales colleagues and customers.

Before I joined SAP, I had no idea the amount of innovation that existed here. I had the impression that SAP solely worked on business process products and that the breakthrough innovations were done by the more obvious brands out there. It was a friend of mine who was working at SAP already that told me that no, the great tech is happening here, and you can have real impact. He was right!

The interview process for my first role at SAP with the SAP Vora team really surprised me. It was a tough technical interview and the challenges presented to me excited me. It’s not often you can say an interview was fun, but I really felt that with SAP.

At SAP, there is so much room to be whoever you want to be in your role as long as you achieve what you are supposed to. You can shape your role. Being a developer could mean being super deep in a particular part of a product or process and be surrounded by experts in the same field. Or, you can work broadly and talk to people in other areas, exchanging knowledge and learning from peers. You have to be self-driven to do this, but whatever your preference for working you have those opportunities.

Outside of work I play volleyball competitively and brew beer. The beer brewing has been the perfect lockdown activity. It’s a process that’s quite similar to building technology. You have to monitor variables and refine processes but at the end of it I have a beer that’s exactly to my taste and also tastes my friends and colleagues.

Connect with Stephan on LinkedIn

Meet Kristin Ulrich, Stephan’s collaborator in the development of SAP HANA data anonymization. Theirs is an unrivaled IT solution with applications from healthcare to tracking CO2 emissions and buying habits. It is all about giving a capability to society that helps to protect people’s privacy while making use of their data.

Tip: Click the image to learn how we’re building a world without barriers.

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