Episode 4: Dr Katharina Giesen – Head of Metadata at Bayerischer Rundfunk

How does a formal education in classical archaeology lead to a role as Head of Metadata at Bayerischer Rundfunk? In this episode, we meet Katharina Giesen, who started her career at a time when German public service broadcasting was developing its online presence. Katharina has used training and certificates to help her to build a foundation in various technical areas and to allow her to speak the language of technical teams.  We learn how she has positioned herself to act as an interpreter between technical and editorial departments. 

Episode 4


Eoghan: You’re listening to MediaRoad SkillBytes with me, Eoghan O’Sullivan. The MediaRoad project is supporting the transformation of the European media sector by building an ecosystem for innovation. SkillBytes is a podcast series where we’re exploring changing skill sets and career paths in today’s media technology environment. Our guest for this episode is Katharina Giesen, the Head of Metadata with the Bayerischer Rundfunk which is the public broadcaster in Bavaria.

Katharina (Clip): People doing editorial stuff are talking completely different than technical people. And you’re a kind of interpreter to explain what you can do with the technical stuff and explain (to) the technical people the solution the editorial staff are thinking they need.

E: Katharina, thanks for joining us.

K: You’re welcome.

E: So, your job title is Metadatenbeauftragte, which we can translate as Head of Metadata. But I’m going to start the podcast, as we always do, by asking you if you could take the challenge of summarising, in about thirty seconds, your career to date?

K: Okay: school did studies in classical archaeology. Continued to become a media documentarist then started learning by doing requirements engineering and now I’m doing metadata.

E: Okay “doing metadata”. What does that mean?

K: Depends on what kind of approach is needed. Currently, at Bayerischer Rundfunk, I’m looking out for implementation of artificial intelligence called Audio Fingerprinting.

E: When you talked about your career path there, something jumps out at me straight away, which is that you studied classical archaeology at university. How does a transition like that happen?

K: If you’re working about the Greeks and the Romans, you know only ten percent of what actually existed is left. So, the ninety percent you don’t know, you have to collect data and do an interpretation of the data. And that’s exactly what you have also to do if you’re talking now about metadata and the future innovations and so on. Because there’s always a difference between documents (and even audio-visual archives) and what really it felt to be there.

E: Okay, that’s a convincing link between classical archaeology and metadata, so I’ll accept that. Is there a moment though, at which in your career you saw yourself as switching from a classical archaeologist to being someone who’s really working in media and working more with technology?

K: Yes, it was in the last stages of my thesis because I was quite aware to continue in classical archaeology, it’s not easy… not enough jobs… and it’s not the only thing I was interested in. So, I looked around and I found this kind-of wolontariat (it’s called). For two years you go to, in my case, SWR. I went to the online (department), what nowadays is social media and all kind of platforms, was founding days. At the beginning of this century, so there weren’t content management systems around. And the first thing that happened to me was, okay there is HTML and write me a teaser.

E: Okay, so you really dove head-first into the technology – into coding and so on. And in that way became someone who’s working day to day now with technology?

K: Yes.

E: So, what would you see yourself as today? Do you see yourself as… often in the world of broadcasting, we divide people between being technology and engineering people and then the creative editorial journalism types… where do you sit?

K: That’s the difficult thing about it because I started out as an archive person. Then I did a lot of technology. I was also for some years now, part of the IT department. But as a matter of fact, I’m the person trying to facilitate the ways in between. To also work sometimes as a catalyst to make things happen between technology and between the editorial department. And my role is to have a large enough view to see all of the people necessary to solve a problem.

E: And if look at your own career path to date, again…you studied classical archaeology… to what extent has training that you’ve done since then become much more fundamental to what you do on a day to day basis than your original university studies?

K: It’s not so simple. I kind-of have collected a few diplomas or papers, not at least when I did a French DEA before I did my thesis. Then I did this Information Specialist certificate for archive members. Then recently I did something like a certificate about systems architect.

E: That’s quite a lot of different courses, trainings, diplomas and things that you’ve done over the years to add on. I have the impression that in Germany particularly, there’s a very high status accorded to qualifications and so on. Do you find that that’s something that comes into play for you in terms of career development… that it’s important to have these diplomas and these pieces of paper?

K: Yes, because German public service broadcasters are, in certain ways… if you’re talking about how all is managed and on the basis… conservative. So a diploma is always useful. On the other hand, there are people which are the contrast, which makes the fascination also. Yes, we have very strong structures, but as I’m coming from studies which are more in the mind and where you have to be your own manager, I’m inclined to manage my own in a certain way. And this is currently approved by Bayerischer Rundfunk, so I’m quite happy.

E: Good and fortunate too to have that kind of freedom and flexibility.

K: But it depends on the person. It’s not something structural because it can’t be ordered. You have to have a person with the skill set, especially the soft skills to do it and not to get lost.

E: If you look at newer people coming into the organisation, for example, do you think that the soft skills are something that, let’s say, younger people who are coming into the organisation, that they tend to have and that’s something that the education they’re going through today and their experience with media and with technology gives them more of those soft skills or that they’re deficient in that area actually?

K: Neither. I think they have an entire set of worth and what they aim to achieve in their lives. And that’s not a status, for example. It’s more about creating things and having personal success.

E: Do you ever find that your colleagues who may have a more typical background in technology and that all of their training all of their life has been working in technology, somehow see you as an impostor or someone who doesn’t really understand the technology?

K: Yes, in a certain way, but not directly. It’s not somebody saying you don’t know. It’s just another kind of discussion you are having. Perhaps also, for this reason, I have a lot of diploma to show for!

E: Ah, okay.

K: It’s good if you are discussing with an archive person who knows the basic stuff as well as me. It’s a little bit different if you are talking to a technical person who knows, “okay she knows about software and IT structures as well… fine, we can talk on a certain level”. It’s a basic foundation you have to build up if you want to do different things. That’s why I like to be a specialist and a generalist.

E: That’s interesting that you would say that it’s worthwhile building this foundation in these different technology areas so that you can have conversations with people at an appropriate level.

K: Yes.

E: Speak their language?

K: As an interpreter, you have to learn the language first.

E: That’s true… of course. Now, at the end of every episode of SkillBytes, we like to ask, maybe a difficult question, and that is: Katharina if you could give yourself one piece of advice at the start of your career from where you are now, what piece of advice would you give yourself?

K: Don’t be so rushed. A little bit of patience might be helpful.

E: Do you think your career would have taken a different path if you’d been a little bit more patient?

K: Not in a general way, but sometimes it would have been helpful to have a little bit more patience… to wait for things or to take a step back – look at a situation. But I don’t think I would have taken different decisions.

E: Katharina, thanks for joining us on MediaRoad SkillBytes.

K: You’re welcome.

E: You can find more information on the initiative that has inspired this series by heading to mediaroad.eu