About me.

Hey hey! My name is Katharina Birkenbach and I'm a designer. Currently based in Berlin. Last year I quit my job with the plan to travel Europe extensively by bike. And to really re-think what I want to do with my time. I worked a good 20 years in the tech industry, but grew tired of it. I'll be forever a designer, question is though, what am I going to design and how am I going to do that.

I started my studies of Visual Communications without a computer, I wanted to become a fashion photographer. When I got a computer though, plans changed. I spent day in, day out on it. Building websites, starting an online radio station and fiddling with html and css. I was fascinated that I could publish stuff and people allover the world could see it. Just from my little apartment. Back then and until some years ago I always said: I love the internet. I haven't said that in quite some time.

I was lucky. When I finished my studies, there were no jobs. I know that sounds strange. But I see it as such an advantage to have started my career when there was no demand, no big salaries. It's good to have a baseline that is not too high. I did an internship at Mediamatic in Amsterdam, reason was that I would at least go to another country when I need to an internship. And Mediamatic was great! A lot of crazy exhibitions going on, always anchored around the internet, alway playful. It was a time where lots of people were talking about Web2.0 and generally there was a sense of excitement in the air. One thing that I'm really proud of is that I supported Women on Waves quite a bit during that time, for work, not as a volunteer. I build the website for accompanying the campaign in Portugal to bring safe abortions to the women there and later on the first website for Women on Web. It would take too much time to go into detail, but I really admire the work that Rebecca Gomperts is doing, you can read a bit more here.

16500925 faf4080c23 o

The original title of this picture on flickr was "Haltung horrible". And it is. But it reflects how I spend most of my time in Amsterdam.

After a good three years I decided to go back to Berlin. Still working for Mediamatic, I was contacted by to build the website for the Reboot conference in Copenhagen. A website that would not only display the program, but actively shape it. This was a blast and I stopped going to conferences more or less afterwards as Reboot was the pinnacle of conferences. Everybody relevant regarding the european startup scene was there and we had a great time! That's where I met the founders of SoundCloud as well. Some months later I joined them and stayed for quite some years. This was another great experience, we were very scrappy in the beginning and the financial crisis in 2007/8 made it definitely hard to raise money, but we were a strong team and pulled through, and had a lot of fun. I left after the design team was in a position to function without me.

2436438114 a6d989ff0a o

Me standing blurry in my scrappy apartment. And the early SoundCloud team on a very scrappy terrace. It was all scrappy during that time. But it was a good one!

After some freelancing I moved to San Francisco to work for Facebook. The visa process was quite painful and took a full year. It's basically a lottery and the outcome was uncertain, but I tried to ignore that fact really hard.

I loved California. It made me quite a bit softer, I believe. Mainly because of nature, that beauty! During my free time I stayed away from the tech people and rather went to Ocean Beach and Bolinas. I went on a lot of road trips and was biking and surfing quite a bit. (I'm a real bad surfer). I got as well quite a bit into food. I was diagnosed with Hashimoto and decided to keep it in check with food (note: I had no symptoms, and it's no advise to take that path, just what I did). I fermented, cooked and fermented again.

Work itself was not utterly interesting. The team was definitely great, but it all felt quite comfortable and pampered. I eventually left because I felt that I could easily get trapped in comfort and great pay. It was not for me. But I wouldn't want to miss the experience.

Frame 1

Riding white tech busses in and out of San Francisco was a good chunk of my time. And food was important. For two weeks I ate nothing but chicken soup. Here on the Facebook roof terrace. Which was not scrappy, but actually spectacular.

Before returning to Europe I went on a three month long trip through Mexico and Nicaragua. I had money saved and felt like I'd miss if I wouldn't.

In terms of work, I wanted to do something with food. I really had no idea what, the only thing I knew was that I wanted to get people cooking more. I started a newsletter called "Good Food for Everybody" and was thinking about a business plan. I even reached out to some investors, but could not convince anybody. To be frank, I was thinking too big and at the same time half assed it a bit. Eventually I had to make some money again and was looking for a job. The project is currently parked, but there's a good chance that I pick it up again as the topic is still very dear to my heart.

During that time I was as well working for a big german automotive company. Together with friends we tried to introduce them to be more agile and building great products. Needless to say, I think we failed. One of the reasons was as well, that we were not working in the organisation itself and actually had hardly any power.

Frame 3

Possibly the best thing about my newsletter were the illustrations by Tara Deacon. I produced lots of pictures for it as well. Here I was making Labneh. The website is currently offline, but you can still see the Instagram pictures.

For me it made sense then to become a consultant at ThoughtWorks. They were working for the same automotive company, but on a much bigger scale. This automotive company was quite dear to my heart, for personal reasons, and I was somehow stubborn to move things. I ended up working for that client on several projects, but in the end I was no longer willing to support getting more cars on the road.

Here again, team was great. And I had as well the opportunity to travel several times to India which was always an interesting experience. I went to Madagascar as well, together with mTomady. A small startup that had the mission to bring healthcare to pregnant women in Madagascar. They were supported at this time by ThoughtWorks and I was volunteering with some design work.

Ultimately though I felt being a consultant is not for me. I wanted to be part of an organisation that is building something for real. So, again I was looking for new opportunities.

Frame 4

Sitting exhausted in a tut tut in Delhi. I walked for hours until I finally get in. The driver was really persistent. On the right a pharmacy in Madagascar that was working with mTomady.

Very coincidentally I stumbled upon Choco. Choco's aim is to eradicate food waste and the initial starting point is to make placing orders at suppliers for restaurants more easy. This is an industry that is still highly analog and streamlining ordering would eventually reduce food waste in this part of the food supply chain.

The mission was very aligned with what I was interested in and I had hardly seen such an energetic team before! I build the design team and helped establishing the brand. This easily could have been my life for quite some years. I was super aligned with the mission, I loved big parts of the team and I got the title that I was secretly aiming for. But no, I quit. It's hard to explain exactly why.

Frame 5

There was always a lot of fun at Choco. Here peeping through the Paris office. One of the highlights was certainly the night we took pictures at Rungis. We saw real big cheese.

I went through all the details to hopefully clarify that work is really important to me. I love working towards a goal, I love to get things done, I love collaborating with a great team and to have an impact. But I allowed as well that life was work and work was life. I don't necessarily believe in burnout, at least not as an option for me. But when daily life is getting too flat, when days are always the same, then something is wrong. It needs to be changed. And that was the case, I did not have joy anymore.

What I've learned in the past is to not be afraid to make cuts. There are always things out there that need to be done. There are always opportunities, at least when one is open for it.

And a cut is what I made. I have no idea what's next professionally. And right now I don't want to think about it, at least not in a serious way.

Ciao, ciao! k

A note: I'm aware that I'm quite privileged. Not everybody can just leave there job. They might have kids that they need to take care of, they might not have enough savings, they might simply not have the wish to do so. Right now I don't have any obligations. I saved enough money. I have no excuses. I decided for me to have the duty to have fun during my time on earth.

Mood: happy :)