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Marcus Denker: An open source researcher

With many career choices behind him, Marcus Denker has gained a rich and varied professional experience in Germany, Switzerland, Chile and France.A specialist in open source software, he is now bringing the benefit of this experience to the Inria Lille - Nord Europe RMoD project team.

What is your current research project?

In the RMoD project team, we are researching ways of making it possible or easier to modify software. This research is following two complementary paths. On the one hand, we are designing tools to display the structure of a software system, with the aim of targeting the parts that we need to modify more effectively. On the other, we are defining new semantic elements for programming languages, so that new software can be designed from the start to be more flexible and easier to modify.


Why did you choose this topic?

The field of computer science has not always been an obvious choice for me. However, during the nineties we began to see the development of open source, a new way of developing software in which the source code was made freely available so that everyone could contribute to the design. I loved the idea of a community of programmers, all collaborating in building something new, useful and practical. It was probably this that drew me to study computer science at university.


Tell us about your university career?

My university career was very far from being planned! I took my first engineering degree in computer science at the University of Karlsruhe in Germany. I was then faced with the choice of going into industry or studying for a PhD. During my undergraduate days, I had contributed to a number of programming projects run by open source communities, and I had made a number of useful contacts. Some of the people that I was collaborating with were working in Berne in Switzerland, and they told me of a PhD position that was becoming available. To me it was a chance to continue the line of work I started during my university years.


Have you done research in any other countries?

After I completed my PhD in 2008, I stayed on in Berne as a post-doc for a few months while deciding what to do next. I wanted to travel and discover new places.

I decided to spend a few years at the University of Chile, the oldest and most prestigious university in that country. In the end, I had only stayed there for a few months as a post-doc when I got the chance to join Inria with a permanent position.


Why did you decide to apply to Inria?

I was very attracted by the technology transfer aspects. The results of our work are used to create new products and services. However, unlike in some sectors of industry, it is still possible to follow a certain line of research simply because it is interesting rather than always having to look at things from a commercial point of view. This combined approach is very attractive, and it’s also becoming increasingly rare.


What are the differences in your field of research between the countries you have visited?

In Germany, I found that almost all the intermediate positions between post-doc and senior lecturer had been eliminated. After completing their PhD, researchers tended to move through a number of post-doc positions before leaving research altogether as there are no permanent positions to move on to. In Switzerland, some intermediate positions are still available, but they are becoming increasingly rare.

However, in France it is still possible to obtain a permanent position early after one or two post-docs.

The situation in Chile is very different. After the coup d’état led by General Pinochet in 1973, many aspects of the Chilean public sector were privatised, and studying at university became very expensive. The university system is therefore different compared to the European model.


What aspect of your homeland do you miss most?

It’s now eleven years since I left Germany. And even when I was still based there, I lived and worked in different part of Germany and abroad. I actually enjoy that all countries are different: wouldn’t it be a very boring world otherwise?

Nationality: German

Higher education: Engineering degree in computer science (Germany), followed by PhD at the University of Berne (Switzerland)

Position: Permanent researcher

Favourite school subject: Physics

Favourite German dish: Maultaschen (traditional German ravioli)

Favourite French dish: Moules-frites


Keywords: RF devices Future ubiquitous networks Sensor networks Wireless robots Italy