Interview with M.A. Jan Tappe
Interview With M.A. Jan Tappe

Technology itself cannot be sustainable. We will always renew, enhance, adjust, and replace one technology with another one.

M.A. Jan Tappe 
Digital Marketing Consultant

DBA Batch 2020  

Please tell us something about yourself and your family.

I am a 53 year old self-employed digital marketing consultant, happily married with no children and a cat. I live in Schleswig Holstein, the extreme northern part of Germany where I own a nice house in the suburbs, surrounded by forests and lakes. I consider myself as a two-folded person. On the one hand, there is the artistic me, the film music composer (mostly for independent movies), and audiobook producer. This part of my personality is currently a bit neglected. And then there is the analytical part, the marketing analyst, digital marketer, and mathematics devotee which drove me to study mathematics, computer, business and machine learning. I am interested in many things. But if I were sent to a lonely island and forced to break it down to a few books or computer files, I would choose Mathematics, Language Studies (English, German, Spanish, French), classical music (Stravinsky, Ravel etc.), and music from the 1940s and 1950s (Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra etc.), old movies from the 1940s and 1950s, a couple of current TV shows (e.g. Breaking Bad), chess and cooking recipes.

What made you go for a Doctorate degree at this point in your career and why did you choose Athena?

Pursuing a Doctorate degree only seemed natural, the next step after my Masters in 2019. Still, I must confess, this is my third attempt at pursuing a Doctorate. My first one was in 2019 at the University of Portsmouth in England, where I already earned my M.A. in Business & Computer Studies. The second one was in early 2020 at the University of South Africa. Both were Ph.D. programs from very prestigious Universities, but both also turned out to be lacking appropriate support and supervision, so I canceled them after a few months. The Athena program seems to be different. It can be compared with a Ph.D. graduate school where you first get a decent introduction to basic research methodologies, followed by a supervised creation of your research proposal and then finally the research dissertation itself. This seems to be more suitable for me as the classical Ph.D. pathway. Additionally, I like the practical approach of a DBA program. Finally, it is not easy to find DBA programs, supervisors respectively, that allow you to do your research on Applied Mathematics and Machine Learning in the context of business and management studies. In my application for the Athena DBA, I pointed out that I intend to research in Applied Mathematics, Machine Learning, and Neuromarketing utilized for business & management problems. Since Athena can draw upon a lot of different supervisors from many different areas, providing supervision for these topics is not a problem for them and I got a place in the first cohort.

What do you think is in store for your industry, any new trends that are emerging and shaping the business?

I believe we are at the edge of an economic change. With Covid-19 all around, the idea of globalization is critically scrutinized from various angles from business leaders all over the world. This pandemic might lead to a more local, intelligent, and sustainable economy, and analytical sciences, machine learning, and marketing can help us to take this new, different path. Local digital marketing and local e-commerce will gain importance, I reckon.

What is the One challenge that your industry is facing?

Marketing Analytics, Web Analytics, Marketing, and Neuromarketing have something crucial in common: Data. The amount of data we are producing as individuals as well as business owners or leaders is growing at an enormous rate. Companies that deploy data have a competitive advantage as they attract skilled people who can make sense of data, ultimately winning the ever-evolving economic game. When I say skilled people, I am not talking about one-sided data analysts or statisticians but those who can both analyze data and communicate data and can detect business opportunities from data (creative minds rather than analytical nerds).
Another challenge that might slow down the evolution of e-commerce and digital marketing is the current development of data protection. Data security and data protection are no doubt important issues but developments like we are currently facing, for instance in Europe, such as the cookie law, throw us back into the 90s in terms of web analytics. Many of my clients lost 80% and more of their trackable traffic because they are forced to implement the new sorts of cookie banners. I believe, one of the most crucial challenges for the e-commerce and digital marketing industry is to find alternative technologies and methodologies that enable us to track user signals without hurting data privacy.

You are passionate about Mathematics, how has it helped you in your life, in general?

When I was younger, I was not that keen on engaging with Mathematics and was rather interested in Humanities like History, Arts and German studies. But then, when I started my A-levels in German Studies at high school, I was struggling with a particular characteristic of Humanities: inaccuracy. Even if you had a certain talent for writing and arguing, there was no single truth, no right or wrong. Your gradings seemed heavily dependent on the good-will and opinion of your teacher. This was so frustrating for me that I switched from Humanities to Natural sciences and Mathematics. In Mathematics, there is no room for good-will, opinion, or interpretation. You are either right or wrong and your achievements solely depend on your arguments. I find this very comforting and exciting at the same time. However, due to personal developments, I somehow lost contact with Mathematics for almost a decade or so. Then back in 2018, I started with my Master Thesis and those 12 months turned the scale. I revised the major parts of calculus and linear algebra and explored stochastic programming – a topic which I was completely unfamiliar with – solely on my own. This way I encountered another beauty of Mathematics: you do not rely on other people to explore new areas of it. All you need are textbooks or the internet and a solid foundation in pure mathematics. Also, you can model almost anything with Mathematics. Without Mathematics, no other Sciences would exist. For me, Mathematics is probably the most exciting and most valuable gift humankind has ever “received”.

There are some concerns about AI and other technology being detrimental to our society especially, job opportunities. What is your take on this?

I find those concerns rather funny because most AI algorithms have been around for decades. Take for example, artificial neural networks. Although a buzz word in 2019 to 2020, Warren McCulloch and Walter Pitts created a computational model for neural networks more than 70 years ago, in 1943 ! Most people are noticing it now. And even now, they are not really interested in understanding AI, still, everybody seems to be having an opinion about it. Some of them find it disturbing, even threatening, others start appreciating and recognizing AI’s opportunities and possibilities in digital marketing, e-commerce, data security, or medicine. In terms of job opportunities, there is no detrimental side when it comes to AI. It provides opportunities for everybody who wants to earn a living. If you want a guaranteed job, study machine learning and AI. Yes, it might not be easy to grasp for everybody. But I believe that almost everybody can learn and master it.

What do you understand by the term ‘Sustainable Technology’?

For me, there is no sustainable technology. Technology has always been an ever-evolving thing. Yes, there is renewable energy technology which aims at getting a climate-neutral future or plastic recycling technology which aims to reduce the pollution of our oceans but let us be honest, technology itself cannot be sustainable. We will always renew, enhance, adjust, and replace one technology with another one. And these procedures will always – one way or another – hurt our environment.

How do you manage Work-Life-Study balance?

I have been self-employed for almost 20 years now. You only manage to be successful for that long if you can find a natural way of balancing work, life, and study. I believe, finding that natural balance is only possible if you really love what you are engaged with. Luckily, that seems to be the case for me.

As far as business is concerned, where have you got most inspiration from? What/Who has inspired you the most with respect to your career/profession? 

        Your one piece of advice to all working professionals out there

Test your limits..


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