Markus Kern could be spending his days among beech trees, oak trees and blackberry bushes, taking care of the forest, as he studied Engineering in Forestry at HSWT. Instead, he decided to pursue his second passion (the first being nature): technology. As a result, he is now head of the Technical Operations, Work Safety and Environmental Management department at the university and spends his days in lecture halls, offices and gardens.
The job combines three areas that are important to him: working with people, working with technology and being active outdoors. "I didn’t want a job that would keep me chained to my desk," the 47-year-old explains. In fact, you will usually find him hurrying across campus, always on a mission. And no wonder: together with his team, Markus Kern manages the building technology in some 35 buildings, as well as paths, parking spaces and swathes of the extensive green space around the university.
The tasks undertaken by Markus Kern’s team range from minor repairs and installations to coordinating with external companies on larger projects and regularly inspecting equipment and facilities. "For example, we have to regularly test the 13,000 electrical appliances or so that are in use at the university. Likewise with the lifts – there may only be ten of those, but they have to be inspected every two weeks." The inspections required by law, and which are vital for work safety, come with great responsibility: deadlines have to be met, training has to be regularly updated, and everything is a question of liability.
Outside of the buildings, Markus Kern and his team look after the HSWT site: gritting and clearing snow, mowing the lawns, trimming the hedges and so on. "We do the dirty work. Understandably, they don’t let us loose on the Weihenstephan Gardens," Kern says with a wink.
The variety is what Markus Kern loves about his job. The experiences that really stick in his memory are those times when lots of people come together to help and there is always something to do. "I have fond memories of the university’s 40th anniversary celebrations, for example," he says. "The set-up and alterations were quite stressful for me and my team, but it was a lot of fun."
The challenges in his day-to-day work also include enquiries sent by university colleagues via the technical services ticket system: some 2000 per year, from replacing a fluorescent tube in an office light fixture to repairing the wood-chip heating system that provides the university’s central heat supply. It can sometimes get complicated if the requests are not realistic, for instance because of the required time frame, meaning that it is not possible to resolve the issue to everyone’s satisfaction. "But I do of course understand that people are disappointed if it takes longer than they’d hoped. For the people making the request, it is usually a top priority for them at that time," Markus Kern explains.
He finds his teaching position at the Department of Forestry particularly enriching. He teaches basic IT knowledge, such as how to use Microsoft Excel and Access. "I used to do that as a tutor when I was still a student, and it’s something I still enjoy doing today. I really like working with the students. That’s the thing I’ve missed the most workwise during the coronavirus pandemic," says Markus Kern. After completing his studies, his interest in IT also led the Tegernsee native to apply for a position in IT support at the department once he had received his diploma in 2001 – rather than pursuing a career in forestry as originally planned. After eight years, the trained electronics engineer found that the technology actually appealed to him more than the data processing side of things and he switched to the role in technical services that he still holds today. The decision to work at the university after finishing his studies was the right one: "I’m happy to be at HSWT," says Markus Kern.
Now settled in Freising, he also likes to stay active outside of work. "My studies really helped to strengthen my connection to nature. I absolutely love being active outdoors, and enjoy exploring the woods near my house. I view nature through the eyes of a trained forestry engineer. I also own part of the woods, and there is always something that needs doing there – for example, I cut down trees myself." The forest has remained an important part of Markus Kern’s life, even if he did not become a forester.