30 Years GFT: “We felt like real pioneers”


GFT celebrates a milestone birthday this year. It has now been 30 years since today’s company of 5,000 people was founded in the quaint Black Forest town of St Georgen. One of GFT’s longest-standing employees is Rolf Rebmann. He came on board at GFT three years after the company was set up and has remained true to his employer ever since. We spoke to Rolf about his time at GFT and heard about his own personal highlights after three decades at the company.

Hi Rolf. You’re practically part of the furniture now at GFT. The company was set up in 1987 and you came into the fold in 1990. How exactly did your career path lead to GFT?

Rolf: At the Technology Centre in St Georgen, there was a kind of alliance going on between several companies; I’d been working for one of them since 1989. The companies were working on a number of overlapping projects, so we all knew each other and GFT was a name I was familiar with. They were working with completely new, exciting technologies, things like graphical interfaces, TCP/IP, Unix, C++.

It’s worth mentioning that at the end of the 80s, not a lot of people knew much about graphical interfaces or TCP/IP – Windows 3.11 only came along in 1994. In those days, a lot of companies were working with MS-DOS or ASCII terminals, which were plugged into a mainframe. At St Georgen, they started working with TCP/IP right from the very beginning – I guess people instinctively knew that it was going to be the protocol of the future, but it certainly wasn’t carved in stone.

I was a bit of an all-rounder and liked working in lots of different areas, so I switched to GFT. I became a programmer, a network planner, a firewall administrator and an IT consultant in one. The atmosphere in St Georgen was like ‘we’re doing something big here’. We were working in small, committed teams – we felt like real pioneers who knew 150% that these technologies were taking us in the right direction.

Rolf Rebmann (right) in GFT’s Data Center in St. Georgen, Germany

You’ve known GFT for ages now, you’ve got tons of experience and you’ve probably also worked with lots of people from lots of different countries. How would you describe your time at GFT after that initial period?

Rolf: We’ve grown from a small but highly innovative company from the south west of Germany into a corporation operating on a European level, which then became a leading international company with a strong global standing. The internet came along and GFT developed in parallel to it and became a global operation. That was important; it was the right step. As they say, ‘The net changes everything!’ A really good example of this is the make-up of the teams and the departments – we’re international.

When I look back now and think about it, I’m amazed at how GFT has developed. It’s a fantastic success story with lots of different facets – with a huge amount of commitment behind it, heartfelt passion, lots of working through the night. And I’m sure there’ll be more change in the future.

Which bits do you remember most about your time at GFT? What were the nicest parts for you?

Rolf: Oh there’ve been lots. Off the top of my head, I’d say installing the first GFT Firewall at the end of 1994/early 1995 on the 2 Mbit dedicated line in St Georgen. And my first daughter was born in 1995, so that was really exciting for two reasons 

There are two more general highlights that stand out. One was setting up and opening the corporate centre in Berlin; that was in early 2001. After the GFT IPO, Uli Dietz’s plan was to set up these really special offices in Berlin. There were pieces of art from places like the ZKM in Karlsruhe (which is also where the CODE_n new.New Festival took place last year), and the art was integrated into the office. The planning team consisted of Uli Dietz, the office manager at the time, our architects and me. After the IPO and with the internet boom just around the corner, the big idea was to hoist the GFT flag in the new German capital – with really special interior decoration and unusual activities, which is what we achieved. It got people talking about us. I’ll never forget that amazing location and the opening ceremony. Then along came the internet boom and there was GFT, standing right slap-bang in the middle.

Another personal highlight was planning and getting the new data centre in St Georgen up and running in early 2016. The job was to set up the new DCSTG (Data Center St Georgen) in parallel to the old computer centre infrastructure without jeopardising any of the processes running through the existing DP centre. And we did it! Setting up that kind of computer centre in an existing building is a huge challenge, so there were the occasional surprises. Still having strong contacts after so many years at the Technology Centre was a massive help. With the support of the planners, I could tap into my experience from all those years working in IT so that all flowed into the planning and implementation. I’m willing to admit I’m very proud of it.

There have been so many highlights for you, so what do you really like about working at GFT?

Rolf: I’d say there are three aspects which still fascinate me like they used to at the beginning.

The first is that I like working in teams. It’s really important for me to work with people who are younger than me. There’s so much you can learn from each other and it’s something everyone benefits from. It can also be really fun. When you’re all pulling in the same direction and no-one’s got a problem with taking on something that looks like it will be ‘a chore’, you can really push through some difficult projects – and when the teams are also international, that gets really interesting.

The second aspect would be that you can be anywhere in the world with a connection to the internet and you can still get into the GFT corporate network and just start working.

And the last one would be the variety of all the different things we do at GFT – I love it. I’m a bit of an all-rounder so of course the constant chopping and changing in technology can be quite challenging. The computer centre market and building technology are incredibly innovative. The big area at the moment is smart buildings – so you have to make sure you always keep on top of developments. There are also constant changes in international standards and data centre certification. The things going on with connections to international communication networks – it’s still all over the place. So we certainly won’t get bored!

It sounds like a lot of variety. So what’s a typical day like for you in St Georgen?

Rolf: Well, after the usual cup of coffee and saying hi to colleagues, the first thing I do is read my emails. Then I check the latest status of the data centre in St Georgen. Then there are things like updating and changing documentation or calls with the technical hotlines. But there are also the audit checks and carrying out the necessary cross-checks with technical parameters. After that, there are a whole lot of Skype meetings. And then depending on my current projects, we have infrastructure planning – like at the moment with the work being carried out on the new building in Eschborn.

Thanks for your time today, Rolf!