#DigiWomenKA: Jivka Ovtcharova - a woman of the world with a down-to-earth attitude

Female role models are important. They show possibilities, they help to define your own goals and we can learn from your experiences. In our blog series #DigiWomenKA, Katharina Iyen meets one such role model from Karlsruhe’s digital sector once a month to find out more about them, their experiences and their commitment. Today she talks to Jivka Ovtcharova, Engineering scientist, director at the Karlsruhe Research Center for Information Technology (FZI) and professor at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT).

Jivka Ovtcharova visits me in the early afternoon in Ettlingen city. She is a very elegant woman. She wants to take her boots off in the hallway. I bend over backwards and put on extra shoes to signal to my guest that it’s okay if she keeps hers on. I quickly realize that this woman is very down-to-earth and has kept her feet firmly on the ground. A characteristic that I have noticed in all #DigiWomenKA so far. We start our conversation in the sunshine of my living room bay window with black tea and chocolates.

DigiWomanKA Jivka Ovtcharova with the author Katharina Iyen. Photo: Jivka Ovtcharova
DigiWomanKA Jivka Ovtcharova with the author Katharina Iyen. Photo: Jivka Ovtcharova

Jivka Ovtcharova holds a doctorate in mechanical engineering and computer science and holds an honorary doctorate. The KIT professor is head of the institute for Information Management in Engineering (IMI) at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering and founder of the KIT Lifecycle Engineering Solutions Center (LESC). She is also Director of the Research Center for Information Technology (FZI) in Karlsruhe. She is the winner of the Edition F Award 2014 25 Women for the digital future. I am impressed.

“A friend, who works in the digital sector herself, applied for the job. I was really chosen from among thousands of applicants – that came as no surprise to me. completely unexpected,” recalls Ovtcharova. At Edition F in Berlin, the #DigiWoman with three doctorates well liked: “Edition F is a modern, great Format. Not just talk. Those who really have something to say have their say. have.” This is fitting, as she herself holds Ted X Talks and sometimes takes part in panel discussions with politicians such as Günther Oettinger, popular philosophers like Richard David Precht or star photographers like Michel Comte.

However, her many titles, activities and awards can sometimes distract from a very approachable woman, a social climber who was given nothing for free. “I don’t care about titles at all, the inner values are much more important,” Ovtcharova admits to me.

Childhood and 100,000 years of technology

Jivka Ovtcharova’s steep career path was not born into her cradle. placed. She was born in Bulgaria. Both parents worked, so that was enough to live on. “My parents were very capable, but we weren’t wealthy. Our money went on food, clothes and culture,” she explains. Your older sister needed a lot of attention, so Jivka occupied herself with itself. She was interested in books, especially about technology, and she made a lot.

A gift from her father, which can still be found on the professor’s bookshelf today, paved the way for her future career. “He gave me the three volumes “100,000 Years of Technology”. I was fascinated by all the advances that mankind has made through technology. For me, this process of conceiving inventions and turning them into reality basically means virtuality, which is the focus of my research today: you can mentally imagine completely new products or technologies and turn them into reality through virtual engineering. For me, the virtual world is infinite and offers unimagined possibilities for each and every one of us. The virtual world really is open to everyone.”

A gift from her father, which can still be found on the professor's bookshelf today, paved the way for her future career. "He gave me the three volumes "100,000 Years of Technology". Photo: Jivka Ovtcharova
A gift from her father, which can still be found on the professor’s bookshelf today, paved the way for her future career. “He gave me the three volumes “100,000 Years of Technology”. Photo: Jivka Ovtcharova

By virtual, however, the expert does not mean the computer-generated Metaverse, this digital space is for them in the narrower sense only the technological Parallel image of physical reality. She understands virtuality primarily as people’s imagination and how it is anchored in real life: “Many Ideas about new things are strongly based on a subjective position. For many people, something new means something newly created, or something that they do not yet know – and with which they have not yet had any experience: a a new movie, a new house or a new trip.

It is generally understood that the new is connected to change. More precisely, it is not just a question of what the new is, but what changes or developments it is subject to, what relationships it can enter into and, last but not least, what reactions it can cause. The transition from virtuality to reality – and vice versa – is fluid. Regardless of where you are in the world and under what conditions you were born, everyone has the power of imagination and fantasy. With these skills and the right technologies at their disposal, they can create new values that are comprehensible.” Ovtcharova explains to me that our data is the only resource that is growing and not shrinking. The expansion of physical reality into the virtual will accelerate. The product of virtuality is infinite, like its nature. “Data is and will remain our only infinite resource.”

Blows of fate, lessons learned and adaptation

Deeply impressed by her words, I ask myself whether looking into her past helps me to understand which experiences these thoughts and have shaped this person. As if my question was written all over my face Ovtcharova begins to tell the story. The Chernobyl disaster at the end of April 1986 changed her life from one minute to the next. At that time She worked as a nuclear engineer at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences in the capital Sofia: “I remember May 2, 1986 as a day full of Sunshine and invisible danger at the same time. We were on a green meadow and had to measure the radioactivity. Everything seemed beautiful – but the Geiger counters were going crazy. The radiation was insanely high. At that time I learned that you can’t really control anything and that good things can suddenly turn into bad. can become bad.”

DigiWomanKA Jivka Ovtcharova was interested in VR from an early age. Photo: Jivka Ovtcharova
DigiWomanKA Jivka Ovtcharova was interested in VR from an early age. Photo: Jivka Ovtcharova

The professor thinks and continues: “Just like today in the Discussion about so-called artificial intelligence. If I have learned something then to “skin” myself. A good friend once said that about me. I can confirm that: I have extreme adaptability. She is definitely one of my most important qualities that has helped me in difficult times. situations has always helped. It goes on and on. You are in every situation responsible for herself.” At the age of 30, she was living on 800 Deutschmarks a month in 17 square meters. In October 1987, she came to Germany to do research in Darmstadt on a doctoral scholarship. “I worked at the Technical University and the Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics Research until 1996. I had nothing except a head, two hands and three suitcases,” she says with a laugh.

Existing on a low flame didn’t bother her: “I felt like well, I had my goal in sight. My first investments were a television and a sewing machine. The television to improve my German and the sewing machine to make me fashionable dresses using Burda patterns.” In The family attached great importance to a well-groomed appearance and good Wardrobe: “In Eastern Europe, people are very aware of how to dress in the public. My parents taught me to pay a lot of attention to that.” Her clothes stood out positively: “I’ve always cared about fashion. Professional and being elegant at the same time is one of my ideals.”

After the Chernobyl disaster, it quickly became clear to her that her engineering degree in nuclear energy no longer offered her any prospects for the future: “After a few hours, I was already mentally moving towards computer simulations,” she tells me with a laugh. Shortly after arriving in Germany, she devoted herself to computer-aided design (CAD) and virtual reality (VR). In the mid-90s, Jivka Ovtcharova switched to the automotive industry. With two doctorates under her belt, the Bulgarian-born designer did not want to be seen as a mere academic, but as a thoroughbred engineer. From 1998 to 2003, she headed the Process and System Integration Center at General Motors in the International Technical Development Center of Adam Opel GmbH in Rüsselsheim. “Getting into the industry was difficult,” she recalls. “My Eastern European background and the fact that I was a woman made it challenging. However, thanks to my interdisciplinary education and qualifications, I occupied an important niche.”

Networking #DigiWomen is still needed in Karlsruhe today

Asserting herself as a woman in an environment that was previously characterized by a lack of female managers continues in her stations. She has been in Karlsruhe since 2003. At that time, she took up her professorship at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering at KIT, the first female professor in the 150-year history of the faculty. Her memories of it are therefore not all positive: “I was a woman and a foreigner who still spoke with an accent, and not all my colleagues could cope with that back then. She still remembers well how a retired professor made a condescending comment at an event. “He said to me: I don’t understand what you’re saying. How did you become a professor in the first place?” She has learned not to take such incidents personally: “I have realized that such behaviour ultimately says nothing about me, but a lot about the other person.”

Ted X holds talks and panel discussions with politicians such as Günther Oettinger, popular philosophers such as Richard David Precht or star photographers such as Michel Comte. Photo: Jivka Ovtcharova
She holds Ted X Talks and sometimes takes part in panel discussions with politicians such as Günther Oettinger, popular philosophers such as Richard David Precht or star photographers such as Michel Comte. Photo: Jivka Ovtcharova

She was therefore still able to find peace with Karlsruhe. “Here in the I really feel at home in the southwest. It’s a bit like Bulgaria, it there are mountains and meadows and the sun is shining, I need that.” She also appreciates the Karlsruhe region for its diversity in IT. “We have over 3,000 IT companies, the highest concentration in Europe. I have worked a lot with the CyberForum and the technology region Karlsruhe (TRK). I experience a real pioneering spirit in the region.” In addition What Ovtcharova likes about the region’s cities is their manageability. “I have several years in cities with millions of inhabitants such as Moscow and Sofia. There are always lots of people there around you. At some point you just want some peace and quiet and enough space. I only really arrived in Baden-Baden.”

However, she still sees women in IT and engineering on the ground not so well networked, rather those from the digital media industry. So for example, she worked as an equal opportunities officer at KIT. “I think it’s time to stop discussing gender. The Digitalization has no gender. It is appropriate to start this discussion about women and men or women against men. What will change diversity – through education and upbringing. Stereotypes must be abolished and everyone must be treated as a single group”.

From poetry to artificial intelligence

And yet another sentence that impresses me with its foresight. I doubt and wonder whether there is actually something she can’t do. Shocked I realize that I said the sentence out loud. Ovtcharova laughs and doesn’t have to think twice. “Politician’s German,” she jokes and adds: “I can’t talk around it. I come from the world of technology – what I say must be work.”

I find that during our conversation Ovtcharova often very poetically. When I point this out to her, she laughs: “You have caught me. I wrote poetry as a child.” Her affinity with the arts you can tell that this woman is anything but an IT nerd. Rather cosmopolitan with parts of a polymath. She does not even shy away from philosophical Thoughts back. The concept of artificial intelligence, for example, is opposed by they are. She finds it misleading: “There is no such thing as artificial intelligence. These are algorithms and patterns. If it is, then it is a machine intelligence. The What is special about human intelligence is precisely that it does not follow patterns work. Man has consciousness and searches for the solution of a problem without even really knowing the problem. This is ambiguity and creativity and the machine can’t do that. Machines are not new-creative, They don’t create anything original.”

Persevering creative spirit

Ovtcharova, whose retirement age is not so far off, proves with this It is also very clear that the questions of how we shape our future are not is a question of age. On the contrary, she is still thinking about resting for a long time not. “Biological age means nothing to me, it’s just a number. I I may have the security of a civil servant today, but I make my life easier. always a little uncomfortable because I really want to stay alert.”

Jivka Ovtcharova doesn't get bored easily. Photo: Jivka Ovtcharova
Jivka Ovtcharova doesn’t get bored easily. Photo: Jivka Ovtcharova

It has just launched the new RegioMORE innovation project in Bühl in cooperation with the city of Bühl and the Karlsruhe technology region – with a volume of 12 million euros. In their concept of sandbox labs, companies should be able to simulate process changes as if they were playing in a sandbox – without consequences. The concept also provides access to education for many groups of people, including those from outside the field. “We need more skilled workers for companies, so we shouldn’t be afraid to train single mothers, for example, who may not have been in work for a long time. It’s about ensuring that everyone can participate in society and make a contribution. This is the only way we can truly achieve regional digital transformation. The first thing we have to do is change our attitudes.”

But that is not enough. She is currently in the Concept phase of a book on the subject of virtuality. “Not academic, rather prosaic written!”, explains Jivka Ovtcharova. And there it is again, the creativity in their technical work. And so she closes with a smile – and again very poetic – also our conversation: “As long as you are in this world, life is like a river. And when something comes along, the river changes direction and somehow flows differently – but further. Just like virtuality. The The virtual in us is constantly flowing, constantly changing, constantly evolving continue. It is a way of finding your bearings in unclear situations. to provide. A great help, especially for life today.”

Contact Jivka Ovtcharova
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jivka-ovtcharova-51b55b9/
XING: https://www.xing.com/profile/Jivka_Ovtcharova/cv
KIT page: https://www.imi.kit.edu/24.php