Teaching Camunda – An Interview with Achim Dannecker

Read about why Achim Dannecker uses Camunda in his classroom, how students work with it and what he hopes everyone can take away from his course.
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We’ve designed Camunda to automate even the most complex processes, but that doesn’t mean it has to be complex to learn and use. In fact, we pride ourselves on developer-friendly features and accelerators that make getting started as quick and easy and possible.

When it comes to learning Camunda for the first time though, like anything new, it may feel intimidating. Whether you’re a developer or a business user, you may wonder: why should you consider Camunda, and how will it help you grow your professional career?

One person who can help answer these questions for you is Achim Dannecker, a lecturer at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland. He has been using Camunda in his business process management lectures for several years (he used other software previously), taking advantage of the Camunda Educational License Program.

We recently connected with Achim Dannecker and wanted to share his thoughts with you. If you’re curious about the value of Camunda to you as a developer or business user, the benefits of learning it and how it can help jumpstart your career, read on.

1. Tell us a little about yourself. What course do you teach, and how long have you been teaching it?

My name is Achim Dannecker, and I am a lecturer at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland (FHNW). I am responsible for a course in Business Process and Project Management with a team of up to seven lecturers who teach the course didactically in the same way in up to ten classes (about 250 business management students each semester). I myself have been teaching at the FHNW for 14 years, and my colleagues and I have been teaching the course in this form for more than five years.

2. How did you first learn about Camunda?

It was several years ago when we first looked at Camunda. Occasionally, some lecturers have already had experience with Camunda. Nevertheless, we first started with Signavio as a tool for teaching to model processes. One reason was that the modeling as well as the automation was completely web based. In general, my team and I deal with very different tools out of curiosity to keep an overview of what is available and used on the market.

3. What made you switch to using Camunda in your lectures? Was there something about it you found really helpful or that stood out when it came to teaching process management?

In the spring semester of 2022, Signavio’s workflow engine was no longer available from one day to the next in the middle of the semester. As this is a relevant part for the graded work of the students in this course, it was necessary to find a new solution quickly. All the lecturers in the team who teach the course are currently working on industry projects. Together, we evaluated the most common solutions and paid particular attention to which company promised strong academic support.

Since Camunda is also used in some of the industrial projects, we contacted the people responsible for this tool in the academic world. Working with Camunda to address the challenges we have at our university has quickly proven to be efficient and effective. That and the easy use of Camunda 8 – everything is web-based and supported everything we needed for teaching at the time – led to our decision to use Camunda for the fall semester of 2022.

4. How does your course, along with Camunda, help prepare your students for their next step?

This is a very broad topic. Recently, I have published a number of articles on this subject. We have to prepare students for an increasingly digitalized working world. The future skills required of them include process and project management. The training of students often stops at the theory of process management. The introduction of process management or a single new process in a company always takes place as part of a project. That is exactly what we do in this course.

Based on a real case study, the students go through the BPM lifecycle from process identification to process implementation. Due to time constraints, process monitoring cannot be implemented in detail in the course. Within a given project, the students design complex processes and automate parts of them. Especially the automation of processes is a big challenge from the students’ point of view.

5. Do you have a favorite lesson or lecture using Camunda? What’s one thing about Camunda you want to make sure your students come away from your course with?

What is important to us is that students actually experience digitization in their studies and not just hear about it in theory. For this reason, we attach great importance to students designing and experiencing automation themselves. Based on the experiences that the students can make in the process, they take away a completely different view of the processes of a company. Especially with regard to the ease of digitalization of different processes. Digitization of processes and the associated optimization in all areas are part of everyday life in companies. With this course it will hopefully be easier for most students to choose either side: “To optimize or to be optimized,” which sounds hard but is reality.

In general, all parts of the course are important and interesting. However, at this point I would like to highlight one course block that we are now incorporating as a new feature in the fall semester. This is about how artificial intelligence (AI) can be integrated into workflows. We will implement this in Camunda to show how even simple administrative tasks can be automated with AI very easily and how further user tasks can be automated. This will be especially relevant for the current generation of students who will be challenged by AI in their work in companies in the coming years. This is another topic that can be taken much further.

6. What’s a memorable question or comment you’ve heard from a student about Camunda or process management, and how did you answer?

There are two things in particular that immediately come to mind. On the one hand, almost all groups say at the beginning of the process modeling tasks and especially the automation tasks that everything is too complex, too demanding, and too difficult. Then, during the blocks in which they are coached on many aspects, their view of the tasks changes. At the end, when the presentations of the workflow tasks are done and a group feedback discussion is held, everyone reflects that they are proud of themselves for having implemented the workflows on their own. Again, these are business management students, not business information scientists or business analysts.

Secondly, feedback from our part-time students.  About half of our students work part-time. From time to time, the students dare to ask how exactly process management is handled in their company after the course. We then get feedback from these students that they were able to apply what they had learned immediately and, in some cases, also got the chance to take on new tasks relevant to process management in their company.

7. How have you felt about the support you’ve received from the community? What kind of support have you gotten?

As mentioned above, we have a team of seven lecturers at the FHNW who know Camunda well and are well-connected. We have a network of people who introduce Camunda in projects in companies or accompany their further development. We have only started this spring to network with the community on an academic level. In the future, however, this will be further expanded in a relevant way. The exchange of experience in the use of workflows in the classroom is of particular interest to us.

With the community support from Camunda directly, we have always received very timely support that has always helped us. This is also a reason why we will definitely continue to work with Camunda in the classroom.

8. Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about Camunda, or process management in general?

Process management and in particular the automation of processes is a topic that is becoming increasingly relevant. Companies are increasingly seeing that digitization is hardly possible without processes and can be easily achieved in many areas through the use of workflows. This is now being given further impetus by the current hype surrounding artificial intelligence and, in particular, its integration in automated processes. We will let our students experience exactly this in a project to prepare them how tasks can be automated in the future in the company. This is part of giving them a better idea of how they need to position themselves in companies to become part of digitization projects and not a target of them.

And for this reason, we intend in the future to develop the course even more towards a more complex and demanding individual workflow project task for each group of all classes.

Take advantage of the Camunda Educational License Program

The Camunda Educational License Program is designed to enable people and organizations to easily teach BPMN and process automation. This license grants educators access to the enterprise features of Camunda. Find out more about the program and how to apply right here.

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