The SAP Developer Challenge is an initiative by SAP to bring in their top developers in North America and give them three days to create a unique and creative application that leverages emerging technologies such as green I.T., social computing, and mobile technology. To use SAP to create anything within three days is a challenge unto itself, but to know that your team is competing against other top developers raises the stakes even more.
There was a lot of excitement in the air when the day started out. I think everyone was excited about the competition coming up and many people didn’t know what to expect (except little sleep). Plus, since no one had any idea who their team mates would be, a common question over breakfast was, “Which team are you on?”
We had four formal talks scheduled for the first two days. This was to get us up to speed on what to expect, as well as bring in experts to talk about the different themes we would be focusing on.
The morning started out with a talk by Vishal Sikka, C.T.O., titled “Some Thoughts on Simplicity”. Or as he later put it, “Simplexity”. This is taking complex technology and making it easy to use. The next guest speaker was Shel Israel, a community expert. He was hired by SAP to travel around the world and interview experts about how communities are evolving on the web.
After the talks we got a chance to meet with our groups and start brainstorming. My team members are: Geoff Zenger (BOBJ Vancouver), Jonathan Laplante (SAP Montreal), Christian Lahmer (SAP Waldorf), Yue Fang (SAP Labs), and Harish Tejwani (Nagarro). I think we were very lucky that we came up with an idea quickly and everyone liked it. We decided to do a carpooling application because it let us combine multiple themes into one app. Even though the judging wasn’t based on using more than one theme, human nature tells you that if your application covers all themes and someone else only has a single theme, then we’ll have an edge over the competition.
For dinner we went to the Computer History Museum. This was really cool! I got to see all the computers I used when I was growing up (Atari, TRS-80, that green handheld Mattel football game). I just wish we had time to tour the entire museum rather than just one room.
For more details about the talks and how we brainstormed the idea, see http://blog.crystalreportsbook.com/sap-developer-challenge-2008-day-1
More talks today to give us more background on the themes we could work on. The first speaker was Narina Sippy, SVP and GM of the GRC division. She discussed sustainability and how companies can be green and still be profitable. The second talk was delivered by Nedim Fresko, Director, Platform Strategic Initiatives. He discussed how the convergence of mobile connectivity and enterprise software will change the way we work.
Re our project, it has already had a few ups and downs. We were planning on integrating the carpool application with the HR module, but found out that the security restriction wouldn’t let us access the data. We also tried to integrate with Strategy Management module, but tech support couldn’t get it installed. We decided to use NetWeaver to store the carpool data and use it as our backend. We had some debates whether we would get penalized for not using enough SAP tools. But the only thing they had installed was CRM (which means there there will be a lot of CRM add-ons written). We didn’t have many options. Plus, I was going to do all the reporting with Crystal Reports and Xcelsius, and this is an SAP product now, so that will be in our favor as well.
We also got to present our ideas to a review panel for feedback. We got excellent feedback and they gave us two critical suggestions. The first was to open the app to any company in the area (to promote more community) and also to integrate it with FaceBook (to include social media). These were two fantastic ideas and played a big part in our app.
Check out my blog for all the details of Day2! http://blog.crystalreportsbook.com/sap-developer-challenge-day-2
We spent the day buried in our laptops. Everyone was writing code non-stop. The biggest problems we were having involved XML. Even though XML is billed as simplifying interoperability between apps, it didn’t work out that way for us. Every app needed a different XML feed. I was using Xcelsius for the reporting and it needs a SOAP compliant web service. The BlackBerry couldn’t read the webservice (only the latest model works with web services) and it needed plain XML. Not only that, but ABAP wasn’t designed to generate web service data. The ABAP programmers had to keep writing custom code to generate XML until we all had something that worked for all apps. This was a huge pain and wasted hours of our time trying to debug everything and get every piece talking to each other.
Day 4 involved a lot of FaceBook problems. Since FB is outside the firewall, we couldn’t get it to talk to NetWeaver. So we used this blogs website to set up a PHP data relay between FB and NetWeaver. But we found out that my hosting company doesn’t allow outbound calls. We had similar problems with getting an address lookup for GPS coordinates. We ended up using two of the laptops as web server to run the PHP code and java servlets. What a mess of technology this was becoming!
The good new is that our team got pretty much everything working and we left for the pool at 8pm. This brings me to an interesting point: when the competition started we expected to work around the clock for the full three days of coding. But we were going home early each night (except last night which was midnight) and other teams were staying till 2am or past 3am. What gives? I think the key is that our team quickly came up with an idea within the first two hours of meeting. This gave us a big advantage over some teams who were still trying to figure out what to work on late into the night. The second advantage was that we were using tools that had public APIs. This meant we could leverage the work of other applications (or sites) and create an awesome application pretty quickly. Of course, none of the API’s were as easy to use as we had hoped, but we were able to get them all working with much less effort than writing them from scratch (you think we could write a GPS lookup for an address in two days????). The other key factor is that our team gelled right from the start. We all got along well and everyone had different skills. This made it easy to divide up the work and get productive.
More details at: http://blog.crystalreportsbook.com/sap-developers-challenge-day-4
The big day is here and we are ready! Only a couple remaining bugs to fix with the FaceBook integration. The rest of the afternoon was spent working on our presentation. We wanted it to be funny b/c, by default, these types of things are always incredibly boring. Having a fun presentation would make our project stand out from the rest. We went outside to practice on the balcony and we probably worked on it for a couple hours. We rehearsed over and over and kept tweaking our lines to get them right. We wanted to give a good example of how the tool works and emphasize all the technology we used, but still inject humor whenever possible. The idea of having ‘Larry from Oracle’ want to join our carpool and then rejecting him each time was fantastic. The crowd really loved it.
The awards were presented and we won! We were all so excited we jumped up from our chairs cheering. It was quite an thrill!