My first Tech Ed ever was 2006 in Amsterdam. In 2007 I was keen to go again, and this time I wanted to see what all the fuss was about Community Day. I couldn’t attend the Amsterdam Community Day, because it was tough to sell my boss on the value of an extra day away at the company’s expense for Community-something-or-other.
My plan of attack was basically to submit SDN session proposals for both Community Day and Tech Ed, and hope that one of them made it through the voting process so I could convince my company to let me go to Tech Ed again. Fortunately, my Community Day proposal was accepted and both of my Tech Ed presentations also made it through the voting (D’oh! Three times the work!), so it was quite easy to persuade my boss – I had free entry because of the presentations, and it was a chance to mention the company’s name and success stories a little bit – all I needed was budget for travel & accommodation. As a bonus, it turned out that Mark Finnern had arranged for noted cyberpunk author Bruce Sterling to be at Community Day, so as a fan I was really looking forward to the experience.
Tip #1: Submit a session proposal for Community Day. It doesn’t have to be a stand-up presentation – in fact, it’s much better if it’s a discussion of some kind that you can moderate, or a hands-on session to show people how to do something cool. Maybe something you haven’t had a chance to do yet in your work life – how much easier to implement a technology on a project if you’re the person who did the session at Tech Ed?
Tip #2: Submit a SDN session proposal for Tech Ed. See Tip #1, except that this does have to be a stand-in-front-of-the-audience PowerPoint presentation – although it really helps if you can show a demo too. Make this a sexy topic to get it picked: iPhone-based provisioning of new users in an SAP landscape using eSOA techniques would be ideal. 🙂
OK, that was attendance sorted out. So, Community Day rolled around and I turned up to my first surprise: a small event of about 150 people in a big conference centre where parts of Tech Ed were still under construction – this was starting to feel like behind-the-scenes access. And in fact, the first session of the day was with SAP VP Mark Yolton among others, and the opportunity to ask questions directly. This is a major bonus in Community Day – it’s a conversation, with SAP people and non-SAP people talking to each other at the same level. You don’t get that at Tech Ed which, valuable as it is, is mostly about SAP people telling non-SAP people how to do things and how the world will be in 3 years time. The next session was the one I ran, a discussion on “Implementing Cool Technology – What’s the Business Case?” where Bruce Sterling turned up and made a great contribution, as did several others. Two sessions in, and this already would have justified paying the entry fee – but there was much more. A hands-on session on writing Flex applications run by Ed “Wii Hands” Herrmann was great – Eddie is a first-rate presenter, and I learnt stuff in that session that I was demoing to people all year long. Several other BOF Sessions at Community Day Munich and some good networking followed, before we ended the day with a great Town Hall session and then Fujitsu-Siemens paid for us all to head to a beerkeller for the evening, where good food and even better beer flowed freely all evening, and I met even more great folks that I keep in touch with to this day.
So that was the event, which was also the catalyst for all that followed. The “unconference” format, where people propose sessions and self-organise them in a Wiki, meant that it seemed quite easy to put on an event like this, and I didn’t want to wait another year for the next one – so I did my own. I was not alone, and spring this year saw several local community days run by people like me, who had a great time at an event where there is two-way communication with SAP. For the SAP Community Day London 2008 that I helped put together, we (OK, Marilyn Pratt) managed to get SAP’s VP in charge of the SDN platform, Ran Cliff, along on a Saturday and he gave us some great insights into some of the things that are in the pipeline for SDN. Some of these plans could prove to have a big impact on how SAP product development interacts with the community, so watch this space. Several of the people I met in Munich came along to London, and in true Community Day spirit we not only learned a huge amount from each other, but we also finished the day at the pub – just in time to get a congratulatory call from Mark Finnern who had just woken up in California. Of course, I also wrote a blog entry or two about the whole community day experience, and all of this activity brought me to the attention of the powers that be, who bestowed upon me the great honour of being an SAP Mentor.
Tip #3: Stay in touch with the people you meet at Community Day, and get involved with the community. You will reap far more than you sow.
The funny thing about all of this is the change in my perceptions. The SAP Community was something I had traditionally seen as a website and some forums where people helped each other out with Portal problems. Community Day, and the events leading from it, made me feel a part of that community – instead of helping out with the occasional config problem, now I was in a position where I could influence a part of the SAP world, and where I have met a growing number of people I am proud to call my friends. There is a feedback effect here, too – being part of a community network like this means that I had various inside lines to SAP and its ecosystem, which meant that I could do my day job that much better. Chatting with several of my community buddies via Twitter and Plurk not only meant that I could get quick answers to some problems directly from the experts with whom I had a personal relationship, but it also led to a bunch of us getting together to design the next enterprise-ready step on from Twitter and Plurk, namely ESME. As an SAP Mentor, I was able to talk to people inside SAP about how we could design ESME and NetWeaver to work optimally together. When I got the opportunity to apply for a job on the SDN team, I already knew most of the people on the team because of these conversations. The fact that as an SAP Mentor I had strongly (but constructively) criticised SAP’s removal of the NetWeaver Trial License renewals was, amazingly, no barrier to my employment by SAP. 🙂
Tip #4: If you are fortunate enough to become an SAP Mentor, make sure you use the opportunity to the maximum extent. This helps you, it helps your company, it helps other SAP Mentors, and it helps SAP.
In summary, I would say that even if you can’t go to Tech Ed in Berlin, check out the cost of a cheap flight and one night in a hotel in Berlin, and add the cost of community day at €250. Even if your company won’t pay for it, think about whether you can afford this yourself – maybe as a weekend break in Berlin with an extra day for Community Day. It could be one of the best investments you ever make, either financially, in career terms or even at a personal level. I can promise you this: you will not regret the experience.