I also have experience with quite many programming languages and technologies, although some of the experience is based only on the school training and practice.
I like to follow Jon Reed, running jonerp.com. But he blogs/ talks about the career direction for people already in SAP. Of course, to read his awesome blogs and watch his videos (also there are papers etc. etc. Find this guy because he can give you a lot) would be very beneficial even for a fresher/ beginner/newcomer. But for this man it would be a little difficult to follow the whole message.
With all this in mind I try to help the people with no or very little SAP experience to start their career with less money needed, less time spent and hopefully more positive feelings felt. The following text/ checklist is based on my experience and feelings and I don´t expect people will agree with it. Nevertheless … I would like to discuss the topic and create something that I can point the people to, so I don´t have to tell this in personal to every newbie that asks for help. Maybe… If somebody will be interested in the topic, it would be cool to create a sample profiles both for the people who try to start with SAP and the profile for the roles working in SAP.
Let´s pretend this is an interview to make the text more personal.
Dear Mr. Newbie, can you tell me about your background first. What can you tell about your education? Do you have passed any IT/ Business or any similar education?
Answer A: Yes, I have studied IT, I have attended several programming classes, I know something about the patterns, development environments, systems, analysis, blueprinting etc.
Great, Mr. Newbie. You could become a SAP developer. That means you can do some Java programming, that is probably one of the languages you have used before and you will be able to move to ABAP, which is a proprietary SAP programming language. Of course you can work in few other roles in SAP, but your educations will help you to start with the ABAP, which is a welcomed thing for everybody working in SAP.
With the programming skill set, it will be important to precisely describe your prior programming job experience: precisely describe what languages you can use, what projects have you developed to support the claims that you can use the languages.
Because people keep asking about, I should add that some of the programming languages are better to start with SAP than the others.
Somewhere (I don´t remember) I have seen a picture of the few programming languages showing how they´re connected, for example the picture was telling that the ABAP I partially based on COBOL.
For a man who has for example strong Java experience it will be a little shock to start with the ABAP workbench, but it will not be a serious problem if you will work hard. You can continue with Java in SAP as well, you can do some Java WebDynpro (web development for SAP). Java is very useful in few other SAP fields as well.
What is very important for any SAP guy is to understand SQL and the database design. If you have any useful prior experience with SQL/ DB programming and design, emphasize it. You will build on the top of it in SAP.
If you have the IT background but don´t like the programming, there is always some integration, administration, configuration in SAP for you. These people can do the basis, for example. That means your responsibility will be to install the systems, maintain them, tune their performance, maintain the landscapes etc. (I am not a basis guy, please don´t yell at me…). Or you can do the BW. Data warehousing and reporting is quite desired these days. Or you can start with the integration using SAP PI/ XI (messaging tool for systems integration, something like MS BizTalk for example).
The important thing here is to decide if you have strong programming skills to become a developer and you want to become one, or you want to go for the administration and the mentioned more technical SAP applications or you have abilities (management, strong domain experience) that can help you start in any other SAP team role.
Answer B: Yes, I have studied economy (or related field), I have some overall knowledge about the business. I know how the company earns the bacon. I know how the processes work, how the processes are designed, supported in ERP / Information system are etc. I understand the value of the money, people and the harmony between all the aspects.
Great, Mr. Newbie, you can work with SAP. But let me ask you about your technical skills. Can you do some programming? What is your computer experience? Are you a skilled computer user? Have you ever installed some non-trivial software? Would you start to learn some programming if it would help you with the SAP job?
If you can do some programming, you can still become a developer (some people thing the SAP world can be easily divided into two parts: functional and technical… ok, that means you can do the technical part).
If you cannot do any programming or you don´t want to, you can still work as a functional consultant, project manager or a business consultant. Functional consultant should have a strong domain experience (well, you cannot have one when you´re like twenty) or should try to gather some. For example you´re an accountant who has worked with the SAP system for a while. Now you can move forward and instead of consuming the consultancy services, you can offer some. People will love you to help them as well as you depend on the consultants when you were a user (or a super-user or a key-user etc.). Many good functional consultants started with the user experience with SAP as a user and were able to go beyond it and become the consultants.
Or maybe you have very strong management skills, you´re good at time management, budgeting and negotiation. Then you can become a project manager. The skill-set of the project manager varies a lot according to my experience. Some project managers are only doing the administrative side of the project and have a partner in a team lead, a senior developer for example. The others have gathered some SAP experience doing the Sales or even some consulting themselves. You only need to know that the role exists and you can become a project manager with different background.
You can also become a business consultant. These guys (from my experience) are the people close the most from the SAP team to the customer. They speak the user´s (and the sponsor´s !!) language, they understand their problems (these people most probably have worked on the similar positions as their users are at the moment) and understand that the users (and the management!!) want to have their problems solved in some comprehensible way and don´t want to deal with the technical guys and stuff.
These people work as a bridge between the SAP team and the users/management, they can translate the language between the groups and work like the counselors for the users. To become a business consultant you need to have some prior experience as a user (in the similar field of course), you need to be very communicative, full of initiative and pro-active to offer the solutions to the user (sometimes even make the user to buy something from your SAP team, then you need very strong negotiation skill and be a good businessman).
Answer C: Sorry, I sell clothes and have no knowledge about how the companies are working, I cannot do any programming, I care only about the jeans and how to sell them. I have noticed there is some SAP number on the box and wanted to understand that SAP.
Sorry, would be quite hard to become a SAP guy. Stick to the jeans, man.
Mr. Newbie, what can you tell me about your job experience?
Answer: I have X years of experience in Y.
It doesn´t matter how long experience you have if you want to switch to a new field. Sometimes it is important if your previous experience is VERY relevant for a new SAP job, but from my experience, people who want to start with SAP don´t have a relevant experience. If they would have one, they would not be that afraid and ask all the questions.
It only matters if that experience is in programming (how skilled programmer is that guy) or in some problem domain (how quickly can the guy understand the functional module, MM, SD, HR or any other).
Mr. Newbie, can you describe your experience with SAP so far?
A: I have heard about SAP, but have no hands-on experience. I have some experience with other vendor´s ERP system.
You should try if you can use some of your previous experience in SAP. This can vary a lot. It can´t be forecasted easily whether it will help you with a new start in SAP.
B: I have strong domain experience but no ERP experience with SAP or any other ERP system.
Maybe you should find some SAP documentation related to your domain and start reading some introductory docs. That should give you a brief overview about what SAP can do and how that is done in SAP. Next you will have to try all that with your hands and can pursue a consulting career.
C: I have a user experience with SAP. I could have contacted our internal SAP support or some key user when a problem appeared.
Not a bad starting point for any SAP role. Keep going!
D: I have worked as a key-user, SAP end-user trainer or in a support role.
Then you know the questions that need to be answered and problems that need to be solved. You´re well prepared for any SAP role, you only need some technical and functional experience and skill.
E: I have heard about the NetWeaver platform and would like to become a part of the team flying the NetWeaver spaceship to Mars.
I too am looking forward to the Mars mission but SAP stooped the development of the Mars landing pad based on the NetWeaver, wait for the new support pack! Stay tuned!
Mr. Newbie, what do you expect, how will your SAP consultancy work will look like?
I will earn big bacon! I will choose when I will work, I will probably work two days a week and the salary would let me live a happy life for the next five days. I will travel around the world and work for the prestigious companies…
Well, you will see…
Mr. Newbie, can you name the steps you´re going to follow to start with the SAP consultancy.
A: I have a friend who is working with SAP as a X.
Maybe this is the best option to start with SAP. If you would get employed in a SAP consulting company, you would probably get access to the various resources, but there is no guarantee somebody would have time to help you start, to answer your questions and solve your problems. If you have a friend, he probably will find some time (or come up with some mechanism that both sides can use) to help you. He will help you learn what he has learnt in a very fast way.
B: I will drop all the dues and go for SAP training or find some eLearning.
I don´t understand why so many people want to start their SAP career this way. It is expensive. You have no guarantee that the courses you have chosen are the right ones for you. You have no guarantee how much things you will remember after a week or two after the course (yes, it is up to you, but even if you try hard, you always forget so many important things). You risk the time, the money and maybe more going this way. To go for a course or even get some certificate gives no guarantee you will be able to find a job. This would be the worst option if I would have to start my SAP career again.
C: I will get some demos/ trials to start with SAP myself playing with the “living system”.
That is the pro-active approach! Yes, find a demo, get a trial and start playing around with it. If you have no SAP experience yet, to start with a MiniSAP (that is a fancy name for the NetWeaver Trial) is a very good start point. The installation is not that difficult, there are plenty of the videos/ documents how to do that. The best thing about this approach is that you risk no money, you only need some time to play with the demo. But you can do that on evenings while going to the current work every day. And after you get some experience and feelings for SAP, after you have developed some “Hello world” programs or have read some basic documents, you can think about a next step. If you would go for a course with no prior experience, you would miss so many important things only because the tutor can navigate in SAP very quickly, knows the transactions, the syntax of ABAP etc. But if you make the first steps yourself, you can choose a speed that fits you and after gathering some skill you will be able to follow the tutor from a first second.
D: I will find a company to get a SAP job where I can get resources to learn faster.
That is a pretty good idea. In a company there is always somebody who can teach you the basics, you can get access to the various knowledge sources, can get the access to the preconfigured systems, can get a help from a colleague. First steps within the new environment will be like ten times faster. You can use learning by doing, you can follow the more experienced colleague, which will give you the very simple tasks at the beginning. He or she can give you the more difficult after some time and this way help you build the stairs of knowledge. The next stair is built after the previous ones are the firm base to start from.
Just to make sure… do you know that there is a “little” brother of the “ordinary” SAP system (based on NetWeaver) which is called SAP Business One? It is a system for small and mid-size companies and can be a good starting point for some people. Please check that out if that you like this one or prefer the “big bro”.
I hope you have found some hints or answers to your questions. I hope that will help you decide if you´re eligible for a SAP job and/ or find sources of information or people that can help you start with your new bright future in SAP.
p.s.: If anybody would like to discuss the topic, please contact me, I would like to hear all the opinions.
pp.ss. (added 25.5.2010): please read the follow ups if you feel the fields can be interesting for you:
SAP Basis (by Juan Reyes): Back to Basis
SAP basis (by Shivaji Chowdhury): Career progress options for a newcomer in Basis/Netweaver Administration
Java programming in SAP: XY: From Java developer to SAP Java developer