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Author's profile photo Dennis Howlett

Enterprise Geeks to planet earth: “Houston, we have a problem”

If you don’t have the Enterprise Geeks on your radar then you are missing out on some of the most entertaining and incisive commentary around the SAP developer community. 

If you don’t know who they are then here’s the usual cast: Eddie Herrmann, Thomas Jung, Dan McWeeney, Rich Heilman and Craig Cmehil – all names that should be familiar to any SCNer of more than 5 minutes acquaintance.  

In their most recent podcast, Thomas Jung kicked off a debate about the quality of developers that are coming through the ranks. It’s strong stuff and one interpretation might be that the ‘egheads’ are being a tad elitist until you hear Dan McWeeney saying in surprise that some people he’s seen don’t know what a debugger is about. 

I would never put myself into the uber geek class of these fellows but even I know what a debugger is and how to use it. If grad students are not being taught this critical skill then quite frankly shame on our teaching institutions.

One argument that didn’t get well explored centered around the drive for simplicity and how this might be impacting the teaching that students receive. It’s an interesting topic about which much more could be said. 

Listen to the section that runs from about 15 mins 40 secs and you’ll hear Thomas say: “I am shocked at how many developers don’t understand the difference between a binary file and a text file.” I’m shocked as well and again, I don’t come at this as someone who is an uber geek or even that great a coder but come on people, this has got to be a concern. 

At around 26 min 30 secs, Eddie wonders whether there hasn’t been some sort of dumbing down as tools get easier to use and Thomas then conflates that to mean that as tools get easier, the technical knowledge requirements for developers become less to the point where fundamental knowledge gets lost. 

At around 28 mins, Eddie makes the observation that he sees today’s ABAP forum users as lazy. Dan says: The biggest difference comes in your interest to tinker…it’s a much better indicator of whether they’ll be any good…Every good programmer is an incredibly good debugger.”  

All participants see this as a serious problem that has many facets, including the tools necessary to keep the right people.  

I was particularly struck by the way Eddie Herrmann mashed up the discussion with thoughts around Certification and the Certification 5 efforts to move SAP certification forward. 

In the early days of discussing certification topics, Eddie was one of the most outspoken critics of having SAP experienced developers certified. Over time, it’s fair to say he has come around to the thought that if valuable then certification is something he would support. 

At 47 mins 30 secs he throws in the notion of an Enterprise Geeks Certification, expanding that into a discussion of how he now sees the world: “If I’m going to pay someone hundreds of dollars to do something on SAP maybe it’s a good idea to have someone who is certified?…especially if it balances the experiences and reputation and paper knowledge because anyone can memorize a book and spit it out.”

At around 50 mins, Dan adds the though that if you want to find out how good someone is then ask them to show what they’re doing on Github. I won’t speak to the value or otherwise of such a selection process element but I can speak to what the Certification 5 Survey has revealed. 

Selected demographics 

So far we have 455 completed responses following 2,466 visits. That’s an 18% response rate.

There was broad representation across skills such as ABAP/developer, BASSI, finance, CRM, HR/HCM, supply chain/logistics, portal, workflow, BI, security, BOBJ and archiving/ILM. 

North America, EMEA and APAC were represented by roughly 31% each with 6% coming from South America

36% respondents came from SAP customers while 34% were employed at an SAP SI/consultancy.

Experience varied as follows:


  • 5%<1 year
  • 7% 1>2 yrs
  • 30% 3>5 yrs
  • 28% 6>10 yrs
  • 30% 11+ yrs   


Key Questions 

34% did not know there is a Professional and Master Level certification

64% of respondents had NOT read the C5 discussion paper

73% agree there is value in certifying soft skills. 

73% say that validating advanced SAP skills cannot be accomplished by MCQ alone

87% say that providing an answer to a practical problem would be a valuable enhancement to SAP Certification 

29% say that SAP Certification is not important in recruitment while 22% say it is important.


Selected qualitative answers 

There were 145 qualitative answers, representing 32% of all completed surveys. Many touch upon issues that surround the C5’s current thinking but which clearly hark back to the Enterprise Geek conversation Comments include: 


“SAP Certification via MCQ is an insult to the disclipine of Computer Science/Information Systems. None of my higher level CompSci classes were passed only by answering multiple choice questions. Higher level computer science classes(including systems analysis) require essay style questions to test knowledge in an objective fashion. The current MCQ certification exams only promotes rote memorization of feature lists and not whether you have the ability to solve a business problem via that solution.”

“SAP Certification in my opinion is not going to work because there are several SAP consultants who don’t have exposure to software development practices. I mean most of them started working in SAP after attending training programs 10+ years ago. For example, a good number of BW developers would know how to create DSOs/ODSs, Cubes, mapping, transfer rules, loading etc. Most of them probably attended training programs in BW and learnt just these tasks. So yes, they would do very well if you or certification exam asks questions on tcodes, how to create objects, transfer rules etc. They may not have other soft skills(such as analzying data) needed to be successful. I am going to write a blog on this which might make this clearer.”

“I believe SAP still see Certification as a way to drive Education revenue. They should see it as an investment and invest in it. This does not mean give it away – it means invest”

“Rather than a practical question to assess professional experience I would prefer to see candidates submit details of their professional experience and referees for that experience (similar to CISA, CIMA, etc).”

“Having programmed in ABAP since 1994 and made so many different solutions during this period for real difficult problems I took the ABAP certification test (most advanced) 2 years ago. I did decent prep and did know what areas to be covered etc. Now. Taking the test and only MCQ all over. Quite a few asking for totally irrelevant things like the name of the ABAP program to be able to transport a SAPScript. How RUDE! This is by no what so ever a test of my abilities. I did fail with a few %. Was I pleased – NO! I felt like someone had driven over my 15+ years of effort always adhering to the latest standards in ABAP. The cert exam cost quite some money and time to do proper prep. I was a total waste for me at that time. I highly awaiting something better from SAP to more accurately measure relevant skills that are needed. From this survey and the ongoing debate there might come something good eventually.”

“It would be great if they turned back to Workflow Certification. I think, some basics skills should be proved, before someome try to enter to a certain area, for example, there are people who gets abap certification but they never worked with any development, they just studied for the exam and passed, but besides their successful exam, it doesn’t mean development is the right area for them.” 

The survey is still open so please feels free to add your voice.

Closing thoughts 

There will always be much debate around this topic and SAP will never satisfy everyone. But when put into the context of the Enterprise Geeks’ latest podcast, it seems there are more nuanced arguments emerging on how SAP certification might be developed to improve what the uber geeks are effectively warning is coming: a dumbed down industry that serves no-one any good. When people of this calibre and authority speak, we should all be listening and learning.

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      Author's profile photo Jon Reed
      Jon Reed
      Dennis, I too was struck by the Enterprise Geeks podcast because Thomas went off on a rant on underqualified developers and the discussion naturally moved into certification a couple of times as you noted. Ed has arrived at many of the same conclusions as the C5 but from different angles. He manages projects for an important SAP customer and to me his views are as credible as they come.

      Certification can't solve all the problems the egeeks laid out in the podcast, but of course we in the C5 believe that with ambition and resources we can get closer to the mark of validating SAP as a trade. Deeper technical validation is one thing - figuring out what it takes to validate and certify a so-called Enterprise Geek is yet another. The Enterprise Geeks tend to be modest about themselves but in fact not only are they technically adept but they have that sought-after BPX-flavored mash of scrum, agile, soft skills, techno-functional convergence, the whole bit.

      SAP's BPX certification dips its toes into this water but there is a journey still to be made. Maybe we can't solve all these problems but I think we're better off attacking them with fresh ideas then sitting back and hoping they get better. The geeks podcast certainly lays out some implications of not doing better - a generation of not-so-qualified developers that need a higher bar and maybe a deeper level of enterprise motivation that a true skills roadmap could give them. OK it's a bit late at night but those are the best thoughts I have for now.

      As for the survey results, the C5 will have more to say about them at TechEd, but there were surprises as well as confirmation of many of our points. For me the survey was one more broader data point that however you feel about this topic, it matters and it's not going away.

      - Jon

      Author's profile photo Frank Koehntopp
      Frank Koehntopp
      Whoah, there are so many answers to this...

      On developers, I guess it's about personality. Some people learn coding in some kind of school/university and then make it a job. Then there are those that see it as a passion. A third group also brings the understanding of the underlying business processes to the table.

      Most of those never learned ABAP before they started employment. (Or do you? In my times it was COBOL, FORTRAN and C 😉 )

      This already makes for 3 totally different types of developers. How can you create a certification that says something of interest about them?

      The next step is that as these people evolve, most of them will have a hard time making a career as a coder. There is a higher incentive to move up the chain into architecture or management. Which means we're 'losing' the best people.

      Coding is an art and a passion if done right. Companies need to appreciate that and cater for career paths worth taking.

      Does that make any sense? It's been written by someone whose coding times are long past 😉

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      Thanks Dennis for the detailed wrap up. Enterprise Geeks podcast does put the question once more into the SAP equation.

      I’m not pleased as this Certification equation should have been revised and tackled long time again but I think we are fortunate to have other individuals (plus a few ‘Good Men’ like the Enterprise Geeks) pulling the Emergency Signal and/or asking ‘disturbing/challenging’ questions.

      My common sense questions would  :

      - Would you board a plane knowing that it is not fully certified to international quality and safety standards ?

      - Would you still board the plane knowing the Pilot Officers are not certified for flying nor qualified for the type or aircraft used ?

      Certification will not solve all the issues at hand but it would/could, in my humble opinion already narrow down the bunch of ‘Cowboys’ configuring and handling SAP implementations.

      It would/could secure best practices and also confirm the SAP Analyst or Consultant knowledge and Know-How.

      Why do most Project Leaders and top Executives hold a PMI or ITIL Certification and/or Master ?
      After all, most companies are putting a great deal of time, effort, resources and money into heavy Global Risks and Compliance procedures (not to mention ISO, FAD, Sox etc).

      Wouldn’t all make sense that (most) SAP teams (no matter internal or external) would be certified ?

      It becomes even more critical when it comes to coding if you ask me. How can you be sure the Abaper and developers are developing to the best of their ability, in a 'certified' way/methodolgy?

      You know the Abaper that will avoid that endless loop or compilation of Master Data, letting the end-user waiting for hours in front of his computer.

      I’m not a programmer, far from it but I do cope with understanding what’s behind the scene (speaking German does help along the ABAP process) and adding five cents of code through User Exits, BAPIs and BAdIs. I'm also perhaps known as a 'Certified pain' for challenging Programmers with their approach, their coding and the ru-use of standard coding, not to mention their mandays estimations !

      Perhaps, instead of full Project Sponsor trust, Certification would bring some clarity and translate actually what is going on at the core level of the SAP Environment ?

      Also, in my humble opinion -sorry to preach for my Human Resources addiction- I see it as a (major) failure in Human Resources Policies and procedures. Indeed, Certification isn’t just a word you put on a résumé as a punch line…

      It is a vital milestone in your Personal Development Plan. The plan should be powered by a blended learning offer, ranging from face to face courses, attending conference, social media, reading book etc.

      I’m also struck when I see that at all time most Management executives are blaming the Education and Certification costs… 
      Most are applying in full the saying ‘If you think Education and Certification is too expensive, try ignorance’.

      Anyhow, I trust these concerns are fair in a world in constant move, evolving with technologies.

      I really look  forward to improve these Education and Certification areas as they would/could provide so much added values to ourselves, the individuals and the Companies (talking ROI and big $).

      My five cents,

      Looking forward to ‘raising the Certification bar’ at SAP TechEd with the Certification5 .

      Kind Regards,

      Author's profile photo Chris Paine
      Chris Paine
      Martin - I don't think you're comparing apples here:
      >- Would you board a plane knowing that it is not fully certified to international quality and safety standards ?

      Enterprise systems code vs the lives of hundreds of people - the comparison is a bit far fetched!

      But if you do make the comparison - I ask back - would you be happy if your pilot passed that exam on the basis of a multi-guess questions? I wouldn't be - I'd want a rigorous and practical examination.

      SAP certification _currently_ does not provide anything as practical/rigorous, although I hope the C5 can push through that barrier.

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      Hi Chris,
      Thanks for your feedback. Apples probabl not (don't get Steve Jobs involved in this). I wanted to have a striking picture comparison. Now one thing has nothing to do with the other.

      I'm comparing the Certification process with pilots as it seems, IMHO, far more 'rigorous' than the Certification I actually passed.
      No, I wouldn't be happy if my pilot had passed a Multiple choice questions form...

      That's the reason why the C5 actually consolidated their views and ideas regarding the Certification. We wanted to make it a tangible asset (and more) for both indivuals and companies.

      Meet us at TechEd and let's carry on the debate !

      Author's profile photo Ulrich Brenner
      Ulrich Brenner
      I'd like to add some thoughts about the ongoing debate about SAP (developer) certification.

      As university graduate with one year experience as SAP developer working for an SAP partner, I thought about getting certified from the very beginning of my "career" and naturally followed the C5-discussion on SDN. As far as my limited experience goes (and what the C5-survey does prove), at least here in Germany SAP certification has a bad reputation and gets clearly beaten by experience (and other factors). It seems to be more like a ticket into the business which I can imagine can be valuable for independent developers. However companies do desperately look for junior staff, so a missing certification at the moment is no reason to not get a job.

      The problem I see is that people come to the conclusion that SAP certification is not valuable and as a result decide to not get certified any time soon. For me this is the case. I am waiting for improved material and exams. Until that time (and I guess I'm not the only that who's afraid that SAP is not able to refresh certification in the short term) I prefer spending my company's money for TechEd-tickets (cya in Berlin!).

      btw. is it really true that people got ABAP-certified without ever having written one line of code? WTF!

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      any developer worth their salt will come to love (and hate?) debuggers just like any accountant would reconciliations. both are staples of their respective professions' "daily bread". funny, but they both result in the same: correct outcome, the former through variables, the latter through numbers. step by step tick and tie, tick tock tick tock...
      Author's profile photo Gilberto Delgado Rivera
      Gilberto Delgado Rivera
      Some may say it is not relevant to this discussion, but I think it is. What is our responsibility as experienced developers to pass on our knowledge to the newer generations coming up? Should it be solely SAP's responsibility to teach good technique and develop these skills?
      I am not an ABAP expert developer but I do have 20+ years of development experience and some of the skills and techniques are transferable, and I do believe it is part of my duty to pass them along to the less experienced developers in my team. We all benefit from doing that.