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I can’t remember if I am in my third or fourth year as an SAP Mentor. Whichever it is, time is flying by. 

During that period I’ve been privileged to meet and learn from some of the brightest, congenial people I know. And in all the years I’ve been in and around SAP  – which goes back to about 1994 – I’ve probably learned more in the last few years than at any other time. 

There is no current time limit on serving as a Mentor but I think there comes a moment when it is time to move on. As volunteers, we’re not tenured and I don’t believe in elitism being bestowed either on a temporary or permanent basis. I also believe that an ever expanding group of Mentors runs the risk of losing its heart and soul that has to date been bound by an intimacy among 100 or so people. 

If the program was to grow substantially in number, I sense that intimacy would be lost, that value would decline and that ultimately, like all large organisations, silos of people would emerge. I can’t imagine SAP enjoying the prospect of that occurring. 

In other words, the very things that make the Mentor program so good for all concerned would be lost. And with it, SAP would be the biggest loser.

But should Mentors simply drift away or suddenly be chopped out of the program after a specified period of time? Neither seems appealing and especially not when so many great relationships are formed along the way. 

I prefer to think that SAP could establish an alumni program. It doesn’t have to be that complicated. Neither does it have to be funded to the extent that the Mentor program receives an allocation from SAP. But it would serve to allow SAP Mentors the opportunity to decide whether they wish to continue in a semi formal program that brings people together while allowing SAP to both maintain contact and, at the same time benefit from past experience.

If SAP is able to work this out then it also provides a clean mechanism by which Mentors will both know the limits of their expected commitment. It would also serve as an incentive for SAP to hunt out the next generation of bright minds. 

In short, an alumni program tied to clear time periods for serving as an SAP Mentor provides SAP with a system of constant renewal, fresh thinking and a way of keeping the program valuable to everyone.

As to myself? Regardless of what SAP decides, I’ve reached that point where I think my time as a Mentor is coming to an end. I have therefore decided that once this year’s crop of TechEds are out the way, then I will bow out. 

It wasn’t a difficult decision and yes, there is a tinge of sadness. But I’d like to set the example of stepping aside and let someone who I’m sure is far better than I, to step in and take a turn. 

I wont be going away…I will simply take a different role – whatever that might be. And yes, I will maintain the solid relationships I’ve built over the years. Those are too valuable to let die. 

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  1. James Oswald
    I hate the idea of losing any of the current Mentors, but I think your points about keeping the group small and intimate and about needing new blood are valid.
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    1. Thorsten Franz
      Hey, we could achieve that with regular deathmatches in a domed metal cage. No need for Dennis to step back to keep the group small if SAP Mentors could regularly rip each other’s innards out – which would of course be broadcasted as special editions of the Mentor Monday.
      Cheers,
      Thorsten
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  2. John Appleby
    Hey,

    I don’t at all disagree with the principle of this. You will still be in the community and I’ve got no doubt we will see you int he major conferences.

    I think the challenge isn’t your choice, but what happens with other mentors for which the time has come. I suspect that a lot of them just drift along and don’t leave. Should they be forced to leave, or is it just a question of some introspective thinking and a gentlemanly discussion?

    I’ve not even been a mentor for a year yet so I don’t think my time is over yet (unless I’m told otherwise 🙂 but that time will come. I’ll be happy to hang my jersey up when the time is right.

    Regards,

    John

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    1. Dennis Howlett Post author
      @john – thanks. I deliberately avoided putting a time limit on it. That would be something for people to agree upon. My gut feel is 3-4 years.
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  3. Michael Koch
    Dennis (Happy Birthday, by the way),

    I agree that an influx of new blood is important to keep the Mentor organism going. The Alumni idea is one way of achieving that and would need to be fleshed out more.

    You’ve come to the decision to leave by yourself, based on your own motivations, career situation and principles. But everyone is different.

    M

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  4. Thorsten Franz
    Dennis,
    I’ll miss you as a fellow Mentor, but I’m confident you’ll be around loud and proud in the SAP community and give us all valuable impulses, nudges, and verbal abuse when needed. 😉
    It’s just too bad that you won’t be around to accompany the Mentors as we enter the next step of growth. I agree that the sociology of the SAP Mentors is changing fundamentally as we’re growing beyond 100. It’s a new stage and you can’t stop that by reducing the number by one.
    Personally, I would have loved to have you with us as we try to shape what being an SAP Mentor means in the next growth stage because we need to be able to take the best of what the SAP Mentors have been about in the past years and transform that into something that works in the future.
    I will also miss your voice for saying things bluntly and from the heart (“lists rules and are idiots”) vs. with a lot of fabric softener (“awesome”). *Sigh*
    Bottom line, I say you could make a very valuable contribution especially in the next 12 months. So let’s say until TechEd next year? 🙂
    Cheers,
    Thorsten
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    1. Dennis Howlett Post author
      @thorsten – you’re too kind. Another way to look at what I am saying is as a call to action that can be accelerated rather than have interminable discussions.

      I’ve made my decision and cannot think of a good reason to drag out…

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  5. Vijay Vijayasankar
    I am not sure if time spent as a mentor is the right yardstick to decide when to hang up the mentor rugby shirt. You have an active presence in the community, and we will miss you in the wolfpack. You certainly have given me some food for thought on when I should quit as a mentor, and I am sure you have got a few other mentors thinking as well.
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  6. Alvaro Tejada Galindo
    Hey Dennis:

    I’ve been thinking about this myself for quite some time…I started as an SAP Mentor on October 2007, so it’s going to be 4 years for me…
    Even when I love to be an SAP Mentor and use my Rugby shirts every time I can, I think that the alumni program could be a great opportunity not only for new blood, but to have a sort of elder Mentors -:)

    If SAP, SCN or Mr. Finnern comes out with the Alumni program…the count me in…maybe we could name ourselves “SAP Ex-Mentors” and have cool shirts -;)

    Greetings,
    Blag.

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    1. Thorsten Franz
      Suddenly, you guys all sound like elves who can’t wait to sail west. I say, as long as you’re making a great contribution to the program, or rather, as long as the program works for you as a platform to make a great contribution to the SAP Community, you’re at the right place in the SAP Mentors program. I don’t believe than numbers like 3-4 years bear any meaning. It’s the contribution that counts.
      Cheers,
      Thorsten
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      1. John Appleby
        It’s contribution – and relevance. I’m very happy in the mentor program but at the same time our job roles etc. change as we progress, as individuals.

        There may come a point where I feel I don’t offer to the mentor program the time or effort that is required to make a difference to the community.

        Whilst at the same time I might become sage (we’ll see about that 🙂 and be relevant as an Alumni or influencer of some other kind.

        I think that’s all good 🙂

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        1. Alvaro Tejada Galindo
          Thorsten, John:

          For me it’s not that I feel that I don’t have the time or that I’m not doing enough contributions…it’s just that we all need to move on…once a Mentor, always a Mentor…even when not on duty. 4 years might not be a lot, but I think it’s enough to close a cycle.

          Greetings,
          Blag.

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  7. Nigel James
    I too came on as a mentor with Alvero and the initial influx in October 2007 and while i have days of thinking that I will hang up my shoes, I am at the moment very keen to stay on.
    I think this is a personal matter for each mentor to consider but I aggree: There should be a funded program for Alumni. Not that the alumni would need any goodies other than just being kept in the loop and being invited along to interal mentor webinars.

    Final Dennis thanks for your hard work as a Mentor over the past few years and Happy Birthday

    Kind regards,
    Nigel

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  8. Darren Hague
    Well written, Dennis – you echo many of my own thoughts. I’m edging towards a similar decision myself – I love the people and the events, but “hands-on expert of an SAP product or service” is becoming a less than accurate description of me these days.

    I think an Alumni program makes sense, and I think that it need be no more complicated than having continued access to the Mentors forum – and possibly a faded lemon as a badge. 🙂

    Of course, being an ex-Mentor doesn’t mean being an ex-community member, and certainly doesn’t prevent engaging with SAP in all sorts of interesting ways.

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  9. Mark Finnern
    Hi Dennis,

    So yesterday on your birthday (Happy Birthday brother) we talk about you leaving at the end of the TechEd season. 24h later you are creating facts. Was hoping over the next months to change your mind 😉

    Excellent post, can you send me some of your eloquence? I am sure it took you half the time it takes me to put these couple of sentence together and it is just well put. 

    You blogged about it. I started the list:       http://wiki.sdn.sap.com/wiki/x/LoSeDQ only half serious. This is not set in stone and needs to be flashed out over time.

    I am convinced by keeping the SAP Mentors loosely coupled we can create different wolfpacks that make a difference on their own. These packs continue to have the intimacy that is one of the strong points of the SAP Mentor initiative. That kind of model can scale quite nicely to a much larger group than 100. The Microsoft MVPs are 4K strong and as far as I know MSoft is really happy with them.

    Being an SAP Mentor alumnus (had to look that up 😉 doesn’t mean that you can’t catch the bug again, get super active and back to being a full blown SAP Mentor. We will keep this fluid.

    As Blag said once an SAP Mentor always an SAP Mentor.

    Thanks for all the things you have done: Certification 5, Freaking amazing to name just two. You were a tremendous influence, more than you know and even as alumnus that will continue, Mark.

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    1. Dennis Howlett Post author

      @Mark – thanks for your understanding words. The one thing I would say to those who object to the time limit suggestion: this is SAP’s initiative and not that of Mentors. Mentors are part of the program by invitation. It is SAP’s choice as to how it takes the program forward not Mentors.

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      1. Michael Koch
        Dennis

        > It is SAP’s choice as to how it takes the program forward not Mentors.

        Absolutely right! I could have said the same to you. 😛

        Plenty to chat about in Boston!

        M

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        1. Dennis Howlett Post author
          @michael – I am only pulling my personal trigger….SAP can choose how it responds. Mark Finnern has done so in fine style. The next steps (if any) are up to SAP.

          FWIW – I’m well aware I am only a single (although somewhat mouthy)  voice. But I do believe this is a topic SAP should address in the interests of all concerned and especially SAP’s. That might sound bonkers coming from one of SAP’s most vocal critics but I would hope people see this as a constructive (if not well thought out) suggestion. 

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    2. Dennis Howlett Post author
      @mark – you speak as though I’ve already gone. Trust me dear friend, I will be kicking *** and taking names right up to the time I bow out, likely in disreputable fashion.

      To your comment about eloquence – I get paid for that, you get paid for cat herding. I know my preference but always willing to help 😉

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  10. Tom Cenens
    Hello Dennis

    I think this is a great idea. Alumni programs can be very useful as they are basically also a tribe. They are already widely used by universities and other organizations and they serve their purpose well.

    What is a group of around 100 people compared to a community that has millions of people (at least two million) all over the world? It doesn’t sound too large to me, also the product range from SAP keeps spreading so it makes sense to have a somewhat larger group to cover the diversity.

    Placing a year counter on SAP Mentorship would be a bad idea in my opinion. I do understand the concern about making the group too large but the possibility for SAP Mentors to step out and get into the SAP Mentor Alumni could help out on that point and keep the group somewhat reasonable in size.

    Kind regards

    Tom

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    1. Dennis Howlett Post author
      @tom – you make a point I have missed. “the product range from SAP keeps spreading.” That introduces an issue that is worth exploring.

      Right now, my attention is focused on ByDesign. I would be delighted to see a group thinking about that topic. Fact is, almost all Mentors are in the Business Suite World.

      I would say to you and Mark Finnern – get a BYD group going and I would be happy step aside from the main (BizSuite) SAP Mentors group and help grow that unit.

      I’m sure Mico is already creating buzz on BI….

      So yes – you make an excellent point.

      But more generally I think small is better than large. When I look at the developments successes we see in places like DemoJam, ESME, C5, iPad apps, Tammy’s group etc etc – it is always the small groups of 4-6 people who are making the breakthroughs. My sense and from 40 years experience tells me those dynamics do not change. Perhaps the real challenge is how SAP harnesses that in the context of Mentorship without it running out of control while at the same time allowing people like myself to move on gracefully?

      Bottom line – I don’t think there needs to be a great debate about it. It just needs action.

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      1. Tom Cenens
        Hello Dennis

        I agree that smaller groups can make things happen more easily. The larger the group gets, the more challenging working together becomes.

        That makes me think of gaming aspects (in light of the recent gamification hype). In online massive multiplayer role playing games you often have missions (so called raids) that are designed for a group of 5 players.

        The coordination needed to succeed with 5 players is much less than the coordination needed with 40 players. What you would typically see when you have a 40 player mission is that they are devided into groups of 5 or 10 and a leader is appointed in each group who will then coordinate his group.

        Bringing the 40 player raids to a success is much more challenging but the rewards following afterwards are also greater.

        It also depends how you look at the context of what is too much. It is always nice to have a certain number of SAP Mentors present at TechED or another big event. There are TechED events in different parts of the world so automatically you are spreading a group of one-hundred SAP Mentors over those events.

        The alumni program is a good idea, I have no doubt about that but there are a lot of factors to take into account to map out the future of the SAP Mentors group.

        I have no doubt that Mark is very busy with it as I have already seen his dedication in the many videos on youtube and other advertisements he produces.

        I understand what you say about making the group too large. It could break the XFactor of the SAP Mentors group.

        Kind regards

        Tom

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  11. Julius von dem Bussche
    Hi Dennis,

    Luckily I gave up smoking as a new year’s resolution, because I would have been forced to either join you or be “alone out there” at TechEd this year 🙂

    Jokes aside – again you are on the leading edge of new ideas and set a good example to your peers.

    I look forward to keeping in contact as if nothing has changed.

    Cheers,
    Julius

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  12. Matthias Steiner
    Hi,

    with all that has been said in this thread it sounds like an Alumni program could be a graceful “exit” strategy for SAP Mentors, that would allow individuals to step down and make room for the next generation while remaining associated with the group.

    Yet, being new to the program makes me want to emphasize the importance of the veterans in the group as being mentors for the mentors. Since I joined I feel more like a mentee as there’s soo much to learn from the seasoned mentors in more than one way.

    When taking a look at the current “tag line” of being the top influencers in the SAP ecosystem – who comes to mind first? Dennis is on top of that list. Sure, he’ll continue to be – regardless of whether or not he’d be an “active” or “retired” SAP Mentor. Yet, for the young SAP Mentors the veterans are very important as they inspire and guide the “puppies” in the early days.

    Having said that, I guess it’s all about the mix. A healthy fluctation (or better = aluminfication) would ensure fresh perspectives and new energy while at the same time preserving the spirit. Yet, being still such a small group it would always be sad to see people go – especially if they leave such a big footprint as in Dennis’ case.

    So, whatever you’ll finally decide to do Dennis (and I’m sure that plenty of us will try to convince you to stay!) I think the bottom-line is that if you should retire – you’ll be missed: thanks for being a great (SAP) mentor for all of us..

    BR, Matthias

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