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How dare anyone comment that Old Grey Haired programmers have to stay with OLD Technology

Wikipedia defines a programmer as “The term computer programmer can refer to a specialist in one area of computer programming or to a generalist who writes code for many kinds of software. One who practices or professes a formal approach to programming may also be known as a programmer analyst.”

Why would I care? 

Can we embrace the Long Haired developer?, someone dares to say grey haired programmers shouldn’t learn how to program apps.  That they should just slink away and program in the background – ABAP on the ECC box and the app developer on the UI!!!  OK, they really didn’t say that.  It was just something I thought when I read the comment.   I was surprised, shocked, even stunned at the comment!  We are developers, we develop.  We develop in any language you want us too.  I used to develop in different languages, why not learn some more?  Besides is it really such a stretch after MII?  I quickly wrote my answer.  YES, we can do it.  We are grey haired programmers and we should do it!  We want to keep our skills up to date.

How dare that person comment! 

How horrible!  How awful!  How…  Oh right, its SCN everyone can write their own opinion.  I can even create a ranting blog about a comment to a different blog.  How great is that?  So please keep commenting.  It makes us all think, even the readers of the blog and comments!

It’s all about me

me, Me, ME, ME!!!!  I’m raising my hand and waving it.  I want to learn about Gateway!  I want to learn about HANA!  I want to learn about app development!  I can do it.  Learning is fun!  It won’t be easy, because I am a grey haired programmer, but I can do it.  

And so back to the question, should WE, the grey haired programmers learn how to write apps?   Would that mean we would be generalist, and master no technology?

Calm down and think. 

These are interesting questions, at least to me. 

I thought and pondered the question, until it, well until it gave me a good headache.  We could do it.  I could do it.  But should I?  Should there be a “Web” / “App” developer and a backend SAP developer?  We are a big enough shop.  We could do it.  In theory, we also could add some positions. In theory.

And so – I thought about the great one.  Einstein.  Did he know it all?  I believe he said something like the following: he didn’t need to know everything, he just needed to know where to find the answer.  And I do remember he painted the door of his house red so he could find it.  Maybe there is only a limited amount a person can know.

My next thought was, well it was  “BUT I want to do both!”.      I have to admit I had read a different Extend your SAP jQuery Mobile web app with HTML5 concepts and Native device features – Part 1 and copied the app so I could play with it.

Generalist vs. Specialist

Wait! Stop!  My head is going to explode.  I know basic functionality in many ECC modules.  That made me a generalist right there.  I know different programming techniques.  I am good at what I do, darn it.  Then I looked at some of the really cool blogs.  Were they written by people like me?  Or did they have more depth to them?  Both.  They were a mixture of both.  Well that’s good, I must be right in my thinking.

Then I thought about consultants.  We usually bring consultants in to do specific tasks.  We don’t care if they know Web Dynpro when they are brought in to develop a bunch of Adobe forms.  BUT…  When they are done developing those forms, we may have other work.  Our next project may need Web Dynpro programs.  If the consultant knew Web Dynpro, then we would try to extend her.

But, what if we interviewed her for the Adobe forms and she couldn’t answer the tough questions?  She knew Adobe forms.  That was only one of her many skills.  BUT we needed an Adobe form expert.  If someone else just has strong Adobe skills we probably would not have hired her in the first place.

Now I’ve gone around in a circle.  So on to my next thought.

Is being a consultant different than being on the client side?  I’ve done both.  My answer is a BIG YES!!!!  As a consultant you worry about getting your specific work done.  A good consultant may suggest alternatives to the way their customers are doing things.  Wait!  That means they know about the other technologies.  If the customer doesn’t want it, they just program what the customer wants.  So I’m back to knowing about all the options and how to program them for the consultant.

Now, I’ve got my customer hat on.  Do I have to know all those technologies?  If there is someone in my company that knows them, does it have to be me?   Really there are a lot of things that I don’t know about SAP…  Do I have to know about building apps at all?  Well, let me think.  I am a developer.  My title is something strange like application engineer but I analyze and develop code.  Mmmm… Apps for mobile – that would be a special area.  But one of the special areas that I know is MII.  So it seems that at least one of us should know how to build an app for if/when it was needed.  Oh no!  I was wrong.  I don’t have to know how to program an app.  I want to.  I also want to learn about HANA and Gateway.  Why?  Well just because… I want to play with the new toys.  Does that mean it’s a good idea?

I want to be the best at what I do

Does that mean that I’ll be the best if I know as much as I can about everything?  Umh, no!  The best usually specializes in some way.  Maybe that means simply not keeping up with the functional side, and focusing on programming.  Maybe that means I shouldn’t try to learn about Apps.  I don’t know a lot of the things others in my team know.   

But I do know:  I want to learn about apps, the business areas, workflow, BPM, MII, BSP, Javascript…  I’m like a kid I want to play with ALL the new toys.!!!!  It doesn’t mean I think I’ll be the best in my company at any or all of the technologies.  It does mean that I’ll know enough to be dangerous on some of them.  Designing apps will be one of them.  It will help me to be flexible enough to change skillsets as needed.  I WANT…  It doesn’t mean its practical or what I’ll get.  I do some things on my own time.  At lunch, before work, at home, I do some learning just because I like to learn.  Sometimes I stop and take that time during work hours.  Usually when I’m doing something I don’t like to do at work.  Bad me.

 My conclusion

So for me – yes – I do want to understand and know how to create apps! I guess I’m one of those jack-of-all-trades master of none type people!  But for me that’s OK.  And it means I can still blog about technology when I think of something I want to share.  Or rant…  You know, whichever.

So to keep me doing the happy dance, I need to be challenged.  The next big challenge is mobile apps or web apps.  Will I get to do it at work?  Maybe not.  We are back to the ABAP OO vs. structural programming debate AGAIN – talk about grey haired development.  But I do plan on playing with them when I can.

After all – as Phil Gleadhill said and said it well – “This (programming UIs)   more about Attitude!”

Please take a second and look at Can we embrace the Long Haired developer? that started the debate.  The comments there are worth reading.

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  • Michelle,

    I commented on the blog that created the rant, but every group with a new piece of technology automatically assumes that some other group can not solve or work on a problem because they use XYZ.

    The problem with today's innovation is that a lot of it is "greenfield".  That's pretty easy to innovate when you have no constraints on what you can do and will just get rid of what existed in the past.  For most ERP shops we can't afford to dump our multi-million dollar installation on a whim just to chase the next cool thing.  We need developers who able to work within constraints and not just chase the latest trend.

    Take care,


    • Interesting point.   We can't dump our installation on a whim.

      Work within constraints - I'm not always good at that.  Chasing the latest trend - sometimes I do that. 🙂


      • Michelle,

        Technically we should say all Netweaver Developers can't do the new stuff either, since Netweaver is 8 years old.  We also can't let java developers design mobile apps because java has been around for at least 10+ years and think of all those bad habits.

        I'm also wondering if building those iPhone apps is bad idea, since it's based on a variant of OSX which traces its concepts from the NextStep which means there might be 20 year technology concepts sitting in your shiny new iPhone 4S.  Android isn't much better as it's based on a linux variant and that means we might have code based on things thought up from 20 years ago.

        Video game development has been around for ages also, so I'm not sure if we want those folks as we might find too many grey haired folks in that field.

        My solution only allow students with no programming experience to develop our applications and we should prevent any issues with user unfriendliness as all the experienced developers have too many bad habits.

        Take care,


  • First of all, age is just a number. It doesn't indicate how willing or capable you are to learn new things. I've met many people older than I that wanted to learn new stuff; and equally, I've met much younger people that were so stuck in their ways, they were unwilling to even consider new things.

    There are new things to learn in almost every aspect of IT. Some are really cool, others are not so; but coolness is in the eye of the beholder, and what's ice for you, might be tepid at best from my point of view. All too often, people get excited about a new idea, and focus on just that, without really knowing how it could be in any practical sense.

    Should you just stick with what you know? Absolutely NOT! Spread your wings, try something new everyday; maybe that "new" idea will spark something else that you can then use in your "old" work.

    • Grey Haired Programmer = a person who has worked with SAP for a long time.  Not really an age.  Just someone who is used to structural programming techniques.  Who started on an earlier version - for me 3.1H.

      Learning new things - is - well it is just cool.  Stephen's comment is 100% correct as well.  Using something because it is the latest "fad" is not a good thing to do.  It could go away.

      Thank you for the comment!

  • I think you are missing a point entirely.

    When was the last time an ABAP project had a UI designer hired specifically for web application design. Does ABAP UI development involve story boards , themes , color schemes etc ? This is common in most java based web application developments.

    We are not talking about super stars like Thomas Jung , but about the majority of average developers.

    UI design and UI development are different aspect and user interface design is a big differentiator in mobile applications.

    Every "enterprise programmer" has a primary programming language and the more experience he gains , he tends to acquire certain design skills and style of thinking.

    People in ABAP have to unlearn a lot more of their older skills than people working in other technologies.This is no way a deterrent but just that people can take a few more months to get into the flow.

    It should not come as surprise to anyone if people said Java developers worked closer to web development than most ABAPers. Their focus has been more on end user applications and there is a smoother transition from web development based on HTML / JS /  CSS than from forms and BSPs.

    A lot of ABAP development is on services (which requires no UI design skills) and less interactive UIs( which require a different visual thinking.)

    Most java developers are also usually exposed to HTML / JS / CSS in some form and thanks to customers skepticism on NetWeaver , people on the dark side had to learn a variety of skills in different programming paradigms to make themselves viable.

    Its not a discussion of who is smarter but who can make the smoother transition.

    That was all about UI programming skills.
    Usability is different from programming and designers may be better placed still.

    Lets have a bet.In the next few years organizations will form new teams for mobile development. Whom do you think will move to mobile user interface development.

    A developer working in NetWeaver or in ABAP.

    Almost every mobile app developer I have interacted with in recent years is someone who moved from NetWeaver area or completely from native app development.


    • MII uses CSS, HTML, Applets, and business logic.  Yes, I've designed the screens - using story boards - no.  Color schemes, oh yes - CSS too.  We tried to standardize on one theme.  No we didn't hire a UI developer for that.

      I would consider myself an average ABAP developer.  I know some tips and tricks.  I have expanded my skills when possible.

      Design skills and way of thinking.  Well I hope I can always change.  I think most of us moved from structural programming to ABAP OO.  That is a whole different way of thinking.

      Who is smarter?  Ahhhh...  I think we all are smart from the least paid job you can think of to the highest paid.  Our differences is what makes all the different jobs possible.  I wouldn't want all people to be strong in only programming - our world sure wouldn't run very well.

      Smoother transition.  I guess I'm not saying move to a different language completely.  I'm saying it doesn't hurt to have another language in your skill set.  At least that's my thought.  I did go round and round with that thought.  I may be a master of none.  But a good programmer at different types of programming.  At one point I even thought about learning Java.  Now it doesn't look like I HAVE to have that skill.  We are an ABAP shop.

      Think about this - SAP is moving towards standard UIs.  ABAP Webdynpro and CRM Webdynpro.  With that in mind I don't want to be only a backend programmer.  For some people that is what they want to do.  They want to be a MASTER instead of just a good programmer.  Can a JAVA programmer develop an ABAP Webdynpro - of course.  Can a JAVA programmer develop in ABAP, yes.  Their strongest skill set is JAVA.

      All I'm saying is don't count us out.  We can learn and change and grow our skills.  Add the fact that as Stephen said we don't have an unlimited budget to hire people that have ONLY mobile skills, and I will probably get to program in basic Android, Iphone apps.  It will be fun, and I am a grey haired programmer.  I've been using SAP since 1987 and programming since 1984 - most of it structural programming.

      Next couple of years organization will form new teams for mobile and/or web development.  If they do that, and I have to choose, I'd like to keep my options open.

      I may have missed the point completely.  I have been known to do that.  But I hope not.  AND I am no Thomas Jung.  I'm just a solid developer that loves to increase my skills as much as possible.

      Riddle me this:  Who is better the web developer who specializes in web development or the ABAP developer who specializes in structural ABAP or the ABAP developer who specializes in ABAP OO or one that has many different skills?  Who would you hire?  I would say it depends on the job.  You may want someone is a MASTER at one of the skills.

      Thank you for the debate this morning!  It woke me up.


      There are those out there that started with R3/2.1.  Or some wierd number like that.  Ask them how much they have had to change?  I started with 3.1H.

      • You are not an ABAP developer. You are a developer. So this does not count ! 🙂

        UI designers are different from UI developers.WDJ or WDA skills does not count. They are modeling tools.

        No one will count ABAPers out. We are just giving you a warning that the competition is much stronger and barrier of entry is a lot lower in mobile app development.

        Personally I think UI development and services should be done by different people.


    • Yes, it's hard sometimes.  How can we convince someone that we can learn?  Well by doing it of course.  But what if we never have the chance, because someone thought - hey they only can program XYZ.  So they hire in someone who programs with the new technology.  Leaving you to XYZ, maintenance and background programming.

      Time to revolt a little...  I have experience and I as well as you know that we learn everyday.

      Thank you for the nice comment!