Skip to Content
Author's profile photo Matthias Steiner

Ramblings of an Aging Architect: Recap on 10 years at SAP

Has it really been ten years already? WOW…

…when I look back at my time at SAP I can say that it has been a very interesting and exciting time as well as a great learning experience. Coming from a start-up in the B2B-commerce market I joined SAP Custom Development early in 2002 – just after the web bubble bursted …

Dang, that’s been more than decade ago. Guess this milestone is worth taking a moment to recap on 10 years at SAP.

Originally I was hired for my Java EE background I guess. Yet, as it goes sometimes, my first project at SAP happened to be an extra-large CRM project for an US-based company. My task was to develop the CRM-ERP middleware communication part: triggering goods movements or starting purchasing processes once a service technician was assigned to a service order.

The next project was yet another integration scenario. Again, ABAP-based. This time it was SRM and ERP and related to catalog and purchasing contracts to be exchanged in the oil & gas space.

Looking back now these 2 years of ABAP development were a blessing in disguise as I got to know several Business Suite applications, some of their core modules and components as well as all the development tools & techniques in the R/3 world. So yeah… in retrospect I have to say that “getting to know the other side” was probably the best thing that could have happened to me back then.

And while the two projects were both challenging and rewarding, yet my heart was still beating for Java and the evolving Open-Source movement and so I was cheering for Shai’s vision of SAP NetWeaver…

So then (luck at the 3rd time?) I finally got staffed for a Java project; yet no ordinary application, but one (if not the) first custom build enterprise Composite. Rumor has it Shai himself closed the deal on the golf court, but it could equally well just be a geek joke that was told so many times that people started to take it for real.

Either way, it was a quite a ride, but ultimately we made it. The story was first presented at SDN Meets Labs in Palo Alto a year later. Page 14 nicely captures some of my contributions to the project and one that can be considered a personal milestone: the first live implementation of an extensibility concept. (That very topic should take a central role in the next few years, but we get back to that later.)

One remarkable thing I have to mention before I move on is how Shai took responsibility for the project : he made it happen by giving us fast-lane direct access to the individual development groups, he arranged for logistics and support and he brought in the right people. Walking the talk may summarizes it best… and it was indeed very inspiring and motivating. My first project on emerging tech certainly had me back for more… 😉

And I did not have to wait for long… a complex banking application on top of NetWeaver Web Application Server was next on the list. Having made the step to the architect level by then I was given the responsebility for the technical frameworks across all layers from persistence (JDO) to Services (Beans) to UI (JSP-based MVC pattern.)

Oh Boi, another challenging project. Not because my fellow co-architects and me didn’t know how-to design and develop such an application, no… it was something completely non-technical: it has been one of our first non-ABAP development projects that we executed in as a distributed team within Custom Development.

It’s when I realized that technical skills alone won’t get one far in such first-of-a-kind projects; that inter-cultural awareness, communication and teaching skills are equally (if not more) important if one wants to be a good – or even great – architect. It was when it clicked to me that being an architect also implies leading a team, guiding a team. That it implies being able to explain technical concepts to the individual team members and coordinate the ramp-up of skills. It also made me aware of inter-company politics and the importance of networks, big deals and the responsebility to speak as the representative of the development team in executive meetings.. . but let’s keep it to that 😉

Looking back now I think the fact I enjoyed the most was that I had been able to apply the design patterns and architectual concepts I had picked up from the open-source communities on the web. I’d say that it has been communities around projects like Struts, Hibernate and Spring, which have unleashed my passion for modern application design.

My favorite code snippet from that project is most definitely the gracefully-degrading AJAX-based tree control I had developed. (LOL they actually wanted IE5 support back then and I had to install NT as VMWare to be able to adapt the code and verify it runs properly. Ah, the good old days of the browser wars…)

Around this time a small, special team was formed within our organization; a team dedicated to evaluate and test-drive emerging technologies at SAP. The first topic the so-called NetWeaver Center of Excellence (CoE) took up was Service Oriented Architecture or SOA in short (well, we called it ESA first and then later switched to eSOA and ultimately we abandoned the enterprise in front altogether. But let’s not start the naming topic right now, ok?)

We tackled it from three different angles: Service Provisioning on both the ECC and the ByDesign platform, as well as Service Consumption and Orchestration on NetWeaver Composite Environment (NW CE.) That was about the time I got green light to start sharing our experiences on SCN. My first blog post on SCN tells that story.

I guess it’s safe to say that the early days of working for the NW CoE mark the next milestone in my professional life. Not only because it was indeed an challenging and high-fidelity time developing such a completly new kind of applications (Composite Applications, Composites), but also because it was the first time my colleagues and I got the freedom to work more strategically and not directly related to a customer project and all the implications it brings. Last, but not least …it simply was a great team to be part of!

And if it wasn’t for my manager back in the days … who knows if I would ever have started to consider doing public lectures at TechEd or started technical writing? Who knows if I would have picked up interest for the bigger picture, org charts, executive briefs and hidden agendas? Who knows where I would be now?

In a way, meeting my first mentor has had quite an impact and it had shown me what a difference a single person can make – both on individual and on corporate level.

In the months to follow we spend quite some time doing architectual blueprints, prototypes and evaluations while helping with the SOA roll-out. The most remarkable proof of concept I recall would be the universal composite that could be connected to either ECC or ByDesign. Not to forget our work on what we called the backend abstraction layer (BAL) and seamless ESB/PI integration concepts.

For me, the time between 2007 and 2009 were the days of my automotive projects paired with lots of internal work acting as a knowledge multiplier and technical advisor. I had started to blog regularly and I had even managed to write my own book (✓) about extensibility concepts.

2009 was the year we delivered one of my all-time favorite projects for a big German car manufacturer, for whom we had developed a master composite template and a pilot scenario for their SOA roadmap.

After the summer break I then got assigned to yet another enterprise Composite in the public sector. This distributed team with up to 25 developers and architects at a time has been the largest project I have been responsible for up to today. Again, we made… just in time, but we made it. The project required full attention and as such I had to pause all other activities for that period. The only thing I was not able to put down was the blogging as it helped me to critically reflect on what it is like to be an architect. (In fact, this is how the development architect’s diary series was started – here are the two posts about coaching and modi operandi.)

The key take-away from this project would be team spirit and comradeship. It’s only when you work together very intensively over a long period of time that you really get to know people you work with and when colleagues turn into friends.

As the application we have developed was the result of many years of experience it has been the most advanced design of them all. I compiled our findings and best practices and presented them at TechEd 2010. A bit later we also shared our very positive experience with using a development landscape in the cloud: Improving Development Productivity by leveraging Cloud Computing.

2010 has been the next milestone for yet another reason: it’s been the year that social networking clicked for me and when I started interacting on Twitter. Nowadays I can hardly remember the time I have not been following the SAP twitter community and I can’t imagine doing the job without it anymore…. here’s my stance on social networks these days.

Which brings me to the next chapter, which happened in Fall 2010  – it’s when I got selected to run with the SAP Mentors tribe. The opportunity to learn from and with the other Mentors (and Mentorettes of course!) has been the most influential and humbling experience in my professional life so far. It’s hard to put the mentor magic into words… so I’ll leave it up to the no.1 mentor herder himself to do so: Culture Jamming SAP.

And then … last year was all about technology innovation on a broader scale. At the beginning of the year we were busy internally with numerous teams building prototypes based on their own ideas. It’s been a memoriable time indeed and we have not even seen all ideas come to life yet?!?

Since then I spent quite some time messin‘ with my new favorite topic: onDemand/the Cloud and our Platform-as-a-Service offering aka SAP NetWeaver Neo in particular. It’s by far the coolest thing I’ve seen from SAP… ever!

I feel very priviledged and honored to have been given access to the platform at an early stage and being trusted with sharing my experiences at TechEd and other community events such as SAP Inside Tracks. Neo is currently in BETA… “we’re almost there!

So, that’s that (sure took me long enough!) … as I said in the beginning: it’s been 10 great years all-in-all … and for someone who has spent the majority of his career working on emerging tech the current situation at SAP is … like a geek dream come true: technology and innovation are in focus and technical people are in demand more than ever. In the times of the new SAP – well, developers are the new kingmakers (and who doesn’t want to be king?!?)

Guess the future looks bright indeed – so let’s reach for the cloud(s)… “this one is to the next 10 years!”

Assigned Tags

      You must be Logged on to comment or reply to a post.
      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Hi Matthias,

      Congratulations on your first ten years with SAP! i don't think i will be the only one to notice that your web presence shows that it is possible for SAP employees, who are not 'obligated' to participate in the community, to engage with mentors and beyond. it's through adding personal touch to communicating with others (here and on twitter) that you have managed to be one of us even though you are still one of them. not an easy thing to do in any organization. it's so nice to read about your progressive development career in this and other very thorough blogs.

      i wish you every success with Neo and in engaging with the rest of SAP community at large.



      Author's profile photo Matthias Steiner
      Matthias Steiner
      Blog Post Author

      Hi Greg,

      wow, that's been one of the nicest things I have heard lately - thanks for the encouraging words!

      And yes... hopefully the line between "us/them" will get blurry in the future as it's just human beings on both sides. I like the notion of DJ's recent post about the developer connection in this regard.

      And special thanks for the good wishes... can't help but be reminded of a Germany saying and response if someone is wishing you well: "from your lips to God's ear!" 😉



      Author's profile photo DJ Adams
      DJ Adams

      Hi Matthias

      Congratulations from me too on your first SAP decade. The first step in your long running batch (err background) job has completed with with return code 0 indeed!

      There are a couple of things that I will take away from this post:

      • being an architect implies leading & guiding a team
      • bringing design patterns and architectural concepts from the open source world into SAP

      These are good observations and very true as well; and you certainly are one of the bunch of people that I think of in the context of great practitioners in these two areas.

      You blur the distinction between SAP and 'the rest of us', and are a great ambassador for both sides at once!

      I'll drink a beer at Euston Tap in London this evening to mark the start of your second batch job step. Cheers!


      Author's profile photo Matthias Steiner
      Matthias Steiner
      Blog Post Author

      Thanks DJ for your encouraging words, yet I'm just doing my little part...

      Please know that on this battlefield - developer connections - I'm happy to charge that hill together with you and "the rest of us" 😉

      Author's profile photo Kumud Singh
      Kumud Singh

      Hi Matthias,

      I remember your tweet containing the news of you completing 10 years in SAP.

      Ahh! but the big, versatile, and a victorious journey is a great inspirational story to be read and of course learnt from this blog.

      Congratulations! (There's no handshake symbol else would have put that here 🙂 ) 



      Author's profile photo Matthias Steiner
      Matthias Steiner
      Blog Post Author

      LOL... for what I know all these pineer stories sound "big, versatile and victorious" when told afterward (if there's someone alive to tell the tale!) so take that with a grain of salt, ok!


      I'm always happy to hear if people find some take-aways in what we have experienced and shared with the world - that's the most rewarding aspect of it.

      Looking forward to hearing your story... from what I can tell yours would make a good one too! 😉

      Author's profile photo Maksim Rashchynski
      Maksim Rashchynski

      Nike was a cool project 😉

      Author's profile photo Matthias Steiner
      Matthias Steiner
      Blog Post Author

      Hey Maksim,

      looong time no hear! 😀

      Yes, it has been cool indeed. Kinda set direction for the years to come... would be interesting to know your where-abouts - shoot me a mail!


      Author's profile photo Mary Odabashian
      Mary Odabashian

      It's been fun watching you cultivate your social presence into something different from an ego-boosting exercise ... but rather, a community building mission.

      Wishing you all the best for the next 10! 😀

      Author's profile photo Matthias Steiner
      Matthias Steiner
      Blog Post Author

      Hi Mary,

      thanks for your kind words and all the advice and guidance you provided throughout the years. I mean you've been there from the beginning and hence you like few others can see how things have developed over time...

      All the best!

      Author's profile photo Martin Schley
      Martin Schley

      Hi Matthias,

      Congratulations from my end es well. Since i was a fellow of you in a big part of your ten years @SAPCD from the very first project on it was a pleasure and very exciting for me to read this and to remember the 'old times'.

      I wish you all the best for the next decade ...


      Author's profile photo Matthias Steiner
      Matthias Steiner
      Blog Post Author

      Thanks Martin!

      Yes indeed - we've come a looong way together since then. And now that you mentioned it I didn't even mention my 'very first' project in that recap at all... but then I guess that's a story by itself.

      And all th ebest wishes for your 2nd decade as well 🙂

      Author's profile photo Thorsten Hopf
      Thorsten Hopf

      Hi Matthias,

      congratulations! It's been 10 years already? Time flies for sure!

      Sad to see you go, leaving us elephants behind, but we can't compare to the "sirene" NEO I guess.

      So best of luck and keep in touch,


      PS: well at least we'll occasionally bump into each other in the office, provided both of us happen to be there at the same day for a change. 😉

      Author's profile photo Matthias Steiner
      Matthias Steiner
      Blog Post Author

      Thanks Thorsten and yes, I'm sure we'll see each other in the office - at least occasionally.

      Not sure I like the comparison with "sirene" as in greek mythology it sure wasn't a good thing to be attracted to them, but oh well... let's not go there 😉

      Author's profile photo Tim Chang
      Tim Chang

      Great to read this article.  My path was reverse of yours - I started in ABAP back during R/3 days and went in the "wilderness" to do Java architect design & cloud (Amazon) before returning to SAP -- now working in OnDemand services.

      Congrats on your 10 years !   Cheers on the next 10 !


      Author's profile photo Matthias Steiner
      Matthias Steiner
      Blog Post Author

      @Tim: Cheers!

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Great to see some one who is already ahead in the path that I am only starting to tread now. You know what I mean 🙂

      Author's profile photo Matthias Steiner
      Matthias Steiner
      Blog Post Author

      Go for it! 🙂