A Call to Arms for ABAP Developers
Those of you that follow me in any way will know that I am passionate about ABAP Developer skills. For more than 10 years I have consistently been trying to impress upon people in general, and ABAP developers in particular, that it is vital they make keeping their skills up to date a priority.
As my friend Jon Reed says when talking about skills – “If you are not moving ahead – you are falling behind“.
There are many ways to keep your skills fresh. These include formal training, books, magazines, reading (and writing) blogs, documentation, playing in a sandbox system, setting personal challenges, conferences, webcasts, participating in user groups, birds-of-a-feather meet ups, etc. All these, and many others, play a part in honing your skills and keeping them up to date.
You are reading this blog because SCN is one of the resources you rely on to stay relevant. Hopefully you also make use of as many of the others as possible as well.
In my view this places you (and me) in the minority of ABAP Developers. I am deeply concerned for the future of those of our colleagues who have not kept in touch with contemporary development trends including ABAP skills. I fear that they will find themselves so far behind the rest of the industry that they will struggle to be relevant.
Let me use an extreme example to illustrate my point. Say I am someone who gained formal development skills in the late 1980’s or early 1990’s. I got a few years into my career – I was just starting to really understand that this programming thing is actually a bit of an art and just starting to crank out some clever stuff.
Unexpectedly a new opportunity came up. There is this little known software company that is selling its’ applications to almost everyone. There is huge demand for skills in a new programming language and therefore a huge skills shortage. This skills shortage is so extreme that the software company is training people for free! That’s right – no charge! All I had to do is turn up on the door of one of the big accounting firms or system integrators or wait for them to call me. They immediately sent me to a “Partner Academy” to learn this new programming language. When I returned – a scant month or six weeks later – I found myself fully booked and I could command a premium salary commensurate with the premium charge out rate my employer billed to the customers. Life is good – very good – as long as I didn’t mind working hard along with a fair bit of travel.
After a few years though I found the life of the consultant was not for me. Too much away from home and family, too many conflicting priorities, too frantic. I actually prefer to work for the same employer on the same system all the time. And again it is not too hard to find a good permanent role because everyone is looking for a better way than paying those premium rates to their SI.
So now I am very happy. Nice conservative company to work for, close to home, they appreciate my wonderful developer skills, they have a good compensation plan and treat me well. I can really show my value by building some great screens and reports that allow the business to get the most out of their applications. And no more maintaining other peoples code either – sweet!
Time passes. My company is not keen on upgrading to the latest version of the software because they want others to go through that pain first. Release 1.0 really means Beta 0.1 anyway – right? There is no need for me to learn about the latest stuff because I can’t use it for a few years anyway. And when they do upgrade – guess what? My old code still runs on the new platform. I don’t need to change a line of code and I can continue to develop screens and reports the same way I always have. When there is a big project my employer engages an SI who comes in and executes the whole project. The SI also supports their solution going forward so I don’t need to worry about maintaining their code either – besides I’ve noticed they seem to have some strange ways of doing things.
Of course there are good reasons I couldn’t stay up to date. My employer wouldn’t send me on any training courses. I didn’t have access to the latest software. I was too busy. I struggle to learn in isolation. I have a life outside my work.
Clearly my extreme example is a minority case – I certainly hope so. But I do believe that the majority of ABAP developers are not keeping their skills current and it annoys me. It annoys me for many reasons but I think mainly it annoys me because these people are my peers – they are Me. And by being less than what they could, and should, be they diminish the value of the profession we are all in and by implication – Me.
So I want to make a Call to Arms.
A Call to Arms for all of you reading this blog, the minority who get it, to reach out to your peers, the majority who don’t get it, and give them a great big shake.
Find a way to rock their world and show them how far they have slipped behind their peers and try and motivate them to catch up. Get them reading ABAP blogs, downloading ABAP trial versions, studying SAP TechEd presentations, whatever it takes. If you can point out missed opportunities to them. Try and get them to aspire to be better at what they do. As I said – whatever it takes. Get them to learn how to build web sites, web services, how to use any development tool except SE80.
Give each person a time limit to get it – say a month. If you try with someone for one month and they don’t get it then give up and move on. After all life is too short to waste time and there is work to be done and time is short.
Why could time be short? Well, it is possible we are approaching an inflection point. Up until now there has been gradual change in our ABAP world – and we can catch up to gradual change with a bit of effort. But consider what happens if an inflection point can only be traversed by those with the best of ABAP skills. I will call this inflection point “Huge Absence of Nifty ABAPers” and leave it to you to figure out the details.
Even if you don’t think such an inflection point is coming, Jon Reed pointed out to me the implications of SAP’s strategy of using NetWeaver Gateway as the standard method for publishing back-end services. “Most of the cool sexy new apps can be built by non-ABAPers …” says Jon. He continues with “great UI development is rapidly moving from nice to have to if you don’t have it, forget about it.”
There are also some other possible outcomes. For example, SAP are spending a lot of time and effort on something called “Developer Engagement”. They have made some significant strides in 2012 and there is lots more to come. They still have a long way to go – but so do we. By its’ very definition “engagement” requires something from both parties. We need to remember all the time we are asking for SAP to do more towards Developer Engagement that we, the developers, also need to do more. If we don’t, not only will true engagement not occur but SAP will quite reasonably look for another way to achieve their goals. One alternative could be for SAP to “engage” with another community of developers – or several – and simply assist them to add the ABAP toolset to their skills. How do you like them apples?
Remember – “If you are not moving ahead – you are falling behind.“