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I’ve felt guilty for around 18 months for not having done this – ever since Blog it Forward – Tim Guest (Updated 9th January 2014) passed me the mantle. There have now been an incredible 271 BIFs, including all kinds of fascinating people. So, here’s my overdue submission.

I remember growing up, that writing was the hardest thing for me. When I was around 10, I was once sat at my desk in a classroom and we were all asked to write a piece of creative writing – about anything. I sat there for the full class of 60 minutes, paralyzed by writers block, though I didn’t know that such a thing existed. My English teacher took me to one side after the class ended, and told me I had to stay until I’d written it.

Red Smith is generally credited with having said, about writing: “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.” – and this is exactly how I felt in that classroom as I poured my imagination onto paper, and how I feel right now.

And since Tim, and the others, who blogged it forward to me, didn’t ask me some specific questions to round me, I’ll have to make my own way.

How did I get into the SAP?

The short answer is: almost entirely by accident. My brother had started a SAP consultancy called Bluefin Solutions that had IT problems and I came in to fix those. Over the years I found myself consumed into the small space where I started my IT career: performance. I’ve always been addicted to performance, right the way from my early days with computing and at university. I think that the algorithmics course with Roger Needham was what got me

My Thesis at the University of Cambridge was using advanced algorithms to perform image analysis of 3D ultrasound images for cardiology patients, and it needed an enormous amount of computing power to complete in a reasonable amount of time. I had a DEC AlphaWorkstation under my desk in my room, and I got sufficiently obsessed by the performance that I rewrote all the Linux graphical libraries in C, reading images bit by bit and processing them. My code was 100x faster than ImageMagick at the time and you could analyze a whole artery in 30 seconds. This has a direct correlation on patient care: it means the doctor can do the analysis right there and then, without having to take it away for 2 weeks.

So, the same thing drew me into the SAP world. At this time, SAP BW was relatively new and performance was usually poor. I’ve worked on performance scenarios for nearly 200 SAP customers, rebuilding models, changing hardware and tuning systems so they are usable by the people who need to extract information.

By this time I was spending all my time at Bluefin customers and so it made sense for me to join them and run their Technology team in 2008. It turns out that I have a knack for being able to explain things to people and so I led the team – creating external marketing content, web content and running the P&L of that team.

And into SCN

At this time I was mentored by Michael Eldridge, who is now Bluefin’s UK country leader. Michael has a savvy view of the future and he suggested we focus on Mobile, and that I build my brand by writing content. At this time SAP had started to co-innovate with a database company called Sybase Inc., and so I worked with SAP and Sybase on the original Sybase Unwired Platform and CRM products.

In the midst of this were my first two TechEd conferences, where I got to meet people like Harald Reiter, Blog It Forward – Thomas Jung and Craig Cmehil. I believe I actually have Simon Griffiths from Bluefin to thank, because he invited me to Hackers Night – the predecessor to InnoJam. That’s where I came to realize that this is where the interesting people were. At around 2am, talking to Harald, I realized that the SAP Mentors were a group of people that were worth getting to know.

So I started to blog and contribute on SCN much more, whilst focussing on Mobile, and I put myself forward as a SAP Mentor for SAPPHIRE 2010. Gladly there was a big push in that year on Mobile and Mark Finnern called me whilst I was on my way home one evening to give me the good news.

From there I have met many good friends. @Jon_reed, Dennis Howlett, Vijay Vijayasankar in particular, but there are too many people to count. Some special thanks have to go to Susan Keohan, Karin  Tillotson and Jim Spath, who helped me greatly into the Mentor program at a time where it felt like there were many giants and I was looking up. I remember one night when they made me an honorary BITI member. I’m pretty certain I’ve since been expelled.

HANA: Back to my roots

The moment I heard hasso plattner talk about HANA for the first time, on stage, at SAP SAPPHIRE in 2010, I knew the world was about to change. Performance – in case you didn’t figure this already – has for some reason always been planted in my core. I knew intuitively that Hasso had seen the future and it was the place we had to be.

This is where I have focussed my energy ever since, and I’ve got a passion to understand something new every week. I try to focus a few hours every weekend, when the house is quiet and I’m awake, to read something new, build something new, learn something new, about HANA. And since there seems to be an almost infinite supply of things to do with HANA, that’s not hard to do!

And so here I am in 2013, much closer to the technology than I have been for many years, enabling Bluefin’s regions to run better with SAP HANA and to grow our practice out in the USA.

What do I do when I’m not at a keyboard?

As Haruki Murakami said: “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” – and that’s my motto when I hit the pavement. I find that running is the single best way to clear the mind, keep healthy and be creative. Most of my ideas come from that point in between pain and suffering, on the 10th mile. I’ll run on a treadmill if I have to, but I’d rather be out on the sidewalk.

And then there’s travel: I have always had a passion for travel. My job helps this to some degree, and when I’m not at work, I make sure I’m away somewhere. Lately I’ve found that websites like AirBnB mean you can travel much more cheaply and I’ve become an expert on credit card and frequent flyer points systems, so I can indulge this passion.

Let’s not forget writing. My writers block left me critically bad at writing – and my Headmaster, the late, wrote on my school entrance exam “Now let him look to his English”. When I won the creative writing prize three years later, I felt some great satisfaction at beating “the man”. I suspect however that was David’s intent all along, so he won that round. These days, writing is an addiction and I pen at a number of places including my own website,

Blog it Forward

There are two names that are very clearly missing from this list – so I’d like to nominate those two people. Vishal Sikka and Bill McDermott. Bill’s movement into social media has been very interesting to watch this year and I know he’ll enjoy telling his story. I also notice that Jon Reed and Vijay Vijayasankar have both been nominated by others, but haven’t yet Blogged it Forward, so I’ll throw them under the bus too. For you guys, I will be kind and offer up some starter questions:

1) Tell us your story. How did you come to be where you are today?

2) What is the #1 thing that you’d like to do in 2014?

3) Who inspires you? Why?

Final Words

I don’t know why but I love to have a “final words” section – perhaps some thoughts don’t neatly fit into the structure which I self-impose on my blogs.

The main thing I wanted to put here is that I’ve missed out people. People who have inspired me, motivated me, made me a better person and picked me up off the floor. I was thinking to try to call out more people in this blog, but there’s no point. I’ve not tried to include everyone here – and if I didn’t mention your name, it’s just because I didn’t :-). All the people I’ve met in the Bluefin and SAP Community are the people that have made life interesting in the last few years.

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    1. Former Member Post author

      I’ve left a thousand things out!

      The HDE program was a part of a set of recommendations that Vijay Vijayasankar, Jon Reed, Dennis Howlett, Harald Reiter and I made to Vishal Sikka around 18 months ago. Those recommendations went across all of developer education within SAP and included two other programs, which have since flourished: The HANA Developer Center, The HANA Academy, and OpenSAP.

      What I learnt about SAP in 2013 is that executive alignment is enough to get a spark, but there have to be people internally to SAP that have the passion drive it from the ground up as well.

      The people in SAP Global Marketing involved – Amit Sinha, Ken Tsai, David Hull and others have done a great job and now the HANA Distinguished Engineer program now has a new leader inside SAP, Matthias Haendly.

      In 2014 we’re going to look at ways to step it up with a much greater level of engagement. Watch this space!


  1. Former Member

    Hi John,
    Its great to know about you..I am also working on SAP HANA..Certified recently at TechEd Bangalore 🙂 …I am going to bug you a lot now with my doubts

  2. Former Member

    John, better late than never! A very interesting story and I can relate to the thinking time while out running or biking, it really helps focus the mind.

  3. Former Member

    Very Nice read. The best of all is you are still at the beginning of the journey and keep the bar high always. I love the phrase of “ “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” Will keep that one closer to me!

    All the best!

    1. Former Member Post author

      We are always in the middle of the adventure! The rest is in front of us, and behind us.

      And of course you were part of my 2013 journey – working with you on SAP HANA customers at IBM and then at SAP. And finally meeting in person, having worked together for nearly 2 years.

  4. Midhun VP

    I always like to read blogs from experts like you that gives some energy or motivation. I really liked your #BIF. I had noticed your name during the discussions on “OpenUI5”. Good to know you John.Thanks

    – Midhun VP

    1. Former Member Post author

      I’m glad it motivates you – it motivates me to write this stuff too.

      OpenUI5 was such an important part of SAP’s journey this year and something I was proud to lobby for. It still requires a lot of work to get SAP’s developer focus right, but they have made huge strides this year.

  5. Susan Keohan

    Well, John, welcome to the #BIF family, and I am so happy you took the time to write this blog! 

    The #BITI team (of ASUG) never kicks people out – we’re kind of like the Family in that way – and you are Michael Corleone.  (Michael Corleone: Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in.)

    Since nobody made your life easier by giving you some typical #BIF questions, I’ll start…

    1.  If your personality was an animal, what kind of animal would it be?

    2.  How do you hope to leave the world a better place?

    3.  Why was this such a quiet year in the Northeast Atlantic region, hurricane-wise (Mr. NOAA Big Data Boss)

    Thanks for making my morning!


    1. Former Member Post author

      Guess it was my wishful thinking then 😉

      1. A big cat. I like to think of myself as a lion but I’m probably more like a house cat. I’m a Leo, after all.

      2. Wow, how can any of us hope for such a thing? I hope that by the small actions I’ve made to affect the people I know, customers, and the companies I’ve worked with, that there will be some knock-on effect on the world.

      3. I’ll have to get back to you on that one! Answering the what is much easier than the why.

  6. Bill McDermott

    Thank you John!! Since I’ve started tweeting/posting, you’ve been a great friend and so supportive. I’m honored to be included in your story and will do my best to blog it forward. All my best for a very happy new year and a 2014 that exceeds your every expectation!

    1. Former Member Post author

      Thanks Bill! I loved your quote when you joined Twitter:

      I’ve believed for some time that leadership in this ever social world in which we live has moved online and you have manage to encompass that transition in yourself and your company this year; I’m proud to have had some supporting part in that story.

      There are many people in leadership positions who have content ghost-written for them and there is an authenticity in your content which makes it yours. You’re a storyteller and I’m certain you’ll enjoy to Blog it Forward!

      Likewise on our 2014 goals. 2014 is set to be a year of inflection – for me personally, I’m sure for you in your new role as co-CEO, and for the industry. I’m certain it will be hard work and rewarding, in equal measures. Happy New Year, to all.

  7. Anshu Lilhori

    Hi John,

    Thanks for sharing your journey and it was pleasure reading your blog.

    I appreciate your writing skills and i feel now it may not be hardest thing for you anymore. 😉



    1. Former Member Post author

      I’m glad you enjoyed. Writing is still hard for me, but I do now have some coping mechanisms which allow me to do it.

      Did you watch the movie Shakespeare in Love? It’s tongue-in-cheek, but many writers struggle!

  8. Henrique Pinto

    Very nice to read your BIF. 😉

    It was a brief yet enlightening glimpse of the origins of one of the best SAP Mentors (IMHO, besides Tammy Powlas and Matthias Steiner).

    I’m also enjoying your more recent active engagement in the HANA forums.

    I wish you’d blog more in SCN instead of your personal blog, it’d be easier to follow, hehe.



      1. Henrique Pinto

        It’s just the truth. 😉

        For me, the 3 of you impersonate the best one cold expect of a SAP Mentor in each of the ecosystem spheres: customer, partner and SAP employee.

        1. Former Member Post author

          Thank you – missed this comment before. You are too kind.

          The blogging thing, I try to be quite calculated about.

          – – more “businessy/end-user-focussed” content related directly to HANA

          – SCN – SAP-specific, and more developer-focussed

          – My blog – Stuff that didn’t fit anywhere else

          I also blog in a few other places – the Bluefin website, Diginomica, Seeking Alpha. I’m not sure that the content that I post on my blog would be in many cases right for SCN. Here are the last few posts, do you disagree?

            1. Former Member Post author

              I got rid of my personal blog on SCN and created my own for this reason. I don’t think it’s the right place for this sort of content.

  9. Former Member

    Hi John,

    “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” I like the slogan very much!

    Keep up the good work! Thanks for sharing about you and your experience.

    Good Luck! Happy New Year! 🙂


    Hari Suseelan

  10. Christopher Solomon

    Thanks for blogging this! Our paths have crossed many a time (usually at TechEd in Vegas) as Mentors, and I have always wanted to know more about you…not the SAP stuff…”your story” kinda stuff…..we never seem to have time in Vegas, so thanks for this…maybe it will be a good conversation starter for the next time we meet. haha

  11. Raj Kumar Salla

    Hi John,

    Good to know about your BIF.

    When I was learning HANA couple of year back, I gone through your blog/document but I could not find that document now and learned a lot from you and still learning from you.

    I seen the list of HANA Distinguished Engineer but could not find your name. I wish you should be in that list soon.

    You are already in HANA success ladder and wish you more success 🙂



  12. Jelena Perfiljeva

    Hm, for some reason I was expecting something a bit juicier, so feel a tinge of disappointment. 🙂

    Was surprised to learn about the the Mentor “giants” feeling. I guess my own giant ego saved me from feeling the same way, although it was not without some awkward moments (“Is this available in Hadoop?” – A-ha-ha-ha-ha, is this in shmadoop, good one! Wait, you were serious?!!!!).

    Lighting up the inboxes of SAP executives with “you were mentioned by…” emails – nice touch. Will we see their BIFs? Place your bets now! 🙂


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