Jody Hesch, HANA Distinguished Engineer & Couchsurfer
So we thought it was time to bring in the next round of HANA Distinguished Engineers. Time is always tight for HDEs so when I heard the council had asked Jody to be a HDE, I dropped him a short list of questions in an interview-style format. We’ve been watching Jody Hesch on the HANA forums and blogs for a while, and he’s an independent consultant working on big HANA projects.
So Jody, a warm welcome to the HDE program. You’ve coincided with Revision 71 of HANA, which is a little unfortunate. I hope you fare better!
Tell us a little around your background in the industry
Well I started my career in software development. One of my first “apps” was a nifty reporting tool that tried to predicted internal spending patterns at a national laboratory based on an algorithm used in technical stock analysis. It was a small-scale, custom system built on SQL Server, Matlab, and generated reports in Microsoft Word (yes, Word. Can you tell I’m not a front-end guy?). The irony is that at the time I had no clue what “Data Warehousing”, “OLAP” or “Predictive Analytics” even were.
The next technology firm I joined was a niche software development firm that competed with SAP in the MRO space (Maintenance Repair Organization). Most of my effort was put into back-end Java code powering a custom project management suite.
I later joined SAP as a Content Developer in Waldorf and then Consultant in the Business Analytics group, which brings me to the next question…
How did you get into the SAP HANA space?
In the Fall of 2010 I was living in Mannheim, taking some grad classes in Ludwigshafen am Rhein, wrapping up the study phase of a fellowship program sponsored by the US Congress and German Bundestag. I had to find a position in a German company, and I was hoping to get into the somewhat obscure field of Operations Research. However, I kept hearing about some software company called SAP with global headquarters nearby, and given my development background I decided to see what was available. I applied for a position supporting an “in-memory” prototype of a product called the Bank Analyzer, powered by “NewDB”. Despite stumbling through the interview in broken German, I was accepted for the position and ended up developing the core logic behind one of the first RDS packages, Financial Reporting with the Bank Analyzer on SAP HANA (which unfortunately I believe is now deprecated).
What advice would you give to people looking to transition from classic SAP to HANA?
From a professional perspective, I guess I’m one of the best or worst persons to answer the question. I have *zero* experience with classic SAP, BW, or any kind of traditional data warehousing (which surprises most people). Hopefully this serves as inspiration though for others that you don’t need a specific background to be successful in the HANA space. What you do need is passion, motivation, and a willingness to put your neck out there. For consultants and developers interested in getting in the HANA space, I’d suggest: 1) pick out the top 5-10 contributors on SCN, dig through their content, spend some time on the HANA Academy website, fire up a free 30-day HANA trial, read through the official documentation (development/reference sections), get your hands dirty, post incessantly on your corporate forum, and get your name out there. Demonstrate your passion, your ability to learn, and your willingness to mentor – and it’s a matter of time until people start pegging you for HANA work.
From a technical perspective, the best thing you can do is become a SQL guru. You can certainly get started with HANA without being a SQL Expert, but the best practice for any endeavor in life, in my opinion, is to nail down the fundamentals. Whether it’s understanding cardinality, join types, aggregation, set operations, finding duplicates, designing ETL jobs, digging into system tables (metadata), or a multitude of other staple HANA activities – you’ll be in the best position with a strong SQL skill set. From there, complex calculation views, SQLScript, procedures, triggers, and advanced topics like predictive/text/geospatial analytics will come much more easily.
Can you tell us a little about the projects you are working on right now?
I’m currently supporting a boutique IT firm from a high-level HANA architecture perspective. They’re implementing HANA for a medical equipment manufacturer. They just wrapped up a BW-on-HANA migration and are starting to explore opportunities with Enterprise HANA which is where most of my time is spent. There are several challenges associated with lots of dependency on BW logic, so we’ll need to be a bit creative on how we handle requirements for Enterprise HANA reporting.
Also, today I started a full-time engagement with one of the Big 4 consulting firms. We’re starting with high-performance expense reporting, but I have yet to dig into the details. I’ll keep you posted as it sounds like some exciting things are coming down the pipe!
Tell us about one of your HANA war wounds!
About a year ago I was pegged for a HANA-based proof of concept for some obscure feature in CRM called “Rights Availability” within “Intellectual Property Management” (IPM) for a large entertainment company. The concept is relatively simple – Jim the Sales Rep for Entertainment Co. wants to identify opportunities to negotiate/sell a season of The Simpsons to a small cable company in Toronto. In reality, the Sales Rep wants to find availability for a large portfolio of IP, across hundreds of thousands of products, at multiple levels of three different hierarchies with multiple levels each – Media (TV, DVD, Cable…), Territory (Country, State, City…), and Language (not a hierarchy but still multiplies out the data). Combined with custom settings such as Exclusivity, the system ends up with a *massive* data set that it has to iterate over to find a window of availability which matches all the desired criteria. Some runs would take 11+ hours…!
As should be clear, this isn’t a problem that can be solved efficiently with any combination of analytic views, CalcView UCVs, or any other “vanilla” solutions. We begrudgingly started the project with no faith in a good solution (resorting to lots of clumsy iteration just like the ABAP code), bad performance, and general frustration trying to code complex business logic in SQLScript. For several weeks we had to painfully report slow development and poor performance.
However, by the end of the project we were able to build an efficient solution that leveraged HANA’s core strengths, removed every line of iteration code, and ending up improving performance by a factor of 10x – 200x depending on input parameters. Moreover, we accomplished this on a single-node 1-TB 80 core HANA system, which blew the planned 16-server framework (16 cores and 256 Gb of RAM each) out of the water.
Stay tuned as I’ll be posting a simplified version of the core solution logic in an upcoming blog in a series I’m going to title “Thinking in HANA”. ϑ
What do you see in the future of HANA?
I’m tempted to try and give some intelligent answer about the next generation of predictive/geospatial/sentiment analysis, but I’ve never been one for insightful market predictions. Instead, I think a lot of folks forget to consider an important aspect of scalability. Just as new technology should hopefully scale up and out (from a technical as well as organizational perspective), there also opportunities to “scale down”. Folks need to remember that more than 50% of the US GDP results from the activities of small business (according to a quick google search). While the SAP HANA Startup Community has lots of visibility, I think we’ll start seeing lots of “established” SME firms adopting HANA as their platform of choice as well.
For those looking for entrepreneurial opportunities with HANA, consider following in SAP’s footsteps with a non-disruptive sidecar approach to transform ease and speed of corporate reporting, but on a smaller scale (i.e. HANA on Amazon Web Services). I’ve come across such an opportunity (and don’t think they’re hard to find) and hope to report back to the HANA community with some successful results in a few months’ time!
If there was one change you could make to HANA, what would it be?
HANA has come a very long way since my pre-SP1 days. A lot of the hang-ups I had have been resolved and improved upon in ways I wouldn’t have expected, which is great. That being said, a few things come to mind. They’re short, so I’ll mention two instead of one.
As a former developer, I’d love to see some more object-oriented architecture in HANA artifacts. I wish I could define a “superclass” Analytic View with, say, 3 Attribute Views and 4 restricted measures. If I could set this in stone, and then inherit from it in child Analytic Views, adding additional views/measures/restrictions, etc. This is more of a wish-list item though, as you can of course often still meet many reporting needs with one big “fat” model without sacrificing performance (due to join pruning, field pruning, etc).
[Comment from John, this sounds a lot like a calculation scenario!]
My second change would be in an SLT-based landscape. I’ve spent lots of time with bright developers working on complicated workarounds for fundamental requirements like slowly-changing dimensions (SCDs). It would be great if SAP would invest more in the “middle ground” between Operational Reporting and Enterprise Data Warehousing and enable such functionality out-of-the-box. There’s no need to re-engineer BW (or any other DW), but a few basic out-of-the-box features like history-tracking (SCDs), hierarchy flattening, and some basic data cleansing would be fantastic.
Oh, and – I have to add a third – I’d set “Left Outer Join” as the default rather than “Referential Join” in all of the graphical models. 🙂
Why did you decide to leave SAP and become independent? Is it because of the HANA market?
The market is certainly part of the equation. I spent a lot of time talking with folks who spent time in the independent world, I received lots of encouragement, and I found that the risk/reward profile behind the decision matched my life circumstances and career ambitions.
In addition to market dynamics though, I found myself thinking more and more along entrepreneurial lines, and like any firm I’ve ever worked for, I had to sign NDA/IP agreements at SAP that severely restricted my legal rights when it came to exploring products and services outside of SAP. The point though is that this is the case with 95% if not 99% of companies – so it has nothing to do with SAP itself. I had a great time at SAP. I learned a lot, met great folks, got to travel to four countries, and had an excellent work-life balance.
Tell us a bit about Jody outside of HANA and work
One of the challenges of the consulting world is that so much time is spent on the road which makes it difficult to maintain certain routines and habits. I used to be an avid runner and have ran a couple marathons, but the last one was three months before joining SAP. My current project will have me working from home for the next 6 months or so, and I look forward to hitting the trails more often.
One of the advantages of being on the road, though, is getting to constantly meet new and interesting people. Since going independent, I’ve spent most of my time on the road staying with folks through AirBnB or Couchsurfing rather than in hotels. I spent a few months staying with a wonderful couple in Denver during a project with a major defense contractor. We became great friends and they coincidentally ended up moving to my city (Albuquerque, NM)! While I certainly understand people’s hesitation behind the concept of these sites, I’d encourage them to explore the safety features behind the websites, use common sense, and spend some time seeing whether it’s right for them. I can tell you from personal experience that enjoying homemade Gazpacho on the rooftop of a Barcelona penthouse listening to authentic Spanish guitar with wonderful, hospitable locals is a thousand times better than any hotel, no matter how luxurious!