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Reaching Out

As a technology company SAP is over 4 decades old. Over that time it’s innovated at a tremendous pace, and along the way it has abstracted, invented and reinvented technologies like no other company I know. In parallel with this, there’s been an incredible growth in community, business and technical. In this post I want to focus on the technical.

The oft unspoken status quo with the SAP technical community is that the members operate within a bubble. It’s a very large and comfortable bubble that powers and is powered by the activity within; folks like you and me learning, arguing, corresponding and building within communities like this one – the SAP Community Network. We have SAP TechEd, which is now called d-code. We have SAP Inside Tracks. We have InnoJams, DemoJams and University Alliance events too. Every one of these events, and event types, are great and should continue. But there’s a disconnect that I feel is moving closer to the surface, becoming more obvious. This disconnect is that this bubble, this membrane that sustains us, is in many areas non-permeable.

There are folks who operate on both sides of that bubble’s surface. Folks that attend technology conferences that are not SAP related. Folks that are involved in developer communities that have their roots outside the SAP developer ecosphere. Folks that write on topics that are not directly related to SAP technologies (but with a short leap of imagination surely are). But these folks are the exception.

SAP’s progress in innovation has been slowly turning the company’s technology inside out. Moving from the proprietary to the de facto to the standard. Embracing what’s out there, what’s outside the bubble. HTTP. REST-informed approaches to integration. OData. JavaScript and browser-centric applications. Yes, in this last example I’m thinking of SAP’s UI5. In particular I’m thinking about what SAP are doing with OpenUI5 – open sourcing the very toolkit that powers SAP’s future direction of UI development. With that activity, SAP and the UI5 teams are reaching out to the wider developer ecospheres, to the developer communities beyond our bubble. If nothing else, we need these non-SAP developers to join with us to build out the next decade.

I try to play my part, and have done for a while. I’ve spoken at OSCON, JabberConf, FOSDEM and other conferences over the years, and attended others such as Strata and Google I/O too. I’ve been an active participant in various non-SAP tech communities in areas such as Perl, XMPP and Google technologies. This is not about me though, it’s about us, the SAP developer community as a whole. What can we do to burst the bubble, to help our ecosphere and encourage SAP to continue its journey outwards? One example that’s close to my heart is to encourage quality Q&A on the subject of UI5 on the Stack Overflow site. But that’s just one example.

How can we reach out to the wider developer ecosphere? If we do it, and do it with the right intentions, everybody wins.

Update 04 Mar 2014

The massively popular code sharing and collaboration site now supports OpenUI5 bootstrapping. Read this post for more details. Step by step!

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  • Good points DJ, I see your point but I also think this process will take time. After 40 decades, SAP has only started to adopt open standards in the past couple of years, so awareness in the developer community will take sometime too. According to me, SAP needs to make great strides in documentation and clarity in it's product offerings if it needs a wider adoption. Recently, I had to dig around some information about SFDC integration with SAP and it was a great experience to find and read the SFDC documentation which was very well written, organized and concise. I do believe as a community, if we can help with a open source documentation for SAP products, it could help with adoption. And then there is the topic of APIs that Graham has covered in length few weeks back.


    • Hi KK

      Thanks for the great comments. Although I must disagree on the first point; SAP embraced and adopted HTTP over a decade ago, with the Internet Communication Manager (ICM) addon to the dispatcher in the ABAP stack, and the Internet Communication Framework (ICF) as an ABAP-language layer on top of that. One might think that is trivial but in fact IMHO spawned a whole load of innovation, the benefits of which we're still reaping today, with for example every integration scenario worth talking about being HTTP-based.

      I do however agree about the APIs, regardless of how aged, legacy-like, complex and diverse the backend portion of those APIs might be.

      My question to the community is how we as developers (both SAP and non-SAP) can reach out; it's not just SAP that has to make the moves (and it does) but we belong to the ecosphere too and perhaps must also play our part.

  • Hi DJ, I understand your point. But with posting to SCN, are you reaching the right community? I'm also a die hard SAP guy and to be honest, I've no idea how to reach out to all the others outside of our comfortable SAP island.

    You've been at the other conferences. What's your opinion in how to engage 'the others'?


    • Every journey starts out with simple steps. By posting to SCN I was first reaching out to folks like you within the SAP developer ecosphere. There's very little chance of this post being read by folks outside. And that's sort of the point, as a bonus in the 'meta' space of what we're talking about 🙂

      By engaging folks like you we build a greater mass of interest and desire to reach outside the bubble. But the time comes when we want to reach out externally, and so to our questin.

      I've been to other conferences, yes. And I've spoken at many too. But to be honest that speaking mode is only one of many avenues. Speaking, sessions, are a sort of "advertising". But there's more to it than that. And from my experience (and I certainly don't have all the answers) it's about deep and longer-term engagement.

      Embedding myself within different communities. Not primarily to reach out and "sell" SAP, nor with the principle purpose to actively make those links happen. But with embedding and real collaboration there are two valuable by-products: learning, and connection through osmosis. Not every area, event or point of interest outside the SAP developer ecosphere will be relevant, but without engaging, there won't be the chance to recognise when there *is* relevance to connect.

      Another way is to think how we might get non-SAP developers on board with projects. How might that happen? What's in it for us, for SAP, and (most importantly right now) for them? Plenty, if you ask me.

      thanks for your thoughts. Would love to hear if you have anything (concrete or not) in mind that the fabulous Dutch SAP Mafia could bring about 🙂

    • So the first questions that come to mind for me are: Why did the seniors discourage you? And in hindsight, that this was a good thing, or a bad thing? Getting to the bottom of that is something we should do first in your case.

      On the Twitter question - you only posted it a few hours ago, and not everyone's on Twitter anyway. Further, those that are might have been too busy hacking on some UI5 stuff to have seen it 🙂

      • Most of my seniors said to me that it is very difficult to get a job in SAP market. Obviously this is not true, else I would not be able to land a job. This reflects miscommunication. Secondly, my observation is that organizations that are providing SAP consultancy within Karachi, do not have adequate technical consultants (at least for SAP B1 solution) and customers are complaining about it. I have personally worked with one such customer. Most of my seniors who are in to technical consultancy are not up to date with latest trends like SAP HANA, SAPUI5 and SUP. They are all limited to ABAP related stuff.

        I personally never found a SAP event happening in Pakistan for last 2 years. Can you tell me about any SAP TechEd/ d-code, SAP Inside Tracks, InnoJams, DemoJams and University Alliance events in Pakistan?

        • So the seniors said it's difficult, but didn't give a reason why. Forgive me, but I'm already forming an opinion about those seniors 🙂

          Being up to date with the latest stuff, being "limited" to ABAP - why is that? If they wanted to, there are plenty of resources for self-improvement available, from books to videos on YouTube (as a very recent example, I'm thinking of the series of videos on SAP River).

          I don't know about events in Pakistan; my time is taken up with looking at events in other parts of the world, I'm afraid. That said, if there's not an event in one's own country, there's the option of travel, plus the possibility of submitting talk proposals, to reduce conference entry fees, and so on (I have done this, travelling thousands of miles to the west coast of the US for OSCON, session notes in hand). And if there's no SAP Inside Track in Pakistan, perhaps you could be the first to organise one? I did, in Manchester last year, along with Tim Guest and Philip Kisloff.

  • Cool new open source tools, frameworks can enjoy incredible free marketing as long as they are cool or useful enough.  It only takes a few tweets from the right people to start the storm.  Is Openui5 cool enough, does it have enough promise or solve things in a better way than competing frameworks?  Good frameworks can also be replaced very quickly by the latest and greatest (coolest).  For me, the initial strong selling point for OpenUI5 is enablement Fiori like UI for SAP customers that have a "third party" backend.  To deliver a consistent UX for those that have mainly Fiori apps is an important place to start IMO and I have already presented that to one big customer.  But what do I know, maybe a tweet or two from the top 10 followed html5 twitterees can create the storm.  At least that would mean you quickly reach over 1 million followers.

    keep up the great work DJ.

    • Nice points Bjørn, esp. the bit about building "new enterprise UI* compatible" non-SAP-backended apps with OpenUI5. I do think that OpenUI5 is a great vehicle to carry some of the reach-out that we need. But there are other areas too, some beyond my ken.


  • First of all I want to express that I really respect your views and the job you are doing for the community DJ (Hey, you gave my brother great advice instantly when I reached out to you because his daughter wanted to start programming stuff).

    Praises aside (Here comes criticism, I’ll buy you a beer in Heidelberg next time around to smooth things over 😉 ), I wholeheartedly think that you need to get the existing developer community modernized and not repeat the past errors when SAP tried to introduce WDJ.

    The idea back then (Look it up, arguments were exactly the same) was that there are millions of Java developers out there and they will fix our UX problems. Didn’t happen, and external (non-SAP) web developers won’t do that this time around either.

    Running from SIT’s to SIT’s and TechEd’s to TechEd’s (d-code’s now I guess) during the last year, I find a huge gap between the perception of the few bleeding edge SAP techies that attend these events  and what happens in most real life SAP projects.

    I wish to praise those hard project working individuals that don’t have the time to skill up, but are heroes when it comes to business and SAP knowledge – The core of SAP is ABAP and it takes years to become a proficient developer within a specific SAP area.

    If you reduce these people to GW service developers and remove any UI development possibilities for them I think you will fail.

    My 2 cents 🙂

    • Hey Njål, thanks for the reply. I'm already looking forward to the beer 🙂

      You make some good points, and there's a couple I want to respond to right away.

      I do remember the WDJ era and the move towards the Java EE platform. But I think this was different. One of the ideas at that time was that SAP would take Java developers off the street and get them to write great apps (backend or frontend, didn't matter). They'd do that by inventing their own version of the very platform that those developers were familiar with. But (this is easy to say in hindsight, but those who know me can probably hear echoes of this in their poor ears) - it was somewhat doomed from the start. An incredibly complex infrastructure (EE), re-invented (SAP's Java VM), with all the overengineering that comes with the Java movement (I am so going to get strung up for that), and SAP's inside-out take on UI at the time (Web Dynpro) - and it wasn't even focused on UI(/UX).

      You mention the idea that "Java developers [would have fixed] our UX problems". I don't think it's about fixing UX problems, particularly. Of course, the focus right now is heavily influenced by OpenUI5 and rightly so. But I think that focus is more because of a few key reasons:

      - SAP has embraced open source (by using existing libraries rather than re-inventing their own versions)

      - SAP is adopting an outside-in approach to UX/UI development, in the same way that a huge part of the rest of the developer world has

      - SAP is giving back to that same source by open sourcing OpenUI5

      So it's about more than fixing things and it's about more than getting more developer heads to build the next generation of SAP applications (heck, I don't want to see a repeat of the last time SAP did that, when they trained up fresh developers in ABAP and pointed them at CRM application requirements - what a result! :-/).

      For me it's about a 2-way embrace. Rather than talk about empty general anecdotes, here's a thought from my own experience: Since being a part of the open source community, and learning an immense amount about development in other languages, techniques and approaches, discovering the beauty and simplicity of HTTP as an application protocol, and all the rest of it, my SAP skills, and therefore my deliverable SAP work for clients has improved. And continues to do so.

      And the other way? There are so many compelling reasons for non-SAP developers to approach the SAP developer ecosphere. Look at HANA, the startup program. Look at OpenUI5, look at the innovations in integration in the Gateway area. Yes, of course, these are the areas I work in, but the cause and effect are exactly that - I know about the fantastic opportunities in these areas because they're close to me, and I'm sure there are other areas of innovation too that I don't even know about.

      I know I've written too much already in this response, but I wanted to end with a thought about something else you wrote - concerning the gap between the "bleeding edge SAP techies" and the "hard project working individuals who don't have the time to skill up". One the one hand, a developer's job (IMHO) is to keep their skills fresh, and their thinking fresher. But to the main point, yes, there has been and there will always be a continuum of nerdiness on which various people will be found. That is in the nature of the work we do, the time we have, and the interest and intensity individuals have. That is to be celebrated, not to be seen as a problem.

      I for one, being on one part of the continuum, absolutely delight in being able to look up to those folks who are doing amazing things, and learn from them. Work would be so much duller if I didn't have superheroes from whom to learn and be inspired.


      • Wow, best reply I ever got from a comment 🙂

        I guess we need to have that beer to get to the bottom of this, and I think we wish for the same thing.

        I have been the technical project manager of several projects where we threw out AS400 RPG solutions that were running perfectly (Custom transactions made over 20 years) but with faulty UI (Command line interfaces) and replaced them with SAP (4.6 - 4.7 at the time).

        Seriously I believe that part of the SAP install base is facing the same era now. This is the reason why UI is the most important thing for SAP now in my opinion.

        I actually come from the Java J2EE world, and was forced into SAP through CRM ISA (Horrible jco framework btw) and XI (Later PI), but the WDJ was primarily a UI push (rfc’s through jco from the backend). Our experience with this offering was that the java developer didn’t know anything about SAP processes and we needed a huge overhead in specifications to get him/her communicating with the ABAP developer… so we needed a third person, and in my opinion three people to do the job of one.

        Point is that we have left ABAP developers with WDA and limited UI possibilities, their newest UI tools are Flex, Silverlight and HTML5 islands which is not really giving them credit.

        They might, as you suggest, learn from the super heroes of the community and get into JavaScripting (or UI5 scripting as I call it, as it is a skill in its own right), but I unfortunately think it is wishful thinking that you convert a development community in a short timeline, which is crucial. So I believe in giving them the crutch you don’t need, DJ (I was planning to leave one at your desk in Walldorf btw .-) ) Be it our product or what SAP is presenting at the next d-code.

        I made loads of friends in the “nerdy” part of the community and am not trying to diminish their work or the great endeavor they participated in regarding making SAP open-source, I am just saying that UX change is vastly important for SAP now and we need to be pragmatic if we don’t want to be replaced like those old AS/400 installations.

        • You're totally right, UX/UI is _crucial_ for SAP right now. But it shouldn't be the *only* focus, is all I'm saying.

          On "we have left ABAP developers with WDA and limited UI possibilities" - I have to disagree. I'm an ABAP developer, always have been (since ABAP/3 came out around 1989), always will be. But my UI tools now are UI5. I just don't buy the "I am a COBOL developer", "I am an ABAP developer", "I am a JavaScript developer" single-minded sentiment.

          Looking forward to that beer!

          • We are already seeing both Fiori and a long list of both redesigned and new SAPUI5 based programs being delivered this year, meaning that it is very relevant to most SAP Developers to gain the skills of SAPUI5, javascript etc.  There will be tools from Neptune, SAP and others to make the transition easier but there is no "No ABAPer left behind" strategy here, most will either have to get their skills upgraded or face the fact that they are becoming less and less demanded.  Many though for sure will find their place with the Netweaver Gateway and can avoid the scary HTML5 world.  How long will this take though is the big question and that depends very much on the quality of the released SAPUI5 based solutions from SAP (and others). 

          • I agree, but it also depends on the desire of the said ABAP developer to skill up. You mention Gateway as an example, which is perfect; it's only a short step away, with familiar footprints (err, this metaphor is not great I know) from where they are right now. The framework is already there for them, and if they want to dig even deeper, there's always the ICF of course 🙂

  • Great work DJ, you're definitely pushing the boundries... useful for me, but will hopefully help make UI5 more visible to the jsbin community.

    Many thanks,


  • Excellent blog, and I totally agree with your points.

    I try to promote UI5 where I can, and although I strongly, wholeheartedly believe in its strength, I also think out of the box it might lack the 'cool-factor' in certain areas.

    On the other hand, as a developer you could do a little effort (little meant literally here) in the control/eventing/CSS department and the results blow people away!

    As an example, currently I am fortunate enough to work on a UI5 project for a multi-billion enterprise, and the responses to the UI are all mind-blown... We are able to develop better (looking), way more usable applications in a shorter timespan than before. Once the businesses recognize this, UI5 may skyrocket as well, albeit from a different angle

    • A change is definitely already happening, I have already heard about (and seen) many great projects with UI5.

      In many ways I don't think we are doing ourselves a favour by always comparing enterprise with consumer trends. IMO UI5 is cool and it is amazing how far it has come in a very short amount of time. Personally I keep coming back to the SAP ecosystem because I love the challenge of making enterprise applications look great 🙂

  • What a great article DJ. This hit a nerve with me.

    As someone with a pretty vast IT background (both sides of the bubble), who now very happily earns his living running development teams concentrated in and around SAP, I have always found there to be two different types of ABAP developers. They are;

    1, Those that went to learn and study ABAP with the intent of becoming an ABAPer.

    2. Those that had an interest in all technologies regardless of background and training who just happen to make a living doing ABAP. These guys are technologists that describe themselves as developers.

    Now importantly both the options have great developers that produce great code. The differentiator for me is the number two guys, their eyes light up at the thought of a "new language" to play with.These guys are the ones that will use new technologies just cause they can.

    It does not however guarantee that they will promote the technologies within the SAP ecosystem or for that matter outside of the SAP ecosystem. In my experience I have found that the guys that are most excited by things like UI5 are the "other" developers that when shown, see this as a way to get into SAP development. It removes the barrier to entry that ABAP has always had. You can now give access to the toolset to .NET developers and let them lose. The backend connections and data still need ABAP developers that understand SAP, that will never change. What will change is that this new blood will be where the attention is and the ABAP will just deliver the service.  

    How do we get this out there? How do we get the wide community to take notice? In my opinion this is achieved through visibility of cool technologies and gadgets. You need to capture the imagination of these guys. You need to get them to wonder what they could do with standard internet technologies and big data. This is where SAP will step away from it's traditional footing into something different. Take for example the vending machine at TechEd 2013 Vegas, they had a vending machine running HANA. Traditional ABAP trained guys don't do this type of stuff, technology lovers do.

    I can still remember having a heated discussion with a couple of developers about doing RSS feeds direct out of SAP. This was two years ago and the comment was that this was not possible, the answer always has to be.... of course it is possible it is JUST SAP. The JUST is important, it demonstrates an arrogance that says that you should not hold it to an excuse just because it is SAP.

    We need to increase the demonstrations of the technology, it needs to be in front of the business and not just IT. A lot of SAP guys seem to be stuck on Fiori in my opinion rather than looking at UI5 and seeing this as a possibility to include other java libraries in their SAP project. Objects such as google piechart, it is fantastic and takes 2 columns of data and creates an HTML5 chart object. The addition of this into the SAP landscape and applications is where we are going to catch theses guys that will take it forward. Where do we find them? Places like hacker spaces, google developer sessions, maker spaces (electronics), Internet of things spaces.

    Wow, I can see why Anne Kathrine Petterøe turned her comment into a Blog.


    Chris Rae

  • Folks that are involved in developer communities that have their roots outside the SAP developer ecosphere. Folks that write on topics that are not directly related to SAP technologies (but with a short leap of imagination surely are). But these folks are the exception.

    As an SAP employee, I just spoke at a tech-oriented conference way outside of SAP's usual spheres (Unbridled Innovation at Lesbians Who Tech Summit) and it was incredibly rejuvenating and inspiring. Part of my talk was on the value (indeed also competitive value) that employee networks (such as SAP's LGBT network) provide because we do exactly this: we cross organizational boundaries; we melt the silos away.

    I'd say it's a mandate for any employee anywhere to be involved both inside and outside their various communities - we can't afford not to be as global citizens.

    I'll be more than happy to meet you and @yojibee/guest 18 anyone else at OSCON 🙂

    thanks for this post DJ,