Artwork by Alex Rivera//SAP
Two weeks ago, fifteen new hires began a six-month long training camp that began with AGS orientation and will end with each of them delivering on-site services. This is the annual new hire boot camp, run by Venkat Mahalingam, and every year it brings new talent to SAP’s Center of Excellence (CoE).
It is an intensive period consisting of five certifications, product and toll-specific trainings, coached remote delivery sessions, and on-site team member training – all culminating to four weeks of on-site delivery as novices. Each new hire starts with the basics and architecture of the SAP systems, and moves onto process flows and understanding how to think on the job.
“It’s intense […] you jump in there, you start learning, and you study a lot,” said Jon Luecke, who finished his boot camp last year and is now a Support Engineer in the CoE NA Analytics and EPM.
Each new hire is exposed to a staggering amount of technical information, which is necessary considering many of them come to the CoE having no experience with SAP technology. Jon, for example, has a background in aerospace engineering and almost no computer science experience at all prior to entering SAP.
“For me, starting out like that with no experience – it was tough […] you basically learn how to not necessarily understand the details in the right amount of time, but to understand at a high level how things work and be able to explain it in enough detail to show that you know what’s going on,” he said.
Indeed, technical knowledge is not only a valuable skill that is necessary to solve problems and support customers. It forms the cornerstone of the CoE’s delivery capabilities and is the basis for engineering solutions – without technical knowledge, support engineers would not be able to scale and perform, diagnose and fix product issues, and develop missing components.
“I always tell [the new hires] that the CoE is a place that is built on facts. It is built on hardcore skills. We are strictly a performance and capability-based organization,” Venkat said.
Thomas Walther, vice president of CoE NA, sees technical knowledge as one of the most valuable assets a CoE employee can have. Having a strong technical background not only equips the employee to succeed in his or her work, but it constitutes the CoE’s contribution to SAP’s success and growth plans, according to him.
“Imagine you own a hospital where you have emergencies coming in. If you have a doctor that is no good, your patient is dead. If I have doctors here that are no good, my patients – my customers – are dead,” he said.
One of Venkat’s many roles in successfully executing the boot camp is making sure the new hires were learning all the technical information, drilling them incessantly on SAP software, systems, and real-life customer cases.
“He would just walk in and immediately ask a question – not say anything else – just ask a question and point to someone,’ Jon said.
His other role is to facilitate the transition from learning technical facts to applying technical knowledge in real-life situations. He drills them on how to deal with customers in real problem-solving positions, “because we’re going to be in front of them the entire time – we’re always on calls with them, we’re always dealing with them,” Jon said.
However, technical education is only one side of the boot camp story, and arguably the less difficult side to master. For new hires, they are also tasked with learning how to adjust in a high-stress work environment that’s constantly undergoing change. An employee could be in service one day and an escalation engagement the next – he or she could be at a desk or on-site at any given moment.
“You may need to pack your stuff today and land at a customer site tomorrow […] Yes, you walk alone […] but like a member of a “SWAT” team, we rely on your skills, the ability, the agility, the capability to contribute your part to get the job done – a very stressful job at times,” Thomas said.
Jon wouldn’t have it any other way though, citing the six intense months he underwent as a proper build-up to the expectations he would have to live up to on the job.
“It’s one of those sink or swim kinds of things, and I think that’s the point. When you’re working in support, it is high stress. Customers are going to be yelling at you to fix something, and you have to be ready for that, so throwing you into this and seeing how you deal with that stress is, I think, very important,” he said.
There are many intangibles, Venkat says, that add up to form a successful CoE employee – it requires a certain personality, certain initiative, and a certain grit that translates well not only from employee to customer, but from employee to employee. According to Thomas, “you’re only as strong as your team is. You need to become part of your team.”
“Some people handle the pressure, some don’t. Some learn how to cope, some understand why they’re making mistakes,” Venkat said.
In the end, Venkat and Thomas justify the rigorousness and difficulty of the boot camp with one simple reason: young blood. It’s the CoE’s survival strategy, according to Thomas – employees of different origins and experience levels are the key to innovation in the work place.
As SAP is shifting to become a Cloud company, there is an increasing need for employees who are ready to adjust to changes, he believes. The Cloud business brings in customers who come with different experiences and levels of engagement, and the CoE must be prepared to respond to problems and answer questions never seen before.
“The new generation brings a different type of approach. We call them the ‘millennial generation’ that is very familiar with different types of technologies. They come with a different attitude […] of course we need to mix their experience with what we have,” Thomas said.
The new hires are a source of pride for Venkat – he thoroughly enjoys mentoring them, bringing them into the SAP world, and being their lasting point of contact as they become more integrated into the AGS family.
“Eventually, when they hit the ground running and start to do really well, I think I give myself a little bit of credit that I think it is because of the philosophy that I embed in them,” he said. “I have been told that I’m a little tough on them, but I think I’m equally enthusiastic, and I think I have a way of laying an emphasis on what they need to do to become good students – and to become good consultants in the future.”
To the fifteen new hires who are about to find out what working in the CoE is all about, Jon has one piece of advice for them: “It’s really just work hard for these six months. If you put the time in, you’re going to get rewarded in the end because you’re going to know this in your job.”
Published by AGS CoE North America, Jenni Lu