Later this month SAP Press will be introducing its new E-Bite publications format to the SAP community. These small size electronic books concentrate on a specific topic that, due to practical constraints, are covered only generally in books where the topic is only one of a larger collection of topics, at best having its own chapter and at worst being reduced to only a few pages. E-Bites overcomes this limitation, taking the deep dive into the details of a specific subject, thoroughly exploring the nuances of its associated concepts, and I am honored to be included as one of the authors of this inaugural release of the E-Bites series.
I first learned about E-Bites during a conversation in late March 2015 with SAP Press editor Kelly Weaver, who was aware I was an ABAP programmer and, through an exchange of emails, had become familiar with some of my articles on Agile Software Development. She explained to me that she felt I had a good, clear writing style and that perhaps I would be interested in becoming an E-Bite author on one of the ABAP topics being considered for publication. I was flattered at what I considered such high praise coming from a representative of a well-regarded publishing company, but initially declined the invitation to write an E-Bite.
A week later I called Kelly saying I had reconsidered and thought I could do an acceptable job on a book about using regular expressions with ABAP, one of the topics she had mentioned in our previous conversation. Thus began my journey as an E-Bite author.
The journey begins
After my initial chat with Kelly I had begun searching the internet for articles dealing with regular expressions, finding little of anything aimed at beginners. This, I thought, could explain why so many programmers avoided the use of regular expressions – there was no easy way to learn about the concept, and the dearth of such information is what prompted me to contact Kelly and accept the challenge of filling this void via E-Bite. Integrating regular expressions into ABAP programs would require the developer to be familiar not only with ABAP syntax but also with the syntax associated with the regular expression language, a syntax so cryptic it is suspected of causing headaches, stomach cramps and cases of glazed eyes, so no wonder it is shunned by programmers unfamiliar with it.
I spent my spare time over the next few weeks thoroughly researching the subject and writing sample ABAP programs illustrating the use of regular expressions, composing my initial E-Bite draft as I went along. At first I was not convinced I could manage to fill the 50 to 100 pages of text recommended as the size of an E-Bite, but soon found it necessary to eliminate content that would have caused the book to exceed this high limit. Paul Hardy, in his superb account of his experience writing the book ABAP To The Future (http://scn.sap.com/community/abap/blog/2015/03/27/my-monster-its-alive-its-alive), also expresses his initial panic with not being able to identify enough topics to fill 15 chapters of a book, but then over time identifying more than 15 topics and having to decide what to leave out.
I found writing about regular expressions caused me learn much more about the subject, and eventually I found a way to introduce programmers to its language syntax in small, manageable bites, hoping to avoid the anxiety many might experience while trying to learn this on their own. At long last I had a complete draft I felt could convey the necessary concepts to seasoned programmers who were new to regular expressions.
Overcoming technical difficulties
Over the past few years I had been writing articles using the LibreOffice Writer application running on the Ubuntu operating system. These files are saved using the “open document text” format, the file extension for which is “.odt”. Naturally, I intended to use the same application for the E-Bite draft. The folks at Rheinwerk Publishing, Inc. required a book draft to be formatted using a Microsoft Word template and the file saved in the “.doc” format.
I did not own a copy of the Microsoft Word application, and we agreed at the start to find a way to exploit the features both applications had in common; to persevere and resolve any problems as we encounter them. This was unexplored territory for all of us, and we were learning as we moved through the process – the E-Bite book format was new and had yet to be tested in the marketplace, and this seemed to be the first time Rheinwerk Publishing, Inc. dealt with an author using an open source document editor. To their credit, the technicians at Rheinwerk Publishing, Inc. created for me a LibreOffice Writer template equivalent to the one used with Microsoft Word, with detailed instructions to me on how to make it available during editing sessions.
My editor, Hareem Shafi, and I soon discovered many of the incompatibilities between Microsoft Word and LibreOffice, but eventually we found a way to overcome the challenges presented by these different applications. Hareem was very patient with the difficulties we were experiencing, and I commend her for the magnificent job she did wrestling my draft into submission. In some ways I felt we were trailblazers helping to establish a process by which open office documents could be used as the basis for future book drafts.
The dawn of a new day
Now that the work of writing the book is completed, I feel privileged that this E-Bite will accompany other E-Bites in the first release using this new book format. With its potential for providing a book on a narrowly focused topic without having to acquire a book also dealing with a host of other concepts, perhaps this new E-Bite format will appeal to the SAP community.