Mike Pokraka — Member of the Month, February 2018
A winner of an SAP Community Citizenship Award, February’s Member of the Month deserves all of the accolades he receives.
Based on an audit of specific activities, the SAP Community Experience team gave the Citizenship Awards to members “who made contributions demonstrating the most outstanding effort and impact.” In other words, we looked at the numbers and identified people who were extremely active in the community — and whose participation earned recognition from other members.
I use the same criteria when looking for a Member of the Month — because the numbers don’t lie. And Mike Pokraka, February’s Member of the Month, has impressive numbers: nearly 400 answers and growing!
That type of generosity — taking so much time to help those seeking solutions — is reason enough to earn Member of the Month. But there’s another reason why I want to salute Mike: his efforts to better the SAP Community. He reports bugs (The Question Authority Is Taking a Break will always hold a special place in my heart) and voices his concerns about the community experience. That sometimes makes my job a little harder, but I appreciate members who want to improve things around here. And whether he’s helping peers or paging me to address an issue, it’s clear that Mike cares about the community.
It’s great to talk to you, Mike. Congratulations! How does it feel to be Member of the Month?
Wow, I’m not sure what to say. It’s a surprise and an honor. I didn’t think I contributed that much these days, but am happy that people seem to value it.
Looking at your profile, I noticed that you don’t have a location listed. Where are you based (if you don’t mind me asking)?
Really? I think that must have changed in the platform migration. Home is in Shepperton, a village near London. Work is a completely different picture. I might work for a German consultancy and sit at a client’s office in France. Right now I’m working on a project in Denmark and spend a fair bit of time in Copenhagen.
As a freelancer, Mike doesn’t have a boss — unless you count his son.
According to your profile, you’re an “independent consultant.” Could you tell me a bit about what you do? What made you decide to take this route?
Well, it’s just a fancy way of saying freelancer. I work mostly in techie roles with a functional slant to it — solution design, architecture, Workflow, ABAP, BRFplus, Web Dynpro, and anything clients throw at me.
For much of my career, I have made a deliberate choice of not spending too much time in one role, because that’s how we grow stale. And I get bored.
As a freelancer I can choose where and how long to work. Sometimes I even work part-time on multiple projects. This means I may have less work and earn less than my long-term peers, but I love the variety and huge amount of learning that comes with it.
What led you to this career? Did you work anywhere else before setting yourself up as an independent consultant?
I started in SAP as an employee at Siemens in South Africa where we had a diverse collection of SAP systems. There were ten business units each with their own SAP system and business models. On moving to the UK I joined another company but didn’t like getting stuck doing the same thing year in year out. I spent a couple of years working for a consultancy, but ultimately decided I’d rather be the one deciding when and where I work.
Something else interesting from your profile: It shows that you became a member in 2003. What attracted you to the community? I’m assuming it was SDN when you signed up?
I was on SAP-R3-L and SAP-WUG mailing lists and various online forums before SDN existed. Unlike today, SAP was on the trailing edge of technology back then and it took until 2003 until they finally ventured onto the people-centric side of this new-fangled “internet” thing. I naturally signed up as soon as I heard about it.
Freelancing means travel that can come with views of beautiful scenery (such as the Alps).
I mentioned that you’ve answered hundreds of questions. I’m guessing you make SAP Community part of a daily routine. How do you manage to fit it into your schedule?
SAP Community mostly fills the gaps — for example, on the bus and train. During work time I turn to SCN for “think breaks.”
I never really got along with the level of noise on Twitter, so SAP Answers are my Twitter. It takes one or two minutes to do a quick skim and maybe fire off an answer. If there’s an interesting question, something that needs research or a longer answer, I’ll save those for evenings in a hotel or other longer stretches of spare time. You can probably tell from my answers which mode I’m in.
I also mentioned that you’ve been vocal about the new community experience. So now I’m going to plagiarize myself and ask you the same thing I asked Jeremy Good, January’s Member of the Month. Let me check my notes to get this right. Ah, OK, here we go… “In your opinion, what is one area of improvement that makes you happy? And what is the thing that drives you craziest?”
My personal bugbear is wasteful UI. On my 15 inch MacBook I can see three questions when I open a forum — sorry, “tag page.” I can scroll through them at six questions per page. Six! On a PHPBB forum I can see twenty questions on one page, with better summaries. I can skim this far quicker than pages of varying fonts and oodles of blank space. The original SDN was far more user-friendly. In that sense, I miss it. And I miss the Coffee Corner. I mean, it still exists, but barely.
I really have to think hard about what makes me happy on the new site compared to previous incarnations. I think tags are a nice idea, but many people don’t understand them. I do like that the reduced incentives has cut down the amount of “answers without a clue” and the quality of answers has definitely improved as a result. But to be brutally honest, while there are a couple of nice things, there is no “wow” factor for me on the new platform.
Fair enough. Let’s switch back to the good things you do. You answer questions. You offer valuable feedback. But let’s talk blogs for a sec. You wrote one in 2005, two in 2008, and that was it. Can we expect more blogs from you? Or are you a big believer in George RR Martin’s writing philosophy?
Good question! The simple answer is that it takes too long. I have a whole bunch of blogs in my head, but they’re all of the longer variety. I also find it difficult to pick up a written train of thought if I’m interrupted, so I ideally need a solid block of one or two hours, which is a real challenge.
I also found the old platforms a pain to work with for blogs, and actually started a couple and gave up. But now that you prompted me, I think I should give it another go in the near-ish future. I read DJ Adams rave about how good the new platform is for blogging so I’m hopeful.
Mike loves building, fixing things, gardening, and family time — sometimes all at once!
We’ve covered everything you do for the community and for your career. Now let’s talk about what you do off the clock. How do you like to spend your free time?
Free time? Where can I get some? [Laughs]
Well it’s no coincidence that my activity in SAP Community reduced drastically when my son was born. He just turned four in December. I try to spend as much time as I can with my family, especially when I’m working on away projects.
Aside from computing, I also enjoy mechanical things, building and fixing things. We live in an older house that needs a lot of attention and modernization. OK, we call it a project, and I like spending time on anything from laying floors to hacking around the garden. It brings a very different sense of accomplishment to IT work. I try to turn most things into some sort of game with my son. He might deliver bolts and screws in his little toy car when I’m doing DIY. Or he likes feeding my receipts into the scanner when I’m doing my admin.
Oh, and BBQs in summer rule. Sometimes the simple things are the best.
One final question. December’s Member of the Month, Michelle Crapo, recently published a blog post encouraging lurkers to get involved. What advice would you give members who are nervous about participating more?
Just do it!
Be honest, be yourself, be professional. Honesty means don’t pretend to know. If you’re not sure of your answer, it’s perfectly OK to say, “I’m not sure but I think the problem may be x,” or “I believe that…” This is an excellent way to contribute ideas. Sometimes the wackiest ones turn out to be the real answers.
It does bug me when someone states incorrect information as fact, which can sometimes do more harm than good. So if unsure, just say so. This gets you more respect and credibility. I also try to make it clear in my answers whether they are facts, opinions, or educated guesses.
Once again, thanks for taking the time to talk to me, Mike — and congratulations on joining the Member of the Month Hall of Fame! I hope you’ll continue to answer questions and that you’ll continue to share your opinions about (and report bugs for) the SAP Community platform.