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Author's profile photo DJ Adams

Monday morning thoughts: big school and community

In this post, I think about my experience going from primary school to secondary school – “big school”, how that parallels our collective move from on-prem to the cloud, and how the community is more important than ever in this transition.

My first school, Norman House in New Moston, Manchester, was a small place, for pupils aged 4 to 11. We had fixed desks where we kept all our exercise books and pencils, stayed in the same classroom for each year, played in a small playground with a huge oak tree, and got dropped off and picked up by our parents each morning and afternoon in a regular and fixed routine. We went to the swimming baths once a week, following the same route along the pavement hand-in-hand two by two.

After a short time the school became a very comfortable place, everything was familiar, even down to the daily delivery of small bottles of milk for us to consume. We learned the basics early on — reading, writing, Maths, English — and improved upon them as we progressed through the years.


Moving to big school

Moving on from that school to “big school”, William Hulme’s Grammar School, in my case, was a whole new experience. Rather than be shuttled back and forth in the car, I, like many of the other boys, was to use public transport. The school was in Whalley Range, and as we lived at the time in Stalybridge, it was quite a journey.

One weekend just before the start of the first term of the first year, my mum took me on the bus route, so I could learn where I was going. The route consisted of a 10 minute walk from the house, followed by three buses – one into Stalybridge bus station, one from there to the centre of Manchester (Piccadilly bus station), and one from there to the school. The entire journey took between an hour and a half and two hours, each way.

William Hulme’s Grammar School, courtesy of Google Maps satellite view

That’s where the excitement and trepidation started. Not because the journey was so long, but because all of a sudden I was in the real world where variations and different options presented themselves. There were different buses that I could take for any given segment of the journey. Some took slightly different routes but got me to the intermediate or end destinations with advantages (less crowded, more frequent) and disadvantages (slightly longer routes). I had choices to make as soon as I closed the front door of the house in the morning.

And the choices and variety exploded at school. No longer did we learn just the basics. As well as Maths and English there was also Geography, History, French, Latin, Physics, Chemistry, Biology and eventually Ancient Greek and Ancient History. Some subjects were mandatory, others optional. The timetable for each class and stream was a huge affair, an A0-sized sheet with hieroglyphic-like legends depicting the schedule of each class’s periods over the day. The school was huge and there were many buildings and areas serving different purposes*. It was easy to get lost, or find yourself in a place where you ought not to be.

*there was even a computer room with terminals available (and this was in the 1970’s) – see this O’Reilly Radar interview: Burn In 7: DJ Adams for more info on that.

A grainy picture from a “Hulmeian” school magazine I’ve kept from 1979, showing the terminal room with a Systime terminal in the foreground and a paper terminal (yes, a printer head and a sprocket-fed continuous stream of paper instead of a screen) in the background.

William Hulme’s was a wonderfully complex environment, as different and varied as Norman House was fixed and rigid. In this complex environment we could start to forge our own paths. As we progressed through the years, some opted to study modern languages, others science. Each pupil did what he needed or wanted to do according to what he had to learn and in which direction he was going. (I found myself playing a lot of lacrosse and rugby, studying dead languages, and spending all my free time in the terminal room. But that’s a story for another time.) There were more opportunities for failure, but there were also many different paths to success.


Moving to the cloud

The move from Norman House to William Hulme’s reminds me a little of where we are in the SAP ecosphere, with moves from on-prem to the cloud.

Norman House is the regular, rigid, predictable, dare I say “safe” on-prem environment, where we can walk down to the computer facility and see round all sides of the machines that sit there and hum. The systems themselves are complex, yes, but follow a definitely regular and predictable pattern. To a large extent, ABAP is the reading & writing, Maths and English studied in primary school. That’s not to say it’s anything simplistic – far from it. But for many it’s the dominant of two languages (the other being Java), with which solutions are built, using the familar NetWeaver design time and run time architecture. We know where to log on, where to develop, and our tools are fixed. We know how to move our solutions through the landscape tiers, where and how they run, and how they’re monitored.



But we also know that there’s a world outside that’s just waiting for us to explore, a world described by older siblings as they recount tales from big school when they come home in the evening, tales that impart a sense of wonder, confusion, and excitement in the young mind that’s only experienced the fixed and regular environment of primary school.


A cloud-first approach

There are many reasons to move to the cloud, to embrace a cloud-first approach to computing in general and to building business solutions in particular, and these reasons have been well documented elsewhere so I won’t go into them here. But moving to the cloud can have that same degree of mystery, of wonder, excitement and also of bewilderment. There are choices. Not only in how to get to the cloud, but also in what to do when you’re there. Languages. Environments. Models. There are choices in what you build, and how you build. Hybrid integration and orchestration, cloud native architecture and development, container-oriented computing, microservices, 12-factor apps, languages galore, and differing (and complementary) approaches to designing and implementing an enterprise wide set of services.

Moreover, there’s the world outside of SAP too. No longer are there fixed borders; rather, the computing worlds run together and overlap like watercolours on a canvas, and influence each other like never before. We’re buying new studs for our rugby boots from a shop in Manchester that’s also selling football kits to other folks who don’t have anything to do with our school. We’re building new SAP solutions in the cloud using development tools that the rest of the world are also using.


The importance of the SAP Community

There’s more to learn, more to share, and more possibilities than ever before. I’m reminded of what Graham Robinson and Jon Reed talked about in the recent SAP and Enterprise Trends podcast episode “SAP TechEd Vegas in Review – ABAP on SCP, serverless ERP, community and more with @grahamrobbo“. Early on in this episode they think about the SAP Community, how it has undergone changes over the years, and how this year in particular, at the Las Vegas edition of SAP TechEd 2018 it had a  prominent presence with the App Space and the Developer Garage, where folks could come by to chat and learn. More than that, though – Jon says:

“A healthy community is the core of what a modern software company needs to succeed […] it’s not a nice-to-have at all.”

This resonates very well with me. Not only because I’m proudly part of Thomas Grassl‘s team that is behind the Developer Garage and the tutorial missions in the App Space, but also because I believe that the community is the place that will keep us sane, keep us on the right tracks and help us support and learn from each other. That community, like my fellow first year pupils at William Hulme’s, is full of folks who are in the same situation, and who implicitly – and sometime explicitly – help each other to survive and grow in an initially unfamiliar and sometimes perplexing environment.

When I put together one of the first mailing lists for SAP folks in the early 1990’s, when I got involved in co-creating the SAP Developer Network (what has become the SAP Community today) in the early 2000’s, I had a feeling that the communities that would form would likely be key to a greater understanding and sharing of knowledge. With the SAP Community today we have a rebooted environment with the great Craig Cmehil at the helm, and a wide array of offerings, including my favourite which is the Developer Centre with a whole heap of tutorials, groups and missions (with progress tracking and a great new look and feel), alongside developer resources and downloads.

There’s still work to do in the reboot, but we’re going in the right direction for sure. The main ingredient for success, however, is not any particular community website or feature. It’s you. Us. We’re all travelling the route to school together, from different locations, but with similar thoughts and wonder, and we’re converging as we walk up the path in the morning, through the rugby and lacrosse pitches to the school buildings to learn & master new subjects, and to grow together.


This post was brought to you by the clackety clack of my new Vortex Race 3 mechanical keyboard (with Cherry MX Blue switches, oh yes) and Pact Coffee’s El Silencio Espresso, in my SAP Coffee Corner Radio mug. Have a good week!


Read more posts in this series here: Monday morning thoughts.


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      Author's profile photo Daniel Wroblewski
      Daniel Wroblewski

      Nice blog and interesting comparison -- you should write psychology books.

      Slightly off topic, but since you brought up old computer rooms, I still remember when my high school got its first computer, a Wang with no permanent storage just a cassette tape drive. It caused a lot of excitement about exploring what was possible.


      Author's profile photo DJ Adams
      DJ Adams
      Blog Post Author

      Thanks Daniel! Yes, I remember the Wang machines, and indeed, my first computer, an Acorn Atom, also had no permanent storage. And at the time, I didn't even have a cassette recorder either. So I learned to type quite quickly 🙂 Happy days, and yes, the excitement at exploring this new world was tangible.

      Author's profile photo Nabheet Madan
      Nabheet Madan

      Speechless... Its just like I am reading a thriller with one feet in the past and another in the present/future. The comparison you have drawn is amazing and its so real. I can myself feel it. Earlier I was referring to only SAP community for getting myself up to date, but by embracing what exist outside SAP world the possibilities have become endless.

      I completely agree important thing is we need a community does not matter whether it is stackoverflow, reddit, SCN, Quora etc.. It is because of the community the technology gets mature, people make some cool solution, people inspire and motivate etc...endless benefits of being part of community.

      A need for improvement always exist everywhere whether it is community, products, life in general etc more important thing is to make sure those improvements are incorporated. With #SAPbabas like Craig Cmehil and Thomas Grassl i feel we are in the right hands. It is not only them each and every one of us has to make sure we are playing the right role in making our community better with each passing day.

      Reading your #MondayMorningThoughts has become a habit for most of us, keep them coming.


      Author's profile photo Craig Cmehil
      Craig Cmehil

      An honor to be referred to in such as way, thank you Nabheet Madan !

      Author's profile photo Michelle Crapo
      Michelle Crapo

      Wow!  Cover it all and tie it up with a bow.  Starting from on-premise to cloud to our very own SAP Community.  I love it.

      A step before SAP On-prem was our good old legacy systems.  You did skip over them rather quickly.  I'm sure by RPG AS/400 is sitting in the corner crying.

      Seriously, remember the switch from your very own home grown system to SAP?  Trying to make SAP fit your old process.  Oh I mean switching to SAP processes.  Yes, I'm sure that's what I meant.  The next step really was changing as much of your processes as you could. Tables instead of files.  And by tables I mean files multiplied by 1000 into SAP tables. Oh boy.

      And a bit further back yet, green screen to windows.  (System 36) Who could forget that?  So there are steps on our journey.  Many steps.  To me, each step seems like that big jump to big school.

      Off Subject - Kind of:

      Finally on the cloud?  Not really for all companies.   We have moved to SAP HANA on-prem.  Is that still a journey? Yes.  Can we use a lot of different languages now with ease? Yes.   Are we using Fiori instead of SAP GUI? Yes for the most part.

      It's an interesting thing.  I read most of the blogs, comments, etc. and it is all about the cloud.  But I wonder about companies who moved and now struggle with really changing to the "SAP" process.  What kinds of things are they doing to get around it.  I can't believe they have all been able to change their process.  Those processes may save the bottom line.  Those companies probably don't want to pay the fees associated with being able to change...  😉   So what kind of hybrid did they end up with?  I haven't seen a blog on that yet.  And I'm 100% sure they have workarounds out there.

      So the journey is "close" to the same in your blog for me.  Big steps in different ways.  We also have to remember - the project has to be right to play with the new things!  The cool thing for us is to know that it is out there.  And of course I jump up and down when I get to play with something new.

      Last but surely not least - don't forget there are people with no plans to upgrade in the near future.  We can't leave them behind.  They still can take advantage of  some of the "new" things.  Just in a different way.

      Yes, we need the community more now then ever.  Totally agree!

      Author's profile photo Huseyin Dereli
      Huseyin Dereli

      Inspiring as always. “Monday Morning Thoughts" series is the type of (quality) content we need for the community.

      The books that I love quite often are the books I wish I wrote (or parts of them). This post gives me exactly the same feeling 🙂

      Thanks DJ Adams!

      Author's profile photo DJ Adams
      DJ Adams
      Blog Post Author

      Cheers Huseyin!

      Author's profile photo Jelena Perfiljeva
      Jelena Perfiljeva

      Have to say this is the first of these Monday Thoughts blogs that I enjoyed reading. And it's not because I'm envious that some people apparently wake up on Monday with existential level deep thoughts why the only thing in my head is "f*k, it's Monday again!" It's because of the personal story that many, if not all of us, can relate.

      While your message, I'm guessing, is that moving to Cloud is just as inevitable as progressing through the school grades, there are more learnings to be found in this story. Note how your mom didn't just give you a bus route and a pat on the back but took the whole trip together with you. I'm guessing that's because she could empathize with what it feels like doing this alone and that she cared very much that you made it safely to the destination. It's nice to have someone like that in challenging times.

      Thanks for sharing!

      Author's profile photo DJ Adams
      DJ Adams
      Blog Post Author

      Hi Jelena, I'm not sure if I should be happy or sad that it's taken me 29 Monday morning thoughts posts to write one that you enjoy 🙂

      That's an interesting take on the message - the idea of inevitability had not been foremost in my mind, it was more about how there were parallels. But now you've got me thinking more generally - about the cycles of technology. the reinvention (or rediscovery) of approaches, and the inevitability of specific directions and trends.

      You're absolutely right to pick up on how my mum did what she did because she cared. It's funny - on the one hand it's a very small single event in the dim and distant past, but it's one I remember clearly and with gratitude.

      Thanks for the comment!