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Personal Insights

From Web Development to SAP BTP Consultancy

Inspired by the recent blog posts by DJ Adams (From Classics to Developer Advocate) and Timo ELLIOTT (From Econometrics to Evangelism), I want to add another SAP coming of age story. Though I am neither Development Advocate nor SAP Evangelist and my story may not be as interesting as the others (I am also a bit younger 😁), it may nevertheless motivate and inspire people with different backgrounds to look into and maybe find a new home in the SAP world. And I will also try to share some lessons I learned through my career.

Becoming a Ruby on Rails Web Developer

I was interested in everything computer related for as long as I can remember. But while I spend a good amount of my childhood on consumer-related stuff (playing games, playing around with stuff like Office, Musik Maker, etc…), it was hard for me to get into more advanced things like programming, mainly because I started the wrong way. My first books were 1000 pages long deep dives into C++  and DirectX Game Programming, which kind of broke my motivation early.

Lesson 1: Try to understand the basics first
Starting with those advanced and complex topics really killed my interest, because the learning curve was way too high and I was too ambitious. Today, with a 15 year background in CS, I can often rely on my existing knowledge, but whenever I am facing something completely new, I try to get the basics first, before digging into the more advanced stuff.

Nevertheless I started studying Computer Science and once I got through the basic lectures of algorithms, networks and computer languages (C and Java), it got me hooked.
In my internship and later in my first job at a small web company, I learned a lot about web and software development with a strong focus on (object-oriented) PHP and Ruby on Rails, which by that time (2008) was on its hype cycle. Looking back, we build some amazing things: full blown B2B shops with real-time connections to various other systems, including SAP. Scalable Social Networks and Data Warehouse-based applications with advanced stuff like REST-APIs, asynchronous, event-driven messaging and in-memory based databases.
While I really liked what we did on a technical level, two things bothered me after the first few years:

  1. I was a developer and technical architect, but only had little insight into the business side of things. We were sometimes asked to find technical solutions for problems, that from my perspective only existed, because there was a gap between business and IT.
  2. While we worked with awesome and state-of-the-art things in 2008 (Ruby on Rails, REST, Redis, MongoDB, Scrum, BDD, Cucumber, Jenkins…), we were still “Web Developers”. I had some friends working in the SAP universe at that time and while I had only little insight into their daily business, I saw them driving big cars and earning much more money, than I did.

Since in my current job, I felt like I could not solve those issues, I decided to make a move and because I wasn’t exactly sure which direction I should take, I started a M.A program in IT Management next to working full time in my current job. I was 30 when I started my second university degree and 34 when I successfully finished it. Throughout my studies I met people way older than me and outside of the university also some, that always wanted to study, but never did, because they felt, they had missed the right time in life.

Lesson 2: Better late, than never
I really think, it is never too late to take an opportunity, whether it is educating yourself or just trying out something new. Writing a thesis next to having a full-time job and two little kids was challenging, but I don’t regret having gone through this, because it brought myself forward and I learned many new things, including some about my personal limits.

My route to SAP (BI)

During my studies, I stumbled upon the field of Business Intelligence, which immediately grabbed my interest, because it has a strong technical part in terms of data acquisition, preparation and data modeling, but is heavily driven by business questions. After some further investigations and a closer look into the SAP BI/BW world, I made my decision to take the route to become a SAP BI Consultant. I prepared myself and took some costly SAP BI related courses, to have a solid core understanding, before applying for a job. In the end, this payed off and I was able to chose between a great set of companies (I chose the smallest one and never regretted this decision). I also prepared a rough plan on my career as a BI Consultant and in the end, things went better then I had hoped for.

Lesson 3: Prepare important things
I think the key is to be prepared and to have a rough plan, on what your goals are and what you want to achieve. Without preparation, you need to either be very good in improvising or you are always dependent on random other factors, which may push things in any direction.
Preparation is key and this also applies to small things like meetings, etc.

Before I made my decision to move into the SAP space, around 2012/2013, the SAP universe for me was some mysterious place, that was locked behind big company doors consisting of old-school and over-complex applications, ugly UIs and some proprietary dinosaur-language called ABAP. And everything was being run by suited-up business people. It’s kind of funny, that even today I meet a lot of people outside of the SAP world, who think the exact same.
But shortly after my change into the SAP world, I realized that most of those prejudices weren’t exactly true. Yes, SAP GUI is ugly, but the SAP ecosystem is much more diverse, than I thought it would be, in terms of technology and especially people.

Lesson 4: The SAP universe has a place for almost everyone
The SAP universe is so vast and big, because it is centered around supporting companies in running their businesses. During my years, I met many people with all sorts backgrounds, that moved into the SAP universe and found a fitting place. And it is most likely, that there is a place for almost everyone, who is willing to overcome any false prejudices… and get along with the true ones.

Coming from the fast and ever evolving area of web technologies, I was expecting to see only little innovation and having to deal with all the legacy stuff. But when I got in contact with SAP BO Design Studio/SAP Lumira, SAP HANA, SAPUI5/Fiori, SAP Cloud Platform, SAP Conversational AI and others, I realized, that while those tools and technologies are still not as fast evolving as the web, they are innovative and because they are build for enterprises, they are also much more mature, than many of the fancy other frameworks and tools I have worked with in the past.
When I switched into the SAP universe, I was also expecting, that many of my previous learned skills wouldn’t be needed. But I was totally wrong. It only took a couple of months before I built my first Design Studio dashboard proof of concept and by applying some skills I learned in my Web Developer days: some focus on usability and user experience, a little JavaScript-like coding and some simple CSS, we build an interactive dashboard, that exceeded the clients expectations and gave us the chance to create reference dashboards for one of the biggest german companies.
And it didn’t stop there: While I also did some ABAP during that time, I had the chance to look into and work with many other tools and platforms: SAPUI5, SAP HANA, SAP Cloud Platform… and I could use many of my former skills to have a jump-start in learning and working with the new technologies.

Lesson 4: Every skill you learn has and might keep its value
My experience is, that every skill you learn will bring you forward. Throughout my career I faced many problems, that often could be solved by applying the same set of skills. Application architectures, databases and data modeling, programming languages, performance and many other CS aspects work almost the same way in and outside the SAP universe. And this also and especially applies to soft and non-technical skills as well!

One major point in DJ Adams blog post is dealing with the skill of learning and there also have been some great presentations at this years TechEd on this topic. I fully agree with DJs opinion, that learning is the number one skill everyone should focus on and it’s so important, because if it’s done wrong, it may lead to frustration and sometimes it will completely destroy the will to learn, which I think is crucial, especially in the ever evolving area of IT.
During my career, I figured that I learn best in the following way:

  • Get a solid core understanding of a topic by taking courses, reading tutorials, books, etc.
  • Work on a (personal) project to be able to think about and solve problems without guidance
  • Learn by teaching others

During my time as a SAP BI Consultant, I had the opportunity to be a lecturer for SAP and it really stroke me, that I really like to learn by teaching others. To be able to talk about something, you really have to master it and this motivated me to become an expert in some areas.
There are many questions and discussions in the SAP community around the topic, that it’s important to learn SAPUI5, JavaScript, Node.js and all the other fancy new stuff. While this is what I do, because I am interested in this kind of things, I also think, that not everyone is forced to go that route. I think it’s pretty valid to be and to stay an ABAP only developer. But that should not free yourself from learning. I’ve met ABAP devs, that coded ABAP for decades, but were not able to apply OO and other new language features.

Lesson 5: Learn how to learn best
There may be some sorts of scientific concepts and classifications on the best way of  learning, that I don’t know of. But nevertheless, I advise you to learn for yourself, how you can keep up the motivation to learn and how you learn best. It really is important.. and it will also be important in 20 years from now.

Becoming a SAP BTP Consultant

Being a consultant and on the road up to 5 days a week while having three kids and a family is challenging. I was aware of this, when I made the initial decision, but after a few years, I felt the need to shift things in a direction, that is more compliant with a normal family life. I’ve met some people during my time as a SAP BI Consultant, that were really successful in their jobs, but at the cost of broken relationships and families. I have no right to comment on such personal matters and to give some advices, but I think it’s important to early on think about what you want to do, when you have a family.

Lesson 6: There is a life outside of your job
Private life over time can become more complex, with a demanding job, kids around, a house built, etc. You may once come into a situation, where things get too complex and you should start making things simpler, to either not get burned out or to not start losing things. To stop climbing the ladder and to shift to a new job may not be an easy decision, but it will probably be way easier than dealing with the alternatives.

I was in no hurry, but luckily, due to some connections, I got the opportunity for a new job close to my home town, that would reduce the travel time and also would give me the possibility to deal with all the fancy stuff, I already played around with over the years and was really interested in: SAP BTP Consultant at a small but growing company called p36.

Lesson 7: Build a network
Having a network of people you met during your career can be important, because it sometimes opens up opportunities, that you don’t know exist. But it’s also important to not see this as a take-only thing. 

What does a SAP BTP consultant actually do? My team and I are supporting companies on their transition to the SAP Business Technology Platform, which involves all sorts of tools in the SAP (Business Technology) ecosystem: Cloud Foundry, HANA, CAP, SAPUI5, CPI, API Management, Node.js, Conversational AI… But it also requires some knowledge in the ERP world and ABAP and especially non-technical things like understanding business problems and helping to find supportive technical solutions.

What’s next?

I currently feel very humbled, because my current job is in balance with my private life and includes many things I was initially searching for (technology and business wise). But there are also many new areas and things to learn and to explore. And I feel like a made myself a home in the SAP world in the area around the SAP Business Technology Platform. My next steps will definitely include improving and learning new things in those areas (hello Kyma… 😉 ) and also to grow my team of SAP BTP Consultants at p36.

If you have read until the very end, I hope you enjoyed my short summary. I am eager to read your feedback and about your journey as well!

3 Comments
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  • Great story, thanks for sharing, Mike. The lessons really resonate with me and I'm sure with others too. My fav part of those lessons? Get the basics first, before digging in to the more advanced stuff.

    Also, in reading your story, I realised there was something that was unspoken until now, and that is that this entire thing is a "long game". Learning is life, life is learning, and the career & growth is intertwined with that.

    • Thanks, DJ Adams and I fully agree with your comment on the long game. And also a big thank you for this kind of initiative and for your advocatism in general, which often goes beyond just the technical stuff, to also focus on the really important human aspects of things. Keep up the good work!

      Sincerely,

      A big fan! 😄

  • This blog makes me think about my life inside and outside of work!  That's rare.   For me the life-work balance does make a huge difference.  Each person at some point in their life must come to that decision family/work.  Personally like you - I usually choose family.   Now I do it all of the time.  With that said - I have to work a job I enjoy or I find myself grumpy at home.  I learned that hard lesson too.

    No matter what I choose - Learning is always important to me.  Learning moving forward and using the new technology when it makes sense to use it.   That's the big that I loved about the blog.

    And I just found out - JUST Now - how nice it is learning the basics first.  I usually jump in head first and it is sink or swim.  I won't even talk about the first SAP implementation.  Four weeks of training, go live that shouldn't have been, programming in a language I didn't know.   Yup - hated that.

    Great reading.  Your journey is inspiring.