Good User Experience Really Matters | SAP Mentor Spotlight Ethan Jewett
|The SAP Mentor Spotlight Interview Series highlights key strategic topics, such as emerging technologies, learning, and other topics, and provides insights from SAP Champions and SAP leaders on turning ideas into innovative approaches that impact people, process, and technology.|
With the rising need for digital solutions, new business models, new technologies, and new ways of working (e.g., virtual and hybrid), the importance of user-centric solutions grows exponentially.
For better understanding, developers, designers, and project leaders consider questions such as:
- What challenges do users face?
- What do users really need?
However, too often these questions are addressed towards the end of a project, rather than upfront.
To surface users’ needs, hard and soft skills such as problem-solving, design thinking, communication, collaboration, empathy, and attention to detail are essential for success in IT and business outcomes.
For Ethan Jewett, SAP Mentor, developer, User Experience (UX) expert and Director of DevOps, Development and Technology at Mindset Consulting, he is a huge advocate of the positive impact that UX can have on the world. He brings a passion for uncovering the real (and often hidden) needs of the organization and users.
It was a pleasure catching up with Ethan from his home office in Minneapolis, Minnesota (US).
Stephanie De Camara Marley (SM): Hi Ethan! During your days at The University of Chicago as a philosophy major with a minor in mathematics, did you have any idea that it would take you on a career journey leading to your current role as the Director of DevOps, Development and Technology at Mindset Consulting?
Ethan Jewett (EJ): In one word – no. 😀 However, I always had a keen interest in technology and computer programming since childhood exposure to the Apple II in elementary school.
Philosophy and math, plus practice with programming and database design, provided a great foundation for a technology or consulting career. So, when the opportunity arose to join and be trained by the local office of an SAP Data Warehousing consulting company (Inforte-COMPENDIT), it worked out great!
SM: How does your earlier background in philosophy by way of “humanities, social and physical sciences, and arts” help you in IT today?
EJ: At least in the US, this is often just called “liberal arts,” which is a whole educational philosophy that permeates a lot of our educational system.
One aspect of this philosophy is that anyone in any job would be well-served to have some grounding in all of these disciplines. Whether or not this is true, it worked out well for me.
It seems to me that a lot of the skills emphasized by liberal arts curriculums are the core skills required for success in IT and business. These skills are often short-changed by more purely STEM-focused educations. I’m talking about skills like written communication, deep reading, engagement with text (or code!), reasoning about difficult and murky problems, and argument.
There are very few clear-cut answers in IT. Almost everything is an exercise in tradeoffs, and these skills are essential for analyzing situations and gaining agreement on how to proceed.
SM: How did you become an SAP Mentor? In this role, how do you engage with Community members?
EJ: I was nominated (I still honestly don’t know by whom) after significant engagement in the SAP Community. At the time, it was called the SAP Developer Network, and I blogged and wrote in the community and on Twitter about a variety of topics.
At the time, my focus was on data warehousing and analytics, but I also had a keen interest in development practices from outside of SAP and thinking about how they could be introduced into the SAP ecosystem.
SM: While you have expertise in a wide range of business and technology solutions, the user experience (UX) (e.g., SAPUI5, SAP Fiori) are areas where you have special interests, expert skills, and many deployments. What is it about UX that fascinates you the most?
EJ: Oh, there are so many things! Probably the biggest attraction for me is the positive impact that UX can have on the world. Both in terms of quality of life for users, and in terms of its ability to make stuff possible that would otherwise be impossible.
In technology, people like to talk about cool stuff like Blockchain, machine learning and AI, big data, etc. But UX is really the low-hanging fruit with the big pay-offs. Basically, can we just make the experience of using technology go from something people dread and avoid, to something that people find invigorating and attractive?
If we can do that, then we end up with outcomes like improved safety, improved deployment of resources, and happier employees at the end of the working day. When applied in the right industries and to the right processes, UX makes the world a better place.
One other note I’d make: Developers are users too. What is the developer experience like for SAP customers on SAP projects? There is room for improvement and steps to consider to make it better!
SM: As a long-time participant at UI5con, what are some of the takeaways from this year’s conference that you found interesting in respect to innovation and crafting great development experiences?
EJ: UI5con is great. As has been the case for the last 5+ years, the UI5 and OpenUI5 team is leading SAP in terms of modern, open development and community engagement. The rest of SAP would do well to follow their path. The things that most interested me in the current UI5con were in these areas:
- Further movement towards modern industry standard development practices, even at the expense of some backwards compatibility
- Open-sourcing SAP Fiori tools
- The excellent conference site, with recordings and resources for every single session with no login required.
SM: As a YouTube and podcast moderator and expert panel member, you have led many discussions on optimizing ERP effectiveness. What are a few examples of how UX design and growing SAP development skills can help?
EJ: The biggest blocker to realizing great (or even decent) UX in ERP implementations is lack of attention. It’s simply not a top priority on many implementations. Even when it is a priority, customers’ SAP organizations are often lacking the tools required to execute on a UX vision.
In terms of development, I think the best thing that developers can do is try to engender a UX focus and bring that to every piece of development work that we do. Empathize with the user and use that empathy to make our development better.
From an organizational perspective, investing in a real UX function has a much greater payoff. The secret power of the design approaches, like Design Thinking used in UX-focused implementations, is the ability to uncover the real needs of the organization and of users.
The actual requirements are almost always significantly different from the stated needs. In other words, requirement documents are almost always wrong, and Design Thinking uncovers this early in an implementation rather than at the end, after all the work has been completed.
SM: What advice can you share with students and recent graduates who have started down a path and realize they want to make a change (e.g., philosophy to technology)? What are the best ways to get traction to become a development or UX professional and get a high-quality job and start an exciting career?
EJ: Personally, I’m more focused on development, with UX as an interest. I think this advice still holds:
Don’t get overly focused to the detriment of maintaining broad interests.
One of my guiding principles is the development of T-shaped people. People who are deep in at least one area but are also well-versed in a broad range of areas.
The broad scope of knowledge is essential to being able to identify the right solution. Having deep experience in at least one area is essential to being able to understand the type of challenges that you will face as you implement any solution.
So, cultivate a curiosity that drives you to learn about lots of different things. And while you are learning, be on the lookout for something that interests you enough to go deeper into that area. Don’t give up learning new things, but also start digging deeper in that specific area.
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