Leaving SAP – Into the Wild

After 10+1 years, I decided to leave SAP.

What did I do at SAP in these 11 years?

I have been acting in the role of Implementation Consultant, Process Consultant, Trainer Developer, Project Development Team Lead, Integration Architect, Escalation Manager, Project Manager, Solution Manager and Product Owner.

I also worked frequently with sales people and business consultants.

During my time with SAP I worked in all continents and spend an extended period in Silicon Valley/ US. If I remember correctly I was named 4 times “Top Performer” during my time with SAP.

I spent the first 6 years with SAP as a consultant. I almost always was the only SAP employee in the customer project. While in my first years this was extremely challenging, I learned a lot about software, people, management practices, pressure and stress. Also I started to dislike traveling for business purposes. 5 days away from home are not fun.

During this time I worked with major customers worldwide, e.g. Procter & Gamble, Gillette, Pirelli, BASF, Bulgari, Nestlé, Bang Olufsen, Kimberly-Clark, Mars and Philips. With them I did a lot of performance and system integration related work. I also built tools for myself and others, first in ABAP and later in Java.

I spent the last 5 years in positions which I would call “highly visible”. First in solution management where I worked together with a huge development organization in discussing and defining a relatively large software solution. First for myself and later for others I development and maintained a client / server Eclipse RCP application for software requirement and bug tracking (similar to JIRA). This software is used by several business units in SAP with approx. 600 users.

Afterwards I was the content team lead (Product Owner) for a development team and had the opportunity to facilitate agile development methods. I also used this assignment to fight certain dysfunctional management practices. This created in my opinion very positive results for the team and the team performance.

I enjoyed this very much, from the social aspect of building and motivating a team as well as trying to change management practices, which were not working.

Lately I was responsible for delivering mobile solutions. We were a very small team and implemented iPhone apps as well as an Android apps. At this time we were the only team, which did some work on Android.

I think I can proudly say that our team established Android related technologies and validated the usage of Android for SAP. At some point Android development was forbidden within SAP but we worked with the responsible persons to get the permission to continue. Now Android development is popular within SAP.

I also acted as content owner as well as Android programmer.

I also would like to mention that I also led two SAP Research Projects and did part of the implementation in these projects. I also coached approx. 10 students. Working with fresh minds was alway very interesting for me and we built SAP related solutions during this time in GWT, JSF, Eclipse RCP, Eclipse e4 and Android.

Didn’t you also do Open Source Stuff?

During my consulting time I had used every opportunities to simplify the customer implementation (and my life) with tools built in ABAP and in Java. I frequently see a lot of manual work done by other people, while I usually build tools for these kind of things.

Having a “high visibility”” position at SAP typically means that you spend a lot of time in meetings, status calls or reporting something. I feared that continuing this route would lead in loosing my technical skills.

To maintain my technical skills I worked at night after my SAP work and on the weekends. At some point I needed more time and I requested a work time reduction at SAP.

Afterwards I only got 80% (later 60%) of my salary from SAP and only worked 4 (later 3 days) for them. If I visited a conference or delivered a training I had to take vacation at SAP. I had a huge pile of open vacation days collected in my early years with SAP, so I used these days to join these events.

While SAP never sponsored any of my Open Source related activities, I still value that they let me work part time for them so that I could spend time in technical topics outside SAP.

The people I meet

On the customer side I had the opportunity to work together with all levels of the organization from CIOs, support people, programmers, business people, end users and more.

I met a lot of impressive people at SAP, as well as several people which have been challenging to deal with. Both groups can be fun and I learned a lot about conflict handling and resolution in theses years.

The person which had the most influence on me was my former boss Bernd Mosbrucker. Bernd demanded a flexibility, which really pushed me to my limits. I’m sure a lot of my current personal abilities have been improved during my time with Bernd. I also found Bernd dedication to his content topics very impressive.

In the last two years the most influential people on me were Marcus Zahn and Sergej Shafarenka. I really value their insights and controversial discussions.

I tend to value people with knowledge and skills over people high up in the ranks. This is not necessary conflicting. For example I admire the CO-CEO of SAP, Jim Hagemann Snabe. It appears to me that he still maintains his social and technical skills and he seems to make great decisions.

I have the theory that skills and knowledge give people confidence and that this enables them to receive good feedback from other people, so that they can make good decisions.

My funniest moments at SAP

Once a customer CIO tried to blackmail me into working full time for this company. He did confuse some facts, therefore his blackmail attempt was quite amusing.

Once I did complete an automated testing setup. This automated testing was running automatically and critical issues where also reported automatically. I was forced to stop this testing. In a personal discussion with the responsible person he repeatedly said that “the project does not have the resources to perform this kind of testing”. My attempt to explain everything was done automatically failed.

A group of tech people in a meeting declared “Find and Replace” in Excel as to risky and did the required changes manually.

A customer repeatedly called me between 2 and 3 in the morning on weekends to check if I would be available in case of potential production problems.

My first customer escalated to the SAP board every time I wanted to take vacation in the first two years of my assignment with the customer.

I once offered a service to implement a certain component of SAP in two weeks. A customer to which that was offered was extremely offended and requested to get a “real implementation” which should at least take a year.

There have been other hilarious moments, but either I don’t remember them at the moment or if I do I feel that I should not share them in a blog entry.

For the insider: No, 86 is not the right number. 😉

So if everything was so great, why do I leave?

I guess partially because I had to move anyhow. My mobile project was declared as finished and my team members reassigned to other projects. My new suggested position would have been a more “strategic role” in the mobile area. Unfortunately the description of this role sounded boring to me.

I also feel that I have seem most of SAP, there processes and technologies.

Also I’m very much excited about Android and Eclipse technologies and working in the Open Source space. I want to spend more time on these topics.

In summary this wasn’t easy for me, 11 years are a long time.

If I could change things in SAP, what would that be?

I think SAP started lots of new initiatives. Most of them I like.

I personally hope that SAP continues their attempts to implement agile development practices. The agile practices currently have a few flaws but nothing which couldn’t be fixed. I think agile methods have great potential for SAP.

I hope for improvements in the runtime characteristics of the ABAP virtual machine. I needs to get faster. As a Java person I believe SAP should just compile ABAP to the JVM to leverage this platform. 😉

The same applies to the user interface technology performance. It needs to get faster.

Last but not least, I’m a tool person, so I would like to see the development tools enhanced so that SAP development can create, faster, great solutions. ABAP on Eclipse is a great effort, I hope that it will be made available widely in and outside SAP.

Best wishes for SAP

I like to wish SAP and my former colleagues all the best. I like that Germany has a huge software titan and I would like to see it continue to be successful. I’m very impressed with SAP dedication to Open Source in general and Eclipse technology in specific.

I should also mention that I have the option to return to SAP within the next 3-4 years. I think if I return to SAP I would try to join one of there Open Source initiatives.

The future

Goodbye SAP. I now walk into the wild…. 🙂

About Lars Vogel

Lars Vogel is the founder and CEO of the vogella GmbH and works as Eclipse and Android consultant, trainer and book author. He is a regular speaker at international conferences, He is the primary author of vogella.com. With more than one million visitors per month this website is one of the central sources for Java, Eclipse and Android programming information.
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