Welcome back to Nerd Exchange, a new ASUG column from Jelena Perfiljeva and Paul Modderman, The Boring Enterprise Nerds. Helping subscribers stay on top of SAP, AI, Cloud, and enterprise software news through their hit Boring Enterprise Nerdletter, Jelena and Paul are funny, cynical, and always interesting—a breath of fresh air for the enterprise software landscape. Below, the Boring Enterprise Nerds offer their take on the topics of reskilling, upskilling, and continuous education for the SAP ecosystem.
Paul: Let's just start with a simple truth: if you want to stay in the SAP tech nerd realm, you're going to have to board the upskilling train. And ensuring your success in upskilling means finding good ways to do it. We talked about this at ASUG Tech Connect, ASUG’s research surveys point to reskilling and upskilling as growing priorities for its members’ organizations, and SAP is starting to address the topic as well. Jelena, you and I have been around this block a couple of times. Maybe, in our advanced age, we have some wisdom to offer. What was it like for you to skill up to ABAP the first time?
Jelena: I had fairly diverse experience when I started in SAP, and that gave me a solid foundation. My mainframe days exposed me to components similar to ABAP dynamic-program (dynpro) screens and Process After Input/Process Before Output (PAI/PBO). And I dabbled in SQL and MS Visual Basic. My company sent me to an ABAP training (the famous BC400), where I immediately bonded with the instructor over our common mainframe background.
When I got back, SAP implementation was already in progress, and the real learning began. The consultants we'd hired were legally obligated to do knowledge transfer. They were eager to show us the ropes and share knowledge beyond just checking the box. More than any training, those folks taking time and care to guide us was huge.
Paul: I hadn't encountered the unique mainframe world when I got started in ABAP. I brought some prior knowledge as a web developer, so the feeling I had looking at an ABAP mainframe was, "What in the programmer heck is this?" I think I learned the material well at the BC400 training, but upon returning to my company I just… sat at my desk for about two months. I couldn't get the manager to give me an assignment. Finally, someone important realized us SAP newbies needed to actually do something, so we all got consultant buddies who sat with us at our desks. And I won the lottery there - my mentor was off-the-charts brilliant and patient, and they let me drive the keyboard. That was when I found my toe-hold on ABAP Mountain.
Jelena: Management often seems to think training courses are a silver bullet. No way.
Paul: No way! I see the importance, but I would not trade my pair-programming mentor time for anything in the world. I know, in your job, you often mentor folks, and I sometimes do too. And when I do, I draw on every second of that time I got years ago.
Jelena: There's an important moment that comes after building up those base skills. When you feel like you're pretty competent in one area, you need to decide where to go next. And you can't let someone decide this for you or just chase the next “hot skill.” No matter what you set your eyes on, what makes the most difference is your own internal direction. Choose your own adventure!
Paul: Dear readers, we don't want you to think we live in a magic unicorn utopia where we can choose any esoteric tech skill to dig deep on. For work at the behest of your company, that company is probably going to exert some influence on your direction (and you have to make sure you can pay your rent). But even inside that influence, you can still find room to chart your path.
Jelena: There's another trick to all this, for teams. I made this joke in our ASUG Tech Connect presentation: programming is not a team sport, but upskilling is. Let each team member pursue their own learning direction, and then come together and teach each other what you've learned. After all, the best way to learn is to teach.
Paul: Sometimes, your "team" can be bigger than you think, too. Online communities like Reddit and SAP Community have active conversations that can expose you to more than you ever wanted to know about your favorite corner of SAP. Local user groups (scroll to the top of this very page!) are insanely powerful tools to find folks pursuing similar paths.
I had the last word last time, Jelena. The floor is yours.
Jelena: Folks, here is our patented strategy to help you learn better, faster, stronger.
Formal training is useful but not sufficient.
Seek brilliant mentors, then seek to mentor others.
Team members can give each other boosts that go above and beyond individual learning paths.
It takes a village to raise a developer. Find your village! (Or build one.)
And finally: don't confuse the need to upskill with a stressful urgency to do so. Pick your next path, apply your focus carefully, and leave yourself some breathing room. Your value as a person is more than just acronyms on a resume.
For more Nerd Exchange, check out Jelena and Paul's first column, previewing ASUG Tech Connect, and second column, offering their predictions for 2024, and subscribe to both ASUG First Five and the Boring Enterprise Nerdletter.