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Jon Reed Interviews Thomas Jung: Podcast Transcription Print E-mail
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On the Future of SAP Development: Podcast Transcription
Jon Reed with Thomas Jung, NetWeaver Product Manager for SAP Labs
Hosted by Jon Franke, News Editor, SearchSAP.com
Podcast Interview Date: February 7, 2008
Download Podcast (Must Be Registered and Logged In!)

Jon Franke: Hi, I'm Jon Franke for SearchSAP.com. Today, we're joined by Jon Reed, SearchSAP.com's career expert and president of JonERP.com. We'll be talking with Thomas Jung. As many of you know, Thomas is the NetWeaver Product Manager at SAP and has also been a major voice on the SAP Developer Network, SDN.

Today, Thomas will be talking about what's going on with SDN and also the business process expert community, BPX, and we'll discuss the age-old question: "Is ABAP dead?" Thanks for joining us, Jon and Thomas, and with that, we'll turn it over to Jon Reed.

Jon Reed: Welcome to this podcast interview with our special guest, Thomas Jung, NetWeaver Product Manager for SAP Labs. Today, we're going to focus in on the skills developers need to stay relevant in the NetWeaver eSOA era. We're going to talk with Thomas about why the death of ABAP is a misconception, the impact of offshoring, and the trends in SAP development that SAP professionals should be aware of.

This podcast is hosted by SearchSAP.com and was made possible by a joint collaboration between SearchSAP.com; my site, JonERP.com; and B2B Workforce, an SAP premier partner.

Thomas, let's kick things off by having you tell us a little more about your current role as a NetWeaver Product Manager and what your team is currently involved with.

Thomas Jung: NetWeaver Product Management within SAP is an arm of the development organization - that's why we're part of SAP Labs - and we're really focused on taking over the product lifecycle or the majority of the product lifecycle after a product leaves development. So we're responsible for the rollout activities, and quite often, that means knowledge transfer, both inside of SAP and amongst our partners and to our customers. That gets us involved heavily with SDN and with major events, both SAP-sponsored and partner-sponsored. We also get involved in disruptive prototyping within SAP, so you see a lot of our output is sessions at TechEd and content on SDN.

We also get involved in the ramp-up process for rolling out new products and sometimes do the first "teach" to education. But then our involvement continues on with whatever the latest product is coming out; we hand off long-term ownership to other parts of the organization. My particular focus is on development tools. My background is in ABAP development. I cover development tools from all across our capabilities and, in particular, focus on NetWeaver Voice and UI development tools as well.

Reed: And Thomas, I'm glad you brought up SDN because you've become a major voice on the SAP Developer Network. Can you tell us why SAP's online communities have become such a factor and what they have to offer SAP professionals who have not gotten involved yet?

Jung: It really became a factor because it's pretty natural for people with common interests and common challenges to come together and help solve those. And that's one of the core things that SDN does: It's the place to meet up with other SAP professionals, whether you've got a problem that you're looking to solve or you want to exchange ideas with someone or gather knowledge straight from SAP, it's really our main delivery mechanism now for knowledge dissemination. So, that plays a pretty important role, and for anybody who's not engaged in SDN, in some way they're missing out on a piece of the puzzle when it comes to working in the SAP arena.

Reed: I should mention for anyone who hasn't signed up, that registration is free and you can sign up for both SDN and BPX communities at the same time as well. Thomas, your TechEd sessions on ABAP development updating your skills to NetWeaver 7.0 were extremely popular, and that's not always something we can say about a technical deep dive, to be met with so much enthusiasm. What were the key themes in this talk and why do you think this seminar topic resonates so strongly now in the SAP community?

Jung: Well, the real focus of the session was to take people, whether they've gone through an upgrade or not, but really focus on the way they do development because what I have found was that even people who are working on newer releases, who are working on a 7.0 system, were probably still coding ABAP much the way they did back in the 4.6 days. We wanted to focus not so much on the pieces and parts of the technology, not just the technical delta, but how to design programs differently, how to then go through the coding process differently. 

We focused on the ideas of encapsulation and Service-Oriented Architecture. And by Service-Oriented Architecture, I don't just mean creating Enterprise Services, but taking those same concepts of good interfaces, good touch points between different parts of your logic and applying them to all types of applications that you're writing, whether it's the visualization, the UI portion, using good model view controller - it's those same concepts over and over again. We talk about encapsulation, object-oriented programming, the value that it brings to become more flexible in the way that you develop, be able to make changes faster, to rearrange parts and pieces of an application, but also be able to test, in smaller units, so that when you do make a change, it has less impact or potential impact on the business.

I think that resonates with people because, one, everybody's always interested in getting more value out of the skills they have: You've already invested. Many of the people taking the session, they've already invested ABAP skills, they're doing that on a daily basis, so why wouldn't you want to get more out of it, why wouldn't you want to learn about newer capabilities? 

Also, I think people go through the upgrade process and often the technical team doesn't get a chance to go to formal education. They're left to learn on the job, and during the upgrade process, you are usually quite focused on the upgrade itself - getting the business through the technical portion of the upgrade, doing enough to adjust modifications and things like that - and you don't take the time out to really study what's new there for developers.

A session like this gives you the opportunity to take the time out, focus on what you're missing in your own personal skill set and how you can get more out of the way you develop because of new things in an upgraded release.

Reed: So, Thomas, what do you think is the single biggest adjustment that an ABAP programmer in a 4X SAP R/3 environment needs to make after moving into NetWeaver Development?

Jung: The first thing that comes to mind is that the biggest adjustment is designing and building in an object-oriented way. But, then I really hesitate because there is no reason why people on the 4.6 level shouldn't already be doing that. I find that people don't, for whatever reason, because really the core ABAP object-oriented concepts were all there in 4.6c, but people don't take advantage of it, often because they don't realize the value that it brings to the initial investment up front in learning the new paradigm, but that does payoff in the long run.

If you've already mastered or at least feel comfortable with OO, then truly the biggest adjustment that you should make, because you hopefully have already made the leap to OO, is this idea of Service-Oriented Architecture. Like I said earlier, it's not just applying it to services as touch points between different systems, but taking those concepts of encapsulation, of reuse, of smaller units of work that have their own unit test built into them, and applying that to everything that you build. Whether it's a one off accounting financial report or a big custom application, these concepts will make you a better programmer and will benefit whoever you're developing for.

Reed: I was just reviewing your presentation online in SDN and in the TechEd archives, and I got a kick out of how you asked people if they liked object-oriented programming or not and you said, "If you don't like it, you may need to just kind of suck it up and learn it because so many of the new tools are based on that." So, hopefully people are listening to that today.

Jung: Yeah, and I hope people realize that it may be a little painful to go through the process because change is always uncomfortable, but the benefits are certainly there. We're not saying that because we want OO to be a bullet point somewhere but that there are tangible benefits to making that move.

Reed: Absolutely. Let's shift to some controversial topics. You and I have previously collaborated on a blog entry for SearchSAP.com, which focused on the question of whether ABAP is dead, and you've explained in that entry and in other forums that not only is ABAP alive and well as an SAP development platform, but that important NetWeaver tools are actually written at least partially in ABAP. I keep hearing from SAP developers who are worried that ABAP is going away. Once and for all, can we lay those fears to rest today?

Jung: If you look at ABAP and Java, each have their inherent strengths and weaknesses, and there's no value in turning Java into ABAP or vice versa. If you look at where SAP is primarily using each language internally, the Business Suite continues to have its business logic written in ABAP. ABAP is an excellent language for multi-user session environments; it doesn't just go to the language, it goes to the way the virtual machine works, the dialogue word process model, all the inner guts of an ABAP-based system are well tuned to those types of massive user systems. Obviously, the ABAP language is well suited to writing business logic. We also have a huge investment in that, and so do our customers; there's just not tangible value in rewriting it in Java for the sake of rewriting it in Java.


 

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