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Breaking into SAP from a Variety of Fields Print E-mail
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In this section of our Classic SAP Career Q and A, Jon Reed shares some key points from comments he has given over the years to those breaking into SAP from a variety of other fields and vendors. If you have further feedback on this topic, please post it as a comment on one of Jon's SAP Career Blog entries.

How would a mainframe programmer (Cobol/CICS) make their way into SAP?

There are some challenges moving from mainframe programming to SAP because you're really talking about several skills transitions. SAP has moved from mainframe (R/2) to client-server (R/3) to web-driven (NetWeaver/mySAP), and as a programmer, you have to make these same transitions. It's not easy to make that happen all at once.

In general, I am more enthusiastic about NetWeaver development with web and Java-based tools than I am about ABAP -- though it never hurts to get some ABAP skills together also. And ABAP is certainly in a stronger position in the SAP platform than it was a few years ago, when SAP implied that ABAP was on the way out completely. Still, for the most part, I think it's better to try to anticipate where SAP is going than to try to catch it from behind.

So how would someone move from mainframe programming to SAP? Well, I would start by learning web-based programming techniques. Even if some of the tools you learn aren't directly connected to SAP, learning web-based programming will definitely help you to understand where SAP is going with its new ESA architecture. 

One good strategy for the legacy programmer to keep in mind: many SAP customers still "port" data from legacy systems, sometimes directly to the Web. What you want to do is find the larger SAP-based companies that are using mainframes as part of a heterogeneous, Web-facing enterprise system. Those companies might find your current mainframe programming skills appealing, and they might be willing to train you in Web-based programming as well as SAP-related programming. I do think that SAP end-users would be good for legacy programmers to target, but in the final analysis, breaking into SAP is less important than getting out of the mainframe programming business. It's fine to continue to draw on those mainframe-related skills, but you don't want them to be the only tool in your toolkit going forward.


What are the chances for a Microsoft developer to get into SAP?

Well, the good news is that SAP technology and Microsoft technology definitely have a relationship. SAP is not exclusively aligned with Microsoft, but SAP clearly values its relationship with Microsoft and remains committed to supporting Microsoft technologies. The Duet partnership is another example of the two companies' realizations that they must work together to keep control of the corporate desktop. If I were a Microsoft developer, I would do more research into the overlap between the .NET development platform and NetWeaver, SAP's latest Web architecture. SAP supports development efforts on the .NET platform, and .NET expertise might play well into your desire to break into SAP. True, the amount of SAP customers doing development in .NET are in the minority, but they are out there. And we can expect more of them as SAP's mid-market presence expands. The more you understand Internet business and how enterprise software vendors like SAP plan on using the web as part of their architecture, the better off you'll be. At the same time, to truly break into SAP, you wouldn't want to be solely a Microsoft person. You need to understand the "open" technologies of the Internet like Java and XML that are integrated into SAP's NetWeaver platform. The latest versions of SAP rely more and more on these "open" technologies, and SAP's own proprietary tools interface with these open standards. In sum, the key is to get to know these broader technical trends, and how SAP is responding to them. Obviously, one way for you to make a positive move would be to get hired by a company that is running SAP and is also a "Microsoft shop," therefore heavily invested in tools you already know and understand. In this way, you can provide more value to your employer but also get more SAP-related exposure.


Managers are obsessed with resumes. Why is that?  Does it ever make sense to alter your resume to land an SAP job?

The idea of changing the experience on your resume is a common one. It's a very bad idea because SAP is a small world, and this kind of thing eventually catches up to you more often than not. I don't believe it is worth the risk.

 All the resume can do is get you in the door -- then you have to ace the interview. And many SAP users are pretty sophisticated technically. There is no worse feeling in a job search than being caught in an interview and not being able to justify the experience on your resume. So, I would urge you to avoid that situation.

As to why managers make so many decisions based on resumes alone, I think that reflects the overall priorities of an SAP hire. And the fact is that companies place a high value on SAP implementation experience and a much lower value on your overall industry background. The bottom line is that SAP hiring managers want people who can hit the ground running, so they are only willing to hire people to do the EXACT same thing they have already done before. It's frustrating, and I happen to think it's short-sighted and unfair, but those are the rules of the game. They aren't going to change soon, so job seekers need to figure how to succeed despite them. Maybe it's a matter of getting hired as an employee on one of these projects in a non-SAP role. I've said it many times, but you're always better off working your way into SAP from the inside of a company that is running on SAP. It may take longer, but it's a lot better approach than putting false experience on a resume.


What if all you have is SAP training? Do you need to create a fake resume to land an SAP job?

In the mid-90s, you could actually get away with making up phony experience on SAP resumes because companies were desperate for talent and weren't very sophisticated in evaluating SAP resumes. It was never a tactic I endorsed, but I saw people get away with it sometimes - though it usually caught up with them in the end.

But today's SAP users are much more familiar with SAP and there's no way you'll be able to fake your way into SAP without getting caught. You are better off just being honest about your skills. Always emphasize the parts of your background that can really help a company, such as e-procurement experience or data warehousing know-how.  The goal is to find ways of getting SAP users excited about your current skills. That means doing some careful matching between your IT or business skills and the SAP employers you are targeting. For example, if you're an Oracle DBA, make sure you apply to Oracle-based SAP shops, and if you have Java skills, make sure to apply to SAP shops that are involved in web-based SAP development. You get the idea. This approach takes a lot of legwork and isn't very glamorous, but it's the most reliable way to break into SAP, and you can do it without fudging anything.


What about someone with an SAP HR user background? How would they break into SAP consulting?

It's tough to break the "need experience to get experience" cycle. When you get skills as an SAP user, it's tempting to think that you can go out there and grab a consulting job. But the results of such a job search can be discouraging. Many go out and get SAP training or certification, hoping this will make the difference. But that's not necessarily the case. 

Whenever you run into trouble making a career change, try this tactic:  break your career goals into more steps. Instead of jumping from where you are now into SAP HR consulting, try to get more configuration experience in the SAP HR arena before becoming a consultant. So would you do that? I would suggest getting a role as an HR super-user on an SAP project site, leading and training other users, and working as a liaison with the implementation team.

From there, you may start to attract the attention of the outside consulting partner and win their respect. You may also gain some configuration tips and tricks. You might also then move to a new company and take on a new perm role, getting close to the implementation side of things with each step. Eventually, you should have enough configuration skills and relationships with consulting firms to make your move. So, whenever you get stuck, just break your job transition into more steps and implement your career transition plan over time. This takes patience, but in the end, I think it's less frustrating than finding yourself rejected during interviews for "not having enough experience."


On a more general level, how does an SAP user become a bonafide consultant? Does certification help?

Certification might help a bit, but it's not going to push you over the top. If you have gobs of cash lying around, by all means, get the certification; but if money is tight, be wary of making that investment. Certification is more of a help to experienced SAP consultants than it is to those with limited SAP experience.

If do have some SAP user experience, you may have a shot at a functional consulting role over time. If you have trouble landing such a role immediately, you may want try a gradual transition instead of a "big leap." It's hard to make the jump from SAP user to full-fledged SAP consultant because there are a lot of very senior SAP folks out there taking up the best roles. On the other hand, I have seen folks in SAP user roles get into functional consulting by doing more of a gradual transition.

Here's an example of such a process: I know a number of consultants who have started from a user role, and then moved to a "super user role," where they became the point of contact with the functional implementation teams. They added training skills to their background, got more and more configuration exposure over time, and eventually got picked up for consulting roles based on the increasing knowledge of the implementation process. Sometimes when people have trouble getting from point A to point B within SAP it's because they are really trying to go from point A to E. It's hard to skip steps into today's competitive job market, so break down your career path, and you should get results.


What if you're an SAP user who can't find that first break? Will certification help? If so, how do you choose the class?

At this point in the book, you know I don't put a lot of stock in certifications. As noted, he key is hands-on experience. The fact is you can't really become a SAP consultant anymore unless you get hands-on implementation experience from a SAP user first. You either need to elbow your way onto the project at your current company or find another company who will give you a shot. Your best chance, by far, is with your current employer -- perhaps on the next upgrade cycle. In terms of SAP certification, choosing a certification that would round out your resume is the best approach. Often, SAP hopefuls go after the trendiest certification, but it's more important to choose an area that lines up well with your core skills. For example, a sales or CRM user might choose an SAP CRM certification, whereas a supply chain user might think about an SAP SRM or SCM certification. Just remember that certification would not mean a whole lot. It would help you feel confident in your SAP skills, but no doors will open unless you can charm a company into putting you on a project where you can gain configuration expertise.



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