Enterprise Geeks Podcast – Downhill Developers

Season 3 Episode 2

Running Time: 1:11:11

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If you have questions, suggestions, or topic ideas for future episodes, give us a shout here.

Are you White & Nerdy?

Special tribute to one of our favorite egheads, Matthias Zeller

20 responses to “Enterprise Geeks Podcast – Downhill Developers”

  1. sapdba says :

    Thomas, I’m still listening to the podcast, but you hit one of my pet peeves today, with respect to Enterprise Developers.

    The problem is surface level knowledge, and is certainly not limited to ABAP developers, or even developers at all. Too many developers don’t understand good programming principles; at the same time, too many DBAs don’t understand relational database concepts; too many Basis administrators don’t understand the fundamentals of memory allocation, etc.

    I think the problem is that it’s so hard to find good technical people, companies tend to take someone that’s competent in some area and send them through vendor training so that they can be a developer, DBA, etc. But software vendors aren’t geared toward teaching fundamentals, their goal is to teach syntax and wizard interfaces and the like.

    Of course, my degree was in Marketing, so I guess I’m particularly aware of this issue, but I’m also a tinkerer, so I always want to know what’s going on under the covers, which drives me to seeking a deeper understanding of the technologies I work on.


  2. Matt Harding says :

    Great podcast – and something that over the course of many years, continues to annoy the crap out of me. Success in IT projects is all about getting the right people and it’s just too easy to get into the industry now and worse yet, be accepted in the industry. My great example from many years ago is a guy who fixed a billing error that stated “the amount is out by a factor of 2” decided he would just divide the bill by 2. This was a guy who back in 4.0B days had more training than anyone else in the company and after months still didn’t know if it was a = 1 + 1 or 1 + 1 = a!
    But hey, maybe the way to fix this is we can move ESS to a JAVA platform and integrate it with an ABAP back-end. The added complexity should ensure your developers know what they are doing (when in reality, what happened is you suddenly got 2 developers that both really didn’t know what was going on and couldn’t communicate with each other)!
    On a separate note: A shout out should go to @se38!

  3. sapdba says :

    @matt – convert ESS to Java? In the words of the respected Dr. Egon Spengler, that would be extraordinarily bad.


  4. Matthias Steiner says :

    Hey guys,

    great podcast again. And if you’re think it’s bad in ABAP that you don’t want to look at things from a SAP NWCE perspective, where it’s even worse. I mean, I can recall people who didn’t even know the difference between a static and an instance variable, but where developing enterprise software.

    Moreover, I hold Model-driven tools accountable for this phenomena. A lot of folks thing that these tools are the solution to everything and it’s becoming more and more common that people use frameworks like CAF and BPM w/o having any idea on what’s going on underneath.

    And, to be honest…. model-driven tools cannot take away the complexity of programming, they can only define standard scenarios as otherwise the model-driven tools would become equally complex as the programming language/framework they aim to “replace”…

    Any serious developer should understand the application server he develops on, and moreover so know about the standards defined by model-driven tools. Only then one can make an educated decision on when to use such tools and when to better avoid it…

    So, great to have you guys talking about that topic… it’s about time that people understand that programming is still a an art.. or at least a craft that needs to be mastered…

    Props for a great show…

  5. Gregor Wolf says :

    Check out also the #EnterpriseGeeks attending #SAPTechEd Berlin at http://bit.ly/djRv9R. We used Tag EnterpriseGeeks.

  6. Jeron says :

    I have generally found that developers who start their careers in non-sap environments tend to be at least marginally better at basics. Developers who have spent time in the trenches writing programs in C, C++ or Scripting languages have a better understanding of the system capabilities and limitations.

    On the other hand, the ones born inside the world of ABAP Application Server are blissfully unaware of the real world outside.

    More shockingly very few developers actually bother to keep up with the latest news, articles and trends in SAP or programming in general. Most don’t even know how to setup a Google Reader account or use Twitter effectively. Hence, they never get better over a period of time. Its not always the lack of interest but rather a lack of know-how and direction. I have explained a few of these self-learning mechanisms to fellow developers and most have responded positively. There is still hope and we need to keep up with the good fight.

  7. Chris Paine says :

    Normally it is the laugh out loud sections that get me the strange looks on my tram journeys to work whilst listening to the eGeeks podcast, but today it was the violent nodding in agreement with Thomas’ rant. Like him I also see a lot of these questions on the SCN forums and it is disheartening – especially when you see that it was an SAP emp that posted.

    I didn’t do a Comp Sci degree at all – Physics & French (couldn’t go past the offer of one year’s “study” in the south of France) for me… but I do love to tinker. When I started with computers, I was 1 third the age I am now, it was more fun to code than it was to play the truly awful games that existed on a monochrome amber monitor. So I learnt how to XOR bits to code up sprite routines, and generally taxed the hell out of the 64Kb of memory I had to play with. Today, I’m not sure I’d have been as motivated – instead I could play some pretty cool games, and never need to know how all the bits underneath worked.

    Can we do much to change the way that people nowadays are more “comfortable” with tech – I don’t think so. Everyone has a small and reasonably powerful computer in their pocket. People aren’t scared away from tech like they used to be – there isn’t quite the initiation ceremony of having to install your own Linux box and learn C so you could understand which component of your latest build failed. The first thing I’d do on an Android phone is get root, so I could load the latest build – would most people – I doubt it. So we are getting people who previously would never have considered working in a tech role entering the “profession”. And fair play to some of them – having an alternate way of thinking can sometime be very useful – I’m sure you’ve all been to the “embrace diversity” sessions. But there is a difference to an alternate way of thinking and completely not understanding what you are working with.
    Today I logged 3 messages in SMP due to issues in released SAP code. It was pretty much the same issue repeated in three different places. I’d guess it was the same programmer and no-one has yet tested the code fully (decoupled infotype framework for Brazil anyone?) That sort of stuff shouldn’t happen – but it does, and the reason it does is two-fold – the decline in standard bemoaned here, and also because we – the lot who Thomas _wasn’t_ moaning about haven’t muscled up and pushed to ensure that standards are kept high and recognised.
    Perhaps the certification might go some way – I doubt it and in the current format I see it more as a money grab by SAP Education than a reasonable way to enhance standards – but the real issue I see is the lack of recognition of the value of good code and good understanding of the system. In enterprise systems, the return on investment is generally beyond the tenure of the CIO/manager that make the decision – is it no surprise then that quality is valued less than quantity and speed?
    There was a joke about an eGeeks University – but if it meant that the graduate would have respect in the marketplace – it would be worthwhile. I’m really not sure how we work to get that respect outside of this relatively small circle of egHeads, but it’s my thought that it is the lack of understanding and appreciation of the real value of knowledge that is driving the the current downhill tread – not the lack of people who’d want to learn,

    Sorry for rambling so – it’s what several glasses of port do 🙂

  8. Chris Paine says :

    That Hoff video is CLASSIC!


    (sorry had to comment)

  9. Leonardo De Araujo says :

    Great job guys, and WELCOME BACK!

    That was a great podcast.
    I had to mention to the other C5 guys…. 😉

    I would like to bring up 2 *additional* perspectives of this problem (Enterprise developers):

    1 – *Customer* SAP shops are largely there for internal support. That *is* their reason of existing: “Getting some of their requirements addressed internally”. Customers are *NOT* software shops. That is why, for me at least, so many ABAPers are there but don’t have the proper background. “Ah, lets implement SAP! Get the Business guy and turn him into a Functional and get the PC savy and turn into ABAPer…”. Very little, or none in fact, is focused on proper software engineering… That is why it is soooo damn hard to get some ABAPers out there to understand the importance of Object Oriented (OO) designs. If I was talking with an academically formed software engineer, I am sure I would not get the same resistance… (not to say you need to have a degree, but see my point). The reason why customer ABAP teams in general are under performing is cause that is not their business. (Of course there are exceptions…). A SAP customer from Retail world has its core business around fashion, not developing software… The quality of the developers and the overall company standards are a consequence of that.
    2 – ABAP is a very forgiving language. WEB AS takes care of soooo many things for us and the environment is soooo over sized, that bad code passes easily under the radar. How many awful ABAP proggrams run in Production for years before problems being found? That is particularly true around performance. The servers are so powerful and the amount of memory so much more available that memory leaks are less critical than in other environments. Again, I am generalizing here and sure these things are important, but ask a Iphone game developer how important good design is. He/She is *really* limited by resources….

    Agreeing with you guys, ABAP is not a commodity and should not be treated like that.

    My 50 cents.


  10. Jim Link says :

    Welcome back, guys – really enjoy the podcast!

    I agree with other posts above in that this issue is not relegated only to ABAP developers. In my limited SAP experience, this disparity extends to the functional side of things as well – some people know their stuff really well and are able to understand where a business person is coming from and solve the problem at hand effectively using the system as intended. Others simply don’t understand the business problem at all or don’t understand the system well enough (or at all?) to solve the problem ‘properly’.

    I think that the problem cannot really be resolved by certification, at least as it exists today, as experience far outweighs the course(s) and exam(s). As a Certified Public Accountant with experience with a Big-5 accounting firm, I saw this first hand in the accounting industry. We’d get newbies in every fall and they’d pass the CPA exam and become ‘certified’, but they would have no clue how to conduct an audit until they were actually on the job. Sure, at least some of what they did in preparation for the exam would be applied in an audit, but it wasn’t until they had the experience that most really knew how to apply their knowledge in the context of our company’s audit methodology. We made sure that our newbies got the experience they needed, but a thorough review/coaching was done throughout the engagement. What I question in the ABAP world is where is this coaching and review by superiors with more experience? Shouldn’t these people that are posting ‘silly’ questions on a forum have a more experienced person working in their organization to pose these questions to rather than posting on a forum for the world to see? If not, then it’s REALLY scary!

    I use the SCN forums from time to time myself, but typically I have exhausted all resources and made every effort that I can to resolve the issue myself before posting. When I do have to post a question, I make sure that it provides as much information as possible and using examples that people not familiar with my specific instance can answer.

    I don’t pretend to know all (or sometimes any of) the technical things that come up in the podcast, so maybe my analogy is not necessarily a good one. Maybe the fact that an ABAPer doesn’t know a binary file from a text file is more along the lines of a newbie showing up to work not knowing what Income was…which I can (luckily) say that I never encountered.

  11. Jon Reed says :

    cool – I want a patch, that might have to go on my ugly windoze laptop.

    I’m late to the podcast comment thread having just listened to the whole thing, but well done.

    You’re probably expecting me to chime in on certification, and true to form I will. I do think improved SAP certification can have some impact on these issues. In my view there are a series of bars that have to be raised – deeper technical evaluation and field experience is one aspect, industry reputation and project reference validation may be another. Beyond that we start to move into that BPX/Agile/soft skills areas which are more challenging still – how do you certify, as you say, an “egHead.” We’re nowhere near that ability today but I do think a fair amount of that could be achieved with the right convergence of ambition and resources. Yes, some of that can be evaluated in interviews but I’d like to see much more of that through the Master level of SAP certification. Just like people can “game” certain kinds of tests they can also game interviews. These charmers can wreak some havoc.

    Waxing philosophical though one of the fairest criticisms of my own work and encouragement to SAP pros comes from fellow egHead Graham Robbo, who points out many of his team members just don’t care to aspire to a certain kind of passionate mastery that I think bonds most of us who listen to this podcast in one way or another. The point is valid though I continue to believe this economy is going to feast on the mediocre middle over time and that it’s no place to put your feet up. Waxing philosophical I’m someone who believes mediocrity has always been a human characteristic to guard against but there is something to be said that modern tools (in the case of coding, modeling tools, etc) encourage those traits.

    Not sure what to be done about it except…for now, only hire Enterprise Geeks.

    – Jon

  12. Matthias Zeller says :

    Thanks for the tribute guys. It is good to know that I have friends somewhere. So I really wanted to give your heavy metal music a try and checked out this Youtube video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ywE_5s1seig). Not sure if it is much better then the Hoff. Anyway we can agree Weird Al rulez!

  13. Ed Herrmann says :

    Here is some more great commentary on this episode posted on SCN blog from Dennis Howlett: Enterprise Geeks to planet earth: “Houston, we have a problem”

  14. Chris Paine says :

    BTW – you were wondering if anyone did watch the Hoff video all the way through…

    I was looking at it at home and commenting on how it went so far past bad that it came out the other side as almost good, when my 3 year old daughter spotted it.

    She liked it – and would have watched it again and again if I hadn’t stopped her… “Daddy that man is flying!”

    So I have come to decision that the video was actually aimed at those with the artistic appreciation of a three year old… Now which country is it the Hoff big in – and where was the default Web Dynpro styling designed? Connection? I wonder 😉

  15. Matt says :

    Should have added before…the same guy i mentioned above was also overheard telling a guy on the phone that they should get into SAP as it earns big bucks (like it’s something you just do a few courses and you’re in). This could easily explain the decline since in 2000 you could get a job this way!
    Also, any thoughts on the code training camps that SAP run for outsourcing companies and how effective these could possibly be? Or is that just a rumour.

  16. KK Ramamoorthy says :

    What a pleasure to have you guys back..making my red eye travel more bearable. Didn’t read all the comments, so with the risk of repeating someone..I would say, as responsible programmers, it is our responsibility to teach junior folks. I have directed atleast dozen developers in my firm to learn webdynpro from Tom’s ‘how to’ demos and reviewing their deliverables, I can say they have improved..so thanks a bunch!!
    On other note, for some reason, higher demand and short supply, tends to yield poor quality..

  17. Kenneth says :

    One of my peeves as well. But like Thomas said, it happens at SAP as well. When I worked at SAP, AG (believe it or not), I and another college intern were the only two developers in my group that had IS degrees. Sure everyone else had a PH.D., but it was in Physics, Astrology, Mathematics, etc. Computer Science is/was not a popular degree back in the day in Germany.
    There are many problems. One is with recruitment – not knowing enough about the job you are hiring for. Also, people lying on their applications. How many posts have you seen on SDN for someone asking for answers to interview questions/etc. Some is supply/demand – just not enough qualified people for the budget constrained positions. Companies just need some reports, not a rocket scientist. A rocket scientist would be nice, but out of budget.
    I don’t blame SAP for making it easier to write reports or do configuration. This is what it’s customers demand. They want control and not have to call expensive consultants to change one switch. The whole idea of the payroll schema was so that a business analyst could change it. In reality, this is hardly achievable, however.
    My general thought is that the blame lies with the recruiters/managers hiring or promoting these guys and people lying about their skill set. But would SAP be the product it is today if only qualified IS developers created the product? That can be debated for a long while! 😉

  18. shortdumps says :

    Great topic, I’ve had a few weeks to chew on it and wrote down some thoughts The State Of The SAP Development Community.

    Loved the Teched coverage, keep up the good work.

  19. Somnath says :

    Looking forward to getting my hands on eGeek Patch at TechEd Bangalore. Send some with Craig he is definitely coming over 😀
    BTW as for downhill developers its not much different in the functional consulting side of house. With SDN Forums needless to say you hit a problem pop in a thread and start getting answers. Not like good old days (not that old) when no SDN no good consulting notes not much documentation on help.sap.com – but you basically clicked every button every possible config to figure out what SAP was doing. Later on when I self-taught myself debugging it started kind of making sense but then I had already lost good many years.
    Oh yes Utah Canyons are great – way back in 2003 I drove down from Las Vegas to Kolab and Zion Canyons after overnight stay at Grand Canyon. My wife wondered if she married a looney who idea of a vacation was to drive around towering canyons.

  20. Matthias Steiner says :

    Hm… thought that would fit right in this discussion about “Downhill Developers”… and as such may be of interest to some.

    Time To Look Seriously At Software Developer Apprenticeships

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