SAP is one of the most famous German companies and ABAP is the main language for software development in the SAP environment. But how can one become an ABAP developer and what is it like to work in this area at SAP? We spoke with Dr. Prasanna Rajagopalan, who is working as an ABAP Developer at SAP in Saarland, Germany. Not only this, Prasanna also has a PhD in Chemical Engineering from Saarland University and Postdoc from Leibniz Institute for Catalysis, Rostock. Prasanna shares his experience of working in ABAP development at SAP and gives loads of very useful advice on building a career in ABAP at SAP.
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Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
I was born in Kalyanapuram, a tiny village near Thiruvaiyaru in Tanjore district, in Tamil Nadu in southern India. I completed my Bachelor's degree in Chemical Engineering from Anjalai Ammal Mahalingam Engineering College. I worked for about nine months when I learnt about Germany and the Goethe Institute, from DAAD, and from Mr. Shiva Prasad Reddy, my lecturer who taught us chemical reaction engineering during my bachelor studies, and my friend Sethuraman. They gave me inputs about German culture, German environment and German quality studies, following which I came here for higher studies. Here I did my Master's at Technical University, Dortmund in Chemical Reaction Engineering specializing in Multifunctional Reactors, Heterogeneous Catalysis, and Modeling and Simulation of Chemical Processes. After that, I decided to do my Ph.D. in the area of Exhaust Catalysis for Automotives at the University of Saarland. I worked as a Postdoctoral Scientist at Leibniz Institute for Catalysis, Rostock until 2014.
What are you doing in your current role as an ABAP Developer?
Since January 2017, I have been working as ABAP Developer at SAP in Germany. I am proud that my dream came true. SAP is the market leader for end-to-end enterprise application software, database, analytics, and also intelligent technologies, as well the top cloud company having 200 million users worldwide. At SAP, I started working in SCM domain in 2019 and by June 2020 I moved to retail development in Saarland.
Why and how did you make a transition from chemical engineering to ABAP development?
Programming was not new for me. I started learning programming during my Bachelor's at FORTRAN 77 where I learnt and developed my first programming skills for numerical methods or numerical analysis like Newton's forward and Newton's backward interpolation or Runge-Kutta methods. It was very useful that I continued with my Master's. I did a lot of modeling and simulation for chemical reactors and chemical processes using Aspen Plus and Aspen Custom Modeler where I did really productive coding for modeling and simulation of reactors and learnt to do coding more in detail. It was not unfamiliar for me to pursue software development.
In academic research it is a one way process. The contracts that I used to get were either for 6 months or 1 year or sometimes for a maximum of 3 years. I always had to look for new projects to get funded through from DFG, BMBF, etc.. Either I had to change institutes or universities. It was always uncertain if I would have a permanent job position. Hence I wanted to move to industry from the academic side. I couldn't succeed in moving into the chemical industry since my German was neither up to market expectations nor industrial expectations. Though I could speak German, I wasn’t fluent back then in the years 2010 - 2014.
Also, when I was doing Masters, there were several colleagues who did computer science or computer engineering. It was then, that I started to talk with the guys who were working for programming at SAP end-user companies.
I used to help them in programming and logic. It is not rocket science, when you know the logic, you can learn the language everywhere.
I knew that I could think logically and that I can learn through a course. So, I did a course in January 2015 to April 2015, for ABAP programming through Arbeitsamt (employment exchange) and got a job in August 2015 at Globus Holding, St. Wendel, Germany. Globus is a very big retail market and I worked there till December 2018 as IT specialist for SAP ABAP development.
You did a course on ABAP development through the Employment Exchange and later got a job. So do you think this maybe one way for someone who is looking to get into this area? Is the course offered by SAP?
From my point of view it is really easy. There are many, among them three or four of my friends who hold Post Doctorates in Catalysis, or Masters in Chemical Engineering and other fields, who did this course and got jobs, one among them is at SAP. He was my predecessor at SAP. He is Harish who joined earlier in 2017, and is one of my role models. What is required is a passion towards programming or logical thought. If you do the course with passion, you stand to get a job definitely. Three friends of mine who have got the job are from chemical engineering and pharmacy side. I have worked with people who have succeeded and hence I am hopeful that this will work out for many people if they have a passion for programming. It is a course not directly offered from SAP.
The employment exchange had a co-operation with Alfa Training Institute, and this institute is available throughout Germany and in German it is known as Buildungspartner. The course formulation is from SAP, the exams are conducted by SAP but the course moderation and the course materials come through Alfa Training.
It is really a hands-on course, one can learn thoroughly. I used to study there with all the 11 modules that I had learned, I used to get excellent information from this. I learned a lot from them and I continue learning. One can directly enter into job in project; you will have the tutorials and other materials; it is more or less like a project. It was really helpful. When you enter into the job, you will definitely need a job training regarding how to get into the nomenclatures or work climate of that particular company. But you can directly get into the programming. That is what I feel I did. So I expect the same from others. I got an SAP certification called ABAP Development Associate which was really useful in my case.
How is SAP as an employer?
SAP, as I mentioned already is employer-friendly, and for me personally it is very family-friendly. From my personal experience I would say it is very good. We are working together with colleagues who are multicultural, multinational people and you have a lot of cross-disciplinary interaction. There are people like me from chemical engineering background, there are also people from biology or from other backgrounds, and there are several interdisciplinary persons that are working at SAP. It has good platforms where everyone can do knowledge transfer which is what I do. SAP is very good and very satisfying employer in every way. In SAP there are lot of interesting challenges to work on, knowledge transfer, continuous learning and you will feel neither bored nor cooking the same recipe (no repetitiveness). Also, you get a lot of new opportunities where you have the freedom to explore whatever is your aspiration. Your manager will give you a lot of options for improving your personal skills. All the time you need not have to work merely for a particular project, you need to improve your personal skills. At SAP you will have a lot of time for that and you can improve your personal skills. This will benefit both SAP and you.
The work culture is very pleasant with a lot of independence. There is no hierarchy, irrespective of your nature of employment. Whether you are an architect or a developer, the status is the same and everyone is treated equally.
We follow agile methodology which enables us to get ideas, knowledge, quick responses and solutions towards problems, which enables to immediately transfer without delay. This has a higher impact on the quality of the product supplied to the customers.
How did you find your current job at SAP? What was the recruitment process like?
I applied through SAP Portal www.sap.de. Always there are several job opportunities and you can pick up what is apt for you and can apply directly. My friends also used to inform me, when there was an opportunity for an ABAP developer. From my point of view, at SAP the recruiting process was very simple and speed. I cannot speak for every case, but for me the entire process was faster, compared with other companies.
I applied for five or six positions. I went for interviews, but got rejected. In October 2018, I applied for SCM developer position at SAP and got invited within a week for a personal interview.
There were two managers and one architect who interviewed me. I had an interview from 16:00 to 17:30 hours. I thought I didn't do well, but it favored the other way. The next morning at 10 o'clock, I got the offer. It was really super fast. One need not have to wait for long but will get immediate response. The treatment is very comfortable and this is same from the interview, training and in the job.
How should candidates prepare for software development roles at SAP?
There are several jobs available at SAP and they are looking for new experts, welcoming new ideas and future co-workers for SAP. In my opinion, if the you apply and the job description is in Germany, then it would be wise to apply in German, so your CVand also your motivation letter, which you call as Anschreiben. Whether they ask for it or not, in my opinion, you should send in your Bachelor's and Master’s marksheets and certificates, which I hope will give you some added advantage. I had experienced this in few of my interviews where I was asked; you got more marks in Masters and in less in Bachelors, why? May be it helps their filtering process. Also send your work progress reports.
If you are able to, it could be advantageous if you can do the interview in German. It goes with the proverb, when in Rome do as Romans do.
Speaking in German, you can more get easily integrated more with the German environment and with the German people. Even if you can’t be fluent in German during the interview and if you have the potential, try articulating and depicting that you could learn and adapt the German language faster which will be more advantageous. This is a lesson that I learnt during these 17 to 18 years of my stay in Germany.
What do hiring managers look for in candidates?
The hiring manager will look for new talents and candidates with potential. They look for transparency and not diplomacy. The first thing they look for is the potential for you getting integrated into the team. They assess your willingness in supporting other colleagues. This they will look into the profile and in the interview. There will be technical assessment, but it will not be very technical like with live coding. The hiring managers will ask about your projects and assess if you will fit into the work culture. The business language in SAP is English and hence one does not need to be proficient in German. But wherever I worked in the SCM domain, I had German colleagues and I used to talk to them in German and I had German customers too. In the group, we used to talk in German. The main business documentation is in English. German is an added advantage.
What would be your advice for people looking to find a job in ABAP Development at SAP?
You can learn ABAP and you can also learn the newly coming out Restful ABAP Programming Model (RAP). You can also learn ABAP Managed Database Procedure (AMDP).
If you want to go for UI, then you can learn Fiori freestyling. If you want to be more into data analytics work, then you can try to learn SAP Analytics Cloud. For machine learning, you should check out SAP Artificial Intelligence Business Services. There are courses available on these topics free of cost on openSAP. If you learn these courses then you stand a good chance to enter into SAP. However there are also other domains. I am not really into other domains like Python or React, which I am not sure because I am not an expert. Maybe there are others from SAP who are working in another domain who may help you more. From my side, if you are into ABAP developer, then you can have a look at the things I have mentioned.
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