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An SAP Developer Survival Guide: What Doesn’t Kill You, Makes You Stronger

As funny as it might seem, my Mindset Journey started with a single LinkedIn post. It was around July 2021, and I was perusing LinkedIn and its curated content when I came across a post from an old colleague. The post wasn’t anything special. It was just a couple of photos from a company get-together. But what made it special was I liked the company name. Mindset. What a powerful yet profound name for a company. To me, it said way more than we’re an IT company or we are innovators, or we develop in the SAP ecosystem. It spoke to me. Mindset. That’s what we are. To me, it said with the right mindset, anything is possible. 

Let’s rewind a little bit, and I’ll tell you why this is so important to me. Now, I don’t come from a traditional developer background. I didn’t go to college and get a computer engineering degree or go to a prestigious high school with an intro to coding or anything like that. As a matter of fact, college wasn’t for me. I enrolled in college to chase my dream of being a basketball player but quickly found out I wasn’t college material.

Like many others from my low socioeconomic background, I had to go to work. I had to find a job to support myself and my family. From farming, factories, and retail, I eventually ended up in Oil & Gas working as a production accountant and made my way into the Land Acquisition department. Working in the land business was fun. I traveled and saw cool rural places in the western United States. Here is where my passion for technology started. The land business has been around for as long as land has been bought and sold. Unfortunately (but fortunately for me), how they conducted their business was archaic and downright outdated. 

In 2010, cloud computing was entering the corporate tech scene, and I was all about it. Suddenly all kinds of tech were popping up that were easy to use and just made sense to me. So, I did what every young person does. I told the old dogs in my company there’s a better way to track all this data. Live time data is the new gospel, and we can store it on the cloud. WTF is the cloud?! They said. At the time, I didn’t know what the cloud was. I just had a sense it would be popular and beneficial. So I told them with 100% certainty the cloud is the future, and we can’t afford to miss out. 

Fast forward a few years, and my company fully adopted cloud products. Our clients loved it. No more emailing excel spreadsheets back and forth with old data, and no more inaccurate reporting. Excellent clean real-time data at our client’s fingertips. I even got a nickname around the office, the “Smartsheet Guru.” Not sure I liked it as it didn’t seem culturally appropriate, but it did feel good to be recognized for my first technology innovation. So I took it as a win. 

2013 was a challenging year for the Oil & Gas business, and like many others, I lost my job. Back to the drawing board, I thought. So I started doing gig work and taking care of elderly people, construction work, and some non-profit tech work. Then I got the bright idea to start my own business. I thought I was good with people; I’m patient and enjoy learning about technology and how it works. So why not? Let’s see If I can start my own business. 

Now, I didn’t have a business plan or anything like that. I went into it with a plumber or a mortician’s mentality. Whatever companies didn’t like doing that revolved around cloud technology, I would do. So this meant I was building websites, creating marketing campaigns using the latest automation platforms, doing SEO for existing sites, setting up email domains, and teaching small mom-and-pop companies how to use their Google services. It was fun, and I learned a lot. But I got burnt out. I quickly knew that being a salesperson, project manager, developer, and accountant was impossible. So I started looking for a way to narrow my focus which meant I had to dissolve my company and look for a new way to get involved with technology.

I was drinking coffee at this small coffee shop in Cherry Creek, Colorado. Then, I noticed this company on the front of a Business Insider newspaper that kept getting all these awards for tech innovations and their progressive company culture within the SAP world. I thought to myself, what is SAP? And so I googled it. SAP. Services, Applications, and Products.. Hmm, ok. What’s that? I did some more googling. I eventually came across this giant ocean of information, portals, products, and blogs, but then I saw the pay ranges for developers, and I had to do a double-take. They make what? Holy cow, that’s some good money. 

So my next mission is how do I infiltrate this Denver-based company getting all these awards? I go to their website, and they have several developer roles open, but I quickly think, “How will I sell myself to these recruiters when I have never done SAP?”. Then it hits me. They have an open position for an office manager and executive administrator. I can do that. I’m a taskmaster and can darn near juggle anything. I quickly whip up a resume that reflects the skill sets and experience they were looking for, and boom. I’m hired. (Joking. It was a terrible interview process, I had to do 6 or 7 interviews, and it took two months to get hired).

Ok, mission objective complete. I have successfully infiltrated said company. Now, how do I become an SAP developer and stop making these people’s coffee? I quickly started building relationships with the developers, going on long walks and asking them about how they got into SAP, what skills they needed to know, and what emerging technologies there were that senior SAP developers weren’t interested in. 

SAP S4HANA Cloud. That’s it. It’s new, the cloud, and every developer I talk to isn’t interested in it. Coincidentally, the company is building an implementation team of functional and development resources specifically for this product. So I raise my hand. I talk to the co-founder, the practice lead, the resource manager, and practically anyone who will listen. Eventually, I got a shot. The co-founder tells me. If you can complete an integration scenario using SAP products by yourself, I’ll move you from the front desk, and we’ll get you on a project. So I do what I always do. I say yes and figure out how to do it. 

Fast forward five years. After many late nights, early mornings, and 60+ hour work weeks, I‘ve been on multiple successful projects as a developer, data migration expert, and cloud security consultant. I’m at the top of my little S4HANA Cloud mountain. But once again, I’m burnt out. I said yes to everything and learned what I needed to deliver, but I wasn’t an expert at anything. I just discovered a little bit about a lot in SAP. 

At this time, it’s the middle of the pandemic; I’m overworked, underpaid, and burnt out. Like many people, I started putting my ear to the ground and listening for new opportunities. I found a few open positions that interested me. I went for them and got interviews and a few offers, but the vibes weren’t right. My gut said no, there would be better opportunities. So I wait. 

There it is! There’s my sign. My old colleague shared a post of the last Mindset company outing, and it just hit me. This is the place I want to work. The people look happy; they’re diverse people in leadership and on the teams. They are a “Human-centered” company. I thought to myself. I could work here.

So I applied for the Full-stack developer position they had listed on the website. Surprisingly it only took a few days for them to get back to me and schedule an interview. 

The interview process was normal. My first call was with Beth and then Libby from Recruiting so they could get a feel for my personality, demeanor, and skillset. I laid on my midwest charm real hard, I told them about my experiences and passion and was just honest about who I was and what I wanted to do, and it got me to the next level. 

Ethan Jewett, Solutions Practice Director. This was my first test. How do I convince this guy that I can do the job? Outside of the job description, what is Ethan going to be looking for in this position? Passion for SAP technology. Check. Self-motivated and avid learner. Check. Team player. Check. Okay, I’ll lead honestly and see where the conversation goes. 

From what I remember, our conversation was good. We talked about SAP, working with teams, the skill set he’s looking for, what working at Mindset looks like, and so on. My gut feeling wasn’t that it was a slam dunk interview, though. Now that I’ve been at Mindset for over a year and have worked with Ethan quite a bit, I’ve learned that Ethan can be hard to read. I wasn’t sure if It was a go or no go for me for the following interview. So I did what any candidate would do. I emailed Recruiting and Ethan, thanking them for their time, secretly hoping they’d let me know if I made it to the next level. 

Yes! Libby just emailed me, and they want me to meet with Jelena Perfiljeva for a technical interview. Now, if you don’t know Jelena and you are in the SAP Development world. You’re missing out. Jelena is a giant in the developer community and knows her stuff forward and backward. By this time, I’d come across her blogs and dozens of comments on other blogs and listened to her on the Mindset Nebula podcast and the Boring Enterprise Nerd podcast. She is fearless in her pursuit of clean code and downright relentless in vetting new emerging technologies, especially if it has anything to do with ABAP. 

She’s a big deal, and it’s her and I face-to-face in a battle for her approval. What can I say to make her want to work with me? Do I show her some ABAP I’ve done or maybe an OData service I built? Robots. That’s it. I will show her an under-the-hood look at SAP Intelligent Robotic Process Automation. Or dumb bots, as I call them. By this time, I had just delivered a few bots for a client and knew enough about it to talk about it. So I thought this should do the trick. 

I had 24 hours to set up a trial BTP account, activate the iRPA service, write some code, create a bot, test it, test it again, and prepare a presentation. Whew. It’s done. I’m ready for Jelena. 

I’ll be honest. I was sweating bullets before this interview. I knew it would make or break my chances of working for Mindset. So the time came, I logged into the Zoom call, and it was go time. I had everything prepped and ready to go. We did the introductions and small talk; and then it was my time to shine. I treated her like a client. I showed her my presentation, described a use case and what we would learn together, and then did a short demo. It worked.

It didn’t feel like I was convincing her of my capabilities or hiding my insecurities. It was just two nerds in a Zoom meeting talking about SAP. And it was great. She shared her opinions, I shared mine, and we griped about SAP together. I had just conquered my biggest professional hurdle—a technical interview with Jelena Perfiljeva. 

The Offer.

When I got a call from Ethan saying they wanted to go ahead with an offer, I was pumped! I did it. They want to hire me. I did a happy dance in my home office and called my partner, Mallory. Guess who’s a future Mindset employee, I said. Then I called my mother, sister, and then my brother, and then my brother again because I forgot to tell him they do actual code reviews at Mindset. It was a good day, and I felt accomplished and ready for a new challenge. 

When Ethan made the verbal offer, I knew I had made the right decision. At this time, I had a few offers from other companies, and each tried to lowball me. They asked me about my base compensation range at the beginning of the interview process, put me through the interview wringer, and when it came time to make an offer. They went low. I found that disrespectful and saw it as a sign of their work culture. But, when it came to Mindset, their offer was smack dab in the middle of my range. I thought, really? Are you guys not going to try and lowball me? Plus, one for Mindset. So, without hesitation, I accepted. 

My First Day.

My first day was a typical first day at a job. There were a few onboarding sessions, and “Welcome to the team” messages piled up in my Slack. I met with HR to go over paperwork and do my harassment training and get access to our time management system as well as our employee resource portal. Then, I met with my Manager, Ethan, to get a lay of the land and an idea of his expectations for me in the coming weeks.

I met with each team member and got to know them and their work experiences and focuses. Everyone was awesome. Everyone was easy to talk to and had a wealth of knowledge and experience. It was great. I felt like I had found my tribe of developers. A place I could learn and grow a bunch. I was excited. 

My first assignment was doing front-end SAP UI5 development work for one of our clients. It wasn’t the sexiest first project. But it was a chance to start making a name for myself. The project was a small one, and thinking back on it; it was only a few months of work for me. It was a good experience, but it quickly exposed some of my gaps in knowledge of UI5. 

Thankfully, the technical architect, Shinjan, offered assistance and direction as well as some support from my team. Plus one for Mindset, again. Where I fell short in knowledge, my team picked me up and supported me. This was new to me. I had a lone wolf mentality and would suffer to great lengths before I asked for help, often sacrificing family time. This was a habit I was determined to break. 

You might be asking yourself. What’s work-life balance like at Mindset? Well, the short answer is. It’s what you make of it and how you set your boundaries. I have never felt pressure to work weekends or into the late hours of the night. But, with that being said. I have to have a flexible schedule as we have an infant in our home, and the parenting duties get split throughout the day. The good thing is I have that flexibility as long as I can attend our client and team meetings while completing my project deliverables. 

Have I ever been overloaded on a project? Yes. This can happen quickly, with a development scope often exceeding what was initially planned. What did I do when this happened? I reached out to my manager and then the project manager. It was a genuine and comfortable conversation. I detailed what was on my plate for the sprint or the week. I told them why a few things would take a little longer than expected or what roadblocks I faced, and we made adjustments. They didn’t make me feel bad for asking for help or reallocating some of my work. It was a good feeling. I felt supported and seen. In my past experience, this was not the case, and I would have suffered silently, working late nights and weekends to ensure the job was done. Plus two for Mindset.

Often we hear and see all kinds of characteristics of what makes a company’s culture superb. Just insert a new buzzword in front of company culture, and boom. You’re hip and have a new recruiting tool. I was privy to this message as I’ve dedicated most of my adult life to learning about social injustices and the personal transformation required to negate those injustices in our communities and workplaces. By now, you’re probably wondering. Where in the world is he going with this? Company Culture. What is Mindset’s company culture? The simple answer is. It’s positive. It’s flexible and malleable. It learns to pivot and does better when it knows better. 

Now I could talk your ear off about culture and subcultures as someone who has struggled with their place and identity in most spaces in America. But, when it comes to Mindset, they have given me every opportunity that I’ve asked for. Ethan, my manager, has entertained my ideas and nurtured my ambitions. He has given me resources and the space and time I needed to grow. 

At first, I thought this was a part of the honeymoon stage. You know, that part where everyone is friendly to you, says, “you’re doing a great job.. etc.” before it turns ugly, and you’re just another cog in the wheel. Well, it’s been over a year, and the good vibes I had on day one. Are the same as day 365+. I would learn that “Finding, empowering, and growing remarkable people” is a core value of Mindset and directly impacts Mindset’s unique company culture. 

Before I move on, I don’t want to dismiss the possibility that even though I am from a marginalized community and don’t have the background some of my peers may have, there is, however, intersectionality. I am a male, and some of the opportunities I have had in my life may be because of that. I acknowledge this and am an ally, advocate, and accomplice in removing glass ceilings for my peers, colleagues, and community members. 

Ok, now that I’ve cleared the air. 

DEI work is an integral part of my identity. This is very close to my heart, and over the last year, I’ve seen Mindset take a very active role in accessing their company culture through the lens of DEI. They have formally organized a committee with a diverse Mindset and employees passionate about DEI work. We’ve created a Charter, acted on the initiatives, achieved some initiatives, and started to plan for the coming year and how we can impact Mindset’s future. It’s incredible to see, and I’m optimistic that we will achieve some excellent work in the future.

In summary, I’ve talked your ears off about my path to Mindset. It’s not short, and it has lots of twists and turns and ups and downs. A dozen or more scenarios highly favor Mindset as a quality workplace. From the people, our leadership, and overall vibe. Mindset is on to something. It’s been a great place to spend my time working with new technology (and some old, old, ancient technology)  and completing cool user-centric projects. I hope you’ve learned a few things about your own mindset and its importance in achieving your goals and ultimately impacting your reality.

But most importantly,
for the reader out there who is not sure if they check all of the boxes, I say create your own boxes to check. Define yourself and be open to the journey. Your people will find you (or you’ll find them). 

Mark out. 



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Mark Smith is a Full-stack SAP developer at Mindset. He is a self-proclaimed technical mercenary with a focus in all things SAP. Mark is a blogger, mentor and DEI advocate in the workplace and his community. In his spare time he enjoys the outdoors, playing basketball, spending time with family and fiddling with smart home technology.

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