Q

How do I start a career in SAP?

I have a Bachelor's in mechanical engineering and an MBA in IS from a reputed university. I have three years experience in a mechanical organization. I wish to seek a career in SAP; however, I lack the knowledge and prerequisites to build a career in SAP. I need qualifications, relevant experience and the skills required for building a successful career in SAP. Please tell me where I can start. Quite a common question. And the answer...

depends where in the world you are located! If there is a shortage of skilled professionals, naturally it is easier to break into a new market.

I got into SAP from a background of development and support over a wide range of technologies. At the time, companies were spending huge amounts of money on external consultants. To try to reduce costs, one company decided to recruit and train its own staff. The profile was someone who had worked in IT in a manufacturing industry and who had knowledge of programming and relational databases. Well, I'd never worked in a manufacturing company, but I always let other people reject me, rather than reject myself. So I applied, and, much to my surprise, landed the job. So here's one tip -- even if you are not a perfect match, apply anyway.

First, look at the reasons why you want to get into SAP. You might find that another career would be more suitable. Then decide which area of SAP you want to get into (BW, R/3, programming, functional, technical, etc.). When you've done that, if you can fund it, get certified in that area. Then at least you will have some detailed knowledge of what it is all about. But certification itself does not mean that you are any good; it just means that you have gotten certified and probably that you've done the course.

What you need now is experience, and getting it is hard. Be prepared for low wages and long hours. I knew a guy who wanted to move from being an IT operator to a C programmer. He got all the training and could program well, but it took him a very long time to get that first job. And when he got it, the pay was about half what someone with just a year of experience would have gotten.

You could try getting a job with a company that already has SAP, and try and inveigle yourself into the SAP department with your current profession. You would be using SAP in your day-to-day work, in all probability. Another route, and perhaps one better suited to you, would be to find a company that is going, or about to go, down the SAP route that you could work for with your current skills. Once there, express your interest, and you might find yourself on an implementation project. My employer is rolling SAP out worldwide. Each project we start draws people with no SAP experience out of the business and they work with our SAP experts. They supply the specialist business knowledge, and the SAP experts supply the SAP knowledge -- with a view to knowledge transfer. After the projects go live, the business people will be supporting their SAP implementation.

Your success will largely be determined by your ability, your determination and the economics and culture of your home country.

This was first published in August 2004

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