I am new to SAP/ABAP and is getting an opportunity to move into SAP as a technical consultant/programmer. Is this the right time to jump onto this platform? In discrete terms, what is the future of a SAP technical/ABAP programmer? I have heard lot of easy-to-us tools like Report Painter etc. will be enhanced and that the role of ABAP would be lessened. To what extent is this true, in your opinion?
You're wise to "look before you leap" into ABAP right now. As I noted in a previous question,
the classic role of the ABAP programmer is changing. The future SAP developer will be a hybrid of
ABAP, EAI, and Web/Java-based expertise.
It's not bad to get yourself a foundation in ABAP programming, but I think you're right to ask some hard questions about how marketable ABAP skills will be down the line. The market is definitely going to get crowded for the general ABAP programmer. And you're right - automated tools like Report Painter are making it harder for the average ABAP programmer to find good projects. BW is becoming the standard reporting environment for SAP customers, and tools that automate presentation and reporting are getting more robust with each BW release. Even though there will always be the need for custom ABAP programming, object-oriented development tools like BADIs will definitely reduce the need for "grind it out" ABAP coding. For all those reasons, if I were moving into SAP development, I would pursue two different angles. First, I would try to obtain hardcore ABAP development skills (custom development, user exits, dialog programming - heavy hardcore development. Not so much using neat tools but doing the hardcore custom work that conversion and reporting tools just can't do).
Second, I would try to get development experience utilizing mySAP, EAI, and R/3 product extensions. This means mastering SAP's integration toolkit, including BAPIs, BADIs, the SAP Java Connector, and the Web Application Server (formerly the Internet Transaction Server). But I would take it further and get exposure to emerging web platforms, languages, and integration protocols including Java, J2EE, and the many flavors of XML. Exposure to competing web-based development platforms such as Microsoft's .NET solution would also give you an edge. And since you can't expect SAP's customers to rely only on SAP's EAI solutions, acquiring skills with third party EAI tools from vendors like webMethods, Tibco, and Vitria would be another key part of your skill set. In addition to all that, you want to build in as much business process and application integration know-how into your skills as you can. These "big picture" skills help to protect you against both offshore outsourcing and the competition amongst "core ABAP" programmers. Put all of these skills together, and you're truly "the ABAP programmer of the future." But at the same time, your skills will be transferable to other non-SAP environments, giving you real flexibility in the marketplace. So, the bottom line for you: yes, go into ABAP if you see a good opportunity, but continue to keep your eyes open and do your best to enhance your core ABAP know-how with all the Web-based development skills you can get your hands on.
This was first published in June 2002