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Ten year ABAPer seeks work/life balance

Being an SAP consultant can be straining on the personal life. Expert Jon Reed explores options available to an SAP professional looking to keep their skills evolving.

Hi. I've been working on SAP ABAP for ten years, mostly in a consulting environment, from which I recently moved to a permanent role close to home. I made the move because I was sick of being on-site, away with clients five days a week, and longed for a home life. However, I'm unhappy in this new role because I'm doing core R/3 work (after doing SAP XI for the last year in consultancy), and worse than that I'm doing a Technical Lead role -- which I've done many times before. I'm good at it but it is too secretarial and I feel my skills are disappearing!

My Choices:
1. Stay in this role. My home life is great, but I fear my skills are diminishing. Outsourcing to Asia is about to come on board.
2. Ask to move into a more functional role. However, the openings are likely to be in one of the Logistics modules. I can't see myself learning too much -- and even though it would be a functional role it would be 'old' apps and not APO, CRM or something with a challenge and a future?
3. Leave and join a small consulting firm who say they will facilitate getting home a bit during the week and some home working. It would be a role on the technical side, but working around 'new' apps areas -- with the potential to cross train as a functional consultant.

I need to balance a home life with a career. I need to protect my future earnings by not falling so far behind the market, ideally with the aim of picking up enough skills to be able to pick off an interesting role closer to home in five years. 'Been there and done that' advice would be interesting, or a different perspective!

I am responding to your question because I think most SAP consultants have struggled with the home/work balance. Obviously, having a job close to home is great, but as you point out, once your skills start to stagnate, it can get a little scary.

One thing you are absolutely correct about is that if you want to stay in the SAP field for the long term, you can't afford to slide into what I call "maintenance mode" work. Whether you are employed by a company or a consulting firm, the most important thing is that your skills are evolving and that you're getting exposure to the "latest and greatest" SAP technology. If you don't feel challenged, that is not a good sign at all.

With that in mind, let's look at your three options above: option one, staying in your current role, does not look good if you are trying to stay in the SAP field.

Option two, move into a more functional role on your project, is worth looking into. However, generally speaking, the most important thing is that you are working on a recent version of SAP. Whether you are functional or technical, you want to be on ECC 5.0 or 6.0 before too long. I would say that a Financials person working in 6.0 is in better shape than an APO person working in conjunction with 4.6C. So, the version of SAP matters more than the type of functional role you find. If your company is lagging behind technically, it is probably also lagging on the functional side. But, option two may work for you.

Option three could be good but it depends on the amount of SAP consulting work in your region. It would be ideal in areas like New Jersey where there are many projects within driving distance. You have to be careful though. Most consulting firms reserve the right to fly you where the work is. In the end, client needs come before yours.

Of course, if there is a lot of work near you, option four would be to find another perm job that would not require you to relocate.

Finally, there is a fifth option, not an easy one, which is to get another full time SAP job in a more "progressive" technical environment. This would require you to relocate yourself and your family, but for some, this tradeoff is worth it. The bottom line is that you probably need to take some kind of pro-active move to make sure that your SAP skills stay current. There are a number of ways you could play it. Good luck!

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