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Tips from SAP career expert Jon Reed

The market for SAP professionals is tough, but there are still ways to land jobs and advance your career. We asked Jon Reed, our new careers and certification expert, to find out how ABAP jobs are changing, why getting Enterprise experience is helpful, and what he thinks of the H-1B visa controversy.

How do mySAP ERP and other new SAP technologies impact the current consulting market?
I think it really impacts the technical landscape, but also the functional side, to some degree. The biggest impact of the new technology falls on the classic Basis folks. That's because the Web Application Server technology (now part of the NetWeaver platform) is a different enterprise architecture. It's more of a true Web-based platform now, and they need to get a handle on that. It is important to understand the shift in mindset, from internal development work to enterprise application integration.

As for ABAPers, I haven't run into anyone who really has had problems with the new technologies, but there are shifts in how things are being handled. You need to branch out beyond classic ABAP and embrace a more open environment with Java and Java-based tools. Try to get up to speed on Web-based programming languages.

Are there any 'hot' regions or countries for SAP professionals today?
In the U.S., the hot spot has been the Northeast for the past couple of years. I am not as familiar with the international market, but I'm told the Asian scene can be good if you have an inroad, such as a multi-language capability.

It is kind of a new SAP frontier, but there can be issues with local versus global wages. You can be in demand over there, but pay may simply not measure up, once you consider the exchange rate.

The European market has been pretty decent lately, perhaps a bit better than the U.S. However, the challenge in Europe is that it's where SAP's roots are, and there are a lot of really senior guys working over there.

So 4.7 Enterprise experience is a key asset going forward?
I think so. Getting 4.7 Enterprise experience gives you an edge both on the technical and the functional side. It's always important to keep your skills up to date and stay current on the releases you work on, and getting a head start is obviously better. Practically all job orders I've seen over the last few months require 4.6C implementation experience, and getting 4.7 implementation experience will really enhance your profile. Are there are enough professionals with 4.7 Enterprise-upgrading skills to meet the demand?
I think there is going to be a shortage. Right now, it seems that companies asking for 4.7 Enterprise upgrades are asking for consultants with at least one 4.7 upgrade under their belt and, so far, they seem to be able to fill those openings. However, it's a rare skill set and, as more companies start upgrading, they may have to become more flexible with the 4.7 upgrade experience requirement.

I believe there will be opportunities for those with 4.6 upgrade experience and/or certification to get a foot in the door later on.

What is the best strategy for avoiding getting the ax during layoffs?
There is no quick fix, but there are long-term steps to 'outsourcing-proof' yourself that involve adding a range of additional skills.

Some may call them 'soft skills,' but they're not really soft, since they do add real value to the company in a direct way. These skills can include getting leadership experience as team leader, specializing in knowledge transfer, doing end-user training and pretty much anything that gives you a broader impact on those around you than the specific SAP skills you're performing.

The more you can make your role play into the overall business strategy, the more valuable you're going to be to that company. Sometimes a good move is to acquire additional industry expertise that you can bring to the table and thus make you seem indispensable. Last but not least, remember what I said about staying current on releases. Don't underestimate the power of being the only one with experience in the latest version of a key product.


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What is the No. 1 trend dominating the SAP world?
No one trend is really dominating the stage at this point, but the biggest one I see right now is ABAP outsourcing. Another important trend is that some companies are doing aggressive 4.7 Enterprise upgrades. This is a sizable enterprise upgrade and, of course, a pretty major technical transition on the back end.

You also have another category of companies transitioning from 3.1 to 4.6C. Selective use of mySAP applications is a rising trend across the board and especially for mySAP Strategic Enterprise Management (SEM). Finally, there has been a flurry of Business One news lately, and we already see a new emphasis on small and midmarket companies.

What are your thoughts on the H-1B visa controversy?
That is an interesting question. There are a lot of SAP professionals who have taken a sizable pay cut over the past few years, and they are understandably unhappy. As jobs get scarce, animosity can grow towards certain ethnic groups, and that is not right. We're dealing with global trends, where corporate decision makers make the call, not the individual visa holders.

A lot of the frustration gets directed towards visa limits, but the trend that concerns me the most is offshore outsourcing. If you think about it, the real issue is in-house versus outsourced development. A company that hires H-1B visa folks along with citizens is a good thing, because that means they are still doing things at home instead of sending the work overseas. H-1B visa holders suffer as much as citizens when the entire operation is moved away. It's a classic case of two groups victimized by the same events, and they end up blaming each other.

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