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Thomas Dulaney

FAQ: Middle and Late SAP Career Paths

Posted by Thomas Dulaney in Career Center on Apr 11, 2012 11:36:18 PM

There are a few paths you can follow in growing your SAP career. In your middle career, you'll either 1) Go Deep, 2) Go Wide, or 3) Go Management. For later in your career, you'll either 1) Stay Technical, 2) Go Independent, or 3) Go (even more) Management. This post is just my opinion. Hopefully we'll get some lively discussion on this topic.

Mid Career

1) Go Deep

If you choose this path, you will pick a subspecialty within basis and become the world expert on that topic. For example, in Basis you could choose any of the following "Deep" areas" (not a comprehensive list)

  • Monitoring/Performance Tuning
  • Transports/ChaRM
  • ABAP stack troubleshooting
  • JAVA stack troubleshooting
  • High Availability/Disaster Recovery
  • Infrastructure/landscape Design
  • Upgrades
  • Globalization
  • Archiving
  • Very Large Databases
  • HANA
  • Component based specialization (CRM, BI, ECC, SRM, Portal, etc)

The point of going Deep is to be the go-to person in your one topic area. Eventually most if not all of your work will involve your Deep specialization.

2) Go Wide

If you choose this path, you will endevour to become a "Jack of All Trades". For example, in Basis you could choose something similar to the specializations listed (not a comprehensive list)

  • Generic Basis but on a wide variety of components (know enough about any component for routine matters or to get by until a specialist can be located for really intransigent problems)
  • Ramp-Up products (always on the bleeding edge)
  • Techno-Functional (allows you to fill two slots on a project or different slots on different projects, BI and Portal consultants are famous for this)
  • Broad Technical (Basis + ABAP/Java Programmer, now you're *really* dangerous!)

The point of going Wide is to be able to be useful on just about any project, in just about any situation. You will probably not be able to handle the toughest problems, but your versatility will make up for that. You will have tremendous variety in your work assignments. In fact, no two may be alike!

3) Go Management

If you choose this path, you will work your way up the project food chain from Team Member to Team Lead (Basis Lead) to Technical Lead to Project Manager. You'll need to stay familiar with all technical aspects of a project and be able to estimate how long they should take to complete. You'll also need strong interpersonal and management skills. This route still requires strong technical understanding but requires more non-technical soft skills than the other approaches.

 

Late Career

For later in your career, you'll generally have one of a few paths to follow as well. You can go from any middle career path to any late career path, but some middle career paths lead more directly into some late career paths than others. For your late career SAP Paths, you can 1) Stay technical, 2) Go Independent, or 3) Go (Even More) Management.

 

1) Stay Technical

Most large consultancy firms and customers will make allowances for folks to stay technical for their whole career. This is particularly true for Deep specialists, but somewhat true for Wide specialists. While salaries can reach fairly lofty heights, some long term Technical folks eventually complain about career stagnation. At some point the raises and promotions stop because you've maxed out the range. Without taking on management duties, titles like Vice President or CIO are far out of reach. For many, though, this path can be rewarding long term, especially if long term specialization is coupled with general industry recognition of expertise.Characteristics of this path (rough generalizations, not all true in all cases)

  • Work for someone else
    • Don't have to worry about administrivia
    • Can focus on technical tasks
    • Don't always get to set direction
  • Fewer soft skills required
  • Stable and safe (although Independents argue that this is just an illusion)
  • Steady, 8 to 5, life possible
  • Remuneration rises quickly, but tops out quickly as well

 

2) Go Independent

Many mid-to-late SAP career folks decide to strike out on their own as independent consultants. Wide specialists are particularly apt to go this route, but both Deep and Management specialists opt for this path as well. Independent consultants take charge of their own destiny. Independents find their own work, manage their own training, handle the billing/advertisement of their skills, etc. Independent consultants value their freedom. Characteristics of this path (again rough generalizations, not all true in all cases)

  • Freedom
    • Choose your own clients
    • Choose your work
    • Choose your own training/development path
    • Handle your own administration (billing, time recording,etc)
    • Flexibility in down time/vacation
  • Gadgets
  • Uncertainty
  • Requires strong money management/discipline
  • Requires you to stay close to the technology skills that got you to this point
  • Remuneration is limited by whatever bill rate you negotiate and the number of hours you are willing to work. (Adding more than just a few people to your practice moves you from Independent to Management.)

(Please read the excellent blogs of Firefighter and Daniel Graverson from whom I have blatently stolen many of these characteristics.

 

3) Go (Even more) Management

When folks think about their late career, many envision CIO, CEO, VP, or Director titles for themselves and for most folks, the envisioned path travels through ManagementLand.  (Independents will argue that they are CEO/CIO/etc or could grow their own companies by hiring on additional folks, but most don't because that starts to veer away from the Freedom that drew them to Independent Consulting in the first place.) If you work for a large consulting firm, the only way up the chain, in general, is via the Project Management route. When you start off, you're generally not in charge of anyone. After  a few years you pick up personnel management responsibilities (often 4 new hires) as you migrate into more Project Management type roles (say Team Lead for example). In order to continue at the Firm, you will pick up both more personnel responsibilities (maybe you're over 4 folks who themselves are over 4 folks) as well as project responsibilities (say Technical Lead, for example).  You'll also  start to be included in more of the presales part of the business. Eventually, you'll make partner and your job duties will be entirely managerial and/or Sales. If you work for an SAP customer, then typically you'll follow a fairly similar path but without the Sales responsibilities and more dealing with Sales people responsibility. Rather than Partner, you job title will become Director, or Vice President, or ... for the select few CIO/CEO/CFO/other C-level).Characteristics of this path (again rough generalizations, not all true in all cases)

  • Less technical, more soft skills (managerial/sales) over time
  • Administrative duties
  • Increased responsibility and control of company funds over time (you get to spend huge whopping amounts of Other People's Money)
  • Risk of topping out in the dreaded "Middle Management" (no room to advance but too many tech skills lost to go any other way)
  • Musical chairs aspect to advancement (you can't rise until the chair above you is vacated and then you have to compete with many others for the one slot)(Can be ameliorated at consulting firms if the Firm's business is grown and can spawn new consulting practices.)
  • Highest potential remuneration... for the chosen few. (Have you checked average C-level salaries lately? It'll give you a nose bleed. Sheesh.)

 

As you might expect, there are a thousand variations on these paths, but this post summarizes my observations and the collective wisdom of many of the business books I've read over the years. Mistakes are mine, of course, and I'll happily revise this to incorporate comments as we go along.

 

Other Blogs relating to this topic

Employment in the Agile Business

Valuable Lessons to Make the Most of your SAP Career

How much do you invest in You?

Best regards,

  --Tom

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