The evolution of the SAP community

| 4 min read

This week, the new SAP Mentors Advisory Board has been formed, and I am very honoured to have been elected as a member. In this post, I take my own brief look at how the SAP community as a whole has evolved over the years.

Two significant community events are taking place this week. On Friday, there's the inaugural conference for UI5 aficionados - UI5con 2016 in Frankfurt, which dovetails with SAP Inside Track Frankfurt. The other event was the announcement of the new SAP Mentors Advisory Board for 2016-2018 at the start of the week.

SAP Mentors Advisory Board slide

For me, these events represent a couple of significant strands of community development within the SAP ecosphere.

What is a community?

What is a community, and how do they come about? Well, to answer that from an SAP ecosphere perspective, one might go back to the early 1990s, when the Internet was growing stronger by the day, but the Web was only a very young thing. In those days people communicated on the Internet mostly by group discussions facilitated either by the Network News Transport Protocol (NNTP) - a technology that has sadly all but disappeared along with others such as Gopher and WAIS - or email, specifically the trusty mailing list mechanism. There were no such thing as web forums and the SAP Community Network (SCN) wasn't even a twinkle in anyone's eye.

From SAP-R3-L to the SAP Community Network

In 1995 two mailing lists were formed, independently and without knowledge of one another. One was called "sapr3-list", created by Bryan Thorp in Canada, and the other was called "merlin", created by me. The former list was focused specifically on R/3, whereas merlin still covered R/2 as well as R/3. Running and moderating a mailing list took a lot of effort, so Bryan and I were very happy to receive the superb offer of help from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - an SAP customer - and the lists merged to form the now-venerable SAP-R3-L, a name that still conjures up distant but happy memories for us.

Some instructions from the listserv-based SAP-R3-L mailing list

Then in late 2002 I got involved with SAP and O'Reilly (for whom I'd written a book and was in the middle of writing a second), to work on an online forum style community space. We debated, discussed and planned the initial shape, style, spirit and indeed seed content for it, and in early 2003 it was born - the SAP Developer Network (SCN). In the early days we collaborated upon and wrote as much content as we could. One of the SAP contacts was Mark Finnern, now a good friend, and along with another good friend Piers Harding, and others, we worked on growing the community within the SDN.

And as you can guess, SDN eventually became SCN - the SAP Community Network - incorporating other previously satellite communities that had grown around what had been originally a more developer-focused one.

As you may know, Mark went on to found the SAP Mentor programme, which today is stronger than ever. So strong, in fact, that we find ourselves back where we started with this post, which is in the context of the newly formed SAP Mentors Advisory Board. This has been set up to nurture and guide the SAP Mentors engagement and activities into the next phase of its programme life.

SAP Inside Track and UI5con

So what about UI5con? SAP's adventures in open source and open protocols began a long time ago, when the Linux Lab was formed at SAP to investigate whether running R/3 on Linux was viable. The members of that little group contributed significant content to the Linux kernel codebase, especially in the area of memory management. SAP's fate with open source was sealed - with possibly the most significant recent event being the open sourcing of UI5, of course!

Fast forward to the present, and we see SAP presence at many open and public events, such as the Open Source Convention (OSCON), where for example in 2014 we gave a workshop on OpenUI5, and FOSDEM, where last year we engaged with the most critical of hackers to evangelise this awesome toolkit (which as you know, I hope, is the engine that's powering the Fiori revolution).

And so it was inevitable, due to the popularity and interest in UI5, that UI5con was born, in discussions, planning and dreaming over the last 12 months. It takes place this Friday, and there are some really great speakers lined up including some of my heroes from Bluefin of course!

This inaugural UI5con event is cohabiting time and space with perhaps what can be seen as the grandfather of modern SAP community events - SAP Inside Track. Born in 2009 in London, it has now seen countless instances that are now run all over the world - in places as exotic as the Carribean, Istanbul, Hyderabad and even Manchester! If you're in the SAP space, and want to learn from colleagues and take the next steps in building out your network, I'd strongly recommend you check out the SAP Inside Track movement and get involved. It is the classic community event, run by the community, for the community.

SAP Inside Track isn't the only event type - there are plenty of others. In particular I'd like to call out the SAP Code Jam events, which again take place all around the world, and on an even more frequent basis than the Inside Tracks.

The Future

The future of the SAP community, as a whole, looks in very good shape. With the SAP Mentors Advisory Board on the one hand, and the self-organising community events such as Inside Tracks and Code Jams, and of course now with the excellent openSAP Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) platform - there are so many opportunities to learn from, get involved with and shape our community into what it should be for the next 20 years. See you online!

Originally published on the Bluefin Solutions website