Having worked with SAP as a Technical Consultant for twenty years, I think I have gotten to a point where I can safely say that I know quite a bit about SAP programming technology. I used to be a typical ABAP developer: duly taking courses to keep up with the latest developments, attending the SAP TechEd Development Conference every other year, purchasing SAP Press books on a variety of topics and doing my fair share of presentations. To be short, I stayed comfortably within the SAP bubble and never looked beyond.
Once you get the hang of it, ABAP – SAP’s core programming language – is a decent language to work with and has been around for a long time. It is nothing fancy, but works well enough within the SAP context. But when the internet emerged, ABAP was not fit for website design and new technologies emerged. SAP’s early steps on the web I could understand: ITS was a nifty way to render SAP GUI pages in a browser without coding. And because all internet pages at that time where slow, you could get away with it then. But what came after ITS is a lot worse.
ABAP WebDynpro, Business Server Pages, Floorplan manager, Java WebDynpro, Adobe Interactive, they are all terrible ways to build web pages. Apart from their UIs being slow and ugly, the technique behind them is worse, at least from a developer point of view: lots of abstraction layers, sadistic development environments, user exits everywhere, and nothing even close to being intuitive.
But then SAP introduced Fiori with great fanfare. I was eager to look into it, but after having done my courses, having read the SAP Press books and having attended tons of sessions at TechEd on the matter, I was depressed and seriously thinking of staying in bed for a prolonged period of time. After reading up on SAP Gateway, Lumira, Personas, RCD and CDS I was on the verge of changing my career to forest ranger or brick layer, anything better than again going through a steep learning curve with no idea whether SAP would come up with a completely new web language the next year.
The bottom line is: although all SAP technology tools are designed and built by extremely talented developers, these people have no idea what Developer Experience means. None of the SAP development languages are intuitive and all require weeks of training and months of experience before you can create your first serious application.
But just at the time I was ready to give up, I got introduced to low-code platforms, which kept me in the IT world and out of the woods. At first I didn’t trust them at all, because you need to trust that the stuff they generate actually works, which is a challenge for a developer who has based his career on being able to debug programs to the deepest levels. As a hardcore developer I was expecting (and hoping) that the low-code platforms would simply disqualify themselves for serious, enterprise level development. But after a while, rather disappointedly, I had to admit that the generated code never breaks and simply does the trick. And slowly, after having gotten over my initial doubts, I embraced low-code as a great way to develop applications.
Actually, I turned into a bit of a fan. Who wouldn’t if you find out you can build apps and web pages within minutes? My record of building and publishing an application that reads from and writes to SAP is just under six minutes. And that includes the company’s style sheet, logo and an overview screen with all the data created and a nice pie chart to give it some flavour.
At the moment I am both an SAP Technical Consultant and an OutSystems expert. My current assignments almost all involve creating web and mobile applications combining SAP and OutSystems. Which is a great value proposition, but that is not what this article is about. It is about my frustration with SAP for having me put through the ordeal of learning all their web languages that are, without exception, hard to learn and terrible to work with. In my darker hours I came up with a theory that SAP keeps coming up with hard-to-learn languages and frameworks, just to keep SAP developers so busy with mastering them that they have no time left to look at cooler technologies. But in a lighter frame of mind I think that SAP is convinced they deliver great technology to their developer community.
Anyway, having this off my chest feels good. If you are an ABAP developer and are struggling with all these SAP web languages: you are not alone. You are right when you feel that SAP’s way of programming is a dead end. Be confused for a while. And then turn to OutSystems. Or become a forest ranger.
Roy van de Kerkhof (firstname.lastname@example.org)