Welcome to the second interview in the (still relatively) new Spotlight Interviews series, highlighting members of our SAP Champions program. This time I'm chatting with douglas.cezar10, a man after my own heart -- an avid reader and writer. He's published more than twenty blog posts -- sometimes in both English and Portuguese -- and he's also looking to launch an SAP Community book club dedicated to nonfiction. (I love that idea...and, no, not just for selfish reasons.)
On top of that, Douglas is involved in in-person events (such as SAP Inside Tracks), proving that the SAP Community truly is everywhere and anywhere.
As an avid reader and writer myself, I'm eager to support his new nonfiction book club...and to interview him. So why wait any longer? Let's get started...
Hi, Douglas. So nice to catch up with you!
Hey, Jerry! I have been looking forward to this conversation with you. It's such a pleasure to finally catch up!
I'm itching to talk to you about the book club and blogging -- two things I truly love! -- but I need to exercise some restraint and talk to you about the typical stuff first: So let's start by taking a look at your profile, your education, your career, et cetera.
Yes, I have a couple of years living with the SAP Community, and it certainly gave me time to do a lot of different things. But going back more than 20 years ago, my professional education started probably when I was 11 years old and I asked my father to sell my video-game console and use the money to buy a second-hand computer. I remember I took that decision because I was completely curious about computers, so I started exploring the old programming language called Basic by myself, and soon I asked my parents to buy a book with almost one thousand pages that would eventually allow me to learn the Clipper programming language too. Then when I was 14, I signed up for technical classes in high school and learned lots of things related to computers and programming, including what I consider the most valuable class to my career up to these days: logical thinking. I got my first job as a software developer when I was only 17.
How was the experience of being a software developer at such an early age when it was not common?
This allowed me to have almost 3 years of experience when I was 19 and by that time, I applied and got hired by the largest software company in Brazil, a big ERP vendor called TOTVS. That enterprise management software company focuses almost only on small and medium companies and, because of that, many times I had to deliver ERP implementation projects being the only team member from the vendor side: I was the person who installed the system, understood all the customer’s business requirements, did all the configurations to address those requirements, and also did all the needed additional programming to support all the identified gaps for companies as big as two hundred employees that sometimes were part of bigger multinational corporations. Doing a comparison with a typical SAP project, it was like I was alone and had the same responsibilities of a whole team: infrastructure like a Basis consultant, functional like an all-in-one SD, MM, FI, CO, and PP consultant, and development like an ABAP or SAPUI5 developer. The only additional support I had from the company was a weekly meeting with the project manager, so I also had to learn to be accountable without close management.
Because of that scenario, I decided to engage in business education at the top business college in Brazil while also pursuing lots of additional business-related courses so I could have informed conversations with business leaders and managers to understand their companies’ business processes and requirements. So, besides being an expert in that ERP system, I had to develop as best as I could my business knowledge too. Those were amazing learning years in the enterprise software area for me, and that knowledge later came as extremely valuable to my SAP career. After 4 years doing that, I decided I wanted to see how big companies work and I concluded the best option for it would be to jumping into the SAP space.
And how did you manage to make the change into the SAP world?
I was lucky to have a friend working in an SAP service provider, and she could refer me to a pilot teaching class of twenty people who were going to learn ABAP and the best-graded students would receive a job proposal. Luckily, I was one of the four people to receive a proposal and soon started on my first project in the SAP world.
It was 2005 and by that time SAP professionals in Brazil were used to focusing strictly on their job description: it means usually the ABAP software developer only did what functional consultants asked them to do. But with my previous experience being the "only person" in several ERP implementation projects, I could not accept that I was only being told what to do because, based on those experiences, many times I could see the proposed solutions could be better. So I started to pursue positioning myself as a software developer with business acumen, and it opened some nice opportunities for me. I decided to try the role of functional consultant. I completed official SAP training on the modules SD and MM and got my first SAP certification. But in the end, I saw that I really enjoyed more the software development aspect of projects and I changed back. This is the story about how I decided to be an SAP technologist.
Douglas has a long list of specialties, including SAP Screen Personas.
On your profile, you list ABAP and SAP Screen Personas among your areas of expertise, and those are common topics in your blog posts. How did you get involved in those areas?
I would say this is part of a pattern in my life: I am always looking for what is the next thing I want to learn. While we can always find more to learn about any given topic, for me always comes the time when I ask myself, "What should I learn at this moment to make further progress?" Then I try my best to look into possible futures to make a good decision.
When I had enough experience with ABAP, I decided I wanted to learn Workflow, so I got an SAP Press book on the topic and learned it. Then I did something similar with SAP Screen Personas and later I repeated it with SAPUI5. The only bad thing about all of this is that between 2005 and 2020, I made the bad decision of only taking two weeks of vacation in total and it was something that came at a very high price later. But let’s talk more about work and we can come back to this vacation thing later.
You just mentioned SAPUI5, and that also appears as one of your specialties, along with Fiori, SAP Cloud Platform, and other things. How did your career path take you through those topics as well?
Well, again it comes from the habit of always asking, "What should I learn next?" Because I pursued a career as an independent consultant, I do not have a boss or a company telling me what I should learn, so I always did my best to figure it out by myself. This is not necessarily a good thing and I surely made some mistakes. So I think having mentors is a good thing, and I suggest people make an effort to find them. I had been lucky enough to find amazing mentors in customers for whom I worked and in the SAP Community too.
Coming back to the details, around 2015, I got involved with the strong movement in the enterprise software area towards cloud computing, and I saw that sooner or later it would have a large-scale impact on software development in the SAP world. So I did again what I’m used to doing: I got two SAPUI5 books from SAP Press and started to learn by myself, and I convinced my customer at the time to let me develop a new SAPUI5 application for their company. It was a real-life lab for me.
More recently, SAP Cloud Platform became of interest to me because it is something that brings a whole new world of possibilities to any SAP architect or developer. With SCP, we can basically connect any SAP product to everything else, in and out of the SAP technology stack. You can also extend and adapt SAP solutions in a secure way using SCP. When you choose to make use of your creativity and know the available technology, there is almost nothing impossible to do when it comes to creating new applications, extending existing ones, or making any piece of software connect to another in a useful way.
You describe yourself as an (and I quote from your bio) "Independent SAP Software Engineer and Systems Architect." What is it that you do nowadays in terms of work?
I would say nowadays I’m on sabbatical leave. As I told you, for almost 15 years, I had only two weeks of vacation in total. It is because as an independent consultant and loving what I do, I always took the opportunity to work more and learn more without ever stopping to recharge. During that time, it was very common for me to have a full-time customer engagement while accepting additional work to be made at nights and weekends. When I was not doing additional work, I was always using my nights and weekends to learn something new related to work. Certainly, I got some rewards especially in terms of expanding my knowledge faster, but recently, I felt the absolute necessity to stop and recharge.
But I was so engaged with work that I did not notice by myself that I was tired and in need of a break to come back to my habitual levels of productivity and learning ability. I had some feedback from people working with me who saw I was not taking time off for a very long time. I did some research and found that almost all high-performing individuals take seriously this need and find time to pause, relax, and recharge. So I decided to do the same, and in February 2020, I decided I was going to take one month off like I never did at least since 2007. But in March, the coronavirus pandemic arrived and I decided to take some extra time off to fully recover from those almost 15 years working non-stop. And this is now something I like to share with everyone: please, have a serious schedule for getting your head off work, or it will come a time when you are going to be forced to do it.
Once this sabbatical is over, I plan to resume pursuing the exciting advancements in software development available in the SAP world. I am currently outlining my plan around further exploring SAP Cloud Platform tools, SAP RPA, SAP CAP, SAP RAP, and the seismic changes under way because companies are finally seeing remote work as something feasible and now they can hugely accelerate their digitization and automation projects.
I am also working to expand my business thinking. I am interested in new business models and value propositions that can be enabled using all the technology we now have available. As someone who deeply understands the data inside SAP systems and its value, I think there are lots of ways I can explore it with the SAP Community, meaning all the SAP partners and customers.
I also have the luck to be greatly experienced with remote work because I do it since 2015. I had to learn all the details about how to keep being productive remotely and also how to hire remote team members and manage the work of remote software developers in SAP projects because I did it for a while. Now with this situation we are all living, I'm finding opportunities to help other people to set up their remote teams and finding new ways of managing and collaborating from a distance.
A "lovely winter day" in his backyard in Brazil in 2017, according to Douglas. One of the biggest challenges moving from Brazil to Germany? Adjusting to the weather.
Also according to your profile, you're in Munich, Germany, but you list your languages as English and Portuguese. I assume that means you aren't from Germany originally...? If not, how did you end up in Munich? Or maybe you're just being humble and not listing German as one of your languages too?
I was born in Brazil, so Portuguese is my main language. In Brazil, we do not have the amazing levels of English teaching offered in school as we see here in Germany. But when I was around 10 years old, I was amazed to see my father speaking English with people from Sweden who worked with him at Sandvik, a Swedish company that is also an SAP customer. That sparked my interest in learning English, and I started buying books and lots of self-learning material, so I would say I learned it by myself. No, I do not speak German yet, but it is something that I am starting to work on now that I’ve some time off from work.
Regarding living in Germany, it was a decision I made with my wife back in 2017. We both came from Italian and German families, so coming to Europe was something we felt at ease with. We started with a tourism trip in 2017 through Portugal, Spain, Italy, and Germany, and we decided to come to Germany because of how welcomed and safe we felt here. The language is not easy but can be learned with the right amount of effort. The greatest challenge for me is the weather: I lived in a city called Ribeirao Preto in Brazil, where it is almost always summertime with lots of sunshine and temperatures close to 30-celsius degrees around the year. Now the summer in Bavaria seems to be colder than the winter was where I lived in Brazil. Overall, it is a worthy move also because the SAP Community here is so strong and the scientific research area in which my wife is engaged is also very active.
While we're on the subject of languages, you've blogged in both Portuguese and English. Any reason for the bilingual approach?
I discovered I like to write and blog some time ago when I was still living in Brazil, so I naturally started blogging in Portuguese. But I wanted to make the ideas and experiences I was sharing also available to people from the SAP Community outside of Brazil, so I made the decision to blog in both languages. Now I’ve been blogging mostly in English, but I have plans to write more in Portuguese and I hope eventually in German too.
I did mention earlier that you've blogged quite a bit. In terms of topics, you've covered a lot -- from events to technology to working from home. What is it that inspires you to write a blog post?
What most inspires me is noticing that I know something that can be useful to other people. Besides that, I've found lots of joy in researching to expand my knowledge about something so I can write on a level that is good enough for someone to be able to learn from reading my work.
Douglas and the speakers from the first SAP Inside Track event that he organized in Brazil in 2018, right before he moved to Germany
Do you remember why you began blogging on SAP Community? Were you nervous the first time?
It was in 2016 by the same time I started engaging with the SAP Community. In that year, I attended two SAP Inside Track events, and I wanted to share the experience so others could know how much they have to gain by engaging too. I think the community is about sharing what you know, making connections, and learning. So I had this impression from the start and writing to share became a natural part of that.
I was not nervous about writing because I had just volunteered as a speaker on those same SAP Community events and public speaking comes as something much harder for me. So writing felt much easier when compared to talking in front of a group of unknown but highly knowledgeable people.
I think many people experience jitters when they're trying to blog -- or ask or answer questions or do anything on the SAP Community -- for the first time. Any advice for new members who want to get involved in the community?
We feel anxious because we think we are going to be criticized by other people, but it is almost never the case. When you are starting to write, you must remember that all you have to do is to learn enough about your chosen topic so you know that what you are saying is true and has value to someone else. Regardless of how advanced is the knowledge you are going to share, it will always be useful for someone who is needing exactly that piece of information to make progress on their journeys.
Since you blog so much, I assumed you like to write. And I find that writers also like to read. So it came as no surprise to me that you're trying to kick off a nonfiction book club. What can you tell me about that?
Jerry, I recently discovered that I absolutely enjoy writing! It is one of the topics I am currently doing some research to broaden my knowledge because I want to be a better writer. I see writing as a highly valuable communication skill and I believe we can definitely make it better by studying and practicing it.
I love to read too: Since I was a kid, I had always been a book lover. Now as an adult, I usually read two to four books each month, and it surely helps me a lot to expand my world view on any subject I'm interested in. Now with digital books, we have the unique capability of having hundreds of books available on our pockets all the time. I know there are people who say they prefer the feeling of paper books, but when you are really interested in the content, the format is meaningless. I would not carry even one physical book with my all the time but I have hundreds of them in my pocket and I am always reading at least two different books at any given time -- even when I'm in a restaurant waiting for lunch, on short work breaks during the day, or when relaxing on the beach or at the pool. Even more, with lots of audiobooks on my smartphone, I can keep listening to books when I go out for a walk in nature or when I'm doing some exercise on the stationary bike. I think we never had such high availability and convenient access to knowledge before.
And this is the reason why I'm working to start a nonfiction book club within the SAP Community: to motivate people to engage more with books so they can see how reading books can enable us to quickly go from being a newbie to having a decent amount of knowledge about any subject. Every month we will choose a topic that can be of interest to many people and propose a book for everyone to read. By the end of each month, we will have a virtual meeting to discuss what we learned and how we can use the newly acquired knowledge in our personal or professional lives.
You've mentioned that you haven't enjoyed any downtime for several years -- and you're trying to change that. So would you still read during downtime or would you prefer to spend the time on other pursuits? Hobbies, activities, favorite vacation spots, et cetera?
As I told you, for almost 15 years, I chose to have no downtime at all and I deeply regret that. But huge amounts of my uptime had been invested in books and it paid a lot. Many times books kick-started my pursuit of knowledge in new areas, which I could later expand with ease by engaging in practicing, experimenting, and doing. Books are unique because they enable you to learn from the most brilliant minds on any subject.
Besides reading, I greatly enjoy going to walk in the nice outside spaces here in Bavaria and to eat the delicious dishes made by my wife who loves to cook besides being herself a highly busy and respected scientific researcher in her area. We both love to travel and we are waiting with great expectancy for the time when we can start exploring the wonders of Europe again -- hopefully, while the good weather is still here.
Douglas making his first appearance as a speaker at SAP TechEd, Barcelona 2019
Getting back to the community stuff -- I've gone on and on about your blogging and your new club, but you've also been involved in events outside of the community.sap.com site. What is it that you like about things such as SAP Inside Tracks and community-related events?
I had the pleasure of meeting you during the most recent edition of SAP TechEd in Barcelona and we could see there how strong and active the SAP Community is. The community space was one of the best experiences for me because people including myself could openly share their experiences working with SAP solutions, partners, customers, and the community itself. I absolutely enjoyed the unconference-style conversations you organized there, and I hope we can soon have a new in-person SAP TechEd again so we can repeat all those experiences.
Now I think the in-person community events like the SAP Inside Tracks have the same spirit but on a much smaller scale and with a local flavor. I’ve been a speaker on those events in Brazil, Spain, and Germany, and each edition was a great opportunity to get together with local people and the local culture from each city. I think that these in-person events will grow in importance as soon as the pandemic is controlled because people working from home will have a stronger desire to connect with other people and these events offer a perfect opportunity to do it.
It is also important to mention that last month we had the amazing SAP Online Track event that was organized by a group of incredible SAP Champions. I was one of the speakers, and I could see first-hand how they did an outstanding job by making it possible for the SAP Community to get together online for 24 uninterrupted hours. We had almost eighty sessions delivered by more than sixty speakers from all around the world. I strongly suggest people go to YouTube and search for SAP Online Track and enjoy all the learnings made available by this incredible group of people. You can also find an SAP Community blog post with all the post-event information summarized by the organizers.
Finally, I want to say that my friends from the SAP Community in Brazil did a similar effort with great results by producing an online event that is very similar to the SAP Inside Tracks, but with two weeks of daily sessions both in Portuguese and English. We can find their sessions by searching for Inside Track Brazil on YouTube too.
One last question... No, wait. That's not strictly true. One last series of related questions. What went through your head when you were invited to become an SAP Champion and what does being an SAP Champion mean to you?
For me, it was completely awesome to be kindly invited to join the SAP Champions program by craig.cmehil and katarina.fischer during SAP TechEd last year. I immediately thought that I would now have an opportunity to share knowledge, experience, and help more people than I could do before.
When I think about the concept behind the "champion" word, I see it means fighting for a cause and doing something valuable for others. We can see plenty of examples amongst my fellow SAP Champion and SAP Mentors colleagues doing big things for the community, and this kind of high energy and good intentions should be perpetuated. I think the community leadership from SAP is doing a great job by finding and empowering people who can do it.
I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me today, Douglas. I should probably hang up now and go download The Ultimate Guide to Remote Work so I can read this weekend and be ready to discuss later this month. I'm really looking forward to that conversation!
Jerry, thanks so much for taking the time to talk about my experiences with the SAP Community, and I hope we can continue this conversation in the future with new ideas, learnings, and events.
Please go ahead and download the book. It helped me to put together many concepts about remote work, and it is a very good start on that subject. I hope to meet you and a lot of SAP Community colleagues in a few days for our first Nonfiction Book Club conversation.