Monday, June 20, 2016

Disconnect To Reconnect

All journeys, no matter how fruitful, come to an end. After a little over nine and half years I decided to leave SAP last week. What a journey this has been!

Making Design Thinking real

I was hired into a multidisciplinary corporate strategy team, set up by Hasso Plattner, the chairman of SAP's supervisory board, and the only co-founder still with the company, whose mission was to help SAP embrace “design thinking” in how it built products and processes as well as how it worked with customers. It was the best multidisciplinary team one could imagine to be part of. We were multidisciplinary to a fault where I used to joke that my team members and I had nothing in common. I am proud to be part of this journey and the impact we helped achieve. Over the years we managed to take the double quotes out of design thinking making it a default mindset and philosophy in all parts of SAP. It was a testament to the fact that any bold and audacious mission starts with a few simple steps and can be accomplished if there is a small passionate team behind it striving to make an impact.

Be part of foundation of something disruptive

Being part of the Office of CEO I worked with two CEOs—Henning and Leo—and their respective executive management teams. This was by far the best learning experience of my life. I got an opportunity to work across lines of businesses and got first hand exposure to intricate parts of SAP’s business. As part of the corporate strategy team I also got an opportunity to work on Business Objects post-merger integration, especially the joint product vision. Some of that work led to the foundation of one of the most disruptive products SAP later released, SAP HANA.

Fuel the insane growth of SAP HANA

HANA just happened to SAP. The market and competition were not expecting us to do anything in this space. Most people at SAP didn’t realize full potential of it and most customers didn’t believe it could actually help them. I don’t blame them. HANA was such a radically foreign concept that it created a feeling of skepticism and enthusiasm at the same time. I took on many different roles and worked extensively with various parts of organization and SAP’s customers to explore, identify, and realize breakthrough scenarios that exploited the unique and differentiating aspects of HANA.

HANA’s value was perceived to help customers to do things better, cheaper, and faster. But, I was on an orthogonal, and rather difficult, mission to help our customers do things they could not have done before or could not even have imagined they could do.

I was fortunate enough to significantly contribute to early adoption of HANA—zero to billion dollars in revenue in three years—which also went on to become the fastest growing product in SAP’s history. I got a chance to work closely with Vishal Sikka, the CTO of SAP and informally known as the father of HANA, on this endeavor and on many other things. It was also a pleasure to work with some of the most prominent global SAP customers who are industry leaders. They taught me a lot about their business.

Incubate a completely new class of data-first cloud solutions

As HANA started to become a foundation and platform for everything we built at SAP my team took on a customer-driven part-accelerator and a part-incubator role to further leverage the most differentiating aspects of the platform and combine it with machine learning and AI to help build new greenfield data-first cloud solutions that reimagined enterprise scenarios. These solutions created potential for more sustaining revenue in days to come.

Practice the General Manager model with a start-up mindset

A true General Manager model is rare or non-existent at SAP (and at many other ISVs), but we implemented that model in my team where I was empowered to run all the functions—engineering, design, product management, product marketing, and business development—and assumed the overall P&L responsibility of the team. The buck stopped with me and as a team we could make swift business decisions. The team members also felt a strong purpose in how their work helped SAP. Often times, people would come up to me and say, “so your team is like a start-up.” I would politely tell them claiming my team as a start-up will be a great disservice to all the real start-ups out there. However, I tried very hard for us to embrace the start-up culture—small tight teams, experimentation, rewarding efforts and not just the outcome, mission and purpose driven to a fault, break things to make them work, insanely short project timelines, and mid to long term vision with focused short-term extreme agile execution—and we leveraged the biggest asset SAP has, its customers.

Be part of a transformative journey

I was fortunate to witness SAP’s successful transformation to a cloud company without compromising on margins or revenue and HANA-led in-memory revolution that not only paved the path for a completely new category of software but also became the fastest growing product in SAP’s history. These kind of things simply don’t happen to all people and I was fortunate to be part of this journey. I have tremendous respect for SAP as a company and the leaders, especially the CEO Bill McDermott, in what the company has achieved. I’m thankful to all the people who helped and mentored me, and more importantly believed in me.

Looking forward to not doing anything, at least for a short period of time

At times, such a long and fast-paced journey somewhat desensitizes you from the real world. I want to slow down, take a step back, and rethink how the current technology storm in the Silicon Valley will disrupt the world again as it has always and how I can be part of that journey, again. There are also personal projects I have been putting off for a while that I want to tend to. I’m hoping a short break will help me reenergize and see the world differently. When I broke this news to my mom she didn’t freak out. I must have made the right decision!

I want to disconnect to reconnect.

I am looking forward to do away with my commute for a while, on 101, during rush hours, to smell the proverbial roses. I won’t miss 6 AM conference calls, but I will certainly miss those cute self-driving Google cars on streets of Palo Alto. They always remind me of why the valley is such a great place. For a “product” person, a technology enthusiast, and a generalist like me who has experienced and practiced all the three sides—feasibility, viability, and desirability—of building software the valley is full of promises and immense excitement. In coming days I am hoping to learn from my friends and thought leaders that would eventually lead me to my next tour of duty.

About the picture: I was on a hiking trip to four national parks a few years ago where I took this picture standing on the middle of a road inside Death Valley National Park. The “C” curve on a rather straight road is the only place on that long stretch where you could get cell phone reception. Even short hiking trips have helped me gain a new perspective on work and life.     

Thursday, March 24, 2016

"Trying to be nice" Becomes Less Important For Developers As They Gain Experience

No, I didn’t say this, but 56,033 developers in 173 countries who responded to recent Stack Overflow's developer survey did.  I have always enjoyed going through these surveys to validate my several hypotheses and learn new things. I would strongly encourage you to go through the results from the most recent survey here.

Here are some interesting insights:


"Full stack developer" is the most identified developer occupation. More and more developers are gravitating towards this occupation where they are simultaneously working on 5 to 6 programming languages or frameworks at time. Rise of new languages and frameworks don’t mean developer fragmentation, but more developers picking up more and more languages. It’s not about SQL or Angular; it’s SQL and Angular.

Ninjas: 10% of respondents self-identified as Ninjas! Yeah. So, yes, watch out.


The millennial: The highest percentage of developers, 28.4%, are in the age group 24-29, followed by 23.6% in the age group 20-24, and 18.1 % in the are group 30-34. This validates my hypothesis: more than 70% of developers are millennial, from youngest to oldest.

Average age: India has the lowest average age for developers, 25.5. This might surprise some people unless you look at the overall population and demographics of India. While there is a large number of Indian developers who are older than 25.5 the current number of engineers graduating from colleges and entering into the workforce are outnumbering some of these developers to bring the overall average down. India is the second most populous country in the world (behind China) with median age of 25. Compare that to the US where the median age is 36. It will all make sense.

Star Trek versus Star Wars: The highest percentage of developers (68.4%) like Star Wars. The same age group also happens to like Star Trek the least (17.6%), if at all they know what Star Trek is. If you really like Star Trek you must be old :-)

Gender disparity

This continues to be the most depressing statistics.

92.8% “developers” are male.

There’s not much salary gap between genders for young developers in the US, but male developers of the age of 30+ get paid up to $20,000 more than female developers. This perhaps explains the ongoing debate: male and female developers get initially hired at similar salaries, but male developers negotiate harder for promotions and raises compared to female developers. I would argue this disparity will most likely be also true for disciplines other than technology.


While 73% of developers responded they value diversity, product managers and engineering managers responded they value diversity the most. It validates my hypothesis that people value diversity more when they either hire/manage people or manage a product. While individual contributors still work in a diverse team and most of them value diversity they perhaps don’t realize and appreciate the bigger impact of a diverse team.


Machine learning developers have most likely completed a Masters or a PhD. This isn’t surprising given the complexity around this domain and traditionally how niche it is. As it becomes more mainstream I expect these skills to get commoditized and the numbers will likely change.

Developers, across the board, with Masters and PhD degrees get paid more. Good to know that higher education is still important.


The most popular stack: JavaScript is the most popular technology (55.4%). No surprises - thanks to Node.js, Angular, and many other frameworks. SQL is the second most popular language followed by Java. This proves the power of SQL as ubiquitous database access language and simplicity of JavaScript that makes it a preferred choice of language even for backend programming.

Emerging technology: Developers seem to be loving React (trending 311.3%). It proves that if you design a better framework developers will flock. Developers are not necessarily married to a specific framework; they love to learn and adopt newer things if it helps them solve their problems in a better way. If you’re are an organization making technology decisions your life is going to get more and more complicated. You have to design your platform and architecture to embrace newer languages and frameworks more frequently than you would have anticipated or desired.

Developers love Mac: Mac is the most popular desktop OS for developers. Windows has been losing its share and this year Mac overtook Linux as the most popular desktop OS.


Looking for a new job: Indian developers amongst all other developers are either actively looking for a job (29.2%) or will consider an opportunity (60.7%) when approached. This is consistent with what I have experienced: it is extremely hard to retain talent in India and developers will jump ship when offered something slightly better. Employers are outcompeting each other in attracting talent and offering outrageous raises. Unlike many countries, developer salaries are not normalized in India and the country has relatively high inflation rate and weaker currency (against US dollar) making it easier for US-based companies to offer more money to make developers jump ship.

Priorities: German developers prioritize work-life balance over salary. I have personally known many German developers and many would agree to these numbers.

Titles: Developers care less about titles and more about making or influencing decisions as they gain more experience. Titles may sound exotic when developers join the workforce, but they realize over a period of time that titles are often disconnected with compensation and empowerment. These numbers are a reflection of that realization.

Promotions: Getting promoted is one of the biggest priorities for Indian developers. This explains the hierarchical nature of Indian companies and the societal value of a promotion which might be less relevant in the most western countries.

Source: Stack Overflow 2016 Developer Survey


US and Australia are somewhere on the top when it comes to developer salary (considering purchase power parity). My hypothesis is that good higher technical education and favorable immigration policies in these countries are making it relatively easy to attract the best students and early talent. This creates a vibrant ecosystem where skills are appreciated and valued more compared to other places. Also, good developers attract other good developers.

Large companies tend to pay higher salary than smaller companies. The survey does not seem to reflect the equity versus salary split and preferences - that could have been a better indicator of where and why developers work. Contrary to popular belief freelancers/contractors are paid about 10% less than full-time developers.

Photo courtesy: Thomas Hawk