How to become a freelancer in SAP? Based on a 16 year-long working history in SAP, both as a full-time employee as well as a freelancer, Thomas Wagner has shifted his career from a politics and history student to an SAP expert. This diary might help young folks to understand how to start a successful career as a (freelance) SAP Consultant!
First of all, what is SAP?
Many people reading this article will probably know, but I will explain it anyway.
SAP is the largest European software producer specializing in business software and having his headquarter in Walldorf, Germany.
SAP software is implemented in projects lasting normally several months and the implementation is done with the help of SAP Consultants and developers.
My time at School
I think I have a very typical background for an SAP Consultant. During my time at school which lasted from 1981 to 1994 my parents gave me a Commodore 64 computer with which I did a lot of gaming but also some programming in BASIC.
During my whole time at school, I always loved mathematics and sciences and these subjects were also my principal subjects in the last 2 years of school. For me, IT lessons at school were more or less nonexistent, but fortunately, the situation is different now.
I only wished that in French (my second foreign language) I would have done a little bit better, as I would benefit from it now in terms of international working and living opportunities.
In addition to these subjects, I like history very much. Back then I paid less attention to business and economics which might have been even more useful for my current work.
My time at University
Normally people with my background study different areas of engineering in universities close to their town. I have chosen differently as I was so interested in politics, history, and also Asia that I went to Berlin, Germany’s fabulous capital, where I inscribed for studies of politics, economics, and sinology (Chinese studies).
My former career goal was to become a journalist for European media in East Asia which I changed later. But I am still happy to write articles like this one. When I thought that political studies were too theoretical and learning the Chinese language too time-intensive, I decided to switch to business administration. Here my mathematical education helped me to focus on computer science, finance, and operations research.
My first contact with SAP
On two occasions I first heard about SAP. The first was my computer science professor who told us that he was impressed by a guest lecturer from SAP who was able to connect to SAP systems remotely via the telephone.
SAP was not one of the main areas of research for my professor but he still had only good things to tell about this company.
The second occasion was an article in the German IT magazine “Computerwoche” which said that business administration graduates with good IT skills are very looked after by SAP. This had the result that I was very interested and tried to learn more about the company and the SAP software.
Internships in SAP
Like every student, I tried to do several internships. The first one was at Volkswagen in Wolfsburg, Germany. I did some low-level SAP work in the area of authorizations there.
In my second internship at Hoffmann-La Roche in Basel, Switzerland, I volunteered for more SAP work and wrote an implementation paper about introducing the Euro to the SAP system based on a helpful SAP note and enriched it with some screenshots.
The last internship was at SAP in the Regional Support Center for the CO module in Walldorf, Germany. Here I wrote a long training exercise with customizing and master data maintenance so that controlling figures appeared in the system for newly created customers and material. This was especially exciting and I learned a lot. So finally my future as an SAP expert was set.
My first real work as consultant
After completing the exams at university in 1999 and sending some unsuccessful applications, I started to work at the German headquarters of the Belgium Chemical and Pharmaceuticals company Solvay in Hannover.
I was a trainee and analyst and my job was to assist the project manager of an SAP CRM first customer shipment project.
SAP CRM (Customer Relationship Management) was a brand new SAP software at that time and I traveled a lot to Bruxelles, Belgium, and other European locations.
Although the work was interesting the atmosphere was quite conservative and the age average of the employees quite high. Moreover, the personal relationship with my manager was not very good (I remember how he stormed into my office and heavily criticized me because I did not attend the Christmas party). After a year we went live and I searched for a new job.
Finally: Becoming a SAP Consultant
In 2001 I began to work as a SAP junior Consultant and later as a SAP Consultant at SAP SI, a subsidiary of the big SAP. I was quite happy and did a lot of international projects for SAP SI or SAP itself and again my main work was SAP CRM but also the analysis system SAP BW (Business Information Warehouse). I enjoyed being part of this worldwide, technical focused, and modern company very much.
Switching to freelance work in SAP
After more than 4 years at SAP SI I wanted to see something new so in 2005 I joined the big SAP partner Capgemini. Here things did not go that well and after I criticized an internal social skills training I was fired and my project manager advised me that I should try out freelancing.
I had met quite a number of SAP freelancers before and always had an eye on this area and so I joined them.
Advantages and disadvantages of freelancing in SAP
My main clients were SAP and Capgemini but also other companies. As long as I had projects, the financial situation was even better than being a full-time employee.
I could take holidays whenever I wanted (after talking to the customer) and also freely choose my place of living. In 2008 I even thought about renting an apartment in Paris and traveling with the new TGV high-speed line to the projects in Germany and Switzerland. Even living at places like Mallorca during the weekend and flying to work would have been possible. I also met a number of SAP freelancers who lived in Switzerland for tax reasons. All this is quite fun.
Unfortunately, if there are agencies in between, they take a lot of money. The disadvantages are that you are always an external and you are never really part of the team. If new technologies come up you have to get used to them all by yourself.
I had problems switching from the old and no longer used Mobile Sales component in SAP CRM to the newer WebUI in 2010 – even after I booked and attended two SAP trainings – and therefore was happy to get a new permanent job again as a Senior Technical Consultant in Munich, Germany.
Here I am still employed and I am quite happy with managers and colleagues. As this is a national or even only regional focused consultancy, I miss international work a little bit. Maybe I will switch to freelancing again sometime in the future but at the moment this is not on my agenda.
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Pic: © Darius Sankowski