SAP Inside Track - 9 years in the making and still evolving

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy April 4, 2018
SAP Inside Track grew from a small event in London to a global phenomenon. Here are my recollections of those early days with a peek into today.

Schedule for SIT2

Here comes a history lesson. While Salesforce gets the headlines for attracting thousands of developers and wannabe developers to TrailheadDX, SAP Inside Track (SIT) quietly celebrates 9 years since the second SIT held at IBM's Southbank London offices in 2009.

It's a good time to reflect on what happened and where it has gone from there. Check this:

I have very fond memories of the day and the people who were there so bear with me as I saunter down memory lane - with the help of others.

First up, why chose second and nine rather than first and ten?

The first SIT was, umm...OK. The folk who put it together made a simple error. They failed to make a small charge and, as a result, over-catered for the many who didn't have financial skin in the game and didn't turn up. The second required a small charge and, to add spice, held it on a Saturday. You really, really had to be keen to turn up and, as a result, I'd argue the signal levels were extraordinarily high.

There's nothing particularly special about the nine-year mark except that I'd argue the 2nd SIT set the blueprint for what it takes to get super enthusiastic SAPpers out on a weekend to learn new or edge 'stuff.'

Third, while the memory fades with time, others add color and/or have photographic records which I've plundered for this story. Those memories allow for reflection about what's happened between then and now and what SIT means for folk in the SAP ecosystem.

What happened?

What happened on the day? Nigel James, who at the time worked in the UK (now back in his native Australia) provided this record. SIT London was unique in this regard:

Why would you come to an event like this? We(ll) that’s a good question because we had people from Norway, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Bavaria, US, India. and of course the UK. Some of those from the US and India happened to be in town for other reasons and they weren’t in town just for this event.

The total attendance? 25, a good number of whom were SAP Mentors. Everyone attended on their own dime.

While a common format today, this was the first time I'd attended an 'organized unconference' where attendees decide on the topics for discussion on the day. The topic list is displayed at the top of this story.

As you can see, the topics covered were not restricted to technical discussions (although there was plenty of code on offer) but also included conversations around what it means to be a freelance contractor in the world of SAP, certification, a topic that enjoyed its own day in the sun, Twitter and community plus experimental work like ESME - what you all think of as Slack today, but which was years before its time.

SAP Affinity
Looking back, it is interesting to recall Oliver Kohl's session about Twitter and community. At the time, SAP had a vibrant community network of its own that was in the process of being refactored. As far as I can tell, that remains a work-in-progress. Here's the latest landing page iteration.

Check out Kohl's analysis of where the Twitter action was in early 2009. The numbers are tiny and, since then, have exploded. Many of those who were part of that community remain active today although there have been significant changes in the way Twitter is used by people in the SAP community. Back then it was very much a place for geeks. Later, the marketers glommed on and things went sideways.

The snowball effect

Again, looking back, I recall Martin Gillet being so enthused with what he experienced that he immediately set about organizing another SIT in his home country of Belgium. Other mentors followed suit and over time, the whole thing snowballed.

Today, SIT still has that self-organized 'feel' with events in every corner of the world. Eight have already been held this year with 16 more scheduled so far Last year there were 39 SIT events. Hardly shabby.

But it seems to have lost its unconference style. Is that a good thing? Others can decide but as someone who aspires to but is not always organized, I am happier with a known agenda.

Today, SAP gets involved with organization and that's always welcome but you still get that local feel from comparing topics and sponsors at the various events.

My take

Whenever thinking about long-standing vendors, history is important and as time goes on, the ability to look back and learn lessons take on greater importance. When you're part of that history it is all too easy for bias to kick in. This is no exception because none of those who were there could have known that SAP Inside Track would become what it is today.

As I have said, much of this somewhat dewy-eyed story reflects my personal impressions of the time and the people who were there. For instance, I've kept in contact with a good number of those who were at SIT2. In some cases, I've formed close friendships.

As I said on Twitter, of the Mentors there, all have gone on to achieve great things. Some are more visible than others but to give an example, I recently met with Darren Hague - one of SIT2 organizers. We'd not seen each other for many years but he was as excited today as he was back then. Why? His PhD is in advanced machine learning so guess what he's working on? Fun times.

From what I know of other vendors, SIT is a unique type of event that demonstrates the clear value of one facet of community I believe acts as the spark up fuel for other elements of community building. Long may it thrive.

An indulgence. Here is a photo of me filming parts the event. As you can see, I was in full flow slobby hippy mode.

Image credit - via Martin Gillet's photostream from the time on Facebook. Home page shows Nigel and Darren, the fathers of SIT

Disclosure - SAP is a premier partner at the time of writing. I was an SAP Mentor but have no direct commercial ties to the company.

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