Women at SAP: When Does a Career Become a Passion?

Three women working in technical roles at SAP explain why they love their jobs so much.

As a graduate with a passion for technology, Olga Cherepanova felt right at home when she joined SAP as a developer in 2008.

From that moment on, the ever-accelerating pace of change in the IT industry has continued to inspire her.

Q: How did you become interested in technology?

Olga: I studied business information technology. Actually, my original plan was to become an industrial designer, but my skills weren’t advanced enough to receive a scholarship. So I asked myself what I was interested in and decided that I was fascinated by the unknown. I wanted to study a subject that I didn’t yet know very much about. And I have never regretted that decision. I loved my degree program. I went straight from studying to working at SAP and over nine years I learned various aspects of full stack development, including databases and UIs. But I also broadened my knowledge to others areas, did a fellowship in user experience (UX) team, and was part of UX Advocate program. I’m currently an exploration lead in the Machine Learning team, learning yet new skills at work.

What do you find so fascinating about technology?

The way that everything evolves so fast. Suddenly, things that weren’t possible just a short time ago become a reality. I’m sure that today’s limits simply won’t exist tomorrow. So, in a way, that makes you a kind of superhero! You’re always on the move, to get closer and closer to the impossible. I am absolutely convinced that the problems we struggle with today will be surmountable tomorrow. That’s what makes technology so exciting. In my career, I have to keep on learning. But once you’re familiar with the technology trends, you have a better sense of where you’ll be able to make a meaningful contribution. My feeling is that I can really achieve something in the Machine Learning team right now. We’re working with cutting-edge technology and driving this development.

What is your advice to someone who is interested in a tech career?

Pursue what interests you and go for it. If something really grabs you, read up on it and talk to people who already work in that field. Once you make a connection to one person, you’ll automatically meet others — and you’ll be networking before you know it. Your colleagues can point you in the right direction and help you on your way. Just do not hesitate and overthink!

Birgit Hess joined SAP in 2006. In the course of her career, she has gained a wealth of experience in different fields, including pre-sales product ramp-up and employee training.

She currently works for the SAP Global Security team and is fascinated by cyber and IT security.

Q: What is your current role at SAP?

Birgit: I joined SAP Global Security in September. I’m responsible for “employee awareness,” which looks at how employees deal with everyday security issues: cybersecurity, phishing mails, social engineering, hacker attacks, and so on. We put together compliance training courses and lead campaigns. I also moderate events and represent SAP at conferences and roundtables.

I’ve been at SAP for 12 years now, but I’m actually a biotechnologist. I belong to that species of scientist who finds at home at SAP despite not having studied computer science.

How did you become interested in technology?

When I joined Presales in 2011, SAP wasn’t yet as focused on cloud security and data protection as it is now. As time went on, the implications of both began to crystallize out and I realized that I was really interested in that whole topic area. Last February, I was also able to take part in a four-week social sabbatical about training. That’s when I rediscovered my interest in education and professional development. Then, the opportunity arose in my job for me to combine IT security and training. Basically, I tried to find exactly what I felt passionate about. When I got involved in data protection and IT security, it was clear to me that those were things I could really get excited about.

What have you learned along the way?

There’s one experience that stands out for me: Last year, I moderated the DSAG theme day on the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Some of the participants were incredibly knowledgeable on the subject. After the event, I thought: “That was like being back at university.” I just love being able to learn something new, because for me, that is the aim of my job. There’s nothing worse than not having the scope to learn more. What the DSAG event taught me was that there are fields so complex that it’s impossible to understand them at the first attempt. There’s a tendency to think we know everything already; whereas we’re sometimes only scratching the surface and not even seeing what’s below — that’s something we all have to be careful about.

What do you think needs to change to get more women interested in tech careers?

One thing I struggle with and that I have experienced personally is not being allowed to hold certain presentations because they are “reserved” for someone from vice president level. That’s obviously not an ideal situation. If we don’t allow our specialists – of whatever gender ­– to take to the stage, and only let their managers or their managers’ managers perform those duties, we’re not just hampering women’s progress; we’re also putting the brakes on anyone with expertise and potential.

Sonja Liénard began her SAP career in 2012, when she joined an ABAP server core team as an information developer.

Sonja became her team’s SCRUM master just two months later and was promoted to senior information developer shortly after that. Her next big step came in 2016, when she was appointed development manager for the ABAP server database interface. True to her motto — “I can do it” — she never shies away from topics that are new to her.

Q: Why does technology fascinate you?

Sonja: Technology is powerful, but it also harbors dangers. One of the greatest challenges the human race faces is how to stay in control and remain vigilant. I also find it fascinating that technology has so many facets in which everyone can find their niche and make a contribution. Technology is like Lego: If developers use the right bricks, they can create amazing things. And if they team up with others, they can create even bigger things! That’s why technology never gets boring.

What has your career taught you about yourself?

The most important message is that it’s not about me. It’s not about massaging one’s own ego and climbing the career ladder. If you learn not to put your ego at the forefront, you will avoid conflicts and be able to respond differently when they do occur. I try to focus on the matter at hand and on solving the specific conflict or problem. The second thing that’s very important for me as a manager is not to make decisions in attempt to wield power over others. I look at this way: “If you want to be a good leader, you also have to be able to serve.”

Do you think that women have a more difficult time in technical roles?

I actually think that it’s often more to do with someone’s personality than with their gender. Every individual should contribute their personality and skills authentically. I probably do present a contrast to my (mostly) male colleagues in meetings. But it’s the characteristics that make me who I am that count, and they are what make the decisive difference. That’s more relevant than whether I am male or female. Having said that, there are always situations in which traditional attitudes to gender roles create challenges.

Which sphere of technology interests you the most?

Cloud. I’m really excited that SAP is on track to become a cloud company. In my area, we’re also moving more and more toward the cloud with the ABAP server. Our department is contributing to this development by offering ABAP as an additional development and runtime environment in SAP Cloud Platform (ABAP in SAP Cloud Platform), and it’s great that we’re a part of this chapter.

I am personally very interested in everything to do with artificial intelligence, and particularly its philosophical and ethical implications. What makes a human a human? I’m also excited about current developments in medical technology. I’m curious about what the world will look like in 20 or 30 years when my children are as old as I am now. What will have happened by then?