SAP Mentors Spotlight Interview: Paul Modderman


The SAP Mentor Spotlight Interview Series highlights key strategic topics, such as emerging technologies, learning, and other topics, and provides insights from SAP Champions and SAP leaders on turning ideas into innovative approaches that impact people, process, and technology.

The user experience is impacted by human psychology.

It is important to design tools and applications not as an inanimate product, but rather as an easier, more intuitive, human-centered user interface to help make better, faster decisions and outcomes.

To develop a successful user experience (UX), the designer has to understand the individuals who are going to use it and balance it with the organization’s goals.

It is important for designers to put themselves into the shoes of their target users and to understand their motivations (e.g., the “why and how”) in performing their respective activities.

That is where knowledge of psychology in UX design becomes very useful to help tackle complex business challenges.

For Paul Modderman, SAP Mentor, author, and proclaimed Chief Nerd at Bowdark Consulting, he develops on a daily basis the “principles that shed light on how users visualize and process information, how memory works, and which cues are most likely to trigger responses.”

It was great to connect with Paul from his home in Hopkins, Minnesota.

Stephanie De Camara Marley (SM): Hi Paul! After you earned your degree in theatre and psychology at Concordia University, what motivated you to dive into the world of technology and programming, which led you to your current role as “Chief Nerd” at Bowdark Consulting?

Paul Modderman (PM): Stephanie, would you believe I pretty much failed at college. Not in the sense of not passing my classes, but in the sense of making the most of my learning time. Theatre and psychology are interesting topics, but the only reason I graduated with a degree in those areas is that, after a few years of floundering around, I had to find a way to move forward with my career and make a living.

But I’ll be totally frank: I graduated not knowing what in the world I wanted to do in my life. I had to make rent, so I took the quickest thing I could find. Working in an enterprise desktop support team which basically mirrored what I’d done in the college tech shop.

I discovered that I enjoyed writing automation scripts for PC builds and other little projects, so when that company decided to downsize their desktop support team, I was able to get a job in the corporate accounting department as a junior developer. Once I had a real-live job as a developer…that was it. No going back.

I love how technology can enhance our creative abilities. I love making a plan for a computer to do something, writing it down, and then watching the computer do as I planned. I love seeing those plans actually help people in their lives. At this point, I can’t imagine a career outside of computing.

SM: As the author of several acclaimed books including “SAPUI5: The Comprehensive Guide (SAP Press), “Practical Data Science with SAP: Machine Learning Techniques for Enterprise Data (O’Reilly with co-author, Greg Foss), and “SAPUI5 and SAP Fiori: The Psychology of UX Design (SAP Press), how have you joined the principles of psychology with SAP UX design and data science?

PM: Psychology is about thinking and doing – what are the thoughts and feelings in a person’s head, and how do they then act on them?

When I wrote about UX design with psychology as a backdrop, I wanted to impress upon designers and developers that their work is ultimately consumed by creatures with certain capabilities and constraints, and to make technical design and development work accordingly.

For example, human short-term (“working”) memory has limits, and so application screens and process flows need to be designed with those limits in mind. A screen in an SAPUI5 application should do its best to avoid having too many concepts (and share a single visual screen) – that goes up against that psychological limit.

So, with UX design, I proposed a few of the SAPUI5 controls that could help designers and developers stay in-bounds of what people can do.

SM: How did you become an SAP Mentor? In this role, how do you engage with Community members, SAP experts, and peers?

PM: I think someone nominated me a few years ago, and then if I recall correctly, I re-nominated myself after hearing that the Mentors were accepting new people into the fold. I wanted to join up because I’d always held the SAP Mentors I knew in the highest regard, and I knew that getting a chance to raise my voice as high and as far as I could, would help the people I’ve worked with have their concerns heard.

I engage with SAP community members in several ways:

SM: You wrote an interesting blog, “Freud-ify Your Fiori: From Psychology To Great UX.” As you look ahead, how can IT and business developers be more aware of how users think when applying great design techniques?

PM: They should fine-tune their empathic capabilities for those who use their solutions. By this I mean they should literally sit down (or go out in the field) with folks and touch and feel their jobs and workspaces. They should develop a keen sense for why users perform the processes they do when completing their daily tasks.

No amount of genius algorithms or hyper-scaled infrastructure will EVER match the ability to truly empathize with your users. Developers who can put themselves in the shoes of their target users will create the best solutions, period.

If teams have the chance, they should participate in design thinking workshops. They should always conduct those workshops with heavy representation from the community of people who will use the solutions they create.

SM: In your podcast episode “Platforms and App Delivery with Matthias Steiner,” you dove into low-code/no-code including references to his blog, Myth-Busting No-Code/Low-Code. Are you seeing more opportunities for IT experts to empower business users (aka citizen developers), and have joint ownership versus constantly relying on IT?

PM: Yes. And it’s still the early days of this change.

I do not think that it is yet possible for citizen developers to safely create their own apps in complete isolation from IT. But I absolutely think that citizen developers can play a more crucial role than ever before by prototyping low-code and no-code solutions, and then working in concert to move their prototypes forward into production-capable apps.

The more equipped citizen developers are to know the power that low-code application development can bring them, the more they can dream about applying that power to their unique problems. IT can shift into API, enablement, and integration focus, providing a stable platform for citizen devs to create.

SM: What advice do you give to students and recent graduates who are looking to land high-quality jobs as a developer, product, or solution architect? As you discussed in your “Nerdcast Episode: Learning Frustrations with Michael Keller” how can they overcome “learning frustrations” to jumpstart their careers?

PM: Here are the things I should have learned earlier in my career.

  • Learn – You require and deserve the time to learn, and you can’t beat yourself up over not being a senior-level resource right out of school. The real world is SO different from your education.
  • Mentors – Find mentors you can trust to help you become better, and then do the same for those who follow you.
  • Community – Seek out – or create – a community of like-minded folks. Sometimes teams are large and well-run enough that this occurs naturally, but I think most times it takes a little bit of shifting and searching to find people in roughly the same boat, who want to reciprocally help one another.
  • Perspective – I think just about everyone suffers some form of impostor syndrome, especially early in their careers. You should always keep in mind: the people around you who seem to know everything, who are unflappable? Earlier in their careers, they felt just like you do now.

Now I ask you <in comments>, “what advice to you give students and recent graduates who are looking to land a job in the wonderful world of technology?  

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