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The Path, Episode 1: Danielle Larocca

by Dave Hannon and Danielle Larocca

September 26, 2013

How does someone go from wanting to be a lifeguard to the Executive VP of Operations at an SAP partner? It involves a traumatic life event, some video games, and a lot of resolve. In the initial episode of this unique podcast series, Danielle Larocca of SpinifexIT describes her unique career path into the SAP ecosystem.

Transcript of interview:

Dave Hannon: Hello and welcome to the Path, a podcast series exploring the career paths of people in the SAP ecosystem. I’m Dave Hannon with SAPinsider. Joining me today is Danielle Larocca, Executive Vice President of Operations with SpinifexIT. Welcome, Danielle.

Danielle Laroca: Hi Dave. Thanks for having me.

DH: Danielle’s been in the SAP ecosystem for a while now. We’re going to be talking to her about her career path into the SAP world. Danielle, I want to start, sort of, in your early days. Tell me a little bit about your background. What were you interested in when you were young? Were you always sort of a technically-minded person, or is that something that came a little bit later?

DL: It’s definitely something that came a little bit later. When I was younger, my career aspirations were to be a lifeguard. That was everything I wanted to be in life. When I got a little older, I realized I had to aim a bit higher than that, but I didn’t actually get into the IT stuff until after college.

DH: Okay. Okay. So what exactly did you study in college?

DL: I did a major in psychology and a minor in philosophy. None of them were really IT-related, but what’s funny is back in my day, we didn’t actually have computers. People didn’t have their own computers.  If you wanted a computer, it was just used for typing papers, and you had to go to the library to use one. But I was so non-computer savvy, I used to pay my roommate to type my papers for me because I couldn’t even handle that.

DH: Okay. Okay. I can relate to that. So you’re in HR IT specifically, so did you get into HR first before you sort of came into the IT space?

DL: Yes, I started with HR. Probably my first HR experience is I used to do a lot of health club management, which required some operational work as well as the hiring and firing and employee management of the staff of the health club, so that would probably be my first time in a true HR-type role.

DH: Okay. And so how did that progress into the IT space? How did you get more involved in the sort of HR systems?

DL: It’s actually kind of an interesting story. So, after graduating from college I started grad school. And on one day driving home from grad school, I actually got into a pretty terrible accident with a drunk driver. It left me laid up for about a year. So I couldn’t work; I couldn’t do anything. My sister, however, was in law school at the time, so she had this big fancy computer. So while I was laid up for a year, I just played with her computer all day long and I wound up I started with solitaire and the games of course, but I eventually progressed through the Microsoft applications and taught myself to be an Access DBA programmer. So by the time I was able to get back into the workforce, my first true IT job was just being an Access programmer for a company on Long Island. 

DH: Wow. Wow. That’s amazing. I didn’t know that.

DL: It’s a weird story.

DH: It is. Well, fortunately for all of us, you wound up going in that direction. So, how did you wind up working with SAP technology? What was your first exposure there, and maybe a little bit about what you thought about it. Was it something that you wanted to get into after being in IT for a while or just something you wound up with?

DL: I actually got lucky. So that same programmer job, I had a boss who called us all into the room one day and said, “We’re putting in an SAP HR system,” and she literally just walked around pointing to everybody and saying, “You’re in charge of Payroll, you’re in charge of taxes.” And she pointed to me and she said, “You’re in charge of HR reporting.” And I didn’t know it at the time, but it was career-changing and life-changing and that was back in the early ‘90s. And from there I just started taking SAP training classes and I probably worked on at least 17 different implementations since then so I should thank the woman who was my boss at the time, for getting me into SAP.

DH: So today you’re the Executive Vice President of Operations at SpinifexIT so are you still working sort of in that customer-facing role in SAP or are you more focused today on internal operations at the company that you’re working for?

DL: Well, SpinifexIT has only been around in the states for, I think, we’re not even … it’s less than four years. So when I first started, it was a very customer-centric role. We had a small amount of customer and I felt like I could call them all and just touch base with them whenever I wanted. In the four years, we’ve grown by leaps and bounds and it’s gotten so big that I don’t get to play as much of that customer role as I’d like to. So, yes, I do spend a lot of my time on just the operations part of it. I did get the chance to go visit some of our customers next month and I do want to make a habit of visiting them on a regular basis because I do miss that public-facing part of it.

DH: Sure. Okay. I know one of the ways that you get to meet at least SAP customers in general is working with our company and writing for Experts and presenting at some of our conferences and doing podcasts like this. I want to ask you a little bit about how you, first of all, how you find the time to do the sort of extracurricular stuff and secondly, what sort of motivates you to do things like writing books and articles and things like that?

DL: That’s when I got that first assignment and told I was in charge of HR reporting, I went online and tried to find come books to teach me how to do it, and I couldn’t find any books or training classes specific to HR reporting and I had to teach my whole gang, where I was, how to do it. So I literally started writing this little internal manual on what things I had found by poking around SAP and that wound up being my first book, and I had only been in SAP less than a year when I published my first book. You know, it’s just pure luck and timing. And then once you have one book published, it’s much easier to get new ones.

That was back again in the early ‘90s and since then the market is pretty saturated with books, but that’s how the books part started. What’s interesting is how the conference stuff had started is I wanted to go to an ASUG conference, and my company wouldn’t pay for it, and I found out if you apply to be a speaker, you get free attendance. So I mustered up the courage and I did my first speaking opportunity, and that was my way to be able to be able to go to the conference.

What’s funny about SAPinsider is I was actually at an ASUG event and instead of attending the conference as I should have, I took a dip in the pool and I bumped into your former president in the pool. And she said she was thinking of starting a conference division for SAP and would I want to help. And that was, again, back in the ‘90s, and we started with some very small conferences. I think the first one we did had maybe 250 people, and since then it’s grown to be in the thousands and the most well-recognized conference in the SAP community. And I’m happy to have been a part of it from the beginning. So, how do I find the time? I’m thankful for the opportunities that I got that I always just make the time. And the truth is, most of the things I’ve learned over the years I’ve learned from meeting people at those conferences or reading those articles and talking with the other experts so it’s been a win/win for me.

DH: Okay. How about outside of work? Do you have any time to pursue anything else – hobbies or interests or anything like that?

DL: Not as much as I should. I do have to work on the work/life balance thing, but I like outdoors-y stuff. On Saturday I’m going white water rafting, but I also like I’m a big TV movie buff as well so 50/50 outside in the fresh air and some time in the movie theater.

DH: That sounds like a good balance. Lastly, I wanted to ask you career advice you might have for someone who is new to the SAP world and looking for their own path. You’ve sort of taken a pretty unique path; I don’t think there’s anybody else I can think of that has taken the path to SAP that you have and risen to the level you have. What advice do you have or what do you say to folks that you meet who are relatively new and sort of trying to find their way and trying to figure out which part of the SAP world they want to focus on.

DL: I do attribute a lot of my ability to get into SAP to luck and timing. Nowadays there’s a lot more companies that have SAP and there are actually colleges that offer classes in SAP. The advice I give most people is to try and get your hands dirty as soon as possible, even if that means taking a lower level job. It’s usually the folks from an HR perspective who are actually doing the data entry and putting the information into the system who get a real appreciation for the data. So it’s okay to start at the bottom and get your hands dirty and understand SAP and on the other hand it’s to keep your eye on what new is coming. SAP changes everything every couple of years, and the skills that you learn may become outdated quite quickly, so you have to stay on top of the latest skills and there’s lots of social media from SAP and SAPinsider to the conferences that allow you to do that.

DH: Okay, that’s good advice. Well, Danielle Larocca, Executive Vice President of Operations at SpinifexIT, thank you for joining us today and telling us a little bit about your career.

DL: Thank you for having me.

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