This week, we spoke with Cheryl Feldman, Assistant Vice President, Salesforce Administration & Strategy Allianz Global Investors, about how she went from hairdresser to Salesforce Administrator, and her advice for others looking to kick-start their technology career.
ADM: Prior to working in tech what did you do for a living? What made you want to switch careers?
Feldman: I was a hairdresser who spent 12 hours a day on my feet blowing out hair which resulted in an injured rotator cuff. My injury forced me to take on a less physically strenuous position as a secretary and from there I worked my way up to becoming a Junior Analyst, responsible for compiling business metrics reports.
All of the reports I was generating were from raw data gathered from a multitude of siloed systems. When I started to think about how we could make this more efficient, I thought it would be great if all of the data was in one system. It would save me days of work of having to combine data, so I suggested it to my manager. It was during that casual conversation that I was told we were moving to something called “Salesforce” and in that moment I was appointed to be part of our implementation project. I had no previous knowledge of Salesforce, but as soon as I learned how to create my first formula field I was hooked. To strengthen my skillset, I turned to the Salesforce community and with their support, I was able to teach myself advanced Salesforce skills, including the ability to build and customize apps, perform data modeling, and even customizing UIs.
I’ve gone from a hairstylist to an assistant vice president at one of the world’s largest global asset management firms, helping businesses and individuals alike scale and utilize Salesforce software. Today, I’m considered a Salesforce expert and have built my career and passion on the foundational skills learned through Trailhead.
ADM: At that time, did you have any experience with technology or with Salesforce?
Feldman: When starting out, I had no experience working in the technology field–to be honest, I didn’t even know what Salesforce was. It’s crazy to think that the skills I have today came from the support of the incredible Salesforce community, attending Salesforce’s annual user conference, Dreamforce and eventually, through finding Trailhead.
What made you decide to try Trailhead?
Many people start with Trailhead, Salesforce’s fun and interactive learning platform, because they want to learn new skills or learn how to do something. Of course, I wanted those things, but I first logged into Trailhead to see if I could use the platform for a training session we were putting together for new Salesforce admins in New York. I was thrilled that all of the content was there for us to use and that we could focus on explaining the concepts rather than writing the material ourselves. It was at that moment that I realized the true power of Trailhead–enablement. The technology can enable anyone without a coding background to learn Salesforce quickly. Also, Trailhead promotes a community environment.
Since we had the whole class doing the same trails, they were able to help each other as well as continue on the guided trails after the class ended.
At my previous company I was part of the original team that laid the groundwork for our Salesforce implementation and I didn’t have anyone to look to for training or coding support. Trailhead was the perfect resource and guide for me, because not only was it a hands-on and experiential tool that allowed me to digest all of this new information on my own schedule, but it was also free.
Since setting out on my first trail, I’ve learned that Trailhead isn’t exclusively about teaching new skills, it’s also about networking, naturally fostered through a community atmosphere where users get together at meetups to teach and learn from one another. Today, I’m a User Group Leader and MVP and host mentorship sessions as well as online Q&As to help new Trailblazers discover the newest Salesforce skills and strategies.
ADM: What did you find as your biggest obstacle in the beginning? How did you find time to make learning a priority?
Feldman: As Salesforce constantly improves and introduces new software functionalities, there are always new skills to learn. As the Assistant Vice President of Salesforce Administration, I need to master them all, which means learning is still a huge part of my day-to-day and Trailhead is still my primary training method.
Most recently, I had to quickly get up to speed on a Salesforce feature I hadn’t used before. When I realized I had a knowledge gap, the first thing I did was to go to Trailhead and hit the trails running. In under two hours, I was able get an indepth understanding of this feature so that I could make a recommendation on how we should move forward with it to my manager and our business stakeholders. Trailhead is an invaluable resource and I now hold every technology company to the Trailhead standard. If they don’t have an interactive learning platform, I ask them why not, and point them to Trailhead and show them how learning and training should be done.
ADM: What skills have you been able to gain throughout your work on Trailhead?
I’ve learned a variety of skills with Trailhead, but my biggest personal achievement was learning how to properly use Cloud Flow Designer which lets you design flows without writing any code. I had the hardest time wrapping my mind around it. The only way I was able to make it stick was by running through the actual experience using Trailhead.
With your new skillset, what was your experience like looking for a job? Did you find that employers were looking for individuals with specialized skills?
Salesforce has become such a huge platform that has created an entire job market for Salesforce professionals (admins, developers, BA’s, PM’s, consultants, managers, etc.). I’ve been able to master Salesforce via Trailhead to the point where my career now revolves around consulting with other businesses about how to utilize Salesforce tools to optimize business strategy, and to help train new users on various Salesforce functions. It has been an absolute gamechanger for my career.
ADM: What is the one piece of advice you would give to someone who is looking to change their career like you did?
Feldman: Don’t be afraid to make a career change just because you do not already have experience in a specific area. It can seem scary to jump into an entirely new industry, but with more and more tools like Trailhead being released all the time, you can unlock levels of potential that you didn’t even know you had. I was able to transition from salon to boardroom by educating myself on a subject I knew nothing about and investing time in continuing to learn.
ADM: How would you compare Trailhead to other development experiences you’ve had?
Feldman: Trailhead is the best by far. Not only can I learn new skills, but I can help enable others to learn. This platform is not only a game changer for existing admins, it’s a game changer for anyone interested in getting into the technology world.
ADM: What are some of the strengths and weaknesses you see with Trailhead?
Feldman: One of the biggest strengths that Trailhead has is the amount of content and trails they have and how many things one person can learn by just doing trails. I’m not sure if there is a weakness of trailhead, but if I think if one I’ll let you know.
ADM: Do you have success publishing applications on any other platforms, if so which ones?
Feldman: I do Salesforce. There are other platforms? Why would I use one? In all seriousness, I have worked to build business apps on other platforms but I needed a huge development team to do so. I haven’t come across any other systems that are quite as configurable as Salesforce, without code. With other platforms I was able to understand what could be done, but I would need a developer to actually execute.
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