Episode 2: Amanda Beard-Neilson Salesforce Career Conversation with ROD. From accidental Salesforce Admin to CTO in ten years. Follow her journey here.
[Below is a transcript for your benefit. Please excuse any typos.]
Lee Durrant: Hello, it’s Lee Durrant here. Welcome to RODcast, the podcast where we get to meet and chat with some truly fantastic people from within the Salesforce ecosystem. My goal for this podcast is to help and inform people who either already perhaps work in the Salesforce ecosystem, or maybe you’re thinking of breaking into it, to understand what’s good about it, what could be better, where there are opportunities, and what some of the most amazing people in this space, how they got into it, where their career took them, and what their plans are for the future. Hope you enjoy it, and please help me to reach as many people as possible within Salesforce by leaving some comments and sharing. All feedback welcome. So yeah, hope you enjoy.
Lee Durrant: Hello, and welcome to RODcast, with me Lee Durrant. In this particular episode we are talking with Amanda Beard-Neilson, who’s been in the Salesforce industry for 12 years. Her journey has gone from Accidental Salesforce Admin, to CTO, which is unbelievable. Obviously I wanted to understand how she got into Salesforce, and what her journey’s been like, and if there’re any tips for you guys out there. So without further ado, I hope you enjoy the episode.
Lee Durrant: So hello Amanda. Welcome to our podcast, and thanks for agreeing to do this. How are you mate?
Amanda: Hello Lee, thanks very much for inviting me to do this. I’m really well actually. It’s a nice summer’s day, so what’s not to like really?
Lee Durrant: Yes exactly. And, as I say, just been talking to you off the podcast, but just to let you know, and people listening as well, this is a bit of a podcast to find out the journey of people like you and your sort of legendary status in Salesforce, and kind of how it began, and what’s happened to you over the last, I want to say 10 years, I’m not sure exactly how many years-
Amanda: It’s 12 years actually I’ve been playing with Salesforce, so quite a long time.
Lee Durrant: Yeah. So that’s what the questions are aimed at really, just so people listening can understand how you got into it, and what’s happened since, and all that sort of stuff. So really I’ll just get straight into asking you some nice questions, and obviously, your Salesforce journey starts at the beginning, so what were you doing in the lead-up to Salesforce? So what was your career, and what was your perception of what your career was going to be before Salesforce fell in your lap?
Amanda: Yeah, very very different actually. I had a sort of sales, marketing and PR background before Salesforce came into my life. I didn’t have at all any aspirations of IT. My background from my studying was business studies. So I had a very business-orientated starting of career, and I worked in sales, I was classically trained in sales. Really understood the whole methodology of two ears and one mouth, and use it accordingly, which has really helped actually for a lot of those life skills, when it comes to talking with clients afterwards as part of this world, and really helping to understand what their pains are, what their requirements are. Listening’s a massive skill for that, so even though you might come from a different direction, it doesn’t mean that you can’t change direction. And they also now say that, when you have a career now, you might have very different careers, maybe up to five different careers as part of your whole career journey. So even though you’ve started from a different background, it doesn’t mean that you can’t change direction. And I think it’s also very healthy for a person to change direction because it can keep you sparking, and keep you interested in doing something. And keep you learning as well.
Amanda: Yeah. No, so that was my, my background was actually in business, and that’s how I actually ended up discovering my interest being in business development.
Lee Durrant: I was looking at the degree you did. Because so many times you look at people, and perhaps their degree is kind of not relevant to what ended up happening to them. But I would’ve thought a degree in business administration has been quite relevant for you?
Amanda: It was. And in fact, as I suppose, I’ll tell the story of actually me growing up really, because as a kid, you get school reports as a kid, and many of the school reports would come through like, “Amanda’s a lovely girl, she likes to chat.” Hence what we’re doing here. And so my dad would read them and he would think, “Well, that’s really nice, she must be stupid.” It’s true. And sort of, “Well, maybe she could be a secretary when she grows up.” And, “Oh, she seems to have a flair for languages, maybe she could be a bi-lingual secretary.” So this was my background. And so I did well in GCSEs, so okay, I’ll do A Levels. And it was so I just sort of fell into education, and kept falling into education again. So I did A Levels, and then I got the A Levels I needed, so okay, I’ll do a degree. And I was the first in my family to do a degree.
Lee Durrant: Really?
Lee Durrant: Oh brilliant-
Amanda: Yeah, they had been apprentices, or my mom actually went to secretarial college. It was not a thing for any of the family, no expectation. Especially no expectation for me to go and do that. Again, they thought I was going to be a secretary, and I was going to marry someone in insurance, because I would then get cheap premiums.
Lee Durrant: Yeah, well no, surpassed all their expectations, which is fantastic.
Lee Durrant: Okay then, so obviously you got your early career then doing the sales stuff, which as you rightly say, has given you that ability to communicate, which is fantastic. So what was the first taste of Salesforce? I’m going to guess it was using it then in a sales role, is that right?
Amanda: Well, yes and no. It was, I guess I was working in a business development team. At that point I’d actually had enough of doing the pure sales part; I was over with the targets, because targets always move. And I was kind of over that. So I’d said, in this particular role, “I will help you build the team, I will build processes. I will help build a whole library for responding to RFPs and the whole procurement side of things.” And then I was helping with all of that, and my director turned around one day and said, “We don’t know who our customers are. We need a CRM.” And I looked and went, “A CR what?” And so, good old Google. Get onto that, and started looking up things. Saw things like dynamics in Sage, or something back there. And saw Salesforce. And this was 12 years ago. And I looked at Salesforce, and I had a little play with it, because there were demos and you could have a little look around. And it was quite simple back then. And I thought, “You know what? I can get this, and I don’t get lost; I can go back to the home. Look, little dancing man: that’s a lead. Okay, good. And here’s a coin, that’s an opportunity. Great, I get it. So if I can get it, another sales user is going to get it; a colleague will understand this.”
Amanda: And so we chose Salesforce, because of what I saw and I liked. So-
Lee Durrant: Amazing.
Amanda: Yeah, I know. That was quite impressive really. So we bought it in, and we got involved with Salesforce who helped to actually build it, and I became sort of the analyst/PM who ran around and collected the data we needed, would capture the information, would test things, who would suddenly start seeing in front of me this system being built. And the beauty of Salesforce is like the magic that happens in front of you as a customer who sees it for the first time. And where they go in the setup, and they go, “Oh, you want to move this stuff around?” When they start playing with the page layouts, it’s such a simple thing, but it brings a customer onboard. Because one minute you’re going, “I don’t really like it, it’s not really working for me because it doesn’t do this, this and this.” And they go, “Okay, click click click click click. Refresh. Now, how does that look for you?” And, “Oh, it’s amazing.”
Lee Durrant: Yeah, because I suppose people 12 years ago, and whilst that doesn’t sound like a long time, and I remember, well I’m sure other people that are old enough will remember when IT, if you wanted something to be changed, it just took forever. So the fact that you could do something like that so quickly is quite exciting isn’t it? Well it was then, it probably still is now, to be fair.
Amanda: Do you know what? It still gets customers every time now, because they see it, and they see the changes straight away, and they’re like, “Oh, okay. That’s really cool. Cool.” And the adoption part just starts falling into place, because they’re now having that sort of responsive element to it, and one minute they’re, “I don’t really like this. Okay, I can change it. Oh, you really can. Wow, that’s really cool.” It also can be dangerous, because at that same point, they start thinking moon on a stick time. They go, “Can we do this?” And, “Can we do that?” And you’re like, “Oh, hold on.”
Lee Durrant: Oh I’m, yeah. We’re guilty of that here. I mean I, because we use Salesforce as well and have done for 10 years, and we definitely did that: “Oh, can I put that button there and this button there? And what if this and that?” And you have all these ideas that actually end up as being a waste of time. But, I guess that’s where your experience of listening and maybe pushing back comes in handy.
Amanda: Yeah, it does. And you start learning. I mean since that moment of watching this system come alive, I then went on an admin course. I then became the admin for the company, and helped people do all the training. One minute I’m training a customer services person all the way up to the CEO, “This is the system. This is how we’re going to use it. Let’s go.” I did all the board reports. And I did some really daft things as well. This is where you first learn your first admin role, and working production, and doing things that you shouldn’t do, but that’s part of learning. So you go on from there really, and learn.
Lee Durrant: Just to go back on that then, so my next obvious question was going to be when did you know you wanted to do it as a career? Does that sort of dovetail with you going on that admin course? Did you pay for it? Did they look after you, and stick you on that course? And is that when you thought, “This is a career now for me”, do you think? Or did that come later?
Amanda: That wasn’t. Yeah, oh yeah, much later. Years later. And Trailhead wasn’t even conceived. I mean this was back in 2007. So the idea of these certifications was very very young back then. So I went on the course, and there was like, “Oh, maybe there is a test.” But it wasn’t really in my mindset at all. And then I did the admin side of things, and then actually within the company itself, I moved into IT, and I did other IT elements. So I ran how to do all the IT procurement, I built an asset database. I used to manage all of the kit as well. I used to look after suppliers. I understood about server rooms, and did procurement to do big databases. There was a other part of IT that I started to learn about. And when they wanted me to go and do all the procurement, I went, “Do you know what? That’s not the direction I want to go into. Actually I enjoy IT; I enjoy the project work of IT as well.” And that’s when my leaning sort of started moving.
Amanda: So Salesforce opened me up to the world of IT. I then went into IT, and learnt some other aspects of it. And then I went into contracting, because I decided to take a leap really. Because they wanted me to do the procurement, and then I jumped out.
Lee Durrant: Well okay, so rewinding a bit, I reckon that’s quite a common theme. A lot of people I speak to, who’ve been doing it now for such a long time, and I think it sounds like it’s possibly true of yourself, that you kind of get into Salesforce by accident, if you like. And then that in itself then takes you on this whole new journey, and you’re now probably considered to the layperson on the street, you’re probably considered to be a bit of an IT technical expert, when you never really intended to be. Is that fair?
Amanda: Yeah, massively. And the Accidental Admin really is very very true. It’s something that you really do fall into. Then you get a passion for it, because it’s a very approachable technology. And then it can open your eyes up to other technologies as well. So, and for me, yes I did take a curveball and went into sort of more purist IT elements, but that’s really helped me with my whole journey I suppose into tech, so that, it’s good for me in that respect, and it helped my career as well. Not everyone’s done that though. Some of us kept very purist with Salesforce.
Lee Durrant: So you then mentioned that you decided rather than doing everything I want to focus on Salesforce, and therefore go contracting. When are we talking about? What sort of time is that? Are we back in…?
Amanda: Well actually that came a little bit after my part here. So I went contracting and did some contracts looking at other aspects, so more deeper into IT and traditional side of IT things, whereby I was looking at sort of more project sides for, there was one project to manoeuvre some people from one codebase to another codebase. And actually I got that gig, that was my first contract gig, during the interview, whereby the project itself was quite dull, and it was horrendous frankly. And… Live and learn, you live and learn. But, during the interview itself, they turned around and said, “Yes, well this is the project we’re doing. We’re going to be using this thing called Salesforce to manage the project.” I went, “Oh, Salesforce.” They went, “Oh, have you heard of it?” I went, “Yeah yeah.” And so the interview turned to a consultancy session when they went, “Can we do this?” And, “Can we do that as well?” I went, “Oh yeah, yeah. You can do that. Yeah, you can do this as well.” They were like, “Oh great.”
Amanda: So I think I got the gig purely because I actually knew the tool better that they were going to use. And whilst I was bored stupid on this project, I then did a bit of a sideline helping the actual internal Salesforce admin with their day job. They were like, “Can you test this? I’m having trouble with this report.” “Yeah, sure. I can look at this. Yeah, I can look at that for you.” Which actually kept me more motivated in the project.
Lee Durrant: And this is before then, you ended up working at one of the big partners. Or certainly one of the bigger partners. Well, I believe, one of the first ever partners of Salesforce, which seems crazy to say that now. Is that what happened then; you went from that contract kind of, and bouncing around helping companies, to then joining Bluewolf?
Amanda: Yeah, I did. For me it was, I went to another contract after that first boring gig, did some other side of things, and then when that finished, that was almost a year later, I kind of took stock and thought, “What do I want to do? I’ve had experience now; I’ve done [inaudible 00:14:58] great, I’ve tried a bit of Salesforce; that was interesting. That got me into IT. That was interesting as well. So, well what do I want to do?” And every time I thought about Salesforce, I smiled. And that’s just, it’s really sad to admit that, that this piece of technology makes you smile and you feel really happy about it.
Amanda: And so for me it just was like, “I’ve got to do this. I’ve got to give this a proper go.” And went out properly: I did the course again for the ADM, because it’d been a few years, and I hadn’t got the certification, so I thought, “Right, I’m going to do it properly.” This is when I paid for myself to go on the certification course. It was over £3000.
Lee Durrant: Going to say, yeah, it’s not cheap. So that’s good. It’s good investment though, clearly.
Amanda: It is, yeah. It’s very much. I very much am a self-advocate for self-investment and improvement. Whereas companies will help you, you have to be motivated yourself to do that. So I did that: got the course, did the course. Got the certification. And it gave me then the confidence to turn around and go, “You know what? These years that I’ve actually been working with this tool, I actually do know what I’m talking about.”
Lee Durrant: Do you know what? That’s actually a really good tip as well, because, and I will ask you for tips later, but we know little nuggets of gold are going to pop out your mouth along the way. Sometimes you’ll speak to people, and they’ll say, “Oh no, I’m not certified because my current company doesn’t back me, or doesn’t want to do that.” And of course it’s a different world now with Trailhead and stuff like that. But I think people, if they really want to progress their career, it’s not difficult to go and… Yes, it’s an investment, but would you advise them that it’s always worth doing that, trying to get certifications if they really want to press on?
Amanda: Yeah. Definitely. If it suits their career choice, their certifications can really bolster your whole package and your image. When I certainly look at somebody, I know we’re going to talk about this later, that I will look at the whole package of what this person brings. So for me, it helped me feel and have the confidence of, “Yes, I’ve got this, and I can do it and I can talk about it.” And then I started looking at which companies could help me with my sort of Salesforce calling. And at the time it was still quite young, I mean this was now 2012. And Salesforce is getting out there, but there’s not so many people out there doing it.
Lee Durrant: No exactly. And I remember… So if you were certified then, I’m guessing you got your ADM 201 then?
Lee Durrant: You must be, I don’t know if you ever looked into this, but you must be one of the first people, one of the first couple of thousand people, certainly in the UK, most likely in the world, that was certified. Because that’s a long time ago to have got it. Have you ever looked at that?-
Amanda: Yeah. No I haven’t actually, no. It would be interesting to know.
Lee Durrant: Yeah. It’s worth looking at. I don’t know, there must be a way of finding out. But yeah, because that’s pretty cool. And yeah, Bluewolf were the main one to go and join, but I imagine back then they were a very small team in the UK then weren’t they?
Amanda: They were, there was about an office about 20 of us in the UK, with a much bigger presence in the US. Because Bluewolf was this incubator consultancy that came out of Salesforce. Obviously Salesforce realised that, “Actually, we need help to get people to get their implementations done. How do we do this? Okay, let’s create a consultancy.” And then other consultancies sprung up from that, and we then, the big management consultancies also got wind of Salesforce and realised they needed to build teams as well. Or acquire, as they’ve been doing recent years.
Amanda: So yeah, so I managed to get a job as a project manager within Bluewolf. Mainly because whilst I had been doing the admin side of things, it’s not my real leaning. I am here, the chatty person, I’m a chatty girl who got the reports back at school. I’ve kind of got to play to strengths here. So sitting down quietly in a room and just clicking on bits of config for hours on end actually isn’t my super-happy place, and it’s much more people-orientated, much more organisation-orientated as well, and process. So play to the strengths, and that’s what I did. And I went into project management.
Lee Durrant: I’m writing these little tips down as you’re saying them, because I’m going to forget them later on otherwise. But that’s a really good shout as well isn’t it? For people that are listening to this that are really identifying with your story in terms of love being in front of or on the phone to people, and chatting, and getting their user stories and what have you; to follow that pathway and not get trapped in some role where you’re just sat at your laptop configuring all day. It’s a good tip.
Lee Durrant: So what was it like, because that’s one of my questions, of course, is going to be what’s it like working for a partner when you’ve worked at an end user? What’s the difference? Because there’s always this perception of a load of travel, and I’m never going to see my family again, and that kind of stuff. So just, if you don’t mind describing what it feels like, the sort of difference between working for an end user, and working for a partner. And of course, contracting; the different sort of day-to-day life of those sort of three roles.
Amanda: Yeah. Well, consultancy life and end-user life can be perceived to be very very different. And there can be benefits and downsides to both sides of things. So if you start about consultancy life, whilst I started with end user, I really, really learnt my stuff in consultancy. And I suppose that’s one of the biggest benefits of consultancy, is that you are exposed to loads of different client scenarios, which means that it increases your implementation knowledge, and it has real sort of this accelerated learning path as well. Which means that doing a couple of years, as I did, in consultancy, I learnt so much very very quickly. And you see very different ways that clients use Salesforce, which completely opens up your mind to the possibilities of how to use the platform. Then you can gather all that experience to know when you should do something and when it’s a good idea not to do something. You really go with the pains and also the gains of it, because of this sort of accelerated learning piece.
Amanda: Then also consultancies, because of the nature of how Salesforce works, they are usually very supportive in you to learn and gain certifications. Because it’s mutually beneficial; you gain those certifications because it helps with your CV. It helps the consultancies also to bolster up; they’re sort of turning around going, “We’ve got X amount of consultants with x amount of certifications.” It bolsters their progress, I suppose, as a person. And consultancies can also be very supportive: any PR opportunities, which might be speaking at community conferences, or user groups as well. So that also helps with their PR too. So it’s, again, a mutual beneficial.
Amanda: And it’s a very much a work hard, play harder lifestyle, so… If you are young, or young at heart, and you’re okay with that side of things, then go for it. There’s also potential downsides as well, whereby if you are in a consultancy, then potentially you are a product of the consultancy as well. Which means if you’re on delivery side of things, you are being literally sold out to a customer. And so yes, you could be asked to go onto client side, upon request, and at any point. And that can actually affect with your personal life. So it’s a choice here. Consultancies are getting better, because they realise that people are human, and have lives. And if they want to keep people, they have to be a little bit respectful of that.
Lee Durrant: That’s brilliant. That’s a really good answer. Because yeah, we get that an awful lot with people wondering what the difference is. And I suppose every single consultancy is a little bit different; some of them don’t have the global clients that means they’re going to send you round the world. But ultimately the way you just phrased that is perfect: product of the consultancy, and if they need you on a client site because that’s how you’re going to be making money for the company, then you’ve got to go and do it, haven’t you? But, it sounds like, I was looking at your CV if you like, for want of a better word; your LinkedIn profile, and correct me if I’m wrong, but the only type of place you haven’t worked yet is an ISV, is that right? Or have I missed something?
Amanda: No that’s right actually, I haven’t worked for an ISV. I’ve worked very closely with them; I’ve even done videos for them as a client. But I haven’t actually worked on that side of the business. And that’s also another aspect of it as well whereby you have the consultancy side, you’ve got end-user side, you’ve got ISV side. And ISVs are the ones who potentially create apps that will connect in with Salesforce. And that can be very interesting, because you are creating a product that works well, hopefully, with Salesforce, and you can work alongside with end users who are buying into Salesforce and also your product, because it helps to meet a need. And you can also get involved with the community as well, and go to all the World Tours and Dreamforces of the world. So it can be an interesting additional type of role to go into, if you like the idea of sort of more purist product development, and supporting that product. As opposed to being the product, as part of consultancy.
Lee Durrant: Yeah, I mean there’s always a professional services side to it as well isn’t there? And I know some people can be concerned that they’re going to go far too narrow, and only specialise in one product. Would you say that that’s a fair thing to be concerned about, going to work for an ISV?
Amanda: It can be. Yeah. I mean that’s a fair risk, I suppose. And it depends on what role you take in any of these businesses as well, because you could be working in a sales role selling that particular product. Now, as a sales person, if you have those traditional classical sales skills, you can then potentially sell one product and go to another place and sell another different product as well. So that can be a wide-ranging skill base. Equally, if you are then doing implementation side, if you have those Salesforce skills, I think it’s massively beneficial. Especially if you’ve got a particular product, and how that might be built. And that could be built natively within Salesforce, or there is some serious codebase behind it. If you understand how Salesforce works in conjunction with your app, then potentially you’re building a much better product that’s going to slip very nicely in with the customer needs, and with the Salesforce implementation they’ve got as well. I think that’s when particular products work better. And some of them don’t.
Lee Durrant: Yeah. Yeah.
Lee Durrant: So, appreciate I might be going over and over some bits and bobs, but for you, what was the difference from being a contractor to being a, for want of a better word, a permanent employee? Because I know that you’ve done both as well. Is there any particular difference, other than the perceived financial difference?
Amanda: Yeah, there’s very much perceived financial difference, but that can also depend on how savvy you are about moving from one contract to another. If you’re a contractor, you really have to expect those fallow periods where things sometimes just slow down, and it often can be the case when it is the end of the Salesforce financial year, so the beginning of the new calendar year, can be a quiet time, because people are looking to maybe buy into Salesforce, and then after that projects will kick off. So maybe all the January/February time can be quiet, for some people, unless they’re midway in the contract anyway, midway through a project.
Lee Durrant: I was going to say, just for people that don’t know, when is the end of the Salesforce calendar year?
Amanda: It is the end of January, so the beginning of February is the brand new calendar financial year, for Salesforce. And hopefully by then they’ve signed off deals, and then customers start thinking, “Oh okay, great, now we’ve got the licences, we’ve got the deal. Good, now we need to think about our project.” Then it might take another month or so for projects to start kicking into gear, for then thinking, “Oh, I need X amount of resource to actually help build this.” So March/April time can be a positive time for finding [inaudible 00:26:38].
Lee Durrant: I mean again, with regards to contract or being permanent, do you feel sometimes as well like you don’t even really get to know your team, or is that not fair? Do you still feel like one of the team, when you’re jumping in for six months on projects, and then leaving?
Amanda: I think this is the same with consultancy life though, so consultancies are a bit like contract: you work for a short time, potentially, with a client, to deliver an implementation of project. And this is one of the things, also, that made me feel, sort of pine, as well I suppose, and that’s why I sort of moved over to end user. For me, you’ve had a lot of intense time working on a project to deliver something. You’ve really bonded potentially with your clients as well; you’ve gone through the ups and downs of change management, and the emotional pull that projects can take you on. And when you get to a point whereby you’ve now delivered it, you’re now handing it over to the client, and going, “Good luck”, you don’t know how it’s going to be adopted or how they’re going to move forward with it. And as a consultant, you then at that point you can go, “Thanks, good luck. Bye. Or maybe I’ll move you over to our managed services team to look after it.” And then you’d go onto another project: bang, you’re straight off.
Amanda: And it can work as well with contracting, because contracting, as soon as you’re done, “Great, thanks. We’re now going to move it to the BAU team, the Business as Usual team”, which might be a much smaller team. And you’ve gone. You don’t know how the business, how the customer works with it, moving forward. Whereas if you’re on end user, you build something, and then you live with it, and actually living with an org, a Salesforce org, is very different to just build-and-go, build-and-go, build-and-go.
Lee Durrant: Yeah. And some people can see that as a bad thing can’t they: “Oh, I might get bored of having the same org.” But I suppose that comes down to the individual end user company, and how much they’re investing in the upgrades, and the latest shiny stuff.
Amanda: Yeah, absolutely-
Lee Durrant: So that you’ve always got a new project to do or what have you. So your, actually I think one of the questions you wanted me to ask you was the different types of roles that you’ve had. I appreciate we’ve touched on it quite a bit, from right at the beginning all the way up to the exciting new role you’re about to start. Do you mind just talking us through that journey, if that’s okay?
Amanda: Yeah, sure. So I started right at the beginning as this Accidental Admin, and started then working purely as an admin, making all the changes for the system as [inaudible 00:29:11] the requirements, and doing all the reporting and stuff, and then realised that wasn’t quite my calling, and so wanted to get more into the actual organisation side of things. So I started, I suppose, analyst, and then admin, then moved into project management, and had a couple of roles within project management, well within consultancies, whereby I was very much still learning the ropes of it. And I think every day’s still a school day on that. And also helping consultancies with their own processes of, from initial inquiry, all the way through the sales process, to delivery process, to handing over to managed services, if that’s what they’ve got in the consultancy as well. And how do you take a customer through that, and the whole change management side as well? And I actually talk a lot about change management when I’m at conferences.
Amanda: So I’ve really sort of had a long time as project managers and project manager roles. I then went back into end-user side, whereby I then ran a department, so all the business systems for a company, where, and in fact one of them was actually I did two jobs at the same time, because I was stupid. Because why would you do that?
Lee Durrant: Oh, yeah.
Amanda: Yeah. So it was I did that, and one part of my role was to manage the team, and look after all the systems for the business. And one other job I did was to be a delivery manager looking after Salesforce, because it was their new toy, and they’d messed it up horribly, and they needed to be put back on track again. So I did the dual-role aspects. And so I did that part, then I sort of moved on and looked after, again, more the looking after a department head role, and looking after multiple Salesforce orgs for a business. Again this is very much people management, product management, process management; how do we look after all these things, how do we capture requirements and push it through to an end solution whilst keeping the team engaged, and looking at their development needs, and making sure that the orgs are protected and safe, and future-proof, and scalable, and all that good stuff? All those things come together, which, all this learning from, even my background of sales, and PR, and marketing, and random IT jobs as well, and literally crawling under desks and getting serial numbers off of computers to build asset-management databases, and buying kit for big server, and database refreshes, and all these wonderful things, and looking after supplies, and looking after stock.
Amanda: All of this background, and project management, and working with consultancies, has helped me get to this next role which I’m about to start, and I’m very excited about, which is now to become a CTO for a business.
Lee Durrant: I know, that’s amazing isn’t it? And I’ve just written down, it is a journey from Accidental Admin to a CTO. And people looking at your profile and listening to this, it’s all, you look at it now, and it probably looks like you, this was your plan all along. But clearly, from talking to you, it isn’t. But it’s amazing, isn’t it? It’s a fantastic journey you’ve been on, in 12 years, which in the whole scheme of things isn’t a long time, is it?
Amanda: No, it’s not, for someone to drop into this sort of technical sphere, yeah, absolutely. To learn that, and to keep learning, and not being afraid, as well, to take those different challenges and corners. I wrote a blog a few months ago actually about different journeys, and I looked at, and it was basically called, the Pine was doing a whole, “Hey, this is a careers week, and we’ve decided we can find your career path.” And I looked at this career path they had defined for myself and for my team, and I just went, “No. In the world of Salesforce, absolutely not. It’s much wider than that.” And so I drew up this career path, and it looked like career spaghetti, because there were so many routes in, there were so many routes you could take, and there were so many routes out. And I’ve looked at my own career spaghetti path, and it has been. But it’s every single time, every single point that I’ve stopped at has given me so much learning, which is now kept adding to it and adding to it and adding to it, which helps with every change that you go through, and every job you do as well. You just go, “Oh, I’ll bank that, and that’s going to be useful for another time.”
Amanda: So never be afraid of the random things you fall into, because you know it’s going to be useful for the future.
Lee Durrant: Yeah yeah. And obviously with this podcast we’re doing, we’re speaking to people that have at least 10 years experience in Salesforce. So most of the people, yourself included, back then, did fall into it, and it was an accident. And they’re all now in these senior roles, and it’s fantastic. I think a lot of people today are getting into it on purpose, so there might be a slight change there. But, oh you mentioned your blog as well, so do you mind telling us how we can find that, so that everyone listening can track you down?
Amanda: Yeah. My blog is called Diary of a Saasy Girl. That’s Saasy as in software as a service, not as in the other one.
Lee Durrant: Saasy S-A-A-S-Y?
Amanda: That’s right.
Amanda: Yeah, I’ve been writing it for two years now. So, over two years in fact, so, yeah. And there’s a lot of emotion that comes out, with a job or a company, or what I was feeling, because I would write about it. So it’s very much the thought-leadership side of things, as opposed to, “Here’s a new feature.” Or, “Here’s a new release.” It’s very much me and my journey.
Lee Durrant: You know what? It’s such an incestuous world though isn’t it? Do you find sometimes that even in these interviews you can’t necessarily talk about companies you’ve worked for in too much detail, because you don’t want to say something that could get you in trouble? So you’re not going into that much detail in the companies you’ve worked for.
Amanda: No, but it doesn’t take too much of a scientist to look back at when it was written, and where I was.
Lee Durrant: Yeah, I know. That’s the problem these days isn’t it, I suppose? But, still, I’ll make sure that we get that link to people later on. And also, on that note, I’m going a little bit off tangent here, but are you not now part of the Ladies Be Architects thing as well? Is that, you’re manager of that aren’t you? And one of the founders?
Amanda: So, I’m not a founder. Gemma is the founder, and Gemma did ask me at the beginning of this year if I would get involved with their own sort of processes, and organisation, because that’s what I have a good flair for. And I very much enjoyed helping them with that, and so much so that we got to deliver a keynote at You’re Dreaming in Amsterdam, back in June, which was a wonderful highlight. But actually because of this role that’s coming up for me as a CTO, I’ve had to back out with the Ladies, and be more of a secret adviser in the background. And so Gemma and I are still very firm friends, and chat very very regularly, and I’m always going to be there for the ladies and probably at Dreamforce I’ll be there helping them out, but it’s really better for me to take a step back. And I’m already so involved with the community; I am a co-leader for London admins, I’m also a co-organiser for the London’s Calling Community Conference. So adding Ladies Be Architects as well was quite an additional feast anyway, so for me for my sanity, it’s good to just sort of go, “Thanks. Thanks, but I’ll step away now thank you.”
Lee Durrant: Unless they need you in Amsterdam again, of course, then you’re straight over there. For people listening again, I’ll make sure we get links to all this stuff, so that your London admin thing and your London’s Calling, people might not know of that, so I’ll make sure we get that to people as well, at the end of this. So skipping on then to, and you may have already touched on this, but is there a project that you can think of that you’re most proud of over those 12 years? And it doesn’t matter how big or small, just is there one that springs to mind when you think of one that really makes you smile?
Amanda: Yes, there’s many, which is great, how I’ve helped really transform businesses. And I think it’s ironically the ones that’ve, they’re in pain, and you then start having conversations with them, and you help to transform away from this idea of, “Salesforce is rubbish, I’m never going to, I’m going to get rid of it. It’s not going to work, oh” kind of attitude to, “Oh okay, no it works, I get it. And this is cool.” And I remember one particular one whereby I’d just started at one of the consultancies, and they sort of threw me into a client and went, “Help, go in, put your parachute on and go rescue them.” “Okay.” They have got Service Cloud, it’s been implemented by somebody else, it’s not going well for them, they’re in a lot of pain. And I remember going in, walking up into this room with 20 people in a U shape, and me standing in front of them. And I took along another colleague who would sit there and type notes all day. And I stood up in front and just started talking, and spent all day. And what was great was this wall behind me was one wall that you could use a pen and just draw all over it, and directly, or straight on to the wall.
Amanda: So over the course of the day, I managed to write all over it twice. And by the end of the day I was literally on the floor, sitting, with all this crazy-woman writing behind me of all the things they talked about [inaudible 00:38:32] they had brought out, and just going, “Okay, so tell me more about, yeah, there’s this. Okay, we’ve covered that. So there’s this, this covered that.” And at the end of the day, my CEO walked into the room, and looked horrified to find me sitting on the floor. Going “What is she doing? Oh my god, why is she sitting on the floor? What’s happening? It’s the first time we’ve, this is the first contact we’ve had with this customer, what’s going on?” And then he suddenly paused and realised that I’d got the room completely; they were completely listening to me, they were in my hand. And he went, “Okay, it’s fine. She’s got them. It’s fine.”
Lee Durrant: Brilliant.
Amanda: And that was the beginning of turning this customer around, and within six months delivered functionality that we worked for them, integrations with ISV products as well. And they went on, and actually the product that they used, and the integrations with their own internal products ended up winning them awards for their customer service. So it was a real transformation, it was great.
Lee Durrant: Oh, I’ll have to ask you the name now then, see if I can find something on that. So what was the company? Do you mind?
Amanda: It was DPD, it was GeoPost.
Lee Durrant: DPD-
Amanda: So all those DPD vans you see driving around, we helped.
Lee Durrant: Fantastic, that they won awards. Oh, again I’ll see if I can find a little bit of PR on that, from whenever that was. Brilliant. Love that. And nearly finished, what’s your, if there is such a thing, your favourite thing about Salesforce? Whether it is the ecosystem itself, whether it’s going to Dreamforce, whether it’s just the products; is there something you can sum up as your favourite kind of thing about Salesforce?
Amanda: I suppose if you look at the product side of things, it’s a platform as a whole. And I think it’s the whole ability that this platform can give. If you have the imagination, the budget, and best practice, then you can create anything for any business. And that’s I think really really powerful. When it comes to, yeah, it is. It is. It’s not just one feature, because there are so many features. And no business uses all the features, because of the innovation that constantly comes out with free releases each year. They have to keep [inaudible 00:40:39] able to use everything, but it allows that one business can use this aspect, and one business can use that aspect to transform their own way of working. So I think it’s so powerful.
Amanda: Then for the ecosystem, it’s the community. Because there is no other company out there, no other company that has had the balls frankly, to create a community and let it fly, and whereby, people who work with this little system, not so little any more, but this system, come together on a regular basis and talk about it. And in those sessions, we as community leaders have the ability to say, “This month we’re going to talk about when there’ll be a piece of functionality. Or we’re going to talk about sort of recruitment side of things. Or we’re going to talk about what pains we have.” But it’s amazing how so many people have come together. There are now over 1500 groups around the who come together on a regular basis and talk about anything and everything, but with this commonality of Salesforce. And for me it’s really helped to move my career forward, I’ve made real great friends. I’ve learnt so much. And I’ve learnt more actually from working within a Salesforce ecosystem, and reading about the Salesforce ecosystem, than I would do actually from working directly for a business. I’ve learnt more.
Lee Durrant: That’s the point about Salesforce letting it go a little bit, it’s quite important I think isn’t it? Because in my experience in previous technologies in over the years, I’m not going to name names, but some of the, an obvious massive name would definitely want to control every single little meet-up that goes on around the world. Whereas I think Salesforce have been brilliant at just letting it fly, trusting the ecosystem to just do the right thing. It’s fantastic. Are you an MVP now? I can’t remember if you, or you had, did you have that?
Amanda: That’s such a controversial question.
Lee Durrant: Oh is it? Sorry.
Amanda: I’m not an MVP. I’ve never been an MVP. And it is now getting to the point whereby it’s now on a yearly basis, it used to be twice a year, when a call for MVPs or when people get voted and they get reviewed, and some people get then, “Yes, well done. You’re MVP, all renewed.” It’s never happened to me, and I’m now having to sort of almost console people when it doesn’t happen to me, and I’m going, “I’m really sorry, I didn’t get it. There’s nothing I can do about this, but I’m really sorry that I didn’t get it. I know you’re hurt.”
Lee Durrant: What do you need to do then, to get, other than…? Because, with everything you’ve done, how are you not an MVP? And I know it’s probably a question you’re asking yourself, but…
Amanda: I think there’s some very serious Salesforce magic that goes behind the scenes. But actually, one, actually I’ve had, I have a true theory, and it’s because of the route that I have taken, and how I work within Salesforce. I am not the person that’s every day behind the setup. And I think maybe they appreciate more people who are the purest of admins and developers and architects, who work every day behind the setup than I do. And especially now with my role moving into CTO, I may be even moving further away from what they perceive as an ideal aspect. So, you know what? It’s not something I chase; I have made that conscious decision of just going, “You know what? I’m doing what I do because I love what I do.”
Lee Durrant: No, fair enough. And I seem to remember certainly, more than once, when the customer tour comes around, you’re always, you used to be; I don’t know whether you still are, but you were always one of the people in the list of people you must meet, and things like that. So that must be nice?
Amanda: Yes, it’s very lovely actually. It’s very nice when people just, looking at you and going, “Oh hi, you’re Amanda. Oh my god.” You’re like, “Hi. Okay. All right”
Lee Durrant: You’re famous. You’re famous. It’s weird isn’t it? Yeah-
Amanda: Very strange place to be. And it’s very lovely actually, and it’s very gracious. And I always try and give people the time to answer any random question they might have, because I was there, and I’ve looked up to people who are running groups, and just going, “Wow. How do you do this? How do you know all this stuff?” And the answer’s just, “We don’t. We don’t know everything.”
Lee Durrant: It’s time, experience, and I remember trying to come up to you once at a World Tour, you weren’t even at stand; I think you were just knocking around. And it was impossible, there were, I think there was a line of god knows how many people waiting to talk to you. So that’s nice, but I’d imagine terrifying as well.
Amanda: It’s oh, not terrifying. I mean I’m-
Lee Durrant: Well not for you.
Amanda: From my background of being in sales, and certainly working within the drinks industry as my first job, and having presentation skills, and being thrust with the mike in my hand and go and talk to thousands of people, you get used to that very very quickly. I do have, however, comments by friends who have walked London World Tour with me going, “You’re a nightmare to walk with, because you walk two metres and stop to talk with people.” So, but that’s [crosstalk 00:45:42]. But that’s the beauty of these events as well, I love it.
Lee Durrant: You’re like Tom Cruise on the red carpet aren’t you? But you just, up and down, getting pictures. Love it. Well, I think we’re nearly there. I can ask you, I’ll ask you one more question if that’s okay, and then we’ll let you go. So, what, if there was a takeaway for some of these, a young Amanda out there who’s looking to break into Salesforce or perhaps they’re in their first role, and all of that, what would be a particular tip for somebody at the beginning of their Salesforce career, if you can think of one?
Amanda: I think if you are already in a business that’s about to go on a Salesforce journey, put your hand up. If you’re in the slightest way interested, grab it. Go for it. Because being an Accidental Admin has changed my life. It’s brilliant. If you are also interested, you’ve maybe done some computer science background or degree, then I know there are consultancies out there who are very [inaudible 00:46:40] learn Salesforce and move forward. But I think that’s also maybe a bit limiting, because I came from a non-technical background, and here I am. So there’s also now businesses out there who are helping and encouraging people who are maybe returning back to work, like the Supermums, so that’s another link there for you, who are helping people go into a different career and offer them a flexible lifestyle working because Salesforce can offer that as a potential career changer as well.
Amanda: So there are ways, and Trailhead is great in order to start learning about the whole platform in very different ways; whether that be sort of even management ways, or even your own wellbeing, let alone what can the platform do? It can give you a real starter to understand that. Then get your certifications, because that will bolster you. But overall, experience wins, and as a high manager, you could have all the certifications in the world, but I want to know that you’ve gone through pain, frankly, of implementation, so you have understood what’s a better way of doing things, and what not to do. Because I don’t want things to break in my world, and having that knowledge is really powerful.
Lee Durrant: And yeah, we get that a lot actually. Some people, they had the certifications, just can’t get the experience. And I think there’s still opportunities to even offer yourself as a pro bono bit of work for maybe some of the Salesforce.org customers; that that has been a route for some people as well. So that’s a [crosstalk 00:48:17]. Can you imagine, if Trailhead was around 12 years ago, I’d imagine you’d have been all over that? It’s amazing opportunity for people isn’t it?
Amanda: It is, and I definitely use Trailhead now as a way of having a quick learning idea about a particular subject, to get an understanding of it. But I would never make it a thing of, “Oh, well I’ve done all the Trailhead, therefore I know everything about Salesforce.” So don’t even kid yourself about that. Honestly, it’s when you get hands onto the actual system is when you really learn something. And the experience of going through projects, and the pain of it all, of really understanding what to do, how to do it, why do you build things in certain ways? Why am I asking about what my stakeholder wants? It all helps with the whole implementation process.
Lee Durrant: Brilliant. Amanda I’ve got to let you go. It’s been longer than I anticipated, and I’m sorry for that. But, brilliant. I mean, thank you very much for being a brilliant guest, and genuinely, congratulations on your career to date, from, as we said, an Accidental Admin to a CTO, it’s unbelievable, and credit to your hard work. And yeah, look forward to obviously seeing how it pans out from there. But thanks very much for joining us today.
Amanda: Thank you. It’s been lovely chatting, so thank you very much.
Lee Durrant: No worries, thank you very much. Wow, huge thanks there to Amanda Beard-Neilson for taking the time to chat with us today. Hope you all enjoyed it, and found it very useful, particularly for me the parts about self-learning, Trailheads, certifications, all great things that you can do in your spare time. Following the path that’s right for your personality; so if you’re great with people, you’re maybe not going to enjoy being stuck behind a laptop all day. I’ll also share her blog, I’ll share the link to her blog on the show notes, and also the other things she’s involved in; the London admins, and the London’s Calling.
Lee Durrant: So yeah, hope you guys enjoyed it, and make sure you subscribe to get the latest podcast from us, and any comments would be great as well, and share with your friends so that we can reach as wide an audience as possible. Hope to catch you next time.