9 August 2019 - From Accidental Admin to CTO - My Journey
As a kid at school I would get regular reports and I remember one that said “Amanda is a lovely girl, loves to chat”. My dad read this and thought, well that’s nice, my daughter is stupid. My father aspired for me to be a Secretary when I grew up and then adjusted this to be a Bilingual Secretary when he realised I had a flair for languages.
As for me, I didn’t really have a ‘calling’. I did well in my GCSE’s so did my A Levels. I got the results from them which meant I could go to University, the first in my family to do so. I studied Business as I thought I would be more useful for a career.
Fast forward many years and I entered into the job market and had a few roles in Sales, Marketing and PR. Don’t get me wrong, I was good at these roles but I just got a bit tired of the forever shifting values on targets. It was time for a career change.
I moved into a Business Development role to help build a team and processes when my Director said we needed a CRM. A what? I Googled and found a few options but fell upon a system called Salesforce. I instantly liked it and found it easy to navigate around. I figured, if I could manage this system then so could a Sales colleague. We bought in and I became the Analyst/Project Manager for the implementation and then Admin for the Org upon go-live.
That was 12 years ago and that project completely shifted my mindset. In a matter of months the business had gone from secrets and lies to total visibility of their clients and sales pipeline, just due to an implementation of a CRM system. It got me thinking...
I took a leap and left Sales to move into IT where I built other systems and ran all of IT procurement, buying in for large transformation projects and managed all the vendors. It was only when I was asked extend my procurement reach to other verticals within the business that I decided I preferred to stay in IT. Time to take another chance with life.
I landed my first contract all thanks to my Salesforce knowledge as the company was planning to use Salesforce as the project management tool.
At my next gig I picked up more diverse IT skills as an Analyst and first point of contact for an e-commerce site. It was also my first real exposure to Agile working.
When that contract finished I took a moment to think about what I wanted to do next and every time I thought about Salesforce I smiled. Sad, but true.
It was time to get serious about this platform. I passed my ADM-201 and went job hunting to land a Project Manager role with a couple of consultancy’s. Ah, the consultancy years. I worked for 2.5 years in two firms. This was a massive learning ground for me resulting from both positive and challenging experiences.
The benefits of consultancy life:
- You are exposed to lots of different client scenarios that increases your implementation knowledge - accelerated learning
- Supportive in your learning and gaining Salesforce certifications as it is mutually beneficial
- Collaborative in PR opportunities, such as speaking at community conferences
- The work hard, play harder lifestyle
The challenges of consultancy life:
- You are the consultancy product and can be asked to go to any client site upon request. This can affect your personal life
- A consultancy can put pressure on an implementation team to deliver the impossible, often against a rather wildly ambitious statement of work which was the trigger for the initial customer purchase
- A consultancy may not give the individual the space they need if they are sick or need time away for personal circumstances, especially if they are a key player in the business. (Just a rather poor personal experience and I hear things are improving)
During my time in consultancy I learnt some valuable lessons that I have taken with me:
- How I like to be treated and how to be a better manager for my people
- How to get clients to buy into me during pre-sales due to my industry knowledge and win the deal
- How to estimate a delivery and give realistic timelines and resource requirements
- How to raise risks and mitigate them quickly
- How to capture processes and identify what’s really needed
- How to read people better
- To bond with clients during a project and transition them to self sufficiency once they go live
- How to build a high performing team and get the best from them
- How to keep me motivated throughout a project delivery, even through the really bumpy change elements of the ride
- How to cut through the bullshit and find out what really matters
Time for a reset. I decided to continue working with the Salesforce platform as my main technology base but within end user companies. I’ve since worked at 3 end user businesses in a combination of permanent and contract roles.
It was also at this reset time I re-discovered User Groups, now transformed into the Trailblazer Community. I cannot express how valuable this community is to me. They have been incredibly supportive to me; offering advice, networking opportunities, learning and friendship. If you have the chance then connect with a group or attend a conference then take it. Salesforce is the binding ingredient to these groups but they cover so much more and can really help with your career, personal life and general wellbeing. Trailblazer Community
Some hiring managers assume that candidates who have only worked for an end user company have had a cushy job and limited scope on functionality to implement, and thus impacted on the individual’s learning capacity. Well, that can depend on the business they have worked for and its roadmap. The roles I have taken have been far from cushy, believe me.
During my time in end user roles:
- I took the male approach and applied for, and won a job I didn’t think I was qualified to do, but it turned out I was
- I had the chance to affect massive digital and business change to large end user groups
- I rescued multiple Salesforce Orgs from poor implementations and transformed them to have hundreds of users across multiple departments in many different businesses all working effectively
- I was able to integrate many Salesforce AppExchange partner products to enhance the functionality of my Orgs
- I built global high performing teams who went on to continuously deliver great service and functionality
- I convinced leadership to buy into people, systems and best practices to get the results they are after and ask them to invest in longer term thinking
- It wasn’t always just about Salesforce, but all the business systems to manage under my remit
What I learnt from end user world:
- End user lead implementations can be ambitious
- You may have the most experience in the room but not the power to make the decisions, but knowing how to influence others to your way of thinking
- To build long term relationships with stakeholders
- To develop functionality and integrations that you are happy to live with and manage as the Org owner
- To accept sometimes you must make tactical decisions that can lead to ‘debt’ - and not just technical type
I suppose my personal mantra is that I learn from every situation I face. I store that knowledge and take it with me to the next environment. Over time I’ve gathered a lot of experience. It’s made me a better manager, colleague, deliverer of work outputs, and overall rounder person. (Or maybe that’s thanks to the cake consumption).
I’ve had the privilege of working alongside many amazing people, some who have been my direct reports or mentees. I’m grateful to have had that time with them and fiercely proud of all their achievements.
I’ve been lucky to have found my own mentors, all be it informal ones, and for them to share their own experience, feelings and anxieties about their work and home life. It’s reassuring to see the human side of C-suite and them acknowledge they don’t always have all the answers. I’ve learnt so much from them and it’s helped to shape the person I am today.
Which brings me to my latest role and a job title that I never thought I would have - CTO. Funnily enough, I asked a CTO mentor why should I want to be one. His response was; “it’s about solving problems for a business”. I know I can do that. This role is a great opportunity to put all my years of experience into further practice, and help a business achieve its growth goals.
I’m taking my new title and will wear it proudly. There aren’t many female CTO’s out there so I’m doing this for all the ladies too. Not too shabby for a girl who would be a Secretary, a bilingual one at that, and it is all thanks to a little blue cloud that turned my head 12 years ago.
And I’m still on my journey, who knows where I’ll end up.