Thu, 10 February 2022
Today on the Salesforce Admins Podcast, we’ve got Susannah Kate St-Germain, Lead Evangelist, Architect Relations at Salesforce.
Join us as we talk about music theory as tech philosophy and the skills of an architect.
You should subscribe for the full episode, but here are a few takeaways from our conversation with Susannah.
The Essential Habits for Admin Success, now on Trailhead
We’re really excited about The Essential Habits for Admin Success on Trailhead, and we think you should be too. Jump on board and be one of the first to grab that shiny new badge.
Second fiddle to no one.
If you enjoyed our conversation with Stephan Chandler-Garcia about the spectrum of Salesforce roles. This week, we’re getting up close and personal with Susannah to get to know what it’s like to be an Architect. But before her Architecting adventures, Susannah started things out as accidental Admin, and before that started her masters in viola performance.
“I thought I’d be playing viola in an orchestra somewhere but life took me a different way,” Susannah says. She started out working for an orchestra registering gifts and records in a database, which lead to her changing careers and going into fundraising. When she tried out being an Individual Gift Officer, she realized she was much more interested in working with the reports than anything else.
“I realized I wanted to always be that person who was always able to give the person who ended up doing the frontline work the information they needed in the format they needed without too much back and forth,” Susannah says. Shortly thereafter, she started working with Salesforce and got her Admin certification.
The road to becoming an Architect.
Over the years, Susannah picked up some skills. It started with trying to get to the bottom of how to make a trigger work as intended and ease the load on a Developer stretched too thin. This led to her participating in RAD Women Code. “It’s the bridge between being a really great Admin and being able to consume and take things away from the Developer documentation,” she says, “RAD Women makes you code literate so you can work with your Developers more effectively.”
One theme that comes up several times in Susannah’s story is applying for roles where she didn’t necessarily meet all of the tech requirements but had other experience that would make her effective in the position. She still applied for those roles, made her case, and, in both instances, got the job she was after. Her path to becoming an Architect was similar—when she started, she had a frank conversation with her manager about how her career could progress and what it would take to get there.
“The first time I applied to be an Architect, I actually didn’t get the role,” Susannah says, “but I had a wonderful support system that wanted to help me fill the gaps that I had in my background in order to be ready for when there was another role opening.” Again, it comes back to clearly communicating her career goals and getting people invested in helping her succeed.
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Full Show Transcript
J Steadman: Welcome to the Salesforce Admins Podcast, where we talk about product, community, and career to help you become an awesome admin. This week, I'm talking with Susannah St-Germain, lead evangelist architect relations about music theorist tech philosophy, and the skills of an architect. If you enjoyed my chat with Stephan Chandler-Garcia, I think you'll enjoy today. But before we jump into that, I have some exciting news. Available now on Trailhead is a new module for the essential habits for admin success. That's right. The webinar/Trailhead live/presentation you have all loved and listened to is now a learning module on Trailhead. The link is in the show notes. So after this episode, head on over to Trailhead and be one of the first admins to get the new Essential habits Trailhead batch. Now, let's get to podcasting.
Susannah St-Ger...: Absolutely J. Thank you for having me and thank you for probably bearing with my dog barking in the background. I think the mail man just came, which is always exciting. But I'm here today, yes, to chat about my background, my architect background. And like you I believe, and probably many of you who are listening, I came into the Salesforce world not on purpose. I came into the Salesforce world as an accidental admin, actually. I studied-
J Steadman: We love to hear it.
Susannah St-Ger...: Oh yes. I love accidental admins. Yes. So I started out my career thinking that I was going to be an orchestral musician. We have something in common there, I know.
J Steadman: Wonderful. Yeah. That's awesome.
Susannah St-Ger...: You're a musician as well. So I went to college and did my masters, well part of my masters, in viola performance. So viola, for those of you who might not know, is like a violin but just a little bigger and has slightly different strings. It makes a little bit different lower sound. But that's what I thought I'd be doing with my life. I thought I'd be playing viola in an orchestra somewhere or in a quartet or something like that. But life took me a different way. And I actually the truth is I got burned out a little bit doing my masters in music, and wasn't really seeing a path forward for myself. I wasn't really seeing where I would be in my career. It was a bit of a funny time around 2006.
J Steadman: Oh yeah, that was a very funny time.
Susannah St-Ger...: Yeah. And did what I never really thought I would do and I dropped out of my masters. I took a leap and ended up temping around Boston. I was living in Boston at the time and had this random opportunity to go work at an orchestra in Colorado for the summer and be their fundraising intern. And I took that opportunity and I moved out to Colorado for three months and was doing fundraising, which as it turns out involved working with a database, which I ended up absolutely loving to do. I was entering records for gifts and people that attended events and things like that in a software system called, I'll have to remember, I think it was eTapestry. It wasn't Salesforce, but-
J Steadman: It sounds great.
Susannah St-Ger...: Yeah. I'm not sure that it's around anymore. But just the concept of learning about a new piece of technology and working with it and entering data and running reports was just something that I loved. And fast forward quite a bit, I loved it so much that when I went back to Boston I decided that I wanted to get a job in fundraising because I enjoyed my internship experience so much, and worked at an organization called the Celebrity Series of Boston. It's an organization that puts on concerts in really famous halls, like Symphony Hall in Boston. And there, I ended up also working with a database, still not Salesforce, but we did database migration. And I was the lead of that in addition to doing my fundraising work. Wearing my fundraising hat, holding it on one hand, and then on my other hand I had my database hat.
J Steadman: So I'm laughing there, and I've got some questions about the stuff that we've covered previous to this, but I'm laughing because I think it's an experience that we've all had. I think it's funny to hear that. You take the new role, you're stoked about the new role, you're diving into it and it is just totally wrong. So how did you know it was wrong? And what was wrong about it for you?
Susannah St-Ger...: Well, I knew it was wrong, so I was at my desk and they were like, "Here's your one report. Here's the report that you get on all of the prospects that you need to work with." And I said, "Oh, well, I'd love to know how I can customize this report and how I can put filters on it or get a different view." And the answer was, "You don't, you're not responsible for that. You're supposed to just take the report and go out and raise money." And at that moment, I was like, well, I want to know how this report works. I want to be able to customize it. I'm more interested in figuring that out than necessarily being on the front lines and talking to people and doing all of that work.
J Steadman: So what you're talking about, I think, is an experience that most of us as admins we're really to trying to avoid. I'd actually argue that like all of us as admins, very rarely do we want to [styne] anyone's curiosity about the thing that they're trying to explore. Of course there are things like compliance or DevOps procedures or whatever that we might have to follow. Our backlog the amount of time that we've got in a day, those are limitations that can offset what we're able to deliver to people. But rarely do we want to be in a position where we're desiring to say no to someone especially if it sounds like you were the kind of user that was really the reason you were interested in slicing and dicing that data was because you wanted to ask questions of it. You wanted to gain insights from it, so that presumably you'd be more effective in your job as that gift officer.
Susannah St-Ger...: Exactly. Yeah. So I had a lovely experience of having to cobble together multiple Excel spreadsheets because I couldn't get what I wanted out of, again, still not using Salesforce yet, but the database that we were using. And I was like, this is not okay. I want to know how to solve this problem. And it's because of that reason that I made the choice to go and try and find another job that was focused more in operations. I was like, well, maybe I'm not in this frontline fundraiser role. Maybe I want to find a role in development, what's called development operations.
J Steadman: This is fantastic. And I have to interject because I'm too excited not to, my apologies. I think you who have just given me the most perfect layup. In terms of the kind of content that we talk about in this podcast, or that I've been particularly interested in exploring with our guests most recently, there's this conversation about skills. How skills apply to technical roles or roles that we call technical and how we can have a conversation with folks about this is where I came from and here is how the skills that I developed being a violist, working in fundraising as an intern, being the gift officer and all of the skills that I'm talking to you about, this is how they'll apply to the role that I am looking for right now. And having that conversation when it might not be on the job description.
Susannah St-Ger...: Exactly.
J Steadman: It's very rare that you have a viola that's playing the melody. And for those of you that are just totally not into dissecting music, totally respect that melody is that thing that we all listen along to. It is the lead line of music. It's what people are singing. That's typically the melody.
Susannah St-Ger...: 100%. Exactly. I've never thought of it that way.
J Steadman: Yeah. So first, I think that that is super fantastic. Second, I think the thing that is really interesting to me is, like our conversation with Stephan, you had this opportunity of a system migration to really push you to a decision point of how you wanted to interact with systems. Then it led you to this place where you got a report and you were in charge of soliciting some gifts and you realized that you were constrained. So this idea of harmony as your experience as an end user, suddenly there is no harmony. You're given the sheet music, play exactly what's written here, there are no other parts, it can't be changed in any way and have fun. And that's where it seems like you drew back a little bit and you said, well, okay, I need to make my own solution, which creates what I think is something that many admins deal with on a regular basis, which is a shadow application or shadow IT.
Susannah St-Ger...: 100%.
J Steadman: And from working in that way, you have then decided, you know what? This sucks. Pardon my lack of a more elegant way to say it. Let me see if I can have a broader impact and strengthen this experience. I don't want other people to have this kind of limited experience where they become frustrated with the system and are driven out of it. Let me start to get into developer operations at Citizen School. So everything kind of came together for me there. I know I just shouted everything out, but that really seems like your experience.
Susannah St-Ger...: It has been, it absolutely has been my experience. And I got that role where I could affect change, where I could actually make those reports that people wanted. And I was able to do that because we were using Salesforce. And it brought that experience of not getting the type of customer service that I wanted to get, not getting the data that I needed. I remembered that experience and was able to provide a better experience to my colleagues in this new role that I was working in and also happened to be using Salesforce. And it was at Citizen Schools where I got my admin certification. I fell in love with Salesforce. I dove into the deep end and I'll fast forward a little bit. I worked there for a number of years and got a couple more certifications, went to my first Dreamforce while I was there and that completely blew my mind
J Steadman: For context. What year was that? Do you remember?
Susannah St-Ger...: This was 2010.
J Steadman: Yeah.
Susannah St-Ger...: Yeah. So a while ago.
J Steadman: A while ago.
Susannah St-Ger...: A while ago.
J Steadman: Pre... No, it was post-Trailhead, but not by much.
Susannah St-Ger...: It was pre-Trailhead, actually.
J Steadman: No. Yeah, you're right. It is pre-Trailhead.
Susannah St-Ger...: Pre-Trailhead. We had the workbooks. So when I studied for different things, there was on how to build a dashboard and the laminated cheat sheets on yep. Limits and things like that. But it was a great time. I was able to learn a lot. As I mentioned, I absolutely fell in love with Salesforce. And over the years, decided that I wanted to learn a little bit more about the development side of the house. So at that time that was learning more about visualforce and things like that. I just missed S controls. I didn't have the joy.
J Steadman: Dodged a bullet there.
Susannah St-Ger...: Yeah. The joy of learning that. But I-
J Steadman: If I could pause you for a second, I'm interested. So you started to take interest in developer stuff a little bit more, what was the trigger for that or the cause for that? If there is one that you can identify.
Susannah St-Ger...: There is one and it's great. It was a trigger actually. So I was working in a relatively, I don't know, a midsize nonprofit. We had one developer in house and there was this trigger on our opportunity object that was doing things that I didn't want it to do. And I didn't want to have to rely on our one developer who was stretched too thin. I wanted to understand how it worked and I wanted to understand how to make the logic work for me. So that was definitely my impetus to learn more about Apex in particular and then also visualforce, just because I knew that it was a thing that existed and I was curious.
J Steadman: Yeah. So one thing that I've heard in common from the conversation with Stephan and in the conversation here with you, and I think is also a big frequent point of conversation is, I'm out there talking with admins in our community, this idea of understanding how things work and curiosity. And the reason that I'm highlighting this learner's mindset is because I find it valuable to and how Salesforce professionals can work with one another across roles. And to understand that devs like Stephan, architects, like yourself Susannah, admins like me and so many others, that we share a curiosity to understand how things work. And often when things aren't happening, for example, you weren't able to get the changes that you wanted out of the trigger. You called out the developer was stretch too thin. And Stephan also had a similar conversation.
Susannah St-Ger...: Absolutely. And my curiosity in learning more about development led me to participate in a wonderful organization called RAD Women Code.
J Steadman: Yes.
Susannah St-Ger...: Yeah. You've heard of them before?
J Steadman: Yes, I have. Why don't you give us, if you had to give a 30 second pitch to someone out in the audience who hasn't heard of RAD Women Code, how would you pitch it?
Susannah St-Ger...: I would pitch it as RAD Women is the bridge between being a really great admin and being able to consume and take things away from the developer documentation. Because there's a big gap there in being great at customization and being able to read and teach yourself how to code. So RAD Women makes women in the ecosystem who know how to config really well, it takes them and makes them code literate, I would say, so that they can read code and they can work better with their developers, sort of the challenge that I had. And they do that through a 10 week program that's free and is led by two wonderful coaches in the ecosystem. And it really, again, just bridges that gap. That would be my elevator pitch.
J Steadman: I love that pitch. And focusing on this idea of literacy and in increasing your communication skills across roles, again admins, I've talked to you for a while now about this idea of how we communicate with one another and great to know that this is a resource that exists. RAD Women are out there, you can find them on Twitter. We'll make sure that we throw a link to RAD Women as well in the podcast notes, just so if anyone's interested and wants to know more, you can check it out.
Susannah St-Ger...: Absolutely. So I participated in this wonderful program and around the same time I took a solo admin role at a larger organization, which is an interesting move.
J Steadman: Yeah, that's an interesting setup.
Susannah St-Ger...: Yep. It was an admineloper, now we have that lingo, we didn't at the time. But I was their sole Salesforce resource. It was for a larger nonprofit. And I took it because I was interested in the area that the nonprofit was working. It was in global health and public health arena. So again another fork in the road, it was at that role where I realized I'm still doing fundraising stuff 60%, if not 70% of my time. And I'm only spending 30% or 40% of my time on Salesforce. And I would see the people that worked in the IT department at my company and I would think I really want to work in IT I think. There's something missing. I don't want to be doing this fundraising work anymore. I want to be in Salesforce 100% of my time.
J Steadman: Yeah. I need to interject a little bit here, I suddenly became it again and you'll have to pardon me. So, sometimes we get into conversations about language here, language is really important to me. And dear listener, you may have listened to a previous conversation with Renee and I as we talked about shifting our thinking from the word problem to the word challenge. I love that you brought up your background and this is something that I talk a lot about as well, because I've got what I call an untraditional background, an unusual background. I come from acting and music and what have you. And when you described your background, you said you have this weird background.
Susannah St-Ger...: 100%. And it's been asking for what I want, without necessarily feeling like I have to know 100% that I'm right. Knowing that you can try something like I did in my individual gift officer job. And it's okay if you try it and you realize you don't like it, because then you realize more about what you do enjoy. And I think that carries over nicely into, I promise we're going to get to my architect background in just a second, that leads me to again asking for what I think I want. And that's what I did in my new role when I arrived at Boston Scientific. It was, again, my first for-profit role in an IT department, I never worked in an IT department before.
J Steadman: I have to pause you there please. I think you've talked on something or you've brought up a topic that I think is really important and is probably vital to this specific experience that you've brought up, which is when you joined the organization, first, you sat down and you had a really transparent conversation with your manager about what your career could progress into. You were very specific about choosing which path was most appealing to you. And then it sounds to me like you moved to achieve what you needed to achieve to get the promotions to lead you to your goal. Right?
Susannah St-Ger...: Exactly.
J Steadman: But beyond that, when you took a chance at something and your desired outcome didn't occur, you mentioned in passing that you had a group of people around you that really cared about you and your growth goals, that understood that there might be places that you could develop a little bit further to achieve those goals.
Susannah St-Ger...: 100%. And one of my personal rules for myself now, having been in the job market for quite some time, is I won't go and pursue a role or accept a role unless I have talked to someone who works there to talk about that culture piece. Because like you said J, that's so important. Other than knowing who your manager's going to be is also an important piece. But just knowing the company culture is absolutely vital to, like you said, being set up for success. Because even if you do the best work of your life, if you're at an organization that doesn't appreciate you, or isn't going to lift you up, you're you're going to have a bit of a hard time. So 100% agree.
J Steadman: To your point, culture is not only the ads that you'll see about working at a company or the employee experience website that you could see for some larger companies. Culture can shift from team to team. And so to your point Susannah, actually having a conversation with people that are doing your role that are on or adjacent to the team that you're hoping to join and really hearing about that microculture and seeing whether or not it lives up to your expectations or your needs. I think that needs is probably the best word here. We all have a need. There's a certain kind of culture that we all crave or that we all hope to work in, that we need to thrive. And this is a great tip. I appreciate you reviewing that idea with us.
Susannah St-Ger...: Of course. And that's how I ended up becoming an architect. That was my first role as an architect. And I was, again, lucky enough to be working on a team where I had some senior folks that I could learn from. It was around the time of the first Trailhead architect boot camps that existed around TDX. So I was able to do some skilling up there and really the rest is a bit of history. I have now, what, something like 23 certifications. Worked as a customer architect and worked at an ISV as an architect as well. And now I'm here in Salesforce working as an evangelist.
J Steadman: And important to highlight this idea that you've had, to me... I'm drawing all of these parallels. I've got the thread and the board with the thumb tacks and the map, I'm drawing all-
Susannah St-Ger...: The string.
J Steadman: Yeah, all the string. That constraint that you experienced as an end user with a report. As you transition from being a Salesforce architect customer into becoming a part of the architect relations team, the ability to impact your end users presumably has increased. Now what you're doing is you're trying to identify other people who have that similar curiosity that you have toward system design, application design, and the entire landscape of how an enterprise might structure things. You want to make sure that people that are doing that job don't feel constrained like you did as the end user. At least in our limited conversation here, that's how it seems to me.
Susannah St-Ger...: Absolutely. So I want to make sure that the folks who are helping define the architectures and the structures that will allow people to make good reports, that those people have the resources and the tools and the knowledge that they need to do their job well. And that's something that I'm incredibly passionate about. And to your point, I think it does probably tie back to that that bad experience that I had. I want to make sure that no one feels like they don't have the tools that they need to do their job, especially as an architect or as an admin or as a developer.
J Steadman: Yeah. I think that this is a wonderful place for us to conclude the conversation. I think my final thought on this idea of making sure that people don't feel limited. To me, when I look at your story, I see it just... Are you familiar with the Grinch Who Stole Christmas?
Susannah St-Ger...: I am. Yes.
J Steadman: So I'm not saying you're the Grinch in any way, but at the end, the Grinch's heart is very tiny and then it grows a bunch of sizes. I feel the same way about your curiosity and your interest in freeing people from walls. It started at the size that it was at, and over the course of your career it has grown and grown. And it has brought you broader and broader vision. From a report, to an application, to the entire system, to how are we structuring the architecture for a company. So you've got this curiosity and this interest in removing barriers of entry to people that has just gotten larger and larger. You are not a Grinch, but you have growing curiosity, like the Grinch had a growing heart.
Susannah St-Ger...: I love it.
J Steadman: Cool. Well, thank you so much Susannah St-Germain, lead evangelist of architect relations here at Salesforce for joining us today. This has been a fantastic conversation and I hope to have you back again soon. I had some other are questions that I'd really love to get your perspective on.
Susannah St-Ger...: Anytime. Thank you, J.
J Steadman: If you want to learn more about all things Salesforce admin, go to admin.salesforce.com to find more resources, including all the links we mentioned in this episode, as well as a full transcript. You can stay up to date with us on social, we are @SalesforceAdmns, no I, on Twitter. I am @J__mdt and Susannah is @sunnydalelow. Stay safe, stay awesome, and stay tuned for the next episode. We'll see you in the cloud.
Direct download: On_Becoming_an_Architect_with_Susannah_St-Germain.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:00am PDT