The Importance of Community and Why You Deserve to Find It!

Invisible Community Make VisibleI’ve been thinking a lot recently about the importance of community when you’re trying something new. I’ve always felt a little alone at work. Not that people weren’t welcoming—they certainly were. I work with some truly awesome, passionate, smart, talented and just plain nice people. The problem for me is that none of them do technology work. For them, there’s generally someone to brainstorm with, to collaborate with on a project, and to bounce ideas off. Not so much for me.

But over the past few months, this has all changed. Not because of a sudden hiring frenzy of IT workers at my agency, but because I’ve changed how I think about and work towards making the invisible IT community around me, visible. I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to make these shifts, but that’s why I’m blogging now. To show that even solo tech workers don’t have to feel alone.

First a little back story…

Project Village, pop. 1

I’ve worked for my agency, in one capacity or another, for almost 16 years; the Entering Project Village, Population 1first eight years or so, had me feeling very much like a solo tech worker. There were some other isolated tech workers, but they all did very different tasks, and because of the nature of our extreme silos, we would rarely talk. Our culture at the time had project managers fiercely guarding the time of their staff, and many people worked full time on only one multi-year project. If you worked on Project A, you were discouraged from asking time of someone from Project B. Crazy making!

Operational IT Township, pop. 2

Entering the Town of Operational IT, Population 2I then moved up in the agency, out of project work and into Operational IT Support. I was working directly under the Director of IT, which it was great. I was learning new things and working with him to build some really cool IT systems. I loved it! I finally had someone to collaborate with, who could push and mentor me, who believed in me and supported me stretching my skills. There were only two of us, but at least that was better than one! I was pretty darn happy.

Senior Leadership Borough, Pop. 1(.5)

Entering Sr. Leadership Borough, Population 1.5Fast forward a few years and there were some pretty darn sweeping changes in our agency. We hired a new, somewhat radical CEO and we suddenly had permission, even an expectation, to be disruptive, to shake things up, to challenge assumptions and turn our science-based approach back on our internal environment. The last few years have been a super-stimulating time where I’ve become more and more involved in work throughout the agency.

Out of this time of change, my boss got a massive (and well-deserved) promotion. He was pulled into reinvigorating our Solutions group. I was also promoted and was now responsible for most of the Enterprise IT and for helping drive our Digital Solutions work. Fabulous right? Totally!

But a not-so-great-for-me side effect of all this change and upward mobility, was that because my boss was pulled away, and I was focused on my own projects, we rarely had time to collaborate with each other. Where we once would once talk multiple times a day and work on multiple projects together, we now were lucky to talk once a week, and while related, our work was pretty autonomous.

It was great seeing the ongoing changes in our agency but I was feeling more and more isolated in my tech work. But change was a-coming!

Salesforce Domain, pop. over 2.5 million

Entering Domain of Salesforce, Population over 2.5 million Right before our new CEO arrived, we received a product grant from the oh-so-awesome Salesforce Foundation. What a life changer! Not only did it enable us to finally get a handle on sales process and gather meaningful metrics to drive change in our agecy, but selfishly, for the first time in almost ten years I had the chance to go to a conference. You got it! Dreamforce!

#DF12 – “OMG! Where did all these people come from?!”

To say I was overwhelmed was an understatement! I felt like I’d been dying of thirst and then found myself dumped, head first, into a freshwater lake (the clean, giardia-free kind). I was lucky I didn’t drown!

I’m almost embarrassed to admit that before my first Dreamforce, two years ago, I hadn’t even logged into my brand-new Salesforce org. I was just trying to figure out what it did! I knew that within the next year I needed to implement it (whatever “it” was) in my agency, so I grabbed as much information as I could.

I went to many fabulous sessions on being an “Awesome Admin,” and collected as many best practices for implementation as I could find. But still…I didn’t really talk to anyone. I was just so freaked out and overcome by it all. I’d do what I can only describe as drive-by-booth runs, where I’d grab literature and get away as fast as I could. I was afraid they’d ask me how my agency uses Salesforce, because I didn’t have a good answer yet. Most of the time, I couldn’t even figure out what each of the companies did, beyond “amplifying sales,” “creating seamless customer exchanges,” and perhaps, “engaging upside experiences.” Right? What the heck is that when it’s at home? I needed a decoder ring, and that, unfortunately, didn’t come with my Dreamforce bag (although the bag was darn cool!).

So I was armed to the teeth, and during the next year I successfully implemented Salesforce and Chatter within my agency. I was super lucky that Salesforce had such great playbooks on implementation. I downloaded and read them all. I held planning sessions, and used the Implementation workbook. I developed custom trainings to get educate our group and get them ready to use Salesforce.

#DF13 – “Ok, maybe I can do this!”

When the next Dreamforce rolled around, I was ready for a deeper dive. I wanted to go beyond what one could do with Salesforce, to what I should be doing with Salesforce. I spent almost all of my time up in some fabulous Hands-On Training (HOT) sessions, learning strategies for making my Salesforce org more effective, focusing mostly on Dashboards and Reports. I even got a mini taste of Apex. Of course I couldn’t do it when I got back to my office, but it peaked my interest.

I did talk to a few more people in the HOT sessions, but I still felt pretty shy. I ventured up to the DevZone where all the cool kids seemed to be hanging, but the clouds of geek testosterone were a little too much for me. To be honest, in hindsight, I think I was letting myself get intimidated; I think I just chickened out. It’s ok. It happens. Luckily Dreamforce comes around every year (I know, right!).

#DF14 – “This is MY year!”

This year’s Dreamforce, DF14, was different. Like, way different. I was determined to conquer the DevZone and learn Apex. I kept saying to myself, “This is my year to code. This is my year to code…” Secretly hoping that I could pull it off. For some reason, this year I ditched my shy gene and met some awesome people, including one woman who became my Apex buddy (“Hey Becky!!!”). We challenged ourselves to learn Apex together, THIS YEAR! I just kept asking people questions, and talking to people in lines (of which there were many!), introducing myself to women speakers and asking for their business cards (even bravely asking if I could email them if I had questions). As Becky and I were catching up, and gabbing about our plans to take on the Apex world, the woman behind us on the escalator said she would love to mentor us. She was an honest to goodness Salesforce Developer (shout out to Ayori!). DF14 was magical like that.

I went to some awesome sessions on learning Apex (@dvdkliu, you ROCK!), on how to overcome the “Impostor Syndrome,” and strategies for increasing diversity within the coding workforce. I was inspired! I was high! It was like Dev Zone was my church, and I was a Born-Again Coder!

Some of my favorite Dreamforce 2014 sessions where:

Making the Invisible, Visible

Invisible Community Make VisibleBefore DF14 was over, I had a plan. I was going to start a group for women Salesforce Awesome Admins who wanted to broaden their skills and learn to code. I knew I couldn’t do it alone; I’d tried that. I’d met more than a handful of women who were wanting to learn, and a small, but passionate number of mentors willing to help. I had some BIG plans.

Shortly after DF14 was over, but before I could chicken out, I purchased a domain and created this blog. What did I know? Not a lot! But I started using Twitter to connect with other Salesforce folks, and they have been so welcoming. People like @rockchick322004, @ThisIsNotApril, @TheChrisDurate, @Adamse, @apurkiss and more! Through them and others I found Salesforce Success Community and Power of Us Hub groups like Girly Geeks and GirlForce. It felt like there was a a whole new world out there, filled with people waiting who welcomed me. I felt like I was in high school again, only this time I wasn’t the awkward girl with glasses and braces; instead I was the one that actually got picked for the sports team, someone who got asked to dance. (Did I mention I’m a tad dramatic?)

And that’s when I realized that I’d found my peeps…that it didn’t matter how many people in my branch office or agency who truly understood what I did at work; because you did! I had this network of people around me, ready to cheer me on for all the units I finished on Trailhead. Who were thrilled when I posted some feedback (tentative though it was) that might in a very small way improve it, that sent me hand-written notes and a t-shirt to just to say “thanks” for being engaged. (Yes I’m talking to you Awesome Developer Relations folks!!!).

It has made such a huge change in my life. Now I can’t wait to tackle the next Trailhead unit, so I can brag about it on Twitter. I can’t wait to have time to write on my Blog. It’s made my work life so much happier.

What Worked for Me

So here’s what I pass on to you:

  • Get involved with the conversation
    Follow people who have interesting things to say on Twitter. Join one or more Salesforce Success Chatter groups. Find some blogs you like and read them as regularly as you can. It’s all good stuff. It feeds your geeky soul.
  • Don’t let the Impostor Syndrome voice get to you
    We all have it, believe me! But as a wise-woman once said to me, “Give that voice some milk and cookies and tell it to crayon in the corner while you do your thing and shine!” Veronica B, never a truer sentence was uttered. That meant the world to me!
  • Don’t give up
    Don’t leave the virtual room before the miracle happens. Because if you stay, and remain open, and ask questions, and are not afraid to say, “I don’t know,” then eventually it will. 
  • Take risks
    I don’t mean jumping out of a plane here…but start a blog of your own (I’d love to help you), add a comment on my or other people’s blogs, re-tweet something, say “right on!” or “that was great” to a post. That’s one sure way to get people to listen to you; show them that you really do appreciate what they’re doing. Practice on me if you want!
  • Assume you belong
    I would often not enter a conversation because I worried that I wouldn’t be welcome. Now, I try to remember that, especially if I have positive feedback, why wouldn’t they welcome me?

So, this is the longest post I’ve done yet, and the one I feel most nervous about. (Yikes! Where can I hide!) To me, though, this is important stuff. We can’t all work for technology companies with a ton of people just waiting to collaborate. Some of us are a team of one.

But, the important thing I now know is that we never have to feel like it.