General Trailhead

That one time I got to tell my Trailblazer story at Dreamforce

So hi, I’m Kristi Brown and I’m gonna tell you my story. It’s a story about learning and reinvention. Opening new doors for yourself, and taking time to concentrate on your goals. So let’s look at who I am right now.

I was so fortunate to be able to tell my story at Dreamforce ’19, and I might have some bias, but I think it’s worth recapping! This is what I got to present in the Einstein Analytics area with butterflies in my stomach and my besties cheering me on from the beanbag chairs. Plus, I think I should win an award for the most Astros in one presentation!

So hi, I’m Kristi Brown and I’m gonna tell you my story. It’s a story about learning and reinvention. Opening new doors for yourself, and taking time to concentrate on your goals. So let’s look at who I am right now.

I’m a Salesforce Architect at Altium – a software developer specializing in PCB Design. I’m 4 times Salesforce certified and an Analytics Champion. I’m also a Lightning Champion! I mentor other Trailblazers, write a Salesforce fan blog, and am a Trailhead Ranger 3 times over. This year, I’m delivering 4 sessions at Dreamforce, one of the biggest (if not the largest) tech conferences in the world.  And I’m on a CTA Journey – that is the long road to becoming a Certified Technical Architect.

Let’s go back to the year 2006. I’m a single mom with a toddler working as the house manager of a movie theatre and putting myself through college. I’m doing some really cool stuff – like I developed a whole new inventory system, nearly completely automating what used to take hours every night. And I got free movies – so that was cool. BUT I’m working until 2am every morning. And working so many and so many weird hours makes it really hard to spend time with this sweet girl or even to make time for things like finishing school.  

I need a change. So I do something pretty crazy… I quit my job and I sign up for a term of service with Americorps.

If you don’t know what AmeriCorps is, please check it out – its a network of national service programs that are devoted to fostering civic engagement. You commit to a year of addressing critical needs in the community like mentoring youth, fighting poverty, increasing academic achievement and so on. So this is a big change, but good for me. I’ve spent the last few years climbing a corporate ladder of an entertainment industry I don’t really care about, and by this point in my college career – I’ve changed my major at least 6 times. So I get “stationed” with the Girl Scouts of Southern Arizona. 

And I go above and Beyond! I log over 2,000 hours during my term of service.

If you’re familiar with how non profits run, you’ll know that everyone wears a lot of hats, and this was no different for me. When I started with the Girl Scouts, I was helping to run after school programming for at-risk youth.

I was soon also helping with graphic design. 

And then I was helping write for the website.

I even become a certified lifeguard so that I can teach girls canoeing and take them on awesome adventures! 

At the end of my year of service, they hired me full time and I continued on my path, learning to wear more and more hats. 

Fast forward about 7 years, and I’m running service learning programs for teen girls – helping them connect to the world and take action on things that matter to them and their communities. I’m also pretty much running the marketing department – introducing marketing automation tools, and still working on that darn website. I also get to do really amazing things like run global grant programs that take me across the pond to England. And I’m getting national attention as “Super Kristi” – your go–to gal for everything Girl Scouts. This is my dream job. I have the best mentors and this is it for me, right? But then – I meet a guy. Or rather, re-meet a guy. 

Hi, guy.

Fast forward another year and I’m leaving my dream job – now managing all of Yuma County in Arizona… to move to San Diego, following this guy that would eventually become my husband. So of course I interview for a position with the Girl Scouts in San Diego. I’m pumped to continue this journey….

but I don’t get the job. So now what?

I’ve learned to wear a bunch of different hats… I can do all these things…

Plus by now all of these things….

Throughout my story though, there’s been one thing that connected it all…. Canoeing. KIDDING – technology. I love technology. I love using technology, I love showing others how to use technology, and I’m really really good at those things. At the movie theatre, I used technology to update and automate ancient inventory practices. With the Girl Scouts, I’ve learned about web development, crm’s, marketing automation, and have been mentoring teens on how to use technology for good.  I adapt quickly and learn quickly – I’ve had lots of practice at that. Sooo…….

I apply for a position with a local developer, Lithyem,  who develops ways to automate business processes and increase efficiency. I’m working as a project manager, having prepared for this role with all of my many hats for the last 8 years. I’m pumped about being a project manager. I start studying for a PMI certificate, I’m taking on a bigger role in the company – you know, doing what I do. I even start shadowing some of our developers because I think development is super cool – I want to do that too. So, as a developer specializing in process automation and making people’s lives easier – a natural progression for the company is to get involved with Salesforce. 

We start implementing Salesforce for our customers. So I’m managing all these projects, capturing requirements and I realize that while yes, I’ve interacted with Salesforce before – actually right when I was leaving Girl Scouts, we were moving onto Salesforce – I’m thinking I really didn’t know enough to be able to do my job well.  So…. I start on Trailhead. 

And I LOVE IT. OH MY GOD how I love it. And before long, I’m not just project manager…

but I’m also designing implementations for clients.  And this was it for me. I’m in love and I want to do this full time.

Trail closed. Luckily, after I decide I want to make this change, it doesn’t take me long at all to find a company willing to take me in. You know, because EVERYONE uses Salesforce – there are always job openings. Everywhere.

Altium is a software developer as well. We design and sell software that helps engineers design printed circuit boards – which are in everything. I have nothing to do with any of that… but we run the business on Salesforce.  So, I come on board as a Business Analyst and I’m doing my thing – figuring out this really big and complicated Salesforce org – they had been using the platform for over 10 years already. 

So here I am, doing my thing… and about the second week on the job, my boss comes to me.

And she’s like hey Kristi – I want you to meet Einstein Analytics (back then it was called Wave Analytics).

“We just bought a bunch of licenses for this product” she says, – “let’s figure out what we can do with it.”

And that’s kind of been my life for the last 4 years – figuring out what we can do with Einstein Analytics, pushing boundaries, and becoming the expert. 

We like to joke in standup meetings. Whenever it’s my turn to give an update its always the same – I’m riding the Wave. 

And to learn this product, I’ve had to wear even more hats. I’ve had to become a data scientist. I’ve had to become a developer. I’ve had to use my project management hat. I’ve had to invent ways of doing things that didn’t exist yet. And I’m always looking forward to the next release and the latest capabilities.

Without my time with the Girl Scouts, I wouldn’t have had the skills to wear so many hats, to pivot quickly, or to believe that I could even do all of these things. So how DID I do all these things?

I already mentioned Trailhead. At one point, I was doing a badge a day. Now I have another toddler so this pace has slowed down dramatically, but I still make time for learning every day. 

Trailhead is really fun and maybe it was easier for me to get started because it’s very Girl Scout-y — earning badges for learning and connecting with people. I even print out my badges and turn them into real badges. Whenever I need to skill up on something, I always start with Trailhead. Which helped me get another hat – my Ranger hat!

I’m almost to 500, and yes, it’s a personal goal of mine to get every badge.

I was also able to get here with the generous support of the Trailblazer Community. 

If ever you have a question, there are at least 5000 people with their hands up, ready to take you under their wing and help. And this is what got me over several humps. When I had learned all I could from Trailhead and all I could from blogs and other community resources, we turned to the community and actually a partner – SpringML – to teach me even more. We bought a bunch of consulting hours but they were really more like teaching hours. I had a list of things I needed to get done, and rather than them doing it for me – we did it together. 

I had a guy, Akshay, assigned to me and we would just do video calls and talk about Analytics and work through each issue so that I learned how to solve these problems and could do it again myself the next time it came up. It was invaluable, really. I learned so much not just about bindings and writing SAQL, but how to approach different data problems and tackle them head first. 

There have always been people standing next to me and behind me, encouraging me and making it possible for me to grow. At Girl Scouts, it was Debbie Rich, the CEO. She let me explore everything that I ever became interested in, helping me grow to places that wouldn’t have otherwise been possible.

At Lithyem, the consultant I started with in San Diego, it was Michael Trezza. He hired me as a project manager, but encouraged me to be so much more. He gave me the confidence I needed to run wild in the tech industry, and helped develop my love for development and systems.

At Altium, its Jen Long and Kevin Pendleton. I think our motto is “I don’t know if this can be done, but I’m sure Kristi can figure it out.” And I usually do – because they give me the space and the resources I need to always be learning and crafting and growing. And since they believe I can do it – I do too. Find a mentor or surround yourself with people who care about your growth. 

So, with Trailhead and my mentors and the entire Salesforce Ecosystem behind me – what’s next for Kristi Brown? I mentioned I’m on my CTA Journey. 4 certifications to go and a lot of years of practice to go on this goal – but I know I’ll get there, because I believe I can.

I will continue to mentor others on not just the Salesforce platform, but in Analytics. In the 3 years that we’ve been using Einstein Analytics, our Altium Analytics team has grown from just me, to 4 people and growing. Its so fun to be able to teach them and mold them and show them all the tricks I’ve learned over the years. A little bit more self promotion – I write a blog, Force For Fun, where I blog about Salesforce and Analytics – mostly about just how much I love it and silly stuff like can I use Prediction Builder to predict if my husband will help with the dishes tonight? But I also write real things like my SAQL as a Second Language series. And of course, looking even further into the future…

damn… I want a Golden Hoodie! I wear this trailblazer hoodie nearly every day… my coworkers say I wear too much black, so I think a gold one would really lighten up my wardrobe and make me sparkle.

So, a little bit of advice, and what I hope you’ll take away from this today…

If your path seems windy, you’re still on your way. I switched trails the 4 times I told you about, and then some. I keep moving forward and I always come out on top. So if you’re feeling stuck or feeling lost… remember that there’s lots of trails out there to choose from and a lot of them will lead you to where you need to go.

The I can figure it out attitude will get you pretty far. I want to be really bold and say that most of what I’ve learned I’ve learned on my own by just picking it up and doing it. I fail and I do it again. Don’t be afraid of failure and definitely believe in yourself.

But believing in yourself isn’t enough… you need to surround yourself with people who care about your growth. I have the most amazing team. We bounce ideas off each other, we push each other, encourage risk and learning… They’re always there for me and they know I’m always there for them. Seriously, without a team of people encouraging you and believing in you – it’s hard to keep moving forward.

And if you need someone to be that person – I’ll be your person. Please, don’t be afraid to reach out. I’m one of those 5000 people with my hand up ready to take you under their wing. Or maybe you’ll take me under YOUR wing.

2 comments on “That one time I got to tell my Trailblazer story at Dreamforce

  1. Pingback: So you want to start a career in data – Force For Fun

  2. Really inspiring blog.

    Liked by 1 person

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