7 Things I’ve Learnt From 7 Years At Salesforce

Yesterday marked my 7 year anniversary at Salesforce.com. Seemingly overnight the small(ish) company I joined where I knew everyone has grown to nearly 20,000 people worldwide, raising their own buildings, and on its way to being a $10b company! How did this happen? Is it a good thing? I’d never had much of a desire to work for a big company. But somehow it grew around me.

Over the years, I’ve worked for 4-person startups sharing a desk held up with bricks on permanent loan from the construction site down the road, had a company been acquired by Deloitte, and now work for one of the largest software companies in the world. I’ve always said, I join companies for two things: the technology and the culture. When these change, and no longer align with what I think is important, then I know it’s time to leave.

I took a sip of my coffee and pondered an interesting thought. Many of us worry about down-sizing; I don’t — I worry about up-sizing, where technology and culture change so much that I no longer feel like I belong with the company, and we are no longer aligned in goals or desires.

But does the size of company alone dictate belonging and alignment? I asked myself,

During my 7 years at Salesforce.com, what other things I have learnt about myself, and working in fast-paced Silicon Valley tech companies?

Year 1: There Is No Javac

I came from a primarily Java and Ruby background. My first job at Salesforce was in the consulting group building apps for customers. To me, the logical place to start building apps was install the equivalent of the javac compiler and get going. I remember spending hours trying to work out where and how to write code for Salesforce until I discovered it was all in the cloud.

Many companies preach Cloud computing, but don’t live it every day. Salesforce does and it deeply effects every decision we make. It is part of the culture and a big reason that I joined. Don’t be afraid of the future, or the unknown. Embrace it.

Year 2: Believe In The Mission

Both culture and technology are directly related to the mission of a company. In order to be productive, happy, and satisfied you need to holistically believe in the mission of the company. I’m not the sort of person who takes a job simply for the pay check.

I need to believe in the mission.

Salesforce’s mission is about making our customers successful. Every day I keep this mission in the front of my mind whenever I respond to an email, a tweet, or any interaction I have on behalf of the company. Doing so changes how I respond. My mission is to make every customer successful.

Over the years I’ve seen so many examples of where this mindset influences even the smallest interaction. It’s part of the culture. It’s a huge reason while I continue to work at Salesforce. When the time does come that I change company, I will take this fanatical focus for making customers successful with me. It influences everything.

Year 3: Change Is Good

If you don’t like change, don’t work for Salesforce — any other fast paced tech company. Over the years at Salesforce I have lost count how many desks I have had, how many organizational changes I’ve seen, and new products we’ve released.

I thrive on change. I get bored easily. I’ve learnt to not get too attached on what you are doing, but keep the mission and fundamental technology in mind. For example, if Salesforce suddenly decided to shift to on-premises, I would leave the next day. I believe Cloud computing is the right direction, but what language you use to build apps is going to change constantly. That’s why I love tech. A year ago, Swift didn’t even exist. Now that’s my primary language.

Year 4: The Rest Of The World Isn’t Like Silicon Valley

I’ve worked for Silicon Valley product companies for many years. It’s so easy to get in the mindset that the rest of the world is just like the Bay Area: good salaries, acccess to the latest devices, ubiquitos internet access (that typically comes with craft coffee, of course), and a constant trend to towards the next big thing. My iPad2 has been relegated to a TV remote control for goodness sake!

The misconception about tech bubbles is that it’s solely an economic phenomena.

I’ve got news for you — it’s not. The organic tech bubble is the one associated with where we live. After a while it warps your sense of reality; You assume that everywhere is like Silicon Valley. It’s not. We laugh at shows like HBO’s Silicon Valley because it hits really, really close to home. Unless you get out of the bubble, you never realize this and the way that you approach apps, products and development suffer. Do something to get out of the bubble.

Year 5: Give Back

I’ve done many things I’m proud of during my time at Salesforce, but once I started to recognize the impact of the organic tech bubble I looked for opportunities to give back to the community. Thankfully this culture of community service is intrinsic to the culture of Salesforce.

I began working with the Salesforce Foundation and helping non-profit customers in Africa with their apps and mobile strategies. As soon as I stepped foot on African soil the tech bubble for me well and truly burst. Here I was talking with communities where iPhone’s were 3 month’s salary, yet they had mobile payment systems that dwarfed the per capita usage of America — all via a $20 flip phone. Mobile and connectivity was a utility service and a basic necessity.

My time working in emerging nations has fundamentally influenced how I design,build, and target app development and the people that use them.

Year 6: Don’t Wait Till You Leave To Do What You Love

I will admit that year 6 at Salesforce was really a time of introspection for me. I considered leaving, and entertained other opportunities at local tech companies. My experiences in Africa had a very profound impact on not just my work life, but also my personal life. I felt I needed to make to make some changes.

I came to the realization that too many people separate what is important in their personal lives and what motivates them in their professional lives.

Could a company the size of Salesforce support what I love to do: create apps and products, and a vibrant developer community. My conclusion was that it’s up to me to work on what I love. If the culture of a company doesn’t support such opportunities, then that is a huge red flag. As the old saying goes You can adjust the sail, not the wind. If the wind is blowing in the wrong direction, get off the ship.

Once again, technology and culture is fundamentally important to me. Salesforce has been completely supportive of my desires to focus on mobile and apple development connecting to Salesforce.

Year 7: Constant Course Corrections

After year 6, and some introspection, I was working on what I love. But things are not static. In order to be satisfied in what you work on, you need to make constant course corrections based on your goals. As companies grow, agility and the ability to make constant course correction can become difficult.

Year 7 I spent a lot of my time doing small course corrections to adjust with changing company and organizational goals and ensuring that what I love to do is aligned. The benefit of a large company is that, in the most, you can choose the technology you want to work on. My constant course corrections allowed me to stay true to what is important to me.

The Year Ahead: Build Cool Shit

Who knows what the year(s) hold. What I do know is that after 7 years at Salesforce, and for my entire life, I have always thrived on creativity. I often refer to myself as an accidental engineer. I was an arts major at school. Charcol was my medium of choice (and truth be told, spraypaint out side of school hours.). When I discovered that I could use code to create things (my first coding job was to build the prototype for the LookSmart search engine back in 1995 when we called it HomeBase. And ironically enough, also when I first encounted what VC money can do to company culture when the leadership doesn’t have a mission focused on customer success.), I was instantly hooked.

Creating things is what I love. Basically, I like to build cool shit.

It’s not just apps though. It’s developer communities and ecosystems. While I love building apps, most notabl iOS apps these days, technology is just an enabler. This desire to create communities, to create connections between products, brands, and people has led me to adjust how I approach Salesforce development differently. Instead of writing on the platform, I see the bigger opportunity is build to apps connected to the platform.

It all comes back to the mission. From day one, I have believed in the mission that the customer comes first. Treating Salesforce as a backend to all types of businesses, all types of markets (like emerging nations), and all types of people, means that customer doesn’t need to know about the technology, and maybe has never heard of cloud computing. It doesn’t matter. What matters is the fundamental importance of being connected.

And I want to continue to create these apps, products, and communities, that connect people everywhere. That’s my mission.

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