In our most recent #SalesforceQA, we caught up with 23x certified Salesforce professional and President & CEO at LizzardTech Consulting, Melissa Shepard.
Melissa talks to us about the benefits and challenges of starting a new player in the Salesforce market. She discusses the importance of soft skills, such as communication and business aptitude and reveals her views on certifications.
Salesforce Republic (SR): To kick-off, could you tell us a bit about your background and how you got to where you are today?
Melissa Shepard (MS): My background is in software development. I have a Bachelor’s in Computer Science & Mathematics. When I graduated from college, I became a Java software engineer and later a .NET developer. When the tech bubble burst, I decided to pursue my MBA in information systems. This helped to differentiate me from a typical software engineer. I was then introduced to business systems such as ERP’s, CRM’s and system integration.
While I was working on my MBA, I was hired to help build the IT department of a company. I was responsible for customizing the ERP system using .NET, and also I was given the responsibility of customizing Salesforce without any code since it didn’t really exist yet. I recognized the need to integrate our systems and was given the opportunity to write our integration middleware using .NET & SQL server. This is when I realized that I enjoyed working with business users and automating business processes overwriting software for external use.
SR: Could you explain a little more about what it is that LizzardTech Consulting does and how you differ from other Salesforce consultancies?
MS: We focus on Salesforce architecture and development, involving architectural oversight in all phases of the project. Since I started my career in Salesforce doing architecture and development, I have found that architecture plays such an integral role in the success of projects. It also leads to higher-quality development.
I built my company using a team-based approach, as opposed to the individual contributor model. This is because I believe in synergy and collaboration. All teams always have at least one senior-level/architect level person overseeing all work even if it is just part-time. We aren’t just typical consultants, we’re passionate about what we do. My team is constantly learning and delivering high-quality projects with a high success rate. We also champion Women in Tech and female architects and are involved in many things that relate to these subjects.
SR: What are some of the benefits and challenges of starting a new player in the Salesforce market?
MS: Salesforce is such a huge ecosystem with endless possibilities and opportunities. From being a service and consulting company to developing apps for the AppExchange. There are so many global events such as Salesforce World Tours, TrailheadDX, Dreamforce, as well as all of the community-led events. And let’s not forget all the user group meetings. I myself am the group leader of Manchester NH Women in Tech and regularly speak at other user groups. I love to travel around to events, it gives me the chance to network for my business and spend time with friends across the ecosystem. Salesforce is in high demand right now so there’s a huge market and room for many players.
One of the most challenging aspects is the number of partners that have entered the ecosystem. Gaining the attention of AE’s takes a lot of work and relationship building, not to mention a lot of time. I came into this bootstrapping not taking any funding from any outside sources, which has been a huge challenge.
If I could do it over again I would ensure my personal expenses are minimal so I don’t have to worry about paying my own bills while building a business. It was definitely a challenge with two children in college when I started building up my company. That’s where I’m at for this year, so I can spend more time working on my company as opposed to working for my company. This is the advice that I’ve received from many mentors. You really need to have the time to build and nurture relationships in order to consistently bring in project work and gain new clients.
SR: What advice do you have to those looking to start their Salesforce career journey?
MS: Get as much hands-on experience as you can even if it is an internship type of role or isn’t the highest paying job out there. Certifications are not everything, but they certainly help. This is something that I have done with people and I’ve trained them to bring them along to learn along with myself and other senior people within the company. I am all about constant education, learning and getting certifications. Saying that experience is a huge must as well and something I am willing to work with people to get.
Be open to all possibilities and opportunities and figure out what it is you really like to do along the way. Some people choose the admin path, some choose the developer path, some choose a hybrid, some aspire to be a solution or technical architect. Also, find a cloud or two and features that you really love to work with and become an SME in that area because you never know, you might be speaking about it at Dreamforce one day!
SR: In your opinion, what are some of the key traits that you need in order to succeed in the world of Salesforce?
MS: I think it’s important to have some level of business aptitude, good communication skills, technical ability and willingness to collaborate. Development in the Salesforce world often takes interaction with stakeholders and isn’t just some job that you do in isolation. It is a different kind of development and is much more interactive than sitting and writing code all day. Being a team player and caring about what you produce for the client is very important. Being adaptive and staying on top of the latest features and having a willingness to learn will get you far.
SR: As a 23x Salesforce certified professional, what is your view on certifications when it comes to pursuing a career in Salesforce?
MS: As a 23x certified Salesforce professional, I’m all about certifications as it will help you understand things that you might not get through experience (however, a combination of both is necessary). Hands-on experience will help solidify what you learn through gaining the certifications. It’s a base of knowledge you can build on in order to attain higher levels of expertise. But certifications are not the be-and-end-all – they’re stepping stones on the journey. I only got my first certification in May of 2016. I relied upon my many years in Salesforce until I decided to start building my company. Having a certified professional was a requirement for becoming a Salesforce partner, so I started learning.
I kept going along with my Platform Developer certification, and two years later my Salesforce partnership became in jeopardy. I needed a second consultant certification. In order to get one of the other certifications for me to keep my partnership, I had to go get the admin certification first. A week later, I got my Sales Cloud certification to keep my partnership. After this, I decided to keep going and help us get enough points to become a silver partner. I completed one certification after another, getting my Application and System Architect along the way. We did end up becoming a silver partner in 2018.
SR: How important would you say the Salesforce community is when it comes to career advancement?
MS: It is SO important for career growth and also it is SO much fun! Get involved in the community through your local user group or at community-led events. This is something I didn’t do until very recently and wished I had discovered the community earlier on. I started reaching out once I began preparing for the CTA review board (which is still in-process) and I’ve met some amazing people who’ve become close friends.
There are so many wonderful people who will become life-long friends who you’ll meet at different events around the globe. People are also more than willing to help each other out in so many ways and support each other. I love going to events and catching up with all of my Salesforce colleagues. It’s one of my favorite things about being in this industry and something I was missing out on for years! Get on Twitter and find us all on there. It’s how we all stay in touch when we are not hanging out at events!
SR: What are some of the biggest changes you have seen throughout your time working in the Salesforce ecosystem?
MS: When I started working with Salesforce it was very limited and the whole force.com platform didn’t really exist. I was doing integration with the SOAP API and some customizations could be done with s-controls. Also, Salesforce wasn’t so widely used for a while. I’ve seen it grow exponentially in the past 10 years and the growth of the platform and capabilities is almost mind-boggling. Salesforce is always delivering new features and functionality or adding on by acquiring other companies. It’s constant learning and training for me to understand how we can help our clients leverage Salesforce technology as best as possible.
SR: One of the biggest challenges right now in Salesforce is sourcing and engaging the right talent. How do you tackle this at LizzardTech?
MS: I find people through networking, reaching out to recruiters who I have developed personal relationships with throughout my career, and engaging people that I can trust. I meet a lot of people by going to events and working on projects myself so I always keep in touch with people that I might want to bring on down the road. There are also certain things I look for when determining if someone would fit well within our team.
SR: Finally, what are your suggestions for other businesses trying to close the skills gap?
MS: Find creative ways to find and also keep talent. I know a lot of companies have trouble keeping talent once they become skilled and trained due to other companies offering more attractive compensation and opportunities. Develop a culture where your employees come first, support education and training, support people going to events, support certification. Create a place where people feel valued, can be in charge of their own careers and where people can really be happy and won’t want to leave.
If you’re a certified Salesforce professional and would like to be involved in our Q&A series, please get in touch with us today!