The latest in our Tech Leaders Q&A series, we recently spoke with Timothy Gentet-O’Brien, Technical Architect at ThirdEye.
Tim shared his insights on how to navigate the ever-evolving Salesforce ecosystem in order to gain success as a technical architect, and where the future of Salesforce integrations lie.
Third Republic (TR): Can you give me an overview of how you got into the Salesforce world?
Timothy Gentet-O’Brien (TG): Mine was a bit of a weird entrance. I was wondering as a customer service agent for Groupon on the weekends and whilst doing so I found an IT apprenticeship and discovered that they were using Salesforce, so that’s how I came across it for the first time.
After doing the internship for 6 months, the Senior Manager for the Customer Success department at Groupon told me there was a Salesforce role, and essentially told the Salesforce Manager to hire me. So that was the start of it for me!
TR: As a niche role, what advice would you give to others looking to become Technical Architects?
I’ve told loads of people to do this, and not one of them actually has; so, for me, it’s a way of gauging if someone is serious about becoming a technical architect or not.
I also think people need to stop making up excuses about the amount of work it takes to get here. If you give up a bit of your free time for a while you will genuinely move up in the world and it is worth it. Sitting there and stagnating is the worst thing you can do for your career, so stop procrastinating and get on with it!
TR: Do you think Salesforce certifications are a good way to stop yourself from stagnating?
TG: To be honest, I’ve not got a particularly great outlook on them just because of how my journey through the Salesforce world has been. Saying that, certifications are definitely good because they tell you what you need to learn, but I think they are limited in how much they can advance your knowledge or your progression.
For instance, my fiancé has five certifications and is a delivery manager in a consultancy, whilst I have two and work as a technical architect so for me it hasn’t made much difference. I think real world experience and going out and actually doing stuff is more valuable than a certification because just taking an exam doesn’t mean you know everything.
They definitely help to increase your salary and are a good hook for interviews, but past that I don’t think they have very deep value in terms of actual knowledge and capabilities, that comes from time, dedication and hard graft.
TR: With this opinion, what advice would you give to people on how to stand out that isn’t just to get a load of certifications?
TG: I’d say it’s important to show that you’re a real person and that you have real, and relevant, knowledge to the industry you are interviewing for. Don’t just brag about passing an exam; show you have real world experience by discussing how you’ve dealt with clients in various industries, and the solutions you have built.
Walk interviewers through the consulting stages of what you actually did to show them that you actually understand what knowledge, understanding, and experience you could bring to the company with you, basically show them that you are an asset they require. Doing so will demonstrate your practical knowledge of Salesforce architecture, whilst certifications will only demonstrate your theoretical knowledge.
TR: How has the Salesforce world changed during your time in it?
TG: From a personal side it’s changed drastically because, in my first company, I was working with a Salesforce platform that had six or seven users. Then I jumped to Groupon and was working on one of the largest platforms on the planet, and where they have so many strict best practices and guidelines as to how you can configure and develop the platform.
More generally speaking, I have seen the ISVs and partners make a big dent in the ecosystem. So, there’s been a transition from the ‘let’s just code it’ mind-set to there being an app on AppExchange that covers pretty much any use case. Sure, sometimes things will need tweaks but there’s been a definite shift to the ecosystem becoming more app-centric.
TR: What emerging trends are you most excited about, and why?
TG: The biggest trends I’ve noticed are mostly to do with using Salesforce reporting tools and being able to pull data from other systems. I have a feeling that they are going to do something to do with integrations into external platforms to make this easier, and I’m excited to see what they do with these new reports, and not just with Wave Analytics (something more lightweight, simple to use, and quick to configure).
I definitely think there’ll be a boom in using external data through Salesforce as the reporting platform, and I think the world is going to become more data-centric and focused on integrations and reporting.
TR: Do you think this focus is as a result of the MuleSoft acquisition?
TG: In the last few years we’ve seen Salesforce pushing a lot of their applications, and I think they’re going to tone down on this and focus more on the power of their platform, and I think that integration capabilities was something they were lacking on in order to be able to do this. So yes, I think the acquisition was a turning point for them.
It’s less so for the developers in the ecosystem, and more for the non-technical people to be able to create integrations in a simple way, and essentially work without code.
TR: How do you see Salesforce fitting into the era of digitalisation and digital transformation?
TG: I’ve been involved in quite a few digital transformation projects where we’ve implemented Salesforce, and it’s been integral to the transformation process. The industries I’ve worked within – from retailers to an aviation specialist – are all wanting to jump on the digital bandwagon, and the legacy industries in particular are wanting to go fully digital.
Everything is going digital and Salesforce is enabling everyone to go down that route. All of the Salesforce apps are allowing this to happen; think of the likes of DocuSign which transforms how businesses are utilising contracts and paperwork. I am seeing more and more industries pushing past their legacy roots and seeing how they can transform with Salesforce and they do get sucked in because of the capabilities it can offer.
TR: What challenges do Salesforce professionals need to overcome in this increasingly digital world?
TG: The biggest problem is the lack of experience and knowledge. There are a lot of people, for instance, who are going into the consulting world having worked in an end-user for 3-6 months and they start implementing and building solutions they are not fully aware of the repercussions of. Then a developer or technical architect has to reverse engineer and rebuild because of this lack of knowledge.
It’s tough because everything is changing so fast that, not only do you need Salesforce specific expertise, but you also need expertise for specific industries. This also falls to the fact that, at the moment, there is a major lack of skilled people who are able to implement Salesforce in general, including Developers and Administrators, which is also causing more of a knowledge gap due to the speed that some companies are having to bring on and train up Junior members of staff.
TR: Do you think there will constantly be this knowledge and skills gap because of the rapid rate of change?
TG: It’s a complex one because, as a consultancy, the entire reason you do business is to make money. But, if they don’t spend enough time putting the money into training and doing it properly – especially with more junior hires – then yes, there will always be a lack of knowledge and this could begin to negatively affect client interactions.
Although saying that I also constantly see new people enter the Salesforce ecosystem and skill up at super speedy rates, this all just depends on how the companies are interacting with their staff and pushing personal development alongside the actual client work.
TR: What advice would you have for professionals who want to ensure they can keep up in this ever-evolving ecosystem?
TG: This goes back to my answer to the first question, just suck it up and use some of your free time to learn more! Don’t assume you know everything because when it comes to Salesforce the ecosystem is growing so fast that I can assure you that you don’t.
Take the time to reconfirm your knowledge, re-read documentation and utilise every resource from Salesforce to ensure you can sit in front of a client and not have to use smoke and mirrors to convince them you know what you’re talking about.
For instance, I spend a few hours per month re-reading and re-confirming my knowledge, using things like the Salesforce Developer Guides on their Success website.
I didn’t get to where I am now without spending a lot of time reading, learning and learning the best practises, and when you work in an ecosystem that changes as much as this one does, you cannot forget the importance of that.
TR: With such a focus on maintaining your technical skills, do you think soft skills are secondary for success?
In my role, and in what I do, soft skills are very important. If my interpersonal skills were shocking I’d be better off being a code monkey; I need to be able to sit down and have a conversation and build a relationship with a client and speak to them on a non-technical level that they will understand, which often includes having to explain how I have built something in layman’s terms to someone who barely knows what Salesforce is.
So, for me, and for anyone else who wants to succeed as a technical architect, no soft skills are definitely not secondary!