Chris Williams, Senior Director of Software Engineering at Salesforce shares his path to senior director, software engineering and tips to continue growing in your tech career.
Chris’ Salesforce journey began with the acquisition of Jigsaw, which was a leader in crowd-sourced data services. Being acquired 10 years ago, when Salesforce was only 11 years old and rapidly growing, turned out to be very beneficial for him. There are times when merging with a larger company could be daunting, but Chris was thankful for the intentional and inclusive culture Salesforce provided. Beginning with the onboarding team, he saw that Salesforce really cared about integrating the two cultures and that people wanted to see him be successful at Salesforce.
Acquisitions are an opportunity for both companies to learn from each other. It was important to understand the strengths each company brought, and how the cultures mixed together. Chris saw that Salesforce had great career paths laid out for both individual contributors and people leaders, and there was a feeling of encouragement and room for growth. Part of his career success came from staying open-minded and learning from others.
Technology and Teamwork
“Everything we do requires teamwork,” says Chris. “Being able to have that team mentality is super important, not only in football, but in the professional world.” Chris understood this early while playing and coaching football. “If one person on the field isn’t doing their job, it will affect the whole team. The same goes for in the workplace.” Salesforce has always encouraged working collaboratively. It’s even more important now that everyone is remote as it requires new skills to build those relationships virtually. Having that team mentality can only increase success, and Chris continues to partner with and learn from his colleagues.
It’s Okay to Fail
In any journey that you have, you must be willing to take chances. Chris realized that Salesforce was supportive of him taking risks and stretching himself with different projects, so he was always looking for new opportunities. He was inspired to try things outside of his comfort zone and felt supported by his managers. If someone is there and they are offering you the opportunity, Chris says, “Run with that. Taking chances at Salesforce is encouraged, and it is healthy. It’s an opportunity to see what you are good at, and figure out if it’s the right path.”
Chris was definitely a little hesitant to take the jump into his role leading the Verticals Industries team within Software Engineering, but leadership trusted Chris to build this new team. He was uncertain at first, but Chris knew that he could take this risk, with the support of his managers. Chris notes, “One of the great things about Salesforce is that they create a culture where it’s ok to be vulnerable and make mistakes and learn from it.” He took that risk almost five years ago and has not looked back since.
There’s No Template for Managing People
At one point Chris was managing 20 direct reports. He was new to building the Verticals Industries team and had to balance his day-to-day work with being a manager. Below are some suggestions of things Chris has learned throughout his journey.
- Have Empathy: Get to know your team, understand their needs and what they need from you. If it’s just being there to listen, then listen. Professionally or personally, having empathy is an important skill. Being transparent and open with your team can create an environment filled with trust, which both employees and managers can appreciate.
- Be Flexible: What might work for 80% of the team may not work for 20% of the team, and having the ability to be open to that can be challenging for first-time managers. Chris notes that, “Being flexible is important. Managers are there as a friend, but also as a guide.” And it’s important to understand where you may be able to adjust a management style to help out your team.
- Learn from Others: Keep an eye out for people who are doing something well that you struggle with. Reach out to them for advice or look into training. Everyone has different personalities and learning styles, and there isn’t one right way to be a manager. Being open and receptive to feedback from your team and others in your life will help make an impact.
Chris has spent 10 years at Salesforce and each day continues to set new goals for himself and his team. Chris notes, “Don’t be afraid to take on new challenges. Take control of your own career, and make sure you are asking for those opportunities if they are not originally presented to you.” Chris has gotten to where he is in his career today by taking calculated risks, understanding it’s okay to fail, and having managers who are waiting to see him succeed.
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