Transferable Skills for Every #AwesomeAdmin

In this article Sarah Pilzer, marine biologist turned Salesforce Admin, discusses 6 key transferable skills that helped her begin her career in the ecosystem and become an #AwesomeAdmin.

In my previous career, I studied fish sounds as a marine biologist. And you know what I found? Fish have a lot to say about what it takes to be a Salesforce Administrator. Wait, what?! Do fish even make sounds? Well, okay, maybe it wasn’t exactly the fish talking (though I did write a whole thesis about the “languages” of different species). But it turns out that many of the skills I learned as a scientist are similar to those I use now as a Salesforce Admin. If I can go from saltwater to System Administrator, then one thing is obvious: It doesn’t matter what your education or career background is — there are always transferable skills that you can apply to be an #AwesomeAdmin.

These are the six skills I learned as a marine biologist that helped me break into the Salesforce world and become a Salesforce Admin.

1. Ask questions

Any good experiment starts with a question. More than anything else, scientists are curious about how the world works — and Salesforce Admins should be curious about how their end users work.

Conducting interviews with the people who are going to use Salesforce in your organization is a great way to find out more about how they do their work, so that you can build the objects, pages, and automations they need. It’s important to ask enough questions to get past the “how” of a task to the “why”, because the answers may give you insight on how to streamline a currently less-than-efficient process.

2. Define your methods

Scientists have to decide precisely how they’re going to measure the variables in their experiments. Luckily, there are a lot of tools they can use, from microscopes to infrared mass spectrometers. The important part is knowing which tools will get the job done and give you results you can use.

The same goes for building in Salesforce. There are many options, especially when it comes to automation, so it’s important to understand how each tool works in order to choose wisely. For example, a validation rule is great for ensuring good data quality when entering a record but it won’t help if you need to automatically create a related record depending on what was entered (you would want Process Builder or Flow for that scenario!). Knowing what tools are available to you as an admin will help you define the methods you’ll use to achieve your business use cases.

3. Test with an experiment

Sometimes, you’ll have to try many different solutions to find the one that works for you and your organization. It’s best to do this kind of experimentation in a Sandbox environment so you can isolate the variables for trial and tweak the process as needed, without worrying about losing business-critical data.

Approaching the design process with an experimental mindset removes the pressure to get everything right on the first try. Plus, if you take advantage of the different Sandbox types, you’ll have separate spaces to run multiple experiments at once. I often have two or three Developer Sandboxes active at a time to try out different methods to determine which tactic works best for a situation.

Another important piece of experimentation is reproducibility. So, after I’m confident with a new feature in a Developer Sandbox, I migrate it to a Partial or Full Sandbox to see if I can repeat the results in the new environment. Only once it has been fully vetted and tested will I deploy to Production.

4. Analyze your data

Collecting data without a plan to analyze and interpret that data would be lazy science. Similarly, it doesn’t do anyone any good to have a CRM if you can’t make sense of the information you’re capturing. When designing your data model, keep in mind how that will affect your reports and dashboards. A Contacts with Opportunities report is NOT the same thing as an Opportunities with Contacts report.

As a scientist, I was always very careful to understand the limitations of my methods and data — and the same goes for business analysis with Salesforce. The more intimately you understand the underlying data structure, the better you’ll be able to explain the trends you see in year-over-year reports or other analyses. You are the expert when it comes to the relationships between objects and records, so make sure your voice is heard by building reports that accurately represent the data driving any decisions.

5. Read the literature

The world of academic science relies heavily on scholarly journals to keep everyone informed and up to date on the latest discoveries and newest techniques. Science is all about understanding and building on what came before, and the same is absolutely true when it comes to being a Salesforce Admin.

Following blogs, Twitter accounts, and other published Salesforce content is how I stay current on new features and best practices that will benefit my organization. I’ll admit that I don’t always read every word of each season’s release notes, but I always make sure to tune in for the Release Readiness videos and webinars so that I don’t miss an important development or announcement.

If the Trailblazer Community is the equivalent of journal publications, then surely Trailhead is the trusty textbook for teaching the basics and beyond about everything you need to know when it comes to administering Salesforce. I regularly referenced my “Introduction to Statistics” textbook throughout my science career and am similarly glad to have Trailhead at hand whenever I need to answer the question, “How do I do ‘X’ in Salesforce?”

6. Manage your time

The hardest lesson for me in academia was learning to set my own deadlines. Research has a way of expanding to take up as much time as you will let it, but, as previously discussed, it’s important to eventually shift your focus from collecting data to publishing data.

The ability to accurately estimate how long a project will take is invaluable when it comes to planning out a Salesforce implementation. In graduate school, I developed the habit of writing down exactly how long I worked on each thesis-related task. Not only was I curious to see how I spent my time but I also wanted to quantify the progress I was making toward my goal. At the time I didn’t know about Salesforce, so I built myself a spreadsheet. Were I to do it again, I might very well use a custom object or one of the many available task manager apps to keep myself organized.

The particular system you choose doesn’t matter as much as having a system in place to follow to get the job done. Keeping a “time diary” helped me better understand my own work patterns, which allows me to better plan out future projects. The skill of setting a realistic deadline will definitely come in handy, no matter what field you choose to pursue.

Parting thoughts

The conclusion in a scientific paper attempts to answer the question, “So what?” In this case, I think the answer is pretty clear. So what if you’re not a computer science major or a technical whiz-kid? Chances are that whatever you’ve done thus far in your career, you’re already equipped with transferable skills that will make you a special and awesome Salesforce Admin.


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