Discover Your Inner Developer With Susannah St-Germain

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Today on the Salesforce Admins Podcast, we’ve got a special interview from WITness Success 2018. We have Susannah St-Germain, Technical Architect at Boston Scientific, to talk about how she made her career in a more technical area of the Salesforce ecosystem.

Join us as we talk about how to tap into your passion to make a career, what helped her get the training she needed coming from a non-technical background, and the shift in mindset you need to make for coding.

You should subscribe for the full episode, but here are a few takeaways from our conversation with Susannah St-Germain.

 From pro musician to Salesforce pro.

Today, Susannah is a Salesforce Developer and Technical Architect at Boston Scientific, but her path to getting there is unconventional, to say the least. She originally went to school for music, going for her masters in viola performance. “At some point, I think I realized that maybe I don’t necessarily see myself playing in an orchestra forever,” Susannah says, “so I decided to drop out of grad school.”

Susannah came out to Breckenridge, Colorado, to intern in the development department of an orchestra. “Little did I know at that time that that was going to be the first step on this path to where I am today,” she says. She started doing more work on the backend of nonprofits, and really enjoyed the work she did with databases to track fundraising.

“The data department would provide their frontline fundraisers with a big report that they called ‘The Beast,’” Susannah says, but she kept on obsessing over how it could be improved. “I realized I was much more interested in fixing this problem than going out and doing my fundraising work,” she says. She ended up as Director of Strategy and Operations at Citizen Schools, a nonprofit based in Boston, where they used Salesforce to track fundraising and volunteers. She got hooked on the platform and her next job was as a solo Admin and Developer.

Filling in a technical background.

As Susannah was diving into the developer side of Salesforce, she heard about a program called Rad Women Code. It’s a community-lead 10-week course for folks who are interested in learning more about coding in Salesforce. This was a gamechanger for Susannah to give her the bed of knowledge she was missing not coming from a computer science background. “It gave me the confidence and building blocks in order to better utilize tools like Trailhead and the Developer Forums,” Susannah says, letting her push her knowledge even further.

“I never would have imagined this six years before, but I ended up applying for a role in the tech department at a for-profit company,” Susannah says. “I reached out to the person on Success Community, and they immediately asked for my resume and brought me in to interview and the rest is history.”

The change in mindset you need to be a developer.

For Susannah, the biggest part of learning code and the other skills you need to be a developer comes down to mindset. “For me the hardest part, coming from being an admin,” she says, “is with coding you’re never going to do it once and have it work perfectly and not see any errors.” You need to embrace being happy when you get an error because it means you’re closer to figuring out how to get it working. “Embracing that mentality was probably the biggest shift for me,” she says, “just because I code something and it doesn’t work the first time doesn’t mean that I’m a failure, it means that I’m one step closer.”

Today at Boston Scientific, Susannah worked with their Latin American business to create a tool that allows them to route pricing approval through a special process that is different for each person. “One of my colleagues told me it used to take two weeks,” she says, “now it takes them a day.” On the other hand, there are some admin tools that Susannah is grateful to have under her belt.

“If you’re very comfortable with code and you’ve never been an admin, it’s easy to say, ‘We can do that with code, we can do anything with code,’” Susannah says, “but knowing when to use a declarative feature versus programmatic is such an important skill for developers to have. And sometimes, for admins, you can do something declaratively but you have to twist yourself in a pretzel to do it, but it takes three lines of code.”

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 Full Show Transcript

Gillian Bruce: Welcome to the Salesforce Admins podcast, where we talk about product, community, and careers to help you become a more awesome Salesforce Admin. I’m Gillian Bruce and listeners, I am featuring a very special interview for you today. This is actually an interview I recorded almost exactly a year ago at WITness Success in 2018. That is a community event that is probably happening right now, or just happened as you’re listening to this. And I sat down with Susannah St-Germain at this event.

Gillian Bruce: Now Susannah is a technical architect at Boston Scientific. She has an incredible story. Now, why haven’t I aired this until now? Well I was trying to gather some more technical career path stories about developers in the Salesforce ecosystem and this is one of the amazing interviews I was able to record. You’re going to hear a few more in the next few weeks and I wanted to surface them now cause we’re talking about careers and finding ways to develop your passion in a technical sense.

Gillian Bruce: And it may be as a Salesforce Admin, it may be as a Salesforce Developer, it may be as a Salesforce Architect. But all of these stories, really have something to share and inspire about digging into what you discover that you love learning about, the passion for helping others, the passion for solving problems, whatever that may be. So, without further ado, I’d love to welcome Susannah St-Germain to the podcast.

Gillian Bruce: Susannah, welcome to the podcast.

Susannah St-G: Thank you. Nice to be here.

Gillian Bruce: Well, it’s so fun to be here. We are actually here at WITness Success in Denver on the 30th floor, looking out on Grande Colorado. This is incredible.

Susannah St-G: It’s beautiful.

Gillian Bruce: It’s quite the view for a podcast. I’m sorry you can’t see it as you’re listening to the podcast. But anyway, we’re here at WITness Success, which is an incredible event here in Denver. And I got connected to you through Melinda Smith, one of the organizers, because I was looking for some really great developer stories and I know that’s something you’re passionate about. I’d love for you to tell us a little bit about what you do and maybe a little bit about how you got there.

Susannah St-G: Absolutely. So, currently I’m a Salesforce Developer and Technical Architect at Boston Scientific, but I have a very untraditional path that got me to where I am today.

Susannah St-G: I actually went to school, I went to undergrad for music. I played the viola. That’s what I thought I would be doing for ever and ever, when I was in high school, and even in undergrad. I went to do my master’s too, in music. So I was on that path, and at some point I think I realized that maybe I don’t necessarily see myself playing in an orchestra forever.

Susannah St-G: I was getting a little burnt out and decided actually to drop out of grad school and took a job, started working full time. I actually, funny story about Denver, I actually, quit grad school in Boston and came out to Denver for three months over the summer, to intern with an orchestra on the business side.

Gillian Bruce: Oh interesting. So you were kind of going to the back, the business side of the art, essentially, right?

Susannah St-G: Exactly. So I came out here, came to Breckenridge, Colorado, actually, and worked the summer as a development intern doing fundraising for that orchestra. And little did I know at that time that that was going to be the first step on this path to where I am today. Because I worked in fundraising that summer, I really liked it, and when I went back to Boston, decided to, I’m not going to be on the front of the house anymore, but I really like doing some of the development fundraising work.

Susannah St-G: Most of the things that I did that summer actually were working with their database that they use, not Salesforce, but applied for a job, got it, and worked in, fast forward a couple of years, worked in a number of nonprofits in fundraising and always kind of enjoyed… I enjoyed both sides, the talking with donors and also the working with the database and pulling reports and doing all of that fun stuff and-

Gillian Bruce: The fun data, nerdy things.

Susannah St-G: Oh yeah, definitely nerded out over the data stuff. And you know what, I took a really funny turn at that point, actually. I was working in fundraising and I don’t know, I had it in my head that, the next step as a fundraiser, I was a development associate. So like entry level. The next step is to go and be like a major gifts officer. So someone who is out, constantly meeting with donors, just that frontline work 100%.

Gillian Bruce: Yeah, nurturing those relationships and all that.

Susannah St-G: Right, exactly. And I, for whatever reason, I thought that that was the path that you should take and applied for a job, got it, and went to work at another organization in Boston and immediately sort of knew that that was a mistake. I had… Within a couple of weeks. So I was like, “Ah, I miss doing the data work.”

Susannah St-G: There was… The data department at the time that organization would provide their frontline fundraisers with a big report that they called, like “the beast.” And-

Gillian Bruce: There you go. Right there.

Susannah St-G: There you go, yeah. And when I asked, “Oh good, can I like get some of the columns taken out? Or like, how can we reorganize this to make it a little bit easier to use?” The answer was, “Oh, we don’t, we just give everyone this report and you can do whatever you want with it.” But that’s… And that sort of the moment where I was like, “Wait a second. I’m much more interested in fixing this problem than going out and doing my fundraising work.” So again, fast forward a little bit and I ended up applying for a job that was more operations-focused in the nonprofit world and that’s where I first started using Salesforce.

Gillian Bruce: Got it.

Susannah St-G: So I was the Director of Strategy and Operations at a nonprofit called Citizen Schools based in Boston and we were using Salesforce for our fundraising work and for our volunteer tracking. And I had the pleasure of working there for nearly four years working with Salesforce. Loved, absolutely, that was a favorite part of my job.

Gillian Bruce: That’s awesome.

Susannah St-G: Got to go to Dreamforce a couple times and was totally hooked on Salesforce and then took another role doing even more of that work. I was a solo admin and solo developer sort of at that time, just noodling around a little bit on my own in the development space. I had started doing some self study, started to figure out how to write a trigger, to build some simple things just by using the resources online at those, pre-Trailhead actually, but like the forums and the workbooks and things like that.

Susannah St-G: And right around that time I had also heard about RAD Women Code.

Gillian Bruce: Yes!

Susannah St-G: Yes.

Gillian Bruce: Amazing program.

Susannah St-G: It’s a wonderful program. It’s a community, for anyone that doesn’t know, it’s a community-led, 10 week course for folks who are interested in learning more about coding and Salesforce, learning about Apex, and it’s really targeted to people who don’t necessarily have a computer science background. So it was perfect for me at the time. I think I was the second group of women that went through that program. And that was really a huge, hugely pivotal moment for me because I’d been noodling around again, like on my own in our, in where I was a solo admin, solo dev, but I was… I didn’t have some of the basics that some people who maybe have a computer science background, they learn certain languages or know some concepts, right? Like going in.

Gillian Bruce: Yeah, you were kind of intuiting what you could and kind of-

Susannah St-G: Exactly.

Gillian Bruce: Yeah.

Susannah St-G: And the RAD Women Code program gives you that sort of base level knowledge so you can then go on, and for me, what it provided for me is it gave me the confidence and also some of just like the building blocks in order to better utilize tools like Trailhead and the developer forums, like I knew enough so I could make use of that other great information that’s out there.

Gillian Bruce: Yeah.

Susannah St-G: And, again, fast forward a little bit. Two years later I ended up applying for a role, never would have imagined this, whatever, six years before, but applying for a role in the tech department. So no longer fundraising. I was realizing like, “Oh, this is not the favorite part of my job.”

Gillian Bruce: Right, you knew the parts that you liked and this is the direction you wanted to go.

Susannah St-G: Exactly. Exactly. So I applied for a full-time role in tech at a for-profit company, sort of on a whim, I guess. I had seen this job posted on the Success community at the time, now Trailblazer community, someone looking for a BA at Boston Scientific where I work now and I reached out to the person on the community and they like immediately asked for my resume and brought me in to interview and the rest is history for me.

Gillian Bruce: That’s so cool.

Susannah St-G: Yeah, so, and at that, so again, it was like, I think the right timing because I was just getting my like good steady footing in my code work and also had this opportunity and since then it’s been just a wonderful, wonderful ride with Salesforce. It’s been incredible.

Gillian Bruce: That’s so cool. Okay. So that’s an… I love how you kind of kept kind of gravitate… Learning things you didn’t like, gravitate towards things that you like, and kind of really took the initiative to just dive in and learn the platform, like really in deep. So what was, you said when you first started using Salesforce at that first role that you were exposed to it, what was it about using Salesforce that made you like spark, made you excited?

Susannah St-G: I think for me it was the problem solving aspect of it and the fact that there’s not just one right way to do something. And I think that translates definitely to Salesforce and also to coding in general. There’s not just one way to solve a problem and even if you’ve solved the problem so that it works, so maybe you’ve built a report and it works or built a process builder and it works, there’s always ways to improve it. And that’s definitely the same way with code. Like you’re always refactoring, you’re always doing that. So I just loved that ability to solve different problems everyday and learn, frankly, learn something new every day, which is still the case with my role now.

Gillian Bruce: That’s awesome. Okay, so the… Let’s talk a little bit more about this developer side of your story. Right? So I know you talked about the RAD Women course, which is great, but even before then you were kind of diving in and doing some stuff. So I know for a lot of people who maybe are a little hesitant or like, scared about the idea of code, what are some of the things that helped you kind of either, maybe you just didn’t have that feeling, or what are the things that you first started figuring out and made you really excited?

Susannah St-G: Sure. So the first thing that I started figuring out, not in a production org of course, but I-

Gillian Bruce: Never in production.

Susannah St-G: Never in production. I would find copies of things, like again, on the forums and someone would say, “Oh, this is how you solve this problem.”

Susannah St-G: And I would take that template and start to change it and see, what changes can I make and how will that change what it does in Salesforce and how can I maybe use a bit of this in order to solve whatever problem I’m facing. And I think that’s a great… It’s a great way to get your feet wet a little bit. But what I think really changed the way I learned for me, again going back to RAD Women, is understanding some of those basics so I can not just copy and paste, and then tinker and get frustrated about why isn’t this particular thing working. Like I understood enough of the basics in order to take little bits and pieces of other people’s solutions and then ultimately, move from piecing together things and maybe starting with a template and changing it, to writing code from scratch doing that.

Susannah St-G: But frankly, I will say for folks who are just getting their feet wet, I think using templates is a great way to start. Great way to see what it does. And then also for me, the biggest part in learning code and my learning experience, what I would be able to say is that a lot of it’s mindset. So learning code, it is like a language you need to learn like the syntax and how to piece things together in order for it to do what you want. But for me the hardest part coming from being an admin was, I knew if I built a report, you know you build it, you know the filters, you put it together and you know it’s going to work. Like the report’s not going to, in most cases, like error out.

Gillian Bruce: [crosstalk 00:13:10] on you.

Susannah St-G: Yeah. But with coding, you’re never going to do it once and have it work perfectly and not see any errors. Part of the learning to embrace and love the process of debugging things, of being actually happy when you do get an error that makes sense. You’re like, “Okay, now I know why it’s breaking because I got this error that is helpful.” Embracing that mentality was probably the biggest shift for me. Like, just because I code something and it doesn’t work the first time doesn’t mean that I’m a failure. It means that… That’s everyone’s experience.

Gillian Bruce: One step closer, right?

Susannah St-G: One step closer and yeah.

Gillian Bruce: That’s awesome. So tell me what was… How did it feel and… So what was the very first kind of you coded this from scratch thing that you did and tell me about that and then how did that feel?

Susannah St-G: Sure. So one of the first things I coded from scratch was, before the days of being able to have like a nice file uploader, I created a file uploader that would allow you to both upload a file to a new record and a custom object. Because our use case was, we didn’t want the file sharing settings. That used to be the case. Again, no longer, luckily with Lightning, but if you attached a file to an account and someone had visibility to that account, they’d also have visibility to that file. So that was a problem back in the day. And we had… I was working at a nonprofit and they were uploading contracts and they didn’t want everyone who could see that account to be able to see every single contract.

Gillian Bruce: Makes sense.

Susannah St-G: So I was tasked with figuring out a way to do that and I had sort of demoed, hey, you could create a new record for that contract and then attach it or do something like that. But they, they wanted the automatic sort of record create, upload it, and go. So I, yep, did that from scratch and was so yeah. So happy. I went home and showed a lot of my friends, I was living with someone at the time and I was like, “Look, look what I just built. It’s amazing.”

Gillian Bruce: Did they get it? Or they were like, oh-

Susannah St-G: No, they were like, “Yeah, that’s a normal, that’s a normal thing. It’s-“

Gillian Bruce: Like, “No, but I did it.”

Susannah St-G: Yep.

Gillian Bruce: That’s really awesome.

Susannah St-G: And frankly the process of figuring out what is the problem, how do you make it work? Like that sort of journey of coding a solution is really… It makes the when you actually figure it out, so much more rewarding.

Gillian Bruce: Oh, totally.

Susannah St-G: Yeah.

Gillian Bruce: Totally. Okay, so going from building that, what are some of the cool things that you’re working on now?

Susannah St-G: Sure. So now I work for Boston Scientific. We’re a global medical device company and I’ve had the pleasure of working with our Latin American business. That’s one of the stories I typically tell. We were able to create this pricing tool that allows folks to track, so say they want to give a customer like a better price or whatever it is, then they’re able to create a record and route it through these approval processes that we have that are different for every single person. So in order to meet that particular requirement, I was able to use nice, declarative features like approval processes, but also we needed a little bit more customization for that everyone has a different approver, there’s some special rules that need to happen based on who’s logged in.

Susannah St-G: So I was able to use custom metadata and then a trigger, not a lot of code, just a small chunk of code to create this pricing tracker that has saved, forget them, one of my colleagues told me it used to take them something like two weeks, something crazy for this. They had all… Everyone had their own Excel sheet because there were all these different rules. And someone had to send it, someone had to aggregate it, and then… Now it takes them a day.

Gillian Bruce: That’s amazing.

Susannah St-G: It used to take them two weeks. Yeah.

Gillian Bruce: That’s a great story. And I love how you use some declarative stuff and some custom stuff, and custom metadata, I know that’s… Vlad has been on the podcast a few times and he’s so passionate about the custom metadata types that are now in summer 18 and that’s very cool.

Susannah St-G: And I think that’s a great, for developers especially, sometimes if you’re very comfortable with code and you’ve never been an Admin, it’s easy to say, “Oh well, we can do that with code. You can do anything with code.” But I think knowing when to use… When to use a declared a feature versus programmatic is such, such an important skill for developers to have. And it’s not always. And I think likewise for Admins, sometimes you can do something declaratively, but you have to twist yourself in a pretzel to do it. Versus it takes like three lines of code. So being able to understand those trade offs I think is so, so important.

Gillian Bruce: That’s great. Ah, so much great advice. I love it. It’s so fun to have a developer on the podcast because we got like nerdy about different things. That’s really good. Okay. So Susannah, before I let you go, you don’t get away without having a lightning round question. So no right or wrong answer. Little nerdy though. So what is the weirdest developer term you’ve come across?

Susannah St-G: Oh, that’s a good question. So this happened, I came across it actually this past fall. And it’s not necessarily, well yeah it is, I guess developer-specific in the Salesforce world, but it’s, now let’s see if I pronounce it right, idempotent? And essentially, I’m probably pronouncing it wrong, but essentially it means that you want to be able to predict what’s going to happen. So say you have a process that’s running, you’re creating a record in a separate system. When some user clicks, like a button, like on a Lightning page, they click submit, and this record gets created in an external system in order for it to be idempotent. You’ll have to fact check me on that pronunciation.

Gillian Bruce: It’s okay. We’ll put it in the show notes.

Susannah St-G: Okay, good.

Gillian Bruce: So you’ll be covered.

Susannah St-G: You want to make sure that if a user gets frustrated because it’s waiting or something and they click submit five times that their record doesn’t get… Five records don’t get created.

Gillian Bruce: Got it.

Susannah St-G: So I learned that during, what was it, my data in architecture, designers studying, and it was a word I’d never, never even seen in print before.

Gillian Bruce: It’s a really interesting word for something that totally makes sense, right?

Susannah St-G: Yeah, absolutely.

Gillian Bruce: Excellent. Well, Susannah, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us. Amazing work with what you’ve done. There’s also some kind of weird parallel there between knowing the code of music and how to read that and the code that you do professionally. So I’m sure we could do a whole nother podcast on that. But yeah, congratulations on all your success and I’m looking forward to see what else you’re going to do in the near future.

Susannah St-G: Thank you. Pleasure to speak with you.

Gillian Bruce: It was so great getting to know Susannah when I recorded this with her a while ago. And if you were able to make it to TrailheaDx this year in San Francisco, just a few months ago, you were able to hear more about Susannah’s story, especially at Boston Scientific, on the main keynote stage. Her story was featured about some of the incredible things that she’s able to do as an architect there, leveraging a lot of our new technologies that we have at Salesforce. Some of the highlights that I love to talk about from our conversation that we are still talking about is tapping into your passion.

Gillian Bruce: She really discovered that while she was a viola player and an amazing musician, she found that she had a passion for data and databases and she found that by kind of taking an internship with the orchestra on the office side of things, the administrative side, then trying the donations and gifts route, fundraising route, and then figuring out like, “Hey, there’s this beast spreadsheet that they won’t let me touch. Let me improve that. I want to find a way to make things like this better.” So that really set her off on a whole different career trajectory. She became a solo admin, a solo developer, and she did a lot of self study to get her there.

Gillian Bruce: Now if you are somebody who is thinking about dipping into code and learning about becoming a developer, listen to some of the things that Susannah highlighted. RAD Women Code is an amazing program. I put the link in the show notes. It’s an amazing way for you to learn about how to code in the Salesforce ecosystem and learn about basic coding principles. That helped Susanna get a foundation to where not only was she able to continue kind of tweaking templates that she found online in different forums and communities, but now she had a grasp on the basics so she could start building from scratch on her own. And that was really a way for her to amplify and really dig in and develop that skillset.

Gillian Bruce: Another thing I thought was very important that Susannah pointed out is that mindset is critical as you are learning how to code because it’s never going to work the first time. And so if it doesn’t work, that does not mean you are a failure. But what it does mean is that you’re one step closer to solving the problem. So really having that mindset is very important as you’re building out solutions. And I think that applies to admins and developers no matter what side of the spectrum you’re on.

Gillian Bruce: Something else I thought was really important is that you need to understand when it’s appropriate to use code or point and click. Now as a developer, you might come into the Salesforce ecosystem saying, “Oh, code can build everything.” That’s great, but Salesforce has so many powerful declarative tools that you need to understand when it’s appropriate to design a solution using something like approvals or Process Builder or when it’s time to build some custom code. So definitely think about that, especially as you’re learning how to add maybe some developer skills to your tool belt.

Gillian Bruce: The journey of figuring out the problem and how to solve it is what drives Susannah and makes her super excited to do what she does and you can hear it in her voice. She lights up when she talks about it. And so if you love doing that as an Admin, hey, you never know, you might be able to beef up some more technical skills and maybe become a Salesforce Developer in addition to being an Admin or even pursue the Technical Architect route.

Gillian Bruce: So many great things we learned from Susannah. If you want to learn a little bit more about maybe becoming a developer yourself, great news. We’ve got content on Trailhead for that. So I put a link in the show notes to our Developer Beginner Trail. Definitely want check that out. It’s a great way to kind of get exposed to some basic developer principles that we have at Salesforce. Also check out RAD women. RAD Women is an incredible organization. They have a great program to help people learn how to code. Check that out. The website’s in the show notes.

Gillian Bruce: And I also put the link, by the way, to that fun weird developer term that Susannah mentioned. Idempotent. Yeah, go look that up. She does a much better way of explaining it than what I was able to understand by reading it online. So check that out.

Gillian Bruce: If you want to learn more about becoming an awesome Admin always, you can go to admin.Salesforce.com where you can find blogs, webinars, events, and even more podcasts. And like I mentioned, Trailhead is a great tool. Well, if you’ve got a certification on your list to accomplish this year, which I highly suggest you should, use Trailhead as a way to prepare for that. It’s a great way. We’ve got trails to help you prepare for all different types of certifications, from your admin certs to maybe your first developer cert. So check that out.

Gillian Bruce: Please also remember to subscribe to the podcast to make sure you get the latest and greatest episodes delivered directly to your platform or device of choice the moment they are released. You can find us on Twitter @SalesforceAdmns, no I. Our guest today was Susannah, you can find her @sunnydalelow. That’s S-U-N-N-Y-D-A-L-E-L-O-W. And myself @gilliankbruce. Thank you so much for listening to this episode and we’ll catch you next time in the cloud.

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