From Medieval History to Salesforce with Lorna O’Callaghan

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Today on the Salesforce Admins Podcast, we have another live interview from the Sydney World Tour, this time with Lorna O’Callaghan, Salesforce Lead at Suncorp Group. She shares how her experience as a Medieval history masters student has translated into a career in tech.

Join us as we talk about the keys to leading a mixed team, how Trailhead has helped her broadened her horizons, and why her team is so focused on community engagement.

You should subscribe for the full episode, but here are a few takeaways from our conversation with Lorna O’Callaghan.

How a Medieval History degree helps in tech.

Growing up, Lorna wanted to be a teacher, which is actually pretty common among people in the Salesforce ecosystem and especially among admins. These days, she’s just started a new role as a leader of a team of developers, admins, and business analysts, “which I’m really excited and terrified about in equal measure,” she says.

Lorna originally got her masters in Medieval History before she got involved in tech. “I thought it was an unusual career shift, but the more I talk to other Salesforce admins the more I realize there’s a lot of variety out there,” she says. So how did she wind up in Salesforce? Well, it’s kind of a funny story. “I got a call one day from a guy in Dublin who had seen my details in their Salesforce database,” Lorna says, “and as an exercise to prove to the business that the database worked he called me, interviewed me, and I took the job.”

Believe it or not, Lorna’s degree has been super useful in her work as a Salesforce admin and beyond. ”Being taught to come at things from a different angle and having to explain to people what on earth you do in a language that they’re going to understand,” she says, “it has one hundred percent stood to me.”

Prepping for a leadership role.

Today, Lorna is facing down leading a mixed team and is prepping for the challenges that may come up. Trailhead has been incredibly helpful, and she’s already finished all of the manager modules. She’s also been looking at the development framework material to get familiar with it. “It’s definitely a challenge, it’s a little bit outside the comfort zone,” she says, “I’ve managed project teams before but when you’re directly responsible for a group of people it changes things a little bit. I’m very much looking to where I need to upskill myself to be across all of the areas that they are across because it’s vast.”

“But equally,” Lorna says, “I’m really really happy that the team that I have come into are also into the community and really active in the community.” That means that she doesn’t have to go it alone—the team is actively working to organize monthly sharing sessions to help each other with what they’ve been learning outside of work on Trailhead and beyond.

That feeling when your team checks Salesforce before their email.

Before Lorna moved into leadership, she was an admin. So, what makes a good admin, in her eyes? “You’ve got to be a bit inquisitive, you’ve got to have patience and a bit of perseverance to find what you need,” she says, “and not be afraid to make those mistakes.” Things are a bit easier these days with Trailhead, but experimentation is still key if you want to keep adding new skills.

Lorna was really focused on user adoption in her admins days. “We managed to actually get to a point where we had the CEO ringing people up saying, ‘Oh, I just say something in this report or this dashboard,’ and you had people coming in, first thing in the morning, looking at list views for what had come into the system overnight before going into their email.”

The community is the key.

“Salesforce moves really fast. Every release—to be honest, even in between that—there’s so much new stuff that’s coming up that if we, as a team, want to be innovative and want to keep on top of everything then we have to be involved in the community on a regular basis to keep up to date,” Lorna says.

Trailhead is really helpful not just because of the great modules you can do, but because of the amazing community resources available to help guide your way. “Almost every day, somebody is posting, asking the question, ‘Where can I go to find out about something new?’ It just reminds that somebody is new to this every day, and when you see the patience that other community users have in answering those questions there’s a genuine want to help and to impart what they know. Even if you’re on the periphery of it, you can feel part of something bigger than yourself and you can be as involved or not involved as you want to be but the support is there.”

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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. Today, we have got a special episode for you, coming from Sydney Australia.

Gillian Bruce:               So when I was fortunate enough to go to the Sydney World Tour earlier this year, I had the opportunity to sit down with some local Sydney area Salesforce admins, and one of the admins I got to talk to was Lorna O’Callaghan who actually just started a new job right before we got the opportunity to chat. So it’d be fun to check in on her and see how it’s going. But I wanted to get Lorna on the podcast to share a little bit about her career trajectory and how she is approaching now leading a team of developers and admins, and some things that she’s really learned along the way to help her be successful.

Gillian Bruce:               So, without further ado, please welcome Lorna to the podcast.

Gillian Bruce:               Lorna, welcome to the podcast.

Lorna O’Callagh:            Thank you, great to be here.

Gillian Bruce:               Well thank you for coming to the office today, because we are here in the Sydney office, because we’re here for the Sydney World Tour. So it’s fun to be in another Salesforce office on the other side of the world. And I wanted to take the opportunity to get some amazing Aussie voices on the pod. And so, Lorna, to introduce you to our listeners, I’d love to ask you the question I ask all of our guests when they first come on the podcast. What did you want to be when you grow up?

Lorna O’Callagh:            I think I wanted to be a few things, but probably the one that lasted was a teacher, so yeah. My dad wasn’t a teacher but all his brothers are, so there are a lot of teachers in my family and that was something that appealed to me. But, then when I went to university, I did a stint as a substitute teacher for a while, and had some nice classes, but had an awful class, where they threw things at me, and that was the end of the dream.

Gillian Bruce:               Okay, well that makes sense. You don’t want to ever be standing in front of a bunch of kids throwing things at you.

Lorna O’Callagh:            No.

Gillian Bruce:               But it’s funny that you say teacher. There’s a lot of people that I ask that question, and that’s one of the common answers I get for people who are in the Salesforce ecosystem, especially Salesforce admins. There’s a lot of elements of being a teacher that transfer over into being an admin. So tell us a little bit about what you do now.

Lorna O’Callagh:            So I’ve just started a new role in the last couple of weeks.

Gillian Bruce:               Congratulations.

Lorna O’Callagh:            Thank you. And it’s my first role in a leadership capacity, so I’ve just taken on a Salesforce team of developers and admins, and business analysts, which I’m really excited and terrified about in equal measure.

Gillian Bruce:               That’s good. That means you’re set up for success, you’re going to be great.

Lorna O’Callagh:            Yeah, yeah, I hope so.

Gillian Bruce:               So you got this brand new role, this brand new team. Tell me a little bit about how you got here. How did you first encounter Salesforce?

Lorna O’Callagh:            After I graduated, I got a job as an IT trainer in my university. I thought I was going to go into academia and then IT was the stronger draw. My background is actually, my master’s is Medieval History so this is a pretty … I thought it was an unusual career shift, but actually the more I talk to other Salesforce admins, the more I realize there’s a lot of variety out there.

Lorna O’Callagh:            But yeah, I got a call one day from just a guy in Dublin who had seen, he had actually seen my details in their Salesforce database. And he was recruiting for his team, and as an exercise to prove to the business, that the database worked, he called me, interviewed me, and I took the job. I never heard of Salesforce before. I was using Microsoft Access at the time as my database. So yeah, I made the move and that was in 2012.

Gillian Bruce:               Wow, I love it. So Salesforce helped you get that job.

Lorna O’Callagh:            Yes, it did.

Gillian Bruce:               In a very different way than we’re used to hearing.

Lorna O’Callagh:            Yeah, very much so, but yeah.

Gillian Bruce:               And it’s funny that you say that you did medieval studies, as your official program of study at university, because one of the things that I think I hear a lot in terms of being an admin or working in the Salesforce ecosystem is your job is to actually translate a lot of technical jargon into human speak. And I would imagine there’s some parallels to studying medieval studies because you’re telling all these very different languages and meetings and things-

Lorna O’Callagh:            Yeah, 100%. I think that’s probably, actually the training for that has stood to me, a lot I guess just being quite methodical or being taught to come at things from a different angle. And having to explain to people what on earth you do, in something that they’re going to understand. So yeah, it has 100% stood to me. So when people say, oh yeah, history, very unusual background to have working in IT, when I explain some of the modules that I would have done just on investigations, then it makes a little bit more sense.

Gillian Bruce:               Totally, that’s great. I love that. Okay, so you are now, have this new role, you’re managing a team of developers and admins, which is amazing. Tell me about how you’re going to attack this, because this is a big step. I know a lot of admins, this is maybe they’re also looking to get this role where they’re starting to lead a team. Tell me about how you’re approaching this?

Lorna O’Callagh:            Good question. Trailhead, honestly has been really helpful. I’ve done all of the manager modules and delved a little bit into a lot of the framework stuff, development framework just to prep myself for it. I mean, it’s definitely, it’s a challenge. It’s a little bit outside the comfort zone. I’ve managed project teams before, but when you’re directly responsible for a group of people, it changes things a little bit. So I think I’m very much looking to where I need to up-skill myself, to be across all of the areas that they are across, because it’s faster.

Lorna O’Callagh:            But equally, I’m really, really happy that the team that I have into, are also really into the community, and really active in the community. So it’s that shared desire, I guess, to actually share what we know with each other, and build a team that is very much invested in things like yeah, Trailhead actually. We were only talking the other day about making sure that we have monthly sharing sessions where we can talk about the things that we’ve recently worked on outside of work. So yeah, I’m pretty stoked, but I think looking at the community is going to help me quite a lot.

Gillian Bruce:               That’s great. That’s great. Well very exciting. Before you were in this leadership role, you did more the admin side of work, right? So, can you tell me a little bit about some things that you think helped you be a good admin that maybe you see as a trait across other admins?

Lorna O’Callagh:            Yeah. I mean, when I started there was no Trailhead. And I think a lot of people say this, but it was a lot of Google. And it was a lot of bumping into people who had heard of Salesforce, who can point you in the direction of something useful. And then when Trailhead came along, that was a total game-changer. And again, in Ireland, there weren’t really any user groups. There wasn’t really a huge community, but then I guess there is that Salesforce quite strong presence in Dublin. So it started becoming more well known. The Success Community really was a big part in learning. But I think you’ve got to be a bit inquisitive.

Lorna O’Callagh:            Like you’ve got to have patience as well, and a little bit of perseverance to go and find what you need. And I think that you will find it online, or you can get yourself a sandbox and try something out. I think it’s probably not being afraid to make those mistakes as well. And that’s not something that I was comfortable with early on. But now, as I, I guess a few years into being in the Salesforce ecosystem, I’m a bit more comfortable with making mistakes because you do learn something from it.

Gillian Bruce:               Yeah, so I love that. I hear perseverance of course. And being resourceful. [crosstalk 00:08:56] And then willing to make mistakes and take those risks.

Lorna O’Callagh:            Yeah, definitely.

Gillian Bruce:               That’s awesome. So tell me about, you’ve been doing Salesforce for a while, tell me about a cool thing or a feature that you’ve used or built something really fun with.

Lorna O’Callagh:            So maybe not the coolest or nerdiest thing, but in the company that I started working in, the first time with Salesforce, I’m actually still really proud of what we did with the analytics. Probably my favorite umbrella category is user adoption and user experience. That’s where I think I’m probably most passionate. So in that role, I think we nailed it. We managed to actually get to a point where you had the CEO ringing people up saying, “Oh, I just saw something in this report or this dashboard.” And you had people coming in first thing in the morning, looking at list views for what had come into the system overnight, before going into their email.

Lorna O’Callagh:            And it took a while to get there, but then we had all the different layers for them themselves, for their managers, for the directors, right the way up. And it was kudos for the team, because it showed us that they were genuinely bought into what we were doing, and into the system. So I think that is, I mean, hopefully I’ll top it at some stage, but that’s to date, that’s probably the thing that stands to me most is we really got that right.

Gillian Bruce:               Well yeah, I mean when you’ve got executives really using those amazing reports that you built them. And like you said, users going to their list views before their email, I mean, that’s huge.

Lorna O’Callagh:            Yeah, it was a massive shift. And yeah, we did celebrate. They didn’t quite get why we were so excited, but yeah, it was a big win.

Gillian Bruce:               That’s awesome. Well congratulations.

Lorna O’Callagh:            Thanks.

Gillian Bruce:               Now you’ve just got to up the ante with your next thing, right?

Lorna O’Callagh:            Yeah, exactly. No pressure.

Gillian Bruce:               So you mentioned a little bit about the importance of the, used to be Success Community, now labeled the Trailblazer Community, kind of the online presence. Tell me a little bit more about the importance of the community, and especially your ability to grow your Salesforce skills.

Lorna O’Callagh:            I was only talking to my team the other day about how Salesforce moves really fast. Every release, to be honest, even in-between that, there’s so much new stuff that’s coming up, that if we ourselves, and as a team want to be innovative, and want to keep on top of everything, then we have to be involved in the community on a regular basis to keep up to date.

Lorna O’Callagh:            You know, I recommend Trailhead to so many people, even just recently I was talking to a few ex-colleagues who have gone through redundancy and their implementation consultants for other software, they’re end users of Salesforce. But showing them Trailhead, as something they could look into for job seeking, and it’s just, it runs the gambit. One of the things I love about it, and it’s almost every day, somebody is posting, asking the question, “Where can I go to find out about something new?” And it just reminds me that somebody is new to this every day, and when you see the patience that other community users have in answering those questions, there’s a genuine want to help, and to impart what they know. And even if you’re on the periphery of it, you can feel a part of something bigger than yourself, and you can be as involved or not involved as you want to be, but the support is there.

Lorna O’Callagh:            It’s really important for me I think. A lot of people talk about the imposter syndrome, and I think the community massively helps to combat that.

Gillian Bruce:               Yeah, absolutely. I mean, you said it so beautifully. You captured so many of those elements of the generosity of the community, the passion for people to help each other. And then always thinking about, there’s every day there’s somebody new whose where you were at some point. And so thinking about that always kind of remembering hey, there’s new people trying this out, so even if you feel like you’ve got nothing to share, you absolutely do. And then like you said, help out that imposter syndrome.

Lorna O’Callagh:            Yeah, for sure.

Gillian Bruce:               That’s great. So you’ve got this new role, which is a huge challenge I bet. What’s next for you in your personal growth, with Salesforce?

Lorna O’Callagh:            Very scarily, I’m putting it out there, probably looking a bit more into the development side of things. I think it’s something that’s been on the to-do list for a really long time. And now is the time to start looking at that. So yeah, I’m pretty scared, but also pretty excited to see what else I can start to learn.

Gillian Bruce:               Well, you’ve got developers on your team now. I’m sure they’d be happy to help you. And I know there’s plenty of programs out there.

Lorna O’Callagh:            And user groups as well, so that’s next I think.

Gillian Bruce:               Don’t be scared. It’s going to be okay. Well that’s really exciting. Well Lorna, before I let you go, I’m going to ask you a lightning round question. Don’t worry, I hope it’s not that scary. We’re doing a special down-under version of the lightning round.

Gillian Bruce:               All right, so you live in Sydney now, what is one thing you recommend someone to do in Sydney, visiting for the first time?

Lorna O’Callagh:            That is a really tough question. I am drawing a blank.

Gillian Bruce:               There’s a lot to do, I know.

Lorna O’Callagh:            There is an awful lot to do. Definitely going to have to pause.

Gillian Bruce:               That’s okay, that’s okay. I gave you a vague one, and you’re probably like, there’s a thousand things.

Lorna O’Callagh:            I don’t even remember [inaudible 00:15:00] right now, that’s incredible.

Lorna O’Callagh:            I probably would say to do the Coogee to Bondi coastal walk. That’s something I’ve done twice now. I mean, do the city. Do the Opera House, do all around Martin Place, beautiful, beautiful architecture. But, yeah, do that coastal walk. A lot of people do, I think it’s advertised as Bondi to Coogee, but do it in reverse, because there’s less people going that direction. It’s beautiful.

Gillian Bruce:               Excellent. All right, I’m adding it to my list, doing personal research with my lightning round question, so I appreciate that. Lorna, thank you so much for everything that you’re doing in the community, and I’m so excited for what you got on your plate now with this new role, and your growth. And congratulations. Thank you very much.

Lorna O’Callagh:            It was really nice to be here, thank you.

Gillian Bruce:               Huge thanks to Lorna for taking the time to chat with me when I was in Sydney a few months ago.

Gillian Bruce:               One of the things that I think is really interesting that keeps popping up in these interviews is so many people that I talk to, wanted to be a teacher, when they grow up. And when they were a child, this idea of wanting to help teach and enable others, this is a theme I’m seeing across so many people in the Salesforce ecosystem and the community. And I think that’s really reflective of this desire to always keep learning, to always give back, help each other, this generosity. One of the hallmarks and it’s like secret sauces that we have in the Salesforce community. So I really treasure that, and I thought that was really fun that Lorna also wanted to be a teacher when she grew up.

Gillian Bruce:               Now Salesforce has done a lot of Lorna. It’s enabled her to make the move from Dublin to Sydney, which is quite a big difference. And her training in actually studying medieval history, has helped her be the translator between technology and business, understanding different methodologies in ways to approach things. You know, it’s surprising when you think these nontechnical degrees and these nontechnical studies and programs that you might do in school, can really relate and help you be even better, a Salesforce admin, Salesforce developer. Those are skills that really help you because you are in the middle. You’re translating the business need into the technology solution, and then helping people understand that.

Gillian Bruce:               The community was also very important to Lorna’s trajectory and her career. And one of the things that she’s bringing into her current team that she is now leading, which is very exciting, is building the community as a core part of that. You know, as she says, there’s constant innovations happening in the Salesforce ecosystem, whether it’s on the platform, or with different companies. The only way to really stay on top of that is to be involved in the community, and leverage all the great skillsets and ideas that come from the community all over the world.

Gillian Bruce:               Now, user adoption experience is very important to Lorna. And some of the things that she found that really helped with that, are dashboards. You know, she described how she got a CEO excited about talking about a dashboard, which is a really great sign that you have successfully implemented Salesforce. And that users were actually going to their list views before going to their emails in the morning, to get an idea of what’s going on. Now, that is an incredibly great sign that you are doing something right as a Salesforce admin. If people really are going to Salesforce as a single source of truth to start their day.

Gillian Bruce:               Also, a reminder that you know, she says everybody starts as a newbie. So, understanding and having patience for any questions, having that desire to help each other is really an important aspect of being a truly awesome admin. You know, you are part of something bigger than yourself when you get involved in the community, and you can see that. And the community will give you the support you need to overcome any imposter syndrome that you have going on.

Gillian Bruce:               So those are just some of my highlights from our chat with Lorna. Again, it was really great to connect with her while I was in Sydney. If you ever make it to Sydney, I highly recommend looking her up.

Gillian Bruce:               If you want to learn a little bit more about some of the things that we talked about on the podcast today, we’ve got lots of great content for you. So you can always go to admin.Salesforce.com for blogs, webinars, events, and even more podcasts. If you want to learn more about some of the specific things we talked about today, have some great Trailhead content for you. So, Lorna mentioned how she’s been preparing for this management, this leadership role using Trailhead. And we talk about how Trailhead has technical skills, technical content on there.

Gillian Bruce:               But Trailhead also has a lot of great other skills that you can learn on there, such as Manage the Salesforce Way, which is a whole trail on how you can build up your management skillset, especially if you’re new to management, or you’re new to management within the Salesforce ecosystem, definitely make sure you check out that trail.

Gillian Bruce:               There’s also the Create Report and Dashboards for Sales and Marketing Managers module. Again, a great way to help you drive adoption at your company, if you can build dashboards that your leadership really uses as their single source of truth. They’re looking them up on their phone, they’re interacting, they’re showing each other. That is a fantastic tool to make sure that you’re implementation of Salesforce is successful.

Gillian Bruce:               And, we talked about list views. I think list views are amazing. I mean, that split list view that you can use in console, holy moly, it is a huge productivity tool, and a way to drive efficiency. You can learn more about how you can leverage list views from Kanban, Calendar, all these things in the lightning experience customization module.

Gillian Bruce:               I put the link to all three of those pieces of content in Trailhead, in the show notes. So you can go directly there. Now, the best thing about Trailhead, not only can you learn about these skills, but you can also prepare for your certification. So I hope all of you listening have it on your goal this year to at least get one more certification. Maybe it’s your first, maybe it’s your 17th, either way, getting certified is a great way to show potential employers, your current employer, that you have a mastery and that you’re learning constantly on the Salesforce platform. So use Trailhead as a great study guide and a tool to prepare you to get your certifications.

Gillian Bruce:               Please remember to subscribe to the podcast, so you can get it delivered directly to your platform, or device choice, the moment the episode is released. Now, we are on all the platforms. We are on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, you name it, we’re on there. If there’s a platform we’re not on, please let me know, and we will definitely make sure the podcast gets on there.

Gillian Bruce:               As always, you can find us on Twitter @SalesforceAdmns, no I. Our guest today, Lorna O’Callaghan is @LornaOCall, that’s L-O-R-N-A-O-C-A-L-L. Link is in the show notes. And myself, @gilliankbruce.

Gillian Bruce:               Thank you so much for listening to this episode. And we’ll catch you next time in the cloud.

 

 

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