Best of Dreamforce: Fundamentals of Formulas with Mary Tagler

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Today on the Salesforce Admins Podcast, we talk to Mary Tagler, Salesforce MVP and Salesforce Applications Manager at Relativity. Join us as we talk about Mary’s upcoming presentation at Dreamforce, “The Fundamentals of Formulas.”

You should subscribe for the full episode, but here are a few takeaways from our conversation with Mary Tagler.

Best of Dreamforce

Not everyone can make it to Dreamforce this year and, even if you can, we know it’s impossible to catch everything. Don’t worry, we’ve got your back. This month, we’re bringing some of the best speakers from the admin stage on the pod so you won’t miss a thing.

Formulas for the rest of us

Longtime listeners may remember Mary from way back in 2016. These days, she manages a team of admins for Chicago-based legal software company, Relativity. Most importantly, she’s speaking at Dreamforce this year about the fundamentals of formulas. “I wanted to get down to the fundamentals, best practices, and the how-tos for people who just don’t know where to start,” she says.

Mary wants to point you towards the resources that are already out there to help set you up for success. There are a lot of ways to get help but the number of options can become overwhelming, so she wants to give you some pointers on how to help yourself. “One of the best resources—the bookmark I have on every machine I own—is the formulas and operators help document,” she says. And even better, it has examples for everything.

Why it helps to write things out on paper

Mary also wants to help you understand where formulas are used and why you use them. She’ll talk through the most common types of functions and operators you use, writing out every exercise in plain language so you know how it works. “Even if you feel like walking away not knowing how to build the formula, you’re going to know how to write out that logic in a coherent way that anyone can digest.”

Finally, Mary will cover best practices. “Sometimes the way you write your formula sets you up for failure,” she says. She always hand writes her formulas following a specific format, underling ANDs and circling ORs. That helps her identify how she wrote the formula and find any logic gaps, and also gives her a way to run it by stakeholders to see if it’ll solve the business problem.

Asking for help

One thing Mary did when she was starting to learn formulas was take a look in the Answers Community. There are always a ton of questions there, and she figured a good way to hone her skills was to see if she could figure them out.

Even better, the Answers Community is still there for you no matter where you are in your journey. “Time formulas are my kryptonite,” Mary says, “and you will see me posting for help anytime I have to do something time-related.” And she’s giving a presentation about formulas at Dreamforce, so you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it!

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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 be an awesome admin. I’m your host today, Gillian Bruce, and we are bringing you the best of Dreamforce. Listeners, we have picked some of the top sessions from the admin track at Dreamforce, both breakout sessions and theater, and we’re bringing them to you here on the podcast because we know not everyone’s going to be able to come to Dreamforce.

And even if you are coming to Dreamforce in person, there’s zero likelihood that you’re going to be able to hit every single session in the admin track. It’s just physically impossible. You can’t clone yourself. So wanted to make sure that I bring some of our top presentations and presenters on the podcast so you can hear more about what they’re going to be sharing, learn a little bit more from what they’re going to be teaching in their session, and just have a good time getting ready and getting that mindset of Dreamforce.

So without further ado, I want to introduce you to today, reintroduce you if you’ve been listening to the podcast for a long time. We have Mary Tagler who is going to be joining us today, and she’s got a great session on the fundamentals of formulas that she’s going to be presenting at Dreamforce.

And fun fact, she was last on the podcast I think back in like 2016 and it was right before she won an awesome admin award, which in those days wasn’t even the golden hoodie yet, but now it has evolved to that. So without further ado, let’s welcome Mary to the podcast. Mary, welcome back to the podcast.

Mary Tagler: Thanks for having me, Gillian.

Gillian Bruce: Well, we were talking, I think it’s been a long time since we’ve had you on the podcast.

Mary Tagler: It has. It’s been in excess of four years and at least one job ago.

Gillian Bruce: So, all right, so before we get into it, why don’t you update us? What are you up to now? What are you doing these days?

Mary Tagler: Sure. I’m actually a manager these days and I manage a team of admins at Relativity. We’re a legal software company based in Chicago.

Gillian Bruce: I like it managing a team of admins. All right, so clearly you’ve got a lot of awesome admin knowledge to share with everyone. Now, I wanted to have you on the podcast, Mary, because we are getting ready for a little something called Dreamforce here just in a few weeks. And I know you are presenting a session and I know several of our listeners are not going to be able to make it to your session, even if they make it to Dreamforce, because there’s a zillion things going on. So I wanted to get you on the podcast to talk a little bit about what you are presenting and share some of these amazing takeaways that you’re going to give your captive audience on site to some of our listeners here today.

Mary Tagler: Sure. So I’m going to be speaking at Dreamforce about the fundamentals of formulas. It’s a topic that I hold near and dear. It’s something that as an organizer of our Salesforce Saturday group, I really had looked for a way to build on that great presentation that Steve Mo does about formulas, but getting more basic, getting down to really the fundamentals, the best practices, and the how-tos for people who just don’t even know where to start.

I spend a lot of my time either in the community or Ohana Slack, and I see a lot of folks come with questions where they’re like, “I need to do X and I don’t even know where to begin.” And so my goal is to really start teaching folks how to map out what they need to do and then feel comfortable with the tools that are provided for them.

Gillian Bruce: I love that. I think that’s so important. It’s kind of like instead of just helping you troubleshoot every single issue, let’s get some framework and some longer term strategy in place so that when these come up, you have a way to think about them and process them. And as someone who personally has always struggled with math, and then when I was trying to get the grasp on Salesforce formulas, I was like, “Oh no, here we go again.” So I very much appreciate your work in this area to try and help people understand. So what are some of the things that you’re going to cover in your session that’s really kind of help people get that, that fundamental knowledge about how to use a formula and when to use it?

Mary Tagler: Sure. So we’re going to start out, we’re going to talk about some of the resources available to you, because there’s a lot of resources out there both within and outside of Salesforce that’ll help set you up for success. We’re going to talk about where you use formula. So why are formulas even important? Because there are so many places in the system we use them and it’s really important to understand like, “Why should I even use this skill?”

We’re going to talk about best practices. Sometimes the way you write your formula actually sets you up for failure. My favorite thing to do is I write it out, I write it out for a couple reasons and I have very specific ways. I hand write it and I underline my ands and I circle my ors. And I do it for two reasons. One, it helps me identify how I’m writing the formula and any logic gaps. But the other thing is I can take what I wrote, type it up and share it with my business stakeholders and say, “Is this what you’re asking for?” Versus giving them a formula and they’re just going to look at me like I have two heads.

Gillian Bruce: Right. You’re speaking a language they do not understand.

Mary Tagler: Exactly. And so I want to make sure that people feel like they have a support system in place to really get help. One of the best resources, the bookmark I have on every single machine I own is the formulas and operators help document. And I love it because it shows examples. And a lot of times people don’t even get to that first step of knowing that exists and seeing how it’s used in action.

Gillian Bruce: As I do remember in my early days of trying to figure out how to write my first formulas, finding that and being like, “Oh.” It’s like the decoder of trying to decode a secret language of the back of the cereal box for those of us who are older.” Remember back in the day when these things existed.

Mary Tagler: Oh yeah.

Gillian Bruce: All right, so it’s super helpful. So then, okay, so you got some resources down and what else are you going to share in trying to help people?

Mary Tagler: So then we’re really going to jump into it and we’re going to do a bunch of exercises. So what I’ve done is I’ve really taken a series of common but simple validation rules and formulas and automation examples and really broken them down. I’m going to talk about the most common types of functions and operators you’re going to use, because there’s a really long list. And frankly, there may be some you never use in your admin career, but there’s going to be a number that you’re probably going to use quite frequently.

And we’re going to go through it. We’re going to write out every exercise. So we’re going to write it in plain language. So even if you feel like you walk away not knowing how to build the formula, you’re going to walk away knowing how to write out that logic in a coherent way that anyone can digest it. Then we’re going to go through the actual formula itself. And I’ve added some visualizations to help break down what we’re doing in each spot.

And I really analogize formula building to creative writing in a way, because you’re separating your clauses with punctuation, you have to close out all your parentheses. It’s somewhat math based, but it’s also somewhat very language based. And I think when you start thinking about it that way, it helps you put the pieces together.

We’re going to do examples of where we might nest one function around another function. We’ll wrap them together to do what we need to do or we’ll do a nested if statement so that we can have more than two outcomes. So we’re going to go through things like that that are practical everyday used case examples.

Gillian Bruce: Okay. So I want to go to the session, I’m like, [inaudible].

Mary Tagler: I hope you do.

Gillian Bruce: Yeah, I will definitely put it on my calendar and do everything I can to make it. But what I really like about this Mary is though your approach is so … it’s very practical, but it’s also really relatable. I love what you just said about, “Hey, yes there’s some math to it, but it’s also creative writing.” It’s the same like you have to use your creative brain to make these things work, because there’s a zillion different ways you could write a formula to accomplish a couple different things. Right?

Mary Tagler: Exactly.

Gillian Bruce: So Mary, you said you manage a team of admins and I imagine this is probably something that you are helping your team of admins get a better grasp on. Can you talk to us a little bit more about how you’ve honed this skill with formulas and how you’ve come up with this content? You mentioned a little bit, but observations in the community, but take us a little deeper and tell us a little bit more about how you’ve gained this skill?

Mary Tagler: Sure. So I originally learned how to use formulas from a consultant that helped us implement Salesforce and really just tried to iterate on what I saw there. But then once I started getting involved in the community, what I did, which is something I recommend for a variety of skill sets, is I really started to look in the answers community and there are tons of formula based questions there.

And so then I kind of posed that as a challenge to myself like, “Can I figure that out? Can I apply that?” And that really helped me flex that muscle and strengthen that muscle where I really felt confident and comfortable writing formulas. I will also say though, I’m the first to admit, time formulas are my kryptonite. I absolutely hate time formulas and you’ll see me posting for help anytime I have to do something time related.

So you can be strong in some areas and still weaker in others too and that’s okay. With my team, I think I was lucky to join a team with a lot of senior folks already on it. So really having those formula skills in place. But I think where I’ve really focused in on is ensuring we’re following best practices. I don’t want to see people putting IDs in fields like, “Let’s stop the hard coding, let’s clean up things where we can.” And we’ve really created that best practice mentality.

And as I work with some of our newer hires, we talk a lot about that where it’s like as we have an opportunity to change the logic, let’s take the opportunity to move it into best practices.

Gillian Bruce: Yeah. Because oh, hard coding. Gosh, I remember the first time I learned about hard coding and I was like, “I know this is bad. This just doesn’t feel right. Let’s not do this because yeah, it’ll break all the time.”

Mary Tagler: It will. And I analogize it to it’s be a friend to your future self and your future and current teammates because nothing is more frustrating than getting to a formula somewhere and getting this idea and being like, “Where the heck does that go?” And then having to try and figure out what it is. And a lot of times it’ll be something that’s maybe obsolete because no one knew what that silly ID did.

Gillian Bruce: Yeah, and now it’s gone and so, oh well, you got to rebuild it again. Got it.

Mary Tagler: Yeah.

Gillian Bruce: So Mary, this I would imagine is not your first Dreamforce. Do you know how many Dreamforces you’ve been to?

Mary Tagler: The first Dreamforce I went to was in 2012. So including the years we were virtual, this will be my 10th Dreamforce.

Gillian Bruce: There you go.

Mary Tagler: Yeah.

Gillian Bruce: So yeah, my first Dreamforce I think was 2010. So we’re about on the same page there. There you go.

Mary Tagler: Yeah.

Gillian Bruce: Since you are a veteran of the Dreamforce experience, do you have any top level tips for folks who may be getting ready to come to their first in-person Dreamforce?

Mary Tagler: So my tip, I don’t know how popular it’s going to be, is I would say don’t obsess over the agenda. Go with the flow. I know the first couple years I went, I would try and bookmark and register for everything and obsess over my agenda. And after a few years in, I actually found it more impactful where I picked the things as they came. I looked every day and decided, “Hey, this sounds interesting.” Or I heard the buzz from someone else that a session was going to be repeated and went there. So I would say, be flexible.

Gillian Bruce: That’s great advice because yes, there’s a lot of content and if you try and go back to back sessions all day, A, you’re not going to be successful and B, you’re just going to set yourself up to be frustrated.

Mary Tagler: Yeah. And to be frustrated to wear yourself out too early in the conference, it’s not worth it. And the obvious one, comfortable shoes.

Gillian Bruce: Yes, comfortable shoes and comfortable, fun shoes. Yeah.

Mary Tagler: Yes.

Gillian Bruce: It’s comfortable fun shoe game going on at Dreamforce. Awesome. Well Mary, thank you so much for joining us and thank you so much for putting together such a great presentation to share and help other people. And for those who aren’t able to come in person, at least they got a little bit of your nuggets of wisdom here on the podcast. And hey, who knows, maybe we’ll do some more to help further spread your message after Dreamforce, so.

Mary Tagler: Well, thanks. Thanks for having me and I hope to see you at my session.

Gillian Bruce: I will do everything I can to be there, nothing else. Will for sure see you at Dreamforce.

Mary Tagler: Sounds good.

Gillian Bruce: Well, thank you, Mary for taking time out of your Dreamforce preparation schedule to join us on the podcast and share so much great wisdom about formulas. To me, formulas is a weak spot and it always has been, but honestly, some of the things that Mary just shared are transformative and now I’m looking forward to putting them into practice so that I can be better with formulas. And if you are not going to be able to make her session at Dreamforce, don’t worry, I am sure that we will be doing something with Mary in the future to get that great content to you.

So she had some great words of wisdom. It’s about knowing how in the context of when to use formulas, thinking that more, not just of a math problem, but also as a creative process of how to put clauses and different phrases together and the idea of making it easy on yourself and following best practices like no hard coding people, just don’t do it. It’s just not. No, don’t our hard code.

Anyway, so Mary was great. Really appreciate her coming on the podcast. If you want to follow Mary, you can find her on Twitter. She’s got a great Twitter handle and it sounds really weird when you spell it out, but when you see it, it makes sense. It’s @YramtSFDC. That’s Tmary, backwards. You get that? Yeah.

Well, you can always stay up-to-date with everything happening in the admin community, especially Dreamforce related by following us on Twitter, @SalesforceAdmns, no I, or using #AwesomeAdmin. You can follow me @gilliankbruce and my co-host Mike Gerholdt, @MikeGerholdt.

With that, I hope you have a fantastic rest of your day. And if you’re getting ready to come to Dreamforce, continue to get excited. If you’re getting ready to tune in to Dreamforce via Salesforce Live, start bookmarking those sessions, check out the broadcast schedule. There is so much great content coming your way, and I’ll catch you next time in the cloud.

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