From Olympian to Solution Engineer with Christine Magnuson

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Today on the Salesforce Admins Podcast, we talk to Christine Magnuson, a Solution Engineering Manager at Salesforce and 2008 Olympic swimmer and two-time silver medalist.

Join us as we talk about what skills transferred from being a top athlete to working in the Salesforce ecosystem, why you shouldn’t sell yourself short, and why Admins are great partners in Solution Engineering.

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

Transitioning Into a Salesforce Career

Christine is officially the first Olympic medalist we’ve had on the pod. “You have to constantly check yourself that you’re in reality,” she says, “you’re just among the best of the best in what they do and it’s an honor to be in that community.”

So we know how she got her start, but how did Christine wind up in Solution Engineering? She started with a master’s in Public Administration and hit the pavement to network. Almost anyone was willing to give 30 minutes to an Olympian asking about their lives. “Actually,” she says, “I don’t think you need to be an Olympian to call somebody up to ask about what they do and what they like and what they don’t—everyone says yes because they like talking about themselves.”

How Sales was the Perfect Jumping-off Point for Christine

The overwhelming advice was to start in Sales because it applies to so many different things. “I came to realize that it was really about me believing in the product I was selling,” Christine says, “and as long as I believed in the product I was doing everybody else a favor by telling them about it and not them doing a favor for me.” The business she was working for had started leveraging Salesforce and, since she was the youngest person on the team, she was the de facto accidental Admin.

Christine found herself working at Quip soon after they were acquired. She worked in Sales for a year “but I nerded out on the product so much and working with the PMs and the marketing team and having that cross-functional view was really fun for me,” she says, so when they decided to build out the Solution Engineering team she volunteered. From there it was a transition to the core team working with key Salesforce clients like Amazon, Dell, and BMWare.

Why Admins are Visionaries

Admins are particularly helpful in this work because they know their user base inside and out: what they want to do, where their pain points are, and what needs automating. “Some of the Admins I work with are so innovative about not just thinking about what is a small step forward, but what are five steps forwards and should we be taking those big leaps forward,” Christine says.

One of the secret powers that good Admins have is the ability to use the tools already in Salesforce to the max. As the old saying goes, when you have a hammer everything looks like a nail, and sometimes in these large organizations, Devs jump straight to coding and customizing when there might already be a tool you can use in your org. 

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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 am your host, Gillian Bruce. And today, we have a first, listeners. We are joined by a two-time Olympic silver medalist and solution engineering manager at Salesforce, Christine Magnuson. She has so much great knowledge and experience to share. I asked her about all of the things, everything from what’s it like to build a team of Salesforce professionals to how do you transfer skills from being an elite athlete to working in the Salesforce ecosystem, and so much more. So without further ado, let’s welcome Christine on the pod. Christine, welcome to the podcast.

Christine Magnuson: Thanks so much for having me.

Gillian Bruce: Okay. So it is official. You are the first official Olympian and medal winner to appear on the Salesforce Admins Podcast. I just have to lead with that because it’s pretty amazing. Tell me, what was it like to win a silver medal at the Olympics? Two of them.

Christine Magnuson: Two of them. Well, I am happy to be your first. I have a feeling I won’t be your last, but very excited to be the trailblazer here on that front. Yes. My Olympic career was so fun. I mean, I highly suggest becoming an Olympian if you have the chance to.

Gillian Bruce: Totally on my list.

Christine Magnuson: Yes. Exactly. Sign yourself up. It’s a really amazing community to be a part of, and to stand up and represent your country in that form is just such an honor. It takes your breath away. You have to constantly check yourself that you’re in reality. And just to be in that space with so many amazing competitors from not just Team USA, but around the world. It’s such a hard feeling to describe because you’re just amongst the best of the best in what they do. And it’s an honor. It’s an honor to be amongst that community. And it’s something that it never leaves you. Once you’re an Olympian, you’re always an Olympian. There’s never former Olympians. There’s just Olympians. And so it’s definitely a club that you’re part of for your entire life once you’re there once, and that’s pretty incredible.

Gillian Bruce: So it’s like being part of Salesforce ecosystem, right? I mean, once you’re a part of it.

Christine Magnuson: It’s like being a ranger. Once you’re a ranger, they don’t take it away. You get to be a ranger for life. Now you can always do more, but yes, it’s 100%. It doesn’t leave you. You can always come back. I mean, how many boomerangs do we know in this Salesforce… Well, Salesforce is a company. Of course, there’s boomerangs, but then also just in the ecosystem as well.

Gillian Bruce: Yeah. Once you get in, you can’t really get out because it’s a good place to be. So speaking of that, talk to me a little bit about your transition from being an amazing Olympic athlete to now being… I mean, you work with solution engineers here at Salesforce. Tell me a little bit about that journey.

Christine Magnuson: Oh, man. I have the best job. At least I think so. So when I retired in 2013, I had just finished up my master’s program from the University of Arizona. I have a master’s in public administration. I thought I wanted to go into non-profits or athletic governances, and then through that experience, really felt like I wanted to actually go into the corporate world and get more experience before applying those things potentially back to those communities. And so I networked with really anyone who talked me. Good news was that pretty much everybody was willing to give 30 minutes to an Olympian who was just asking them about their lives. Actually, I don’t think you’d need to be an Olympian to call somebody up and say, “Can you tell me about what you do and what you like and what you don’t?” Everyone says yes. They love talking about themselves, which is great.
And so I net networked my way and everybody said, “Sales is a great place to start. You’ll never regret it. You can apply it to so many different ways even if you end up not liking sales.” It took me a while to realize that that was the case. When you think about sales, you think about that used car salesman and people selling, pushing things on you that you don’t want. And I came to realize that it was really about me believing in the product I was selling. And as long as I believed in the product, I was doing everybody else a favor by telling them about it and not them doing a favor for me. And so-

Gillian Bruce: That shift. Yeah.

Christine Magnuson: Total shift in mindset. And so I joined a great small company out of Chicago that was placing consultants into life science companies and learned full life cycle sales from them. And they were also doing a lot with their Salesforce implementation during that time. And of course, I was one of the younger ones in the company and new to sales, and they were like, “Christine can figure this out. What should the experience be?” And so I was the super user. And then towards my end, I was actually part-time admin with no qualification whatsoever other than I could pick it up. That’s I think the amazing thing about the product itself is that you can pick it up without going and learning how to code. And so I really fell in love with the technology.
I had moved to San Francisco because I was in Chicago and Chicago’s really cold. Growing up there, I knew what it meant. And I spent a couple of adult years there and just decided to get out. So I moved to San Francisco, wanted to get into tech, and there was this little company called Quip that had just been acquired. They were ramping things up. I joined their sales team, did sales for a year, but felt I was basically… I nerded out on the product so much and working with the PMs and the marketing team, and having that cross-functional view was really fun for me, that when they decided to build out the solution engineering team, I raised my hand and everybody around me was really supportive. And so I moved to the new role, was immediately put on some of our top accounts, which was mind-blowing to see how these really complex accounts worked. And a few years later, I was leading the SE team and helping expand my knowledge across the US with our [inaudible] based team.
And now, about six or nine months ago, I came over to what we call core, which is thinking about the whole Salesforce portfolio for particular customer bases. And I have the honor of leading some really elite SEs who cover companies like Amazon and Dell and VMware and a few others. And they’re just some of the sharpest individuals that I’ve ever met. And I get the honor of managing them and then meeting with our customers and seeing what they’re doing and trying to help them through a lot of really complex issues. And so I’m never bored. I’m always using my brain. And it’s a really fun job, and all because I just nerded out on the Salesforce products.

Gillian Bruce: Well, you’re preaching to the choir here because admins are the ultimate Salesforce nerds. We’re very proud of our nerdom.

Christine Magnuson: I love it.

Gillian Bruce: And I think what’s so interesting is you interact with admins and customers at these very complex companies and these complex implementations. I want to touch more on how you transferred some of your skills as an Olympian to your skills in the Salesforce ecosystem. But before we get there, can you talk to me about some of the things that you see make an admin at one of these very complex implementations successful?

Christine Magnuson: Yeah. I think when they really understand their user base, that helps an extreme amount because they understand what their user base is trying to do, where they can automate, where they’re struggling. And so the more they can understand their end user, the better. And then it comes down to, okay, understanding the actual implementation, pros and cons. Let’s be real. No implementation out there is perfect.

Gillian Bruce: What? What are you talking about?

Christine Magnuson: Well, if somebody knows of one, please call me and let me know how it went and how you got there. But it’s just because things change. Companies grow and you can’t predict the future when you’re implementing. And so hindsight is 20-20. But some of the admins I work with are so innovative of not just thinking about what is a small step forward, but what are five step forward? Should we be doing five steps instead of one in certain areas and taking those big leaps forward? And how does global changes affect us? Not just scale and a global distributed user base, but also data residency requirements. And oh my goodness, how do we push changes if we’re going to have multi-org? And what does hyper force look like? And all of these things, they’re a part of the conversation. And that is one, really fulfilling, I think for everybody involved because we’re getting the full picture, but it helps us break down what is realistic for this customer moving forward and what’s their timeline? It’s all about being in sync. But some just really great work being done out there by our admins.

Gillian Bruce: I love that. Knowing your user base, knowing what your users are trying to do, and then really that forward visionary thinking of what the product can do and the direction that things are going. I think very, very important skills and traits of every successful admin. So it’s great hearing it from you because you really work with some of the most complex.

Christine Magnuson: Yeah. I’ll add in one more because I know a lot of our admins work with IT groups. I’m renovating my house right now. I was talking to you about that earlier. When you talk to somebody who’s a builder, they always want to build. And if you’re talking to somebody who is a woodworker, they’re just like, “Oh. Do this.” And it’s always in their frame of reference. And when we talk to customers, if we’re talking to a highly IT-oriented or builder-oriented customer, they’re like, “Oh. We’ll just customize it. We’ll just build it.” And I think one of the powers that admins can come in is saying, “That’s out-of-the-box. Stop building. Stop wasting our time and stop doing over-customized things that are going to hurt us down the road because again, we can’t predict the future. Let’s do as much out-of-the-box as possible. And then we can apply our own flavor to it if need be. And the customer or the user base should tell us if we actually need to do that or not.”
And so that’s the third one I would put in is they’re so valuable with saving their company’s time by not developing things that are already just there for them.

Gillian Bruce: You hit the nail in my head with that. That is something that is just… It comes up time and time again. And often it’s like you mentioned, working with IT. There’s also sometimes that conflict when you’re a developer mindset versus an admin mindset because they’ll go straight to like, “Oh. I can build this really, really cool thing that’s super complex and blah, blah, blah.” And the admin’s like, “Hold up a second. You realize that we already have this in Salesforce.”

Christine Magnuson: Totally. We already own it.

Gillian Bruce: Why don’t you spend your time customizing something on top of that? Let’s start with this base first.

Christine Magnuson: I know. And some of these larger customers, they have a lot in their contracts that they should be using. It’s just use it. You’ve already paid for it. So if you use more of it, it’s kind of free because you’ve already put that-

Gillian Bruce: It’s included.

Christine Magnuson: Yeah. It’s included. You’ve already made the investment. So get more value out of it. And so stepping back and making sure that they’re using that full value is something that the admins can do so much for their companies on.

Gillian Bruce: Oh. I love that because that’s such… I mean, again, talk about not only driving efficiency for the users and the user base and helping people get their jobs done, but you’re saving the company resources and time as [inaudible]-

Christine Magnuson: It’s huge. The ROI behind it is huge.

Gillian Bruce: I love those three really, really great points. So I want to dive back into the story of Christine for a second. So we have been talking a lot about the admin skills kit, which we just launched at TrailblazerDX a few months ago, and it’s all about helping identify those business skills that help admins be successful. So on top of the product knowledge, these are things like communication and problem-solving, designer’s mindset that really make an admin successful. And one element of that is we have language in there about how to represent these skills in the context of the Salesforce ecosystem. So this is how it might look like on your resume. This is how it might look like in a job posting you create to hire someone with that skill. How do you think about transferable skills? Because clearly you transferred a very unique skillset from being a very high level competitive athlete, an Olympian, to now the technology sector and the Salesforce ecosystem. So can you talk to me a little bit about how you managed transferring your skillset?

Christine Magnuson: Yeah. Well, especially from the athletic world… and we’re talking to the Team USA athletes about this right now… is what are those athlete skillsets that we probably took for granted, frankly? When you’re in an elite level of whatever it is, but in my case, athleticism, you are surrounded by other people in that environment. And so you just start to take those skills for granted because they’re normalized. And so how do you actually step away from that normalization and say, “Actually, that wasn’t normal. That was special. And how do I articulate that it is special?” And so when it comes to the athletic population, we’re very good at time management. When you’re going from practice to school or work back to practice and you have to… I mean, even fitting in meals and strategic rest, all of that goes into just having really good time management.
And especially now in a remote workforce world with distractions all around us and family coming in and out, my dogs were just here, it can get a little crazy. And so being able to focus on time management is huge. So that would, I would say, is an obvious number one. Two, coachability. Oh, my goodness. We’re always constantly going to be learning new technology and picking up new skills and we should be getting feedback about how we’re doing and what more should we be doing? And being able to… And athletes, believe me, we tend to be confident people. Takes a lot to stand up in front of a lot of people with a bathing suit on.

Gillian Bruce: Sure does.

Christine Magnuson: Most athletes don’t lack in confidence, but I will say we know when to check our egos at the door because somebody’s about to make us better. And that translates really well to a workforce where you have to actually invite feedback. Not everybody is good at giving or receiving feedback, and we can all get better by doing it. When somebody gives me feedback, it’s such a compliment to me. They have just invested in me. They took the time to think something through, invest in me, and make me better. What a compliment, even if the feedback is harsh. And athletes are so used to that.

Gillian Bruce: Feedback is a gift, right? Isn’t that what we were saying? Yeah.

Christine Magnuson: Exactly. All feedback is good feedback, even if it’s-

Gillian Bruce: It doesn’t feel good.

Christine Magnuson: It doesn’t feel good. Exactly. And so the feedback loop is huge for athletes. The other, which I think we definitely take for granted, is attention to detail. Attention to detail, but still flexibility. So when I was swimming, I was talking to my coach about moving my arm a slightly different way at a slightly different angle. It was maybe an inch difference, and then doing that thousands, tens of thousands of times perfectly. And so that attention to detail is huge. But also knowing that you’re working within a rule of constraints, and sometimes you need to be flexible. My first job, I remember coming in and working with somebody who’s in operations, and they were extremely rule-oriented. There was no breaking her rules. And I had a situation where I was like, “Hey. I think we need to break this… We’re going to have to do this differently,” is how I phrased it. And she was like, “Absolutely not.”
And it shocked me because I had the logical argument. I had all of my data. I had backed it up and I said, “This is why this is different.” And she said, “Nope, too bad.” And I was just like, “I’ve never encountered someone like you before. I have to change the way I communicate.” And all of it was really interesting lessons learned, but I think athletes can stay pretty fluid in these really changing dynamic environments. Still know what rules are important, but then apply details to them like, “Well, do we even make a shift here or shift there?” So that’s kind of two in one with the flexibility and detail. But I would say that’s another big one.

Gillian Bruce: Yeah. And I like the way that you paired those two together because especially as I think about admins specifically, the attention to detail is critical because you got to dot all the I’s and cross all the Ts and make sure everything is locked down or assigned correctly or every single workflow is thought of. But at the same time, you do. You have to remain flexible because you may have to adjust that solution and adjust it for this specific user type or adjust it for this specific situation and… Yeah.

Christine Magnuson: Oh, my goodness. Yes. I mean, how many companies do we see right now holistically changing their business models? Moving to subscription. I mean, what a huge difference and what an impact on their Salesforce instances. Totally complex. You need to be very into the details, but you also need to be flexible because we’re going to change a lot. And we’re probably not going to predict everything on day one no matter how good we are planning.

Gillian Bruce: We can’t see the future. What are you talking about? Come on.

Christine Magnuson: Oh, man. Well, maybe some of them out there can. I’ve never been good at it.

Gillian Bruce: No. I mean, I think that’s really interesting. One of the things that I hear a lot from admins who are either transferring from another industry into the Salesforce ecosystem is really that idea of not throwing away all that experience they had let’s say if they worked in a warehouse for 15 years or worked as a teacher. And it can feel like you have to start at ground zero a little bit because everything sounds different. It looks different. But I really like how you identify those skills that you were able to take from something that’s very seemingly different from the technology space, but then rethink about them and apply them in a way that has made you successful in a completely different industry. What tips and advice do you have for someone who’s maybe in that moment of like, “Oh, my gosh. I’m switching my career and I feel like I don’t know what I can pull from.”?

Christine Magnuson: Yeah. My advice is actually… and I’ve done this with a couple of my direct reports… is step back and take your titles away. Have literally a pen and paper. Go old school. Sit down away from all technology and think to yourself, “What do I love to do on a day-to-day basis? What skills do I love and want to develop more? And where are my strengths?” Almost a strength finder type exercise, and just write them down. And then we are like, “Okay. What are the skills do I think I need for this new career?” And then cross-reference and don’t forget that a lot of them transfer, but maybe just the verbiage is different.
And so here’s a great example. I did swim clinics all the time when I was swimming professionally, which meant I had anywhere between 30 and 100 kids, ages between 6 and 18 for four hours in a day where I was teaching them something and taking photos with them and telling them about life as a professional swimmer, as an Olympian. My storytelling and presentation skills and public speaking skills were pretty well-honed because if you can hold the attention of a bunch of eight-year-olds, guess what? A room of business people who are supposed to pay attention to you, a lot less intimidating and probably more on topic.
And so I was thinking, “Oh, yeah. I’m good at public speaking.” Well, no. I’m good at storytelling. Do you know what every job in corporate America needs, is more storytellers? And how do I fit this into a really logical timeline and personas and make it interesting to people? Well, okay. I was just using the wrong verbiage. And so you’ll find a lot of that, I think, no matter what careers you’re talking about. Both my parents were teachers. Oh, my goodness. The things that I learned from them that I apply now today, there’s a long, long list. And so take that time and make that list for yourself. And then if you’re not sure how it translates to the other side of things, you can have conversations with people who are already there and maybe show them the list.
Heck, use your thesaurus. Sometimes, it’s as simple as that. You’re like, “I didn’t think that. That was kind of similar.” And so it’s just a translation exercise. But really step back and think about the skills you probably take for granted because those are the ones that you’ll end up keeping into your job that will stay with you and still be of real high value to your employer.

Gillian Bruce: Great advice. Well, and we’ve got the admin skills kit to help elucidate at least 14 of them that [inaudible]-

Christine Magnuson: There you go.

Gillian Bruce: … help you see some connections there.

Christine Magnuson: Exactly.

Gillian Bruce: One other thing I wanted to talk to you about, Christine, is I mean, I could just keep you on the podcast for hours and hours and hours, I’m sure. But you’ve got an actual job to do. But before we get to wrapping, I wanted to ask you, in the context of the Salesforce admin skills kit, I know that you actually pulled me a while ago like, “Hey. I’m going to send this to one of my customers.” From a customer who is hiring an admin or… I’m sure you talk to your customers all the time who are trying to figure out how to properly build a team to administer Salesforce. Could you maybe share what are the common issues that they usually face? What are some things that an admin listening to this who’s either hiring someone or wanting to hire someone or be that next best person who can get hired, what kind of advice can you share from being in your role and what you’ve seen?

Christine Magnuson: Well, the war for talent is real. So I’ll talk about Amazon for a second. And this is all public knowledge. You can go on their website and just do your own search and find this yourself. If you search AWS and Salesforce… I did this the other week… there were over 440 jobs listed. That’s just AWS. And Amazon is big. They have a lot of Salesforce instances. They are hunting for talent and they’re hunting for talent at all levels. And I think that’s where we sometimes forget is everyone thinks like, “Oh. To go work at a company like Amazon, oh, my goodness. I need to be so senior.” And that’s just not the case. They need people of all levels. And sometimes they need the doers who are in on the details more than the strategic thinkers. They got a bunch of strategic thinkers. They need the doers.
And so when you go look at their websites and then have conversations with them, they’re willing to invest in somebody who’s sharp and has the basics and is willing to just learn with them and continue to upscale as they’re with the employer. And so I think don’t count yourself out. If you’re looking for the job, apply to a job you might not think you’re qualified for. And whether they put you in that position or a different position, it starts the conversation, and I think it’s really good for everyone. So definitely don’t undersell your skills. They’re needed out there right now. There’s a lot of companies. I cited one, which is probably extreme example, just because the volume of people they have. But every company out there that I talk to is concerned about more talent in-house, in their tools, and Salesforce is a go-to tool.
For those hiring admins, I would say take a little bit of the DEI approach, diversity, equity, and inclusion. It doesn’t need to be somebody who checks all your boxes for every role. Talk to people. Be a little bit more flexible. Tell your recruiters to be more flexible. I mean, I have found some of the best people on my team who were not either in the Salesforce ecosystem or where they weren’t SEs. And they’re amazing because they come with such transferable skills and they maybe had a basis in one or the other. And so working with your recruiters to be really flexible and take that diversity, equity, and inclusion approach of, “I don’t need somebody who checks all the boxes. I need the right person for the job.” And that’s a different mindset.

Gillian Bruce: I love that. That is great advice. It’s very rare that we talk about the employer, the hiring manager perspective on the podcast. So I think that is really, really excellent advice. Christine, oh, my gosh. Thank you so much for everything you-

Christine Magnuson: Thanks for having me.

Gillian Bruce: … [inaudible] with us today. I feel so lucky. You’re my first also Olympic medalist that I’ve ever gotten to speak to. So it’s a double whammy. You’re the first one on the pod. It’s my first time getting to talk to an elite Olympian. So thank you so much. And also, thank you for all you do at Salesforce. I mean, you have clearly done a lot already, and I know you’re going to do more. And thanks for being a great advocate for admins and advocate for athletes and people transferring skills, and we’ll have to have you back on at some point.

Christine Magnuson: I would love to come back on. Thank you so much for having me. I love the admin community. They make such a difference. And when we find really good ones to work with, it’s so much more fun for me and my team. So thank you. We appreciate you. Keep doing what you’re doing. And of course, give some love to your SEs out there at Salesforce and other ISV customers. We’re a good crew. We love working with you.

Gillian Bruce: Hey. A good SE makes every admin happy too, I got to tell you.

Christine Magnuson: It’s a partnership. It’s a partnership.

Gillian Bruce: Well, thank you so much, Christine. And thank you for joining us on the podcast, and we will have you back.

Christine Magnuson: Love it.

Gillian Bruce: Wow. That was an amazing conversation. Christine has so much great knowledge to share. Everything that she shared about identifying those skills that she had for being an elite athlete and how to transfer them into her Salesforce career, I mean, everyone can identify with that. I love that. Take time. Turn off all the devices. Get out a pen and paper and really think about what your skills are, and then map them. And then I also really appreciated hearing about how you should strategize when you build a team of admins, about thinking about diversity, equality, inclusion, and thinking about maybe applying for that job that you aren’t necessarily ticking all the boxes for. Working with admins at those really big implementations who have hundreds and hundreds of people who work with Salesforce, you don’t have to be an expert to apply for those jobs. I thought that was a really interesting perspective.

So I hope you got something out of this episode. I got a ton. And wow, I got to talk to an Olympic medalist. Amazing. Anyway, thank you so much for joining us today. If you want to learn more about anything we chatted about, go to admin.salesforce.com. You’ll find the skills kit there to identify some of your transferable skills. And as always, you can follow all of the fun on Twitter using #AwesomeAdmin and following Salesforce admins, no I. If you want to follow our amazing Olympian we just heard from, Christine Magnuson, you can find her on Twitter @CMagsFlyer. She is a swimmer. So put that together. You can follow me on Twitter @GillianKBruce and my amazing co-host Mike Gerholdt @MikeGerholdt. I really hope you enjoyed this episode. I hope you’re inspired to go out there and reach for a medal. And with that, I’ll catch you next time in the cloud.

 

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