Growing Your Admin Role with Stuart Mills

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Today on the Salesforce Admins Podcast, we talk to Stuart Mills, VP Trailhead EMEA and Ecosystems at Salesforce. Join us as we talk about why admins are so important, future roles and career paths, as well as the best way to keep learning.

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

Essential Habits for Salesforce Admins is now on Trailhead

That’s right, the webinar/trailhead live/presentation you have all loved and listened to is now a learning module on Trailhead, so head on over and be one of the first admins to get the new Essential Habits Trailhead Badge.

Why tech is only as valuable as the people behind it

Like a lot of people we talk to on the pod, Stuart got his start as an accidental admin. “We found Salesforce as a colorful version of a CRM technology,” he says, “ever since then it’s been this thing that’s grown with me—I’ve grown with it and it’s grown on its own.” He was actually originally an aeronautical engineer, and Salesforce stuck out as a platform where he could understand what he was looking at and solve his business’s needs.

Stuart sees the admin role as critical for any organization that wants to succeed with Salesforce. “Understanding how you administer and use a technology like Salesforce is how it has value,” he says, “tech is only as valuable as the human solutions it solves for.” 

The power skills are transferable skills

A truth in this industry is that many of the most important jobs people will do in the future don’t exist yet. For example, for many of you reading this today, the Salesforce Admin role probably didn’t exist when you graduated from college.

Stuart points out that the growth in technologies like AI is going to necessitate people learning new things and taking on new roles that they can’t even imagine, and so that means you need to focus on the “Power Skills” you bring with you to into that new career path or new function. Transferable skills won’t necessarily show up in your badges and certifications, but they’re just as important to show as anything else on your resume. 

Different approaches to learning

In his role as leading Trailhead Academy EMEA, Stuart gets to see so many different people go through their learning experiences and he has a few observations. While it’s true that almost everyone at one point or another needs a teacher, you also need a peer. Someone to push you and help you engage with problems and with whom you can grow together.

Of course, the more diverse your peer group the stronger you are for it, and one of the biggest leaps they’ve taken forward in recent years is improving the accessibility of Trailhead. One of the guiding principles they stick to is the idea of “Ethical by Design,” meaning that accessibility is deeply thought about from the ground up. As Stuart puts it, “you can’t be what you can’t see.”

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Full show transcript

Mike: Welcome to the Salesforce Admins Podcast where we talk about product, community, and career to help you become an awesome admin. This week we’re talking with Stuart Mills, vice president, Trailhead EMEA and Ecosystems, about why admins are so important, future roles and career paths, as well as the best way to keep learning. But before we jump into that, did you know that the Essential Habits for Admin Success is available on Trailhead? That’s right, that webinar Trailhead live presentation you all loved and listened to is now a learning module on Trailhead. I’ve included the link in the show notes, so after you listen to this episode, go head on over to Trailhead and be one of those first few admins to get the Essential Habits Trailhead badge. But for now, let’s get Stuart on the podcast. So Stuart, welcome to the podcast.

Stuart: Hey, it’s great to be here, Mike. Good to talk with you.

Mike: Well, I’m glad we have you on. I love to speak with everybody around the company and people in our community. Speaking of which, let’s learn a little bit about you. Tell us your amazing story to Salesforce.

Stuart: Well I have the privilege today of leading Trailhead and Ecosystem over in EMEA, and so the journey there, 15 years ago, more, I came across Salesforce, started as an [inaudible]. And we found Salesforce as this colorful version of a CRM technology, something that we could implement at the rate we needed to as a company. And ever since then, it’s been this thing that’s grown with me, I’ve grown with it, it’s grown on its own. We keep connecting with it. And 10 years, two companies, sort of various different leadership roles as I’ve built through that. And then it was time, five and a half years ago, I had the opportunity to join Salesforce and be here and come through various different roles at the company. And it’s always been interesting to me, it’s always been about this blend of people and technology. And the more I could understand the tech, the more I could make more of it when I was a customer. And since joining the company, I’ve been trying to help people with that journey as well. And yeah, it’s been a fun journey so far.

Mike: Yeah, I would say. Boy, it’s always crazy to me when I hear people like, “Oh, 15 years,” and I think back. So you joined right around the time when page builder was a million clicks just to move a field.

Stuart: I did. You know what, we even forgave that back then, but I think it was a lot.

Mike: Oh yeah. Are you kidding? This is amazing. Of course, we were all a little drunk on MySpace because we were putting glitter and stuff everywhere, and we had no idea what we were doing. But we could make field layouts and stuff, it was amazing. It also sounds really far away too. So yeah, that’s cool.

Stuart: It does. It’s like I remember this idea that you could get it though, back from those. Because I’m an originally an engineer, I’m always an engineer, I guess, but aeronautical engineer though, not IT, not tech, not computer science or whatever, but this was something that you could… I’ve got a business thing I need to solve for, and I can look at those things you’ve just described and I can do something with it, and that was always important to me.

Mike: Right. Yeah. Well, there’s an engineering mindset. I remember looking at it and like, “Oh yeah. It’s like Amazon. It makes sense to me now.” So let’s talk about that, because I started, boy, about the same time way back when, and I called myself an admin. And I would love to know why you think Salesforce admins are so important.

Stuart: I think Salesforce admins the role, the person, the people, they’re such a critical building block to everything. Understanding how you administer and use a technology like Salesforce is how it has value. Tech is only as valuable as the human solutions that it solves for. And I see the administration, the role of an admin is critical. And my own, just like your own journey as you just started describing, was I started getting behind the setup window and I started going, “Okay, well, could I do this?” I can make it a little bit better. I can create a little bit more of a flow to things. Now we call it flow, but that then you call it various other things. But you could create this thing that made sense to business people.
And I think admins provide almost a bridge from the business or the organizational problem or opportunity you’re trying to solve for, into Salesforce’s technology and technologies like ours. And, and it’s so important that sort of building block role, that translation happens. Over the years we’ve got far better at describing why our technology is important and why it should create value rather than it being a really sexy tech and an admin role for me sits right in the middle of all of this. It’s not just about a great technology. It is that technology has value. And so that’s sort of, for me, why it’s so important and it’s a place where we also see just amazing people from every background in life and in the world come and learn their way into being an admin and a great one at it. And it seems to make sense in a way. So I certainly evolved what I do today. I see it as such a critical place.

Mike: Yeah. I think I was having this conversation with a coworker the other day and it kind of dawned on me. I mean, they have a child’s couple years old and I said it’s most likely that the role that your child’s going to have when they grow up and get out of college or whatever education they go through doesn’t exist. And I kind of came to that realization that boy, even when I graduate college, the role that I have now didn’t exist. And the role of the Salesforce admin didn’t even exist. Right. And so I think it’s so critical thinking of what Trailhead is and what we’re doing with Trailhead in terms of roles and careers that will be critical in the future. And I’d love to know, what do you think the types of roles and careers will be critical in the future?

Stuart: Yeah. It’s look is a great question that, and I think we can get, I always sort of advise people to not be slaves to their current position, if you like, and their they’re sort of their current title, because you can get yourself locked into a bucket. And with technology moving as quickly as ours does, for example, and many others within a year you’re out of date and things have moved on. And I think we did some analysis recently that sort of said job specs. And particularly in leading organizations are shifting every 18 months so we call an admin, an admin for many years now. Right. But what an admin is, as you look underneath that is a very different thing when you and I first started. It was a lot less to know at that point, I will say, so you and I probably were more successful than where we would be now, but sometimes I think that. Anyway, I think if I look at role types and then what’s in those roles is the way I sort of think of it.
And you’ve got to be continually learning is one of the critical things we talk about a lot and I am biased with Trailhead, but is that sense that you’re just building skills and looking and unlocking things. So the particular tech skills are changing and developing. You need to know more about some of the specifics flow, for example, big, huge topic in the moment. And it’ll be some exciting things this year, as there always is that add to that bit. But the other bits of this are sort of move into really your ability to use your knowledge of technology, to do things differently, that add value to things. So I call them power skills, so that even things like decision making skills and all of these sorts of things. So I think there’s a rich tapestry of skills that are needed under these roles, the new roles of the future.
You start to push into these sort of new things, what they take the trends and the signals of artificial intelligence in its really being useful to individuals in at a day to day level is a huge thing that’s taking over. So the ability of the system to what I call tell us what the next best action is. That’s becoming a much closer reality than we’ve had for many, many a year with the promise of AI is out there. Well, if you think through the logic of, well, once I’ve got a system that’s able to advise me to the next best action, I’ve got something that doesn’t need so many manual steps, and it has to embrace these AI driven events in a very different way. So there’s going to be jobs coming out of that. Today it’s about data scientists and AI specialists that are creating those tooling.
But I can imagine a future that’s here in some ways that the flows in marketing cloud already triggering automated events, but that’s going to be a whole set of other things that come in. And so those kind of ideas I think would be much more. The other thing I think of, and we launched a new credential just a while ago on design is thinking that human center design is far more, it’s always been prevalent and a big thing. The design was kind of a specialism, and now everybody needs to kind of design for the human beings that are working with their system. So I find that quite interesting is an area where we see significant growth in sort of roles and the ways that those come across.

Mike: Yeah, I think you mentioned that human based design, I think we’re seeing that everywhere, right? You look at just how the automobile has evolved as to how things are designed, what they do, where they’re within reach. So you never have to take your hands off the steering wheel as opposed to where they were when they first came out. That’s so key. I would also add the transferable of skills, right? The biggest thing that you mentioned is admins can come from anywhere. And we’re seeing that because the skills that they’ve learned in other positions roll over, right? I even look towards our military. I look at all the people. Can you imagine commanding a tank, you have to have a certain level of awareness and a certain level of prioritization. You can’t tell me that doesn’t transfer over into business analysis, business process improvement, you know?

Stuart: Absolutely. And you’re hitting in a hot area. I met, I actually was ex role Navy. So my affiliation with Salesforce military and vet forces is strong for those days. So, I’m completely with you, the transferable skills and the constant nurturing and developing of those transferable skills is really important. And we find that people get themselves in when they need to represent those transferable skills in every presentation of themselves and their career development and what they do every day is really, it’s layering, it’s learning. One of the things I think of within your tank example, my Navy example, but people who’ve lived through tough things in their life have learned something from it.
They’ve learned something from those tough experiences that help you do tough things. And I think that grit is a transferable skill, but we don’t see enough of actually in many people. So I always think, and try and advise admins and anybody working in this Salesforce ecosystem, make sure you represent those and think of them when you’re doing your admin certification or your super badges, or your learning is a part of what you are. But all of those other transferable skills are absolutely critical. And don’t leave them behind. To your point really, we need more and more of them.

Mike: Yeah. So let’s talk about that a little bit, because learning is very important and there’s different ways of looking at it. I know it took a while. Actually, I worked for an education company and I understood why I loved Ikea so much. Not because their furniture was within my price range, but the way they made the instructions, right. I loved, drawn out instructions. And so I learned that I was a very visual learner, right? Same with Salesforce. I love watching videos on how to build things in Salesforce, as opposed to reading things. And so I would love to know from you, you work with Trailhead in EMEA you oversee a lot of this stuff. What is some of the best ways to learn or keep learning?

Stuart: Yeah. Well, we all have different styles in different places, right? I think so learning styles are a critical part of this understanding. And we try and think of people as individuals, right? The way of sort of starting that answer. So Trailhead has a mix of things. The key points I’d go with Trailhead is, and Trailhead to me is a promise of things, right? It’s a promise that we can help you learn the things you need to know about Salesforce to do well. Part of that’s in the platform, which is gamified. And so there’s this sense of triggering you to learn using video, putting your hands into it, getting in the technology and working those things through. But we find that people supplement the learning that they’ve got within Trailhead because they get inquisitive and there’s lots of links that if you don’t follow through, and when you start with Trailhead, you start to realize these links have actually been well thought through, by the curriculum designers to go off and have a look at other things.
So YouTube. There’s other courses, providers, there’s an incredible community of people have been at some of our community events this year. And it’s just incredible and inspiring to learn from others. So peer to peer learning. And then part of my job is leading Trailhead academy in EMEA. And we have instruction and we have a lot of different partners that bring people in a room together. And that’s an interesting dynamic to watch. And I’ve had the chance to observe those learning experiences, where you realize some people and perhaps all of us need a teacher every now and again, but we also need a peer. And I have a really wonderful picture from a boot camp we did in Berlin, where we brought a load of people together, and we were talking about different learning styles. And the job of the boot camp was you did a certification on Monday to see how you get on.
Then you did classroom. And then you did the certification exam on the end. Classroom training, clear to everybody what that is. You know, you get the help of an instructor, but you also get the help of your table that you’re at. But this picture I have is of five people. Two very experienced architects sitting with three very diverse administrator or trainee administrators. There was a refugee in there. There was an Italian, a German, and these two architects and they had Trailhead up, they were talking to each other, they had bits of paper. There were in this particular picture, a couple of beers. I think the architects were those that the admins were more focused and they were just having some fun, working the problems together and trying to prepare themselves for doing the certification exam. So when we sort of talk about learning, there’s all of this stuff is available and rich.
And for each individual, I think that there isn’t unfortunately a right way, there’s your way. But I do encourage everybody to test different ways of doing and learning. So within the Salesforce military program, for example, one of the greatest things of that is the military community that sits around that. People helping each other with their learning. So it goes beyond sitting quietly in a room with Trailhead in front of you and working quietly through it, to taking advantage of these experiences to work with peers and work with instructors to help you get to those at the right points. And then there are plenty of people who’ve done one class at the beginning with somebody else, and then they are just consume certifications and seem to knock them out of the park. And there are others of this that just kind of need the help all the time that nowhere is right. We just try and make it as accessible as possible to everyone.

Mike: Yeah. I completely agree. In fact, I love a lot of the community groups are doing Salesforce Saturdays, or getting together. For me, when I do a module, I love to sit down and go through it and then you get the badge at the end and you’re like, “Yeah, but I follow the instructions on the screen.” And some of that for me is I need to also go back and then do it two or three more times differently and really pull apart the feature before I feel like I have a good working knowledge of it to really get hands on. So it’s almost like rebuilding the Lego kit, but throwing the book away.

Stuart: I tell you. Absolutely. And you mentioned one of my favorite customers in Lego and then-

Mike: Oh yeah?

Stuart: One of my favorite charities is an organization called Right to Play. And what the Right to Play is about getting children in tough places, in African refugee camps and others to play again. And then what you are just describing with Lego. And even their adult play work is getting us to play with something, not to get right to pass an exam. The best administrators, the best people working across the ecosystem, play with the technology in the safe spaces that they can do so. And then once they’ve worked it out and got rid through the kinks and tried it, as you said, two or three different ways, then they really know what to do. And then you go into your production and you do those things. But yeah, just to think through the work, the eyes of play and the joy of that is always good fun.

Mike: Yeah. I always encourage people. I have a, I have a dev org from 2006 that has all my mistakes in it, but it’s the org that I love to play in because I figured out how to do, this is how old I am. Image fields as formulas and stuff. And there’s a million places in there that I got stuff wrong, but when you get it right, you’re like, “Oh, now it makes sense to me.” And I love that. I think you mentioned you were in the city of the block of the next idea that I had, which is really thinking through accessibility. And I’d love to know kind of what barriers you’ve had to work through with Trailhead, for Salesforce in terms of accessibility.

Stuart: Yeah. It gets you into a huge topic of equality and really looking through how do we make sure that everybody and anybody can be successful in a space. And I’m a huge advocate for that means everybody and anybody. I grew up for a few years of my childhood in Kenya. It was very clear to me that there were privilege and under privilege and it mattered for how you got access to education that was accessible to you. So when we think of accessibility, sort of the number of things are well, is available just available online. Trailhead is available and free online for anybody to go access, but that’s not where it finishes because not everybody learns with just an online tool. So there’s a number of different things.
So within the technology, within the platform, accessibility, in terms of color design, making sure that everything’s accessible for those different ways, that means online and working through that. And we talk about ethical by design a lot in those contexts is building within the system and trying to do that. We know we’re not there yet. I know we’re not there yet with a lot of these topics, there’s a lot of work that still needs to be done to make things truly accessible in the broadest sense, but we’re working on it and we keep working on it. Language is the other thing for me Europe in and EMEA is full of multiple different languages. We are trying to move towards having more and more excessively in local language and make sure that barrier to entry is removed as far as we can.
It’s a complex piece that right, because a lot of our technology is built from English basis, which is where a lot of technology has been today across the industry. So we’ve got a lot of work to done on those sorts of things. And then quite interesting, you’ve sort of maybe another topic I think of when we talk accessibility, neuro diverse. So we know we all don’t think in the same pattern, we all don’t work in the same pattern and the neuro diverse. My youngest son has dyslexia and you just give him a long list of texts to read through and he’s lost. Give him a math statement, oh my goodness. Or give him a puzzle. And he’s incredible to work through these things. And we are seeing, for example, people who are on the autism spectrum have an incredible ad and unlocking their skill often Trailhead, quietly worked through.
And some of the more complicated bits we’re finding, we need to try and surface the things that fit these different minds patterns. And also to me are working on ecosystem is finding the job opportunities that people can have. So we’re trying to pull through, so say it’s all very well learning, but at learning’s got mean something and lead to something. So trying to make sure that when we think accessibility, we also think about the jobs that people will land in beyond their work on Trailhead. And I could spend hours talking about classrooms that we’re trying to improve when we’re bringing people together and working through that. But we’re excited because, oh, I’m excited because we do have examples from all sorts of different spectrums with autism spectrums, dyslexia, blind, all sorts of ability issues and so on and so forth where people have been successful from every sort of background.
So we know it can be done. And maybe the other thought that comes to mind on this is sometimes we just each need to see an example of where somebody else has already done it. That looks and feels a little bit more like us. You can’t be what you can’t see. So sort of classic statement there, isn’t it. So we’re trying to work in so many different places on trying to make sure you can see somebody who’s more like you, that hopes inspires you, that it is possible.

Mike: Well, that is exactly our number one value on the admin team is we want to make sure that when you and attend an event or hear a podcast, or look at our content, you see somebody that looks like you. Right. And to that point, we actually I’ve done at least, I know one podcast. I’m not sure if Gillian did a podcast as well on being a neuro diverse admin. So I’ll include that link in the show notes.

Stuart: Oh, brilliant.

Mike: Yeah. Yeah. And we have a lot of very successful admins in our ecosystem who just have to process things a little bit differently. And part of that’s learning and also for admins that aren’t, I think it’s us learning about our users and understanding, well, do I have users that are colorblind? What changes do I need to make for them? Absolutely. That pushes your skill.

Stuart: It does, doesn’t it? Absolutely. And there’s so many statistics out there in terms of the best teams of the most diverse teams. And if you want to do something well, you need to do it together. And if you want to go far that’s the stuff. Yeah. You’re brilliant.

Mike: Well, it forces you into, I think looking into corners that you might overlook. Right. And it forces you into thinking about how big do I need the text to be? What about when I make this report, it may look good to me. My executive may think it looks good, but if none of my users can read it because they can’t tell the different shades of the color, then it’s not a good report. It’s not a good dashboard.

Stuart: Absolutely.

Mike: Really pushes your skill level. So one thing that I always love to talk about with our guests is all of the fun and passionate stuff. And it sounds like you have some that you do outside of Salesforce. Would you care to share any of that with us?

Stuart: Well, you know what I mean, that sort of, I like having fun doing, playing things. I mean, I suppose I’ve got two teenage boys now, and in my own life, you heard me sort of talk earlier about the charities that I’m sort of passionate around have a lot to do with play. And just really trying to find the way of getting joy into things. So my fun is I like to play, I like to do a bit of sport. I particularly like to run and get out there and just play with the different pace that I go at. Find different places to go to look at different things. So we have a very rich favorite place that I go running around, which is Richmond Park, just on the west of London, which is this just incredible place that you can go in.
And it’s amazing to go out there and whether it’s with the family or just alone, and to see the diverse sets of things that are happening and look at them in different ways. And I always come away from a run around Richmond Park having sort of been inspired by something different. And I suppose I just find that I come back refreshed and energized and looking at a little bit playfully through some eyes again and looking for opportunities. And I mentioned this example, because I find that I don’t know about you, but I get exhausted by stuff and I get busy and my diary gets filled up by stuff that I don’t really know if it should be there, it’s sort of unintentionally full.
And sometimes it’s difficult to just have a bit of fun with it and play with a new idea and things like that. Whereas forcing myself out into the park and on a run and then playing with the kids just means you get into spaces that you can just start to think about something in a different frame, a different way. You mentioned a minute ago that sort of idea of thinking through the eyes of somebody else. I find out I get that from a bit of sport, a bit of running and a bit of play.

Mike: Yeah. No and runners are dedicated. Holy cow, every time I’m in a big city, you can always tell when you’re by an area that people like to run.

Stuart: Oh yeah.

Mike: There’s whole you see, you know what I’m talking about?

Stuart: Absolutely. You get the there’s-

Mike: There’s equipment. I mean, there’s the bike people and the bike people got it going on. Don’t get me wrong. But runners, that’s a whole other, because you don’t have any. I mean, all of your equipment, you got to carry with you.

Stuart: Yep. That’s exactly right. And sometimes you do a commute and all of these sorts of things and you see every size, sexuality, color, all sorts of joy, don’t you with-

Mike: Yeah.

Stuart: People running and walking and out there and it’s accessible. I find that I’m traveling at the moment, but I’ve got my shoes with me.

Mike: Sure, and that’s all you need because then everything else changes. That’s the best part.

Stuart: That is it. And you just need to be open to getting lost a few times was the other.

Mike: I was going to say, I have to envision your sense of direction is either spot on or you totally map things out because otherwise I would run a few miles in one direction and be like, “I’m not going to run all the way back.”

Stuart: Well, yeah, no. Well this is a whole other topic in itself, but I’m a dedicated Strava user. So that’s my control mechanism.

Mike: Okay.

Stuart: My wife always kids me that I’m an ex Naval officer whose navigation sometimes fails him as she has sadly experienced a few times, but yes, but there is always joy. And the thing you discovered somewhere on, even if you end up having to go back on yourself.

Mike: Right. Absolutely.

Stuart: You just have to look for that joy.

Mike: Yep. I think that is the perfect way to wrap this. There’s always joy in something you discover. So Stewart, thanks for taking time out your day to help us discover some joy and understand why admins are so important and the roles that we’re working through and learning. It’s such a fun time.

Stuart: Yeah. No. Brilliant. Well, thank you so much and really lovely to talk with you today. And I hope there’s some nuggets in there and thanks for everybody’s contributions into being administrators and all the roles that come from there. You are a critical part of the community and a joy to be spending time with. So, and thanks for listening today.

Mike: So it was great having Stewart on the podcast. Wow. How much fun was that to listen to? I can’t get this sentence out of my head. Tell me if this gave you goosebumps. Grit as a transferable skill.
Just going to leave that there for a second, because that was so cool. I really enjoyed sitting down, talking with Stuart. I hope you enjoyed that episode. Let me know what you thought of it. If you’d love to learn more about all things Salesforce admin go to admin.salesforce.com to find more resources, including any of the links that we mentioned in this episode, as well as a full transcript. Of course you can stay up to date with us on social. We are at Salesforce admins no I. Gillian is on Twitter. You can follow her at Gillian K Bruce. Of course I’m on Twitter as well. Give me a follow. I am at Mike Gerholdt and with that stay safe, stay awesome. And stay tuned for the next episode. We’ll see you in the cloud.

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