Transition to a Salesforce Career with Johnjoe Mena.

Transition to a Salesforce Career with Johnjoe Mena


Today on the Salesforce Admins Podcast, we talk to Johnjoe Mena, a self-taught admin and Systems Associate Analyst at Salesforce. Join us as we chat about how to get started teaching yourself Salesforce and what to do when you feel overwhelmed.

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

Working his way up

Johnjoe worked his way up at Salesforce from the mailroom—literally. “I still didn’t know what Salesforce was when I started working there,” he says, “but in my first and second years I learned so much.”

Johnjoe soon found himself at Dreamforce, working the trading post. As he was handing out prizes to customers, he came to a realization. “Every time I would hand a gift out, I would tell myself this could be me one day,” he says. The next day, he logged into Trailhead for the first time.

Getting started on Trailhead

One thing we hear from people all the time is how overwhelming it can feel to get started in Trailhead. With so many options, there can be a bit of decision paralysis in deciding what to do or learn next. For Johnjoe, it was knowing when to step back and look at the big picture. He took a break and asked himself, “Why am I doing this in the first place?”

Johnjoe shortly came across the Credentials page, and that’s when everything started to fall into place. Looking through the overview of all of the different roles in the ecosystem, he found himself drawn to the admin page and got some guidance on what to do next. “Once I found the Admin Trailmix, the overwhelm went away,” he says, “everything started working for me after that.”

What to do when Trailhead feels overwhelming

One of the most amazing parts about Johnjoe’s story is that he managed to skill up into an admin role while working a full-time job. He leaned on Trailhead GO to get through reading material when he had time to fit it in, like on his commute. And he also points out that once you get started, Trailhead has a way of snowballing as you work towards your goals.

Finally, Johnjoe advises you to go at your own pace and not compare yourself to other people. Sure, there are people out there with a ridiculous number of badges but it’s not a race. We’re all still learning—what’s important is to find a path that works for you.

Be sure to listen to the full episode to learn more about how Johnjoe got started at Salesforce in the first place, and why nothing beats hands-on experience.

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Full show transcript

Mike Gerholdt:
This week on the Salesforce Admins Podcast, we’re talking to Johnjoe Mena, or JJ, about learning Salesforce literally from scratch, from the very beginning. JJ is an actual Salesforce admin here at Salesforce, which I find super cool. I mean, you’re the admin at Salesforce. And he just got a promotion to systems associate analyst, and we cover a lot. Boy, let me tell you, this is a great episode.

Now, before we get into it, I want to make sure you’re doing something, and that is following the Salesforce Admins Podcast on iTunes or Spotify, wherever you’re listening to us, because if you’re doing that, then you’re automatically going to get new episodes every Thursday right on your phone. They come out in the morning. We try to hit that early morning so that you’ve got it right away. If you’re on East Coast drive time, Midwest, Mountain, especially West Coast, you’re going to have them before you even wake up. So be sure to do that, because then, your phone is just going to grab the newest one, like this one, and you’re not going to miss out on some amazing stuff that JJ has to give us. With that, let’s get into our conversation with JJ.
JJ, welcome to the podcast.

Johnjoe Mena:
Hey, Mike, how’s it going?

Mike Gerholdt:
Good. Why don’t we get started, because you and I chatted before this and you have an amazing story. You also did a lot of work and helped the admin relations team out at Dreamforce this year in the Admin Meadow, because I got an email from one of my team members about having you on the podcast. But to introduce you, I’d love for you to get everybody up to speed to where you’re at now, but if you could go back to the days of salad and give us a brief overview of how we got to the podcast today, but starting with the days of salad, I would appreciate that.

Johnjoe Mena:
Yeah, of course. As in the beginning, I started as a salad maker at Mixed Greens, located in San Francisco, California, which was about a two, three minute walk to the Salesforce building. I worked there for about a year and a half, and in that year and a half, I’ve met a recruiter. And he would always come in, come get his lunch, we’d always just chat, just talk about life. And the more and more he came, we just started getting closer and closer, building a connection. And out of nowhere without even asking anything about where he worked or anything, he just asked, “Hey, are you looking for a job?” I said, “Yeah, I’m looking for something. I don’t have much on my resume.” And he said, “Don’t worry about it. Just send me what you have, and then, I’ll connect you.”

That same day, after he gave me his card, I went home home and my wife helped me write my resume because I didn’t have anything on it other than working at the salad place, send it to him. Two days later, he called me saying that he got me a job in the Salesforce mail room at HQ. And then, from there, when I started at Salesforce is when … I still didn’t know what Salesforce was when I started Salesforce, which is funny, but as my first and second year I was at Salesforce, I learned so much about what Salesforce was and what they did.

And I just would poke my nose around where I shouldn’t have and just looking through content, things that Salesforce provided for free. And I was also able to work with Vanessa Ng, who was on the Trailhead team, and she asked me to help at Dreamforce, at the booth. I think a lot of people know the trading posts where you hand out the gifts for going to demos, trails, you get prizes.

That’s really where it really motivated me, when customers would come and they would come pick up their prize and they would say, “I’m here for my prize. I’m an admin, I’m a developer,” and me handing them a prize motivated me to start this career as a Salesforce admin because every time I would hand a gift out, I would just tell myself, “This could be me one day, me being on the other side, as an admin.” And I think going and working at Dreamforce and being in that environment just really motivated me. And then, right after that, I really got into Trailhead, I started doing, figuring out how to work Trailhead, I took classes. And then, once I got my admin cert, I started doing nonprofit work for Salesforce. And then, I would just say my career just took off, really. And then, now, where I’m at now, if we fast forward now, I’m a Salesforce admin for the real estate department, but I got promoted to a systems associate analyst now, but I still do the same work, admin slash developer work.

Mike Gerholdt:
Yeah. No, that’s cool, and I think there’s a lot of relatable parts to your story. Also, by the way, I really like Mixed Greens. I’ve been there. That steak salad is wonderful. I also feel like it’s the joke on some Midwestern commercials where the guy goes to pay, and it’s like 1975. It’s like, “No, I’m just paying for my salad.”

It’s funny if you live in the Midwest, because we don’t expect salads to be that much, but it’s interesting because you got a job here at Salesforce, so you’re very immersed in our culture, which obviously, not everybody is, or not everybody listening to the podcast is, but the way that you learned Salesforce, the platform, was the same way that anybody can learn it, which was through Trailhead.

And then, you also, I think, got a very unique perspective when you worked our training post booth, I think it was at TDX or Dreamforce too, to see the joy of people getting plushies and T-shirts and stuff. I’m curious, we’ll go back to those days. You got a job here at Salesforce, but then, it’s also, hey, I want to learn the platform. As somebody, and this is a lot of people, as somebody that’s getting started in Trailhead, where did you start? What was the thing you sat down and said, “Oh, I’m going to do these modules first?”

Johnjoe Mena:
For me, when I first started Trailhead, it’s a lot of stuff on Trailhead so you can get lost, but something that stood out to me when, even just on the homepage, really, was credentials. When you see credentials … It just stood out to me. And when I saw it, I was like … I would browse the modules that were there, the today ones, the ones that you can do off the bat just when you get on the homepage. But once I got into credentials and I started looking at the roles and I saw it said Salesforce admin, and then, as you look at what they offer, they have trail mix that you can just click and they have all of the modules for you in line and it’s like a school, kind of. They give you all these courses in order for you to do so that you can learn what the product is, how the product works, and then, how to use it.

For me, those credentials, doing the certified admin trail mix is what really helped me just learn really what Salesforce was, and then, what an admin does. And I think having that trail mix … I think trail mixes are awesome, awesome things, because they’re just a bunch of trails put together for you, but you don’t have to go looking for, what trail should I do next? Or if you do a trail and then you click on the next one, sometimes, it can take you to different parts of Salesforce. You start learning one thing, and then, you learn another thing, another product.

But the trail mixes, I feel like they’re very focused on that one product, that one learning, and that’s what really helped me because, like I said before, I didn’t know anything about Salesforce. And then, doing the admin one, it teaches you about what Salesforce is as a company, and then, it goes into the product of what the product is, what the features are, and then, how to use the features. Trail mixes is the best thing, I think, that could be created for me, personally, because even for school, it’s when the teacher gives you an assignment, you do it. The trail mixes, you see them like, “Okay, I got to do this one. And then, next, I got to do this one.” And then, that momentum starts building. You know?

Mike Gerholdt:
Yeah. No, I completely … Many in the afternoons I start and think, I’m just going to do these one or two trails, and then, it’s almost like potato chips. Then, you’re half a bag in, didn’t even know you went that far. How did you get past that feeling of scrolling around and seeing how much content there was and just being completely overwhelmed?

Johnjoe Mena:
I would have to say that I took a break from Trailhead for a moment when I did get overwhelmed, when I started looking into Trailhead and I started doing trails and … I really didn’t know what I was doing because there’s no … You get badges and you get points, but it doesn’t say, “Oh, you’re building up to get a certification or any kind of certificate or anything.” In the beginning, when I did get overwhelmed, I took a little bit of a break and I stopped doing Trailhead for a little bit. And then, when I got back on is when I just thought, what is the purpose of Trailhead? What is it going to benefit me? Why am I doing this? And I think, once I figured that, I was like, “Okay, I want to be an admin. Okay, how do I learn to become an admin?” And then, that’s when the credentials, the roles started showing … I started clicking where I should be clicking to find admin, the role, the trail mix.

And then, once I got found the admin trail mix is when the overwhelm went away because it just looked like, “Here’s all the trails you need to do. Here’s the order.” And then, it just started just working perfectly for me after that because the way I was doing it, I was looking for … I would type “Salesforce admin,” and then a bunch of trails would just show up and I would start doing one. And I remember I would do … I did intermediate trails, and then, all of a sudden, I was doing advanced admin trails, and I felt like I was just going everywhere. There was no trail, no path that I was going down. And then, once I found the trail mix, I felt, I was like, “This is perfect. This is telling me what to do, the steps, how to learn everything.”

Mike Gerholdt:
Did you ever find yourself going back over different modules or different challenges? I know, on a couple occasions this spring, I had to build a demo on Flow. And mind you, Jennifer Lee’s on our team and she’s probably forgotten more about Flow than I’ve learned, but it was a point of pride for me. I really wanted to get into it and understand this new version of Flow.

And I was working through some Trailhead modules and, at a certain point, I found myself just going through it and being like, “Cool, got it done. Wait, I don’t remember if I learned anything.” And it’s not that I didn’t learn anything, it was that I was so focused on completing it and moving on that I’d forgot like, “No, I need to take a breath and actually soak this stuff in and go back to a couple different modules.”

These are also modules that Mark Ross had wrote. Mark Ross is a Trailhead writer. He’s been on the podcast before, and he had suggested to me, and he wrote them for Flow. And I remember going back and thinking, yeah, I remember doing that and getting this one thing, and then, just going back over the module, and it was almost like re-watching a film. I saw so much more. Did you ever go back and kind of redo some of those early Trailhead modules?

Johnjoe Mena:
Yes, I did, in the beginning. In the beginning, yes, I did. I started-

Mike Gerholdt:
So it’s not just me. That’s good.

Johnjoe Mena:
No. I think it’s a lot of people, because when you start doing it, sometimes, you can get in that rhythm of just reading everything, getting to the questions, answering and just next, and you really didn’t learn anything because you’re going so fast just to complete it. So then, for me, that was, in the beginning, yeah, I would read really fast, read the questions, and then answer, and then move on.

And then, what happens is, when you’re doing certain trails, then, you have to do the project once. And then, that’s when you’re like, “Oh,” it’s telling you to the next step, but you didn’t do any of the steps before because you just read through everything, and then, you answered and you skipped what the project was leading up to. When that happened to me, that’s when I started to realize, I need to slow down. Even the question ones, you just got to just read it at your own pace and just, how you said it, observe all the information or all the key information they’re trying to explain to you and not really think of it as a race.

I feel like, sometimes, people can think Trailhead is a race, trying to get as many badges as you can. Also, you never want to compare yourself to another person’s badges or points. Trailhead, it’s your own trail. And I think, as long as you’re learning and you’re progressing the way you want to progress and you feel that this is benefiting you, I think that’s fine, instead of comparing how many badges you have to your friend or to other people. For me, I have 400 badges compared to a lot of people who may have more, but I feel like I have learned a lot in those 400 badges that I’ve gotten.

Mike Gerholdt:
Yeah. That’s a lot, dude, seriously. Are you a four star ranger?

Johnjoe Mena:
Yeah, I’m a four star ranger.

Mike Gerholdt:
Okay. I’m a three star ranger.

Johnjoe Mena:
[inaudible 00:14:11] two weeks ago.

Mike Gerholdt:
Oh, congrats. Oh, my God. That’s awesome.

Johnjoe Mena:
Thank you.

Mike Gerholdt:
I want to reiterate what you said. You never want to compare yourself to someone else’s badges or points. That’s huge. Trailhead is built to be so gamified, but it’s a competition that you’re having with yourself, and the winner is knowledge. The winner isn’t the points. And I think you saying that, man, that was just like, that hit me. That was serious.
You’re working in Salesforce, you’re doing Trailhead. It’s no different than a lot of admins working their day job at an organization, or maybe even not working at an organization as a Salesforce admin. How did you balance … I’m sure you’ve got a home life, there’s stuff going on there, you got stuff going on at work and you’re trying to do Trailhead. How did you fit all that stuff in?

Johnjoe Mena:
I would have to say it’s a little of a mix. I know, for me, once I started getting a rhythm with Trailhead, I almost didn’t want to stop doing Trailhead. When you start learning and getting into it, you don’t want to stop. But then, I knew I had to take a break at times, but I would always try to find time when I had downtime at work, even five minutes, 10 minutes. If I could knock out a trail in 10 minutes, I would do that. I would try to pick that.

Or also just, they have Trailhead Mobile and I would do, on my way home when I would commute, I would do Trailhead on mobile and just learn there, because a lot of trails that were just reading and answering questions. My commute was about 30 minutes, so I would just sit there and just do my Trailhead on my way home from work and on the way to work. It’s really … I try to balance it as good as I could.

Mike Gerholdt:
No, your answer’s good. I think you’re reaching to be like, “Is there a better answer in my head?” No. I think it’s that balance, right? It’s also something new, and I would akin to, when you add something to your life, you’re like, “Oh, how am I going to fit this in? My day is super busy already.” Have you looked at the screen time on your phone to see how many hours you spend on TikTok? Just spend two less hours on TikTok. I’m guilty. And think about all the badges you could do.

But I think you were very poignant in thinking through rationally, “Hey, I’ve got this commute time, there’s Trailhead Mobile. Now, I can’t do everything on mobile, but that’s okay. I can do challenges that are just questions that give me something to chew on my 30-minute train ride.” And that’s perfect, because it is a balance. And I think, sometimes, people race too hard because they’re comparing themselves to other people’s badges and points.

I did that for a long time. I’d say, “Oh, man, someone’s got so many badges.” And it’s like, “Okay, cool,” but that’s the journey that they’re on. You can equate it to something else like, I don’t know, bank accounts. Cool. You know how many more people in the world got more money than me? A lot. But that’s the journey they’re on. And there’s a lot of people that don’t have as much money as me, and that’s the journey they’re on. But you can’t compare yourself to that. Also, what’s the point? I think thinking of badges and points for yourself as a celebration of you. You’ve done 400, cool. I’ve done 300. Awesome. That’s great for both of us, not you’re farther ahead and I’m farther behind kind of feeling. I really like that.

You mentioned briefly, at the end of your explanation, that you worked for nonprofit, and I know nonprofit stuff comes up a lot. I feel like there’s both sides of the opinion on it. For new beginning admins, working at a nonprofit, not really a place to hone your skill because it is very high stakes. But also, I’ve been doing this now since 2006 and I’m still learning. I don’t think, at any one point, we stopped learning. We’re just very experienced. What did you learn from working at that nonprofit that maybe you weren’t getting at Trailhead?

Johnjoe Mena:
I would say it was the real use case scenarios that I was exposed to. They had a use case, they wanted … The nonprofit I worked for, they wanted to track their volunteers and track where the volunteer was going to be going to, what pet they were going to take, how many hours. I was experiencing the real hands-on scenarios, I think, and it was different from Trailhead because Trailhead, there’s use cases, but this was, I getting the real experience of what an Salesforce admin really was doing on a day-to-day basis.

What I learned from there was just, they traded me as their admin and they would come up with a request, we would meet, go through the request, then, I would come up with the solution and we would build it, and then, we would present it and show them. And then, if they liked it, then, we would deploy it to their production org. I got to learn a lot of just hands-on, really, just working as an admin in an org.

Mike Gerholdt:
Well, I feel you’re spot on with a lot of the nonprofit stuff and bringing it up because working with nonprofits, it’s a little more high stakes, right? It’s blue sky, green field of some of the solutions that you’re trying to work through as opposed to a Trailhead module where you know where the solution is. I think that’s very cool. I appreciate you taking time out and sharing your story with us. I really feel like you’ve given me some insight and just a little bit of a reset on what it can be like to be overwhelmed and prioritizing things, so I appreciate you coming on the pod.

Johnjoe Mena:
Yeah, thank you for having me, Mike. This was very exciting and fun to be able to share.

Mike Gerholdt:
Well, and congrats on the promotion as well. Look at this, you’re learning and …

Johnjoe Mena:
Thank you.

Mike Gerholdt:
And moving up. You’re already ahead of me in badges, but that’s okay because I feel like I’ve got a lot to learn too. Thanks so much for coming on the podcast.

Johnjoe Mena:
Thank you for having me.

Mike Gerholdt:
It was a fun discussion. I don’t know if you can tell, but I totally got hung up on that. You never want to compare yourself to someone else’s badges or points. It’s about learning and feeling confident in yourself and moving forward. And boy, if you just didn’t get that tidal wave of that feeling in this episode, go back and listen to it again because JJ really, very rightfully so, gives us a lot of lessons. And it’s real useful stuff that I feel I see in here in the community, I see in here in the Trailblazer community a lot, overwhelmed and not sure where to go. I really enjoyed this call. I’m glad I had a chance to run into him at Dreamforce. I’m sure you will at some upcoming events.
Now, if you could do one thing, if you enjoyed this episode as much as I did, share it with somebody. If you’re listening on iTunes, I’m going to tell you how to do that. You tap the dots, there’s three dots, look for them. It’s right in the interface, and you click “share episode.” And then, a little share box will come up and you can post it social, you can text it to a friend, you can send it to wherever you would like.

Also, if you’re looking for more great resources, everything Salesforce admin is at, including a transcript of the show. If you miss something, you want to go back and maybe reread it because you can’t listen to it, I don’t know why, there’s transcript there.

Now, be sure to join our conversation Admin Trailblazer Group, literally the Admin Trailblazer Group. I saw this question come up so much that I booked JJ on the pod to help us answer this. This is where I get my inspiration as well. You can too. It’s in the Trailblazer community. Don’t worry, links are in the show notes. Like I say every week, until next time, we’ll see you in the Cloud.

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