I recently featured on Emeric Gabor’s podcast, What does a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) do at a Salesforce Consultancy? Emeric, Salesforce Architect, Consultant and Podcast Host, asked me questions about my background, what my role is like as a CTO and about keeping my team up-to-date with Salesforce.
How has being a Salesforce partner changed in the last 10 years?
I’ve worked in software for over 30 years, and started working for BrightGen as a Salesforce consultant in 2008. I went from customising my own company’s products to customising Salesforce for other companies. When I joined BrightGen, there were 11 employees – now there are 130!
BrightGen was one of the first partners in EMEA. There were no tiers back then and the product set was relatively simple. Dealing with customers was very different then. Salesforce used to be considered shadow IT, and it wasn’t trusted. IT departments thought that marketing and sales were trying to bypass them. As a technical architect, it was invaluable for the review board – adversity helps you grow.
Eventually, IT departments realised Salesforce wasn’t going away. By around 2012, IT departments couldn’t get enough of Salesforce’s best practice, integrations and processes.
What does your role as a CTO look like?
As a CTO, I have all encompassing technical responsibilities for BrightGen. Our approach is scalable and futureproof. Day-to-day I run BrightGen’s IP team, who is focused on implementations and service management. BrightGen builds IP to take away 80% of the things you need to do for every implementation. The rest is adding bespoke requirements or adding something to their core functionality that gives them competitive advantage.
I’d describe my job as looking for problems on my team’s implementations. I have to remind myself that most of the time, there are no problems – and it’s important to praise your team too.
Before being a CTO, my role was as a principal consultant. Then it was my job to say “no” to customers, as I frequently had to tell customers they couldn’t get what they wanted from Salesforce out of the box. This experience has helped me do that internally.
I still get hands on these days with onboarding and documentation, but avoid getting into critical path situations. I’ll sometimes be the technical last resort and look after some of BrightGen’s tooling to encourage it across the company.
What’s your process between people that build and people that implement?
Getting started with the right framework and approach is important. I maintain a lot of Google docs and lately tried out basecamp to organise this. Previously, travelling was a good time to write documentation!
How do you keep your team up to date with what’s happening at Salesforce?
You do need some standardisation for approach and way of doing things. It’s important to always look to the future, and start looking into BETAs or upskilling on new products. Trailhead is useful for this. When BrightGen started developer controlled packages, I ran a lunch & learn on it, with the action of completing the Trailmix. Then everyone has the same grounding and same path.
BrightGen’s media ad sales IP, BrightMEDIA, is another area I need to keep upskilling my team on. There’s a lot to learn about the media industry and also the platform. I started up BrightMEDIA University, where you practice the implementation and get tested on reading requirements. We try to write requirements like customers, with a bit of ambiguity. It’s time-consuming to set up but the benefits are worth it.
Where do you see your company going with strategy setting?
BrightGen is a platinum Salesforce partner – so Salesforce is everything to us. That’s what makes the CTO aspect of the job more straightforward, as there’s only one company to look at. Although these days there is a rapidly growing number of products and solutions.
On the strategy side, I have a peer Chief Architect on the delivery side. They set their own strategy, which they feed into and have a feedback loop. For example, the people who implement BrightMEDIA will feed back to our team.
BrightGen’s IP team doesn’t do much integration because there are plenty of systems out there doing that well. A delivery team would do this and they have their own approach. BrightGen is guided by Salesforce, and is mainly looking at Mulesoft for this. Internally the IP team integrates into Google Ad Manager, as it’s the biggest management system there is. It makes sense to maintain that.
If you were to start again, what would you do to start the journey to CTO?
BrightGen’s leaders are from an enterprise development background, but you can’t always hire people with 30 years’ experience. I build from the bottom up, ensuring a good graduate pipeline. A lot of it comes down to attitude. Most implementations are short – just a few triggers or flows. If you’re from a computer science background, it’s straightforward – you don’t need to be taught programming.
If you’re from another background (non-traditional), even if you have just been teaching yourself, get in on GitHub! I’ve seen amazing things, such as a platform that could have easily been used for estate agents selling their properties.
Some people say, “go volunteer for a non-profit”, but that’s not always the best thing to do. Charities need people with experience and want people to improve their systems, not break them. I would suggest getting involved in the community. Make a name for yourself helping people. Those kinds of things make a difference, as you show you’re a self-starter and that you’re passionate about what you’re doing.