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Today on the Salesforce Admins Podcast, we talk to David Nava, Lead Solution Engineer at Salesforce, Host of Military Trailblazer Office Hours, and 20-year Navy veteran.
Join us as we talk about what to do after you pass the admin cert, how to decide what role in the Salesforce ecosystem is right for you, and how David used the apps he built for his personal life to make an impact at a job interview.
You should subscribe for the full episode, but here are a few takeaways from our conversation with David Nava.
When last we spoke to David, he was wrapping up his career with the Navy with an eye toward transitioning into a role in the Salesforce ecosystem. On the day that he retired, he jumped right into his new career feet-first as a Junior Solution Architect at a consultancy on one of their largest projects to date.
David was recruited by Salesforce, but the story doesn’t quite go like you think it might. They turned him down at the end of the process, citing his lack of experience. However, they offered him a different role as a Solution Consultant after he pulled out his org during the interview and showed them the apps he had been creating. Most of all, they were impressed by his passion for the platform and were willing to give him a shot.
“Building apps in a dev org helps you focus on all the fundamentals,” David says, “but it also helps you really apply what you’re learning in Trailhead to specific business challenges.” He built apps to manage his workouts, track his finances from the road, and manage his tasks. He built them and rebuilt them to make something he liked, and they really made an impact when he showed them off in the interview.
8 months later he was recruited internally for his current role, as a Lead Solution Engineer to replace legacy systems for the Navy and Marine Corps. He’s now in a position where he can draw on his years of experience as an officer and replace all the systems he didn’t like using.
David’s always been serious about mentorship, and now he’s in a place where he can give back. He teamed up with Bill Kuehler and Resource Hero to be a part of Military Trailblazer Office Hours focused on career and branding. Since then, he’s helped almost 2,000 people earn certifications, choose career paths, and get hired with his live sessions and YouTube videos.
So you got your admin certification, now what? David advises several people in exactly this position. He recommends you start by “test driving” the career path options by conducting informational interviews with professionals in those roles. “You need to learn about the role’s requirements, responsibilities, challenges, and joys so that you get a sense for what it’s like to work in that role,” he says.
David’s also a big fan of the Salesforce Admin Skills Kit. It gives you a framework for how to think about your skills beyond just the technical aspects. “You can apply your different work experience in the context of these skills to demonstrate its relevance to the Salesforce Admin role,” he says.
Be sure to listen to the full episode for all of David’s great insights, and especially make sure to catch his 5 tips to help people transition into a new Salesforce career.
Gillian Bruce: Welcome to the Salesforce Admins Podcast, where we talk about product, community and careers to help make you an awesome admin. I’m your host today, Gillian Bruce. I am joined today by Golden Hoodie winner, Salesforce Military community leader, and lead solution engineer at Salesforce, David Nava. Now, last time we had David on the podcast, it was back in 2019. He was still working in the military. Is that what you say? Working in the military. He was still in the military, Naval flight officer. Now, he has not only begun his Salesforce journey, but he is full on in it. And now, he is helping others transition their careers into the Salesforce ecosystem. I wanted to get David on to talk about what he’s learned in terms of his own career journey and transferring skills into the Salesforce ecosystem from other professions, and kind of get his perspective on what skills he thinks are the most important to help make you successful in the Salesforce ecosystem. Okay, without further ado, let’s get David on the pod. David, welcome to the podcast.
David Nava: Thanks so much for having me. It’s awesome to be here.
Gillian Bruce: Well, it’s wonderful to have you back. Now, it’s been a little while since we’ve had you on. I think it was back in 2019 was the last time we had you on the podcast. Give us a little update. I know you got a little company change, a little title change. Tell me a little bit about what’s been happening since the last time we spoke.
David Nava: Yeah. Big company change. I think last time we spoke, I was still in the military and was getting ready for that transition. So kind of since then, I’ve retired from the military. On the day that I retired, I was actually hired at PolSource, which is a platinum consulting firm in the ecosystem. They put me on one of the company’s largest projects to date as a junior solution architect. For me, it was a really cool opportunity.
So I worked for them for about 12 months. And then I was recruited by Salesforce, unexpectedly, for a solution architect position. However, I was actually turned down at the conclusion of the tactical interview. My interviewers felt like I put on a good presentation, but I just didn’t have enough experience. But they invited me to come aboard as a senior solution consultant instead because they were impressed with my passion for the platform. I had actually pulled out my Dev Org during the interview and shared the apps that I’d been creating over the past year or so. So that was a really neat experience. My project team actually went on to earn the Customer Value Delivered award for my first implementation project at Salesforce, which was really neat.
Gillian Bruce: That’s awesome.
David Nava: Yeah, that was great experience. So I worked as a senior solution consultant for a while. And then eight months later, I was internally recruited for a solution engineer position with my current team, which is Global Public Sector, Department of Defense. He reached out to me and said, “Hey, Dave. How would you like to help build solutions to replace legacy systems for the Navy Marine Corps?” Obviously, that was super cool for me because I was a Naval flight officer. So now I would get to help them digitally modernize the service by replacing all those things that I really didn’t like using as an officer. It always felt like there’s got to be something out there that’s better. So I put myself in a position to be able to offer that, which was really, really cool.
Gillian Bruce: I love that. Talk about full circle. It’s amazing.
David Nava: Yeah. Yeah. It really was. I think last time we talked mentorship was a big thing for me, and it still is. So since entering the ecosystem, I’ve really always mentored other trailblazers. However, recently, last year, I moved from a one to one mentoring format to more of a collaborative mentorship approach. I teamed up with Bill Kuehler, who is the co-founder of Resource Hero, which is an app exchange company. He had been doing Military Trailblazer Office Hours for a couple years. I said, “Hey, Bill. Would you mind if I added a new weekly session to your program? You do the technical, I could do career and branding.” He was very supportive. Said, “Sure, come on board.” Gave me tons of help and resources. So I launched that about a year ago. And then since then, I’ve had over 2,000 participants across almost 60 sessions. We’ve got almost a hundred videos on YouTube. We’ve been able to help people earn certs, choose career paths and get hired, which has been really, really encouraging.
Gillian Bruce: That’s amazing. I want to get into that, but before we totally get there, there was one thing you said in your kind of personal career transformation that I wanted to double highlight, because I think it’s amazing, and it’s something we’ve talked about on the podcast a couple times before, is the fact that you pulled up a Demo Org in your interview process and showed some apps that you have built for yourself. Can you just take a couple minutes and talk a little bit more about that?
David Nava: Yeah, sure. I’ve always recommended to my mentees, and really, anyone who will listen, if you’re studying for an exam, or if you’re looking for work experience and you just can’t find that volunteer job or you can’t find that internship, the best thing for you to do is to build apps in your Dev Org. Because, I mean, obviously it’s free to spin up a Dev Org. Cost you nothing. You can have multiple different Dev Orgs, and they’ll stay good as long as you spend time on them. Building apps helps you focus on all the fundamentals, but it also helps you really apply what you’re learning in Trailhead to specific business challenges.
For me, I needed apps to manage my workout, because I couldn’t really find a great one online. I was using spreadsheets for my finances, which I hated because I have to go into my app, because I was doing it on the road, and just kind of expand things. It was just so hard to be able to enter in my expenses. And then I really wanted something to manage my tasks. So over the course of the year during my transition, I started building these things in Salesforce.
I would build, I would go, “No, that’s not great.” I would scrap it. I’d come back literally to the drawing board, my whiteboard, redraw it out, figure it out, go implement it. And in doing that, I learned how to use, at the time, Workflow and Process Builder, later, Flows. Everything that you need to focus on for the admin exam and for a lot of the other exams can come from building applications. So when I got to the point of my interview, I had some decently solid apps that I pulled out. I was like, “Hey, here’s what I’ve been using to manage my tasks.” I showed them my task manager, which had the current interview actually in a chronological order. I had notes attached to it, and I had some AppExchange components that I’d put in there. It was really, really dynamic way of viewing my daily schedule outside of my email calendar.
They loved that. I think, ultimately, that’s what ended up getting me the job. Since then, I have just doubled down on my belief that one of the best ways to prepare for really any aspect of your career is to build apps and keep building. Get hands-on with the platform rather every single day.
Gillian Bruce: Oh, great advice. I love that. I mean, putting the real story behind that is so valuable. So thank you for sharing that. I hope everyone’s now inspired to build an app for anything. I love that. I remember, I built an app to help manage my wedding years ago. It was very basic, but it was like, “Oh, I’m just going to build this app.” And then I created some blogs about it. It was like, “Oh, hey, I learned something.” Because it was like the admin of Lightning. So it was a good way to tinker around and get used to that.
All right, let’s get into mentorship. One of the things that you mentioned you’re really passionate about is helping people transition into the Salesforce ecosystem. You mentioned Salesforce Military. I bet you have a lot of experience and stories about maybe some common blockers that people face as they’re making that transition. Can you talk to us a little bit about that?
David Nava: Yeah, absolutely. People share their blockers with me, both in the one to one sessions and when they come to my weekly office hours. I think first and foremost, the hardest thing for people is choosing their path. I know it was for me. New trailblazers have so many questions that need to be answered, like, “Well, after the admin cert, what comes next? Should I choose a technical or a non-technical role? What path will make the best use of my unique skill sets?” It’s a difficult choice to make because if you’re brand new, you have a limited knowledge about the pros, the cons, and the differences. So when you’re faced with these different roles … For example, how does a solution consultant differ from a solution architect? Or, how about an admin versus a BA? Or, what are the responsibilities of a software engineer versus a solution engineer? I would argue that there’s probably some folks that have been in the ecosystem for a while that still don’t know the answer to that last one.
Gillian Bruce: I’m like, honestly, some of those are splitting hairs. Right?
David Nava: Right. Right. It doesn’t help that different companies call their roles different names for doing the same thing. So unfortunately, folks have limited resources for exploring these paths. They really want to know, “How can I try before I buy?” And ultimately, underpinning all this, is this underlying fear of making the wrong decision. Because they don’t want to go down that path, take the certs, get fully invested, only to discover, “Ah, this wasn’t a good fit,” and have to start all over again.
Gillian Bruce: Yeah. It’s like you want that opportunity for that summer internship before you fully get the degree and sign up for the whole career path. So how do you coach them then? When they’re kind of encountering these questions and these blockers, what are some things that you have found are helpful to say to people when they’re encountering this decision?
David Nava: Yeah. It’s a great question. If you think about it, everyone’s interests, their skills and their needs are unique. Right? And therefore, everyone’s professional journey is, of course, also unique. For mentors, I think the key is asking open questions about their previous experience, their passions, and where they’d like to see themselves in the future. And then deeply listening to the answers to help them discover their path.
For me, I encourage them to test drive, I’ll use the air quotes, I know you can’t see me, test drive the career path options that they found most interesting, by conducting what I call informational interviews with professionals in those roles. Because you need to learn about the roles’ requirements, responsibilities, challenges and joys, so that you get a sense for what it’s like to work in that role. Because if you think about it, only when armed with this information can someone who has never worked in these roles then compare and contrast them to determine which one might be the best fit. So for me, coaching them through this process is rarely limited to a single interaction. It’s an ongoing conversation as they gather information from all the interactions with the community, and then I help them interpret, analyze and make sense of it.
Gillian Bruce: Oh, that’s great. I think the informational interviews is invaluable. Right. And what’s great is that you’re able to connect folks with people in those roles. Or at least you’ve got such a community network now that you can be like, “Oh, you should check out this group.” Or whatever. One of the things you mentioned is kind of focusing on skills. Now, this is something I’m very passionate about, especially right now. Because we just recently launched the Salesforce Admin Skills Kit, which is admin.salesforce.com/skillskit. Shout out if you haven’t already checked it out. But the reason we launched this, and we’ve talked about it on the pod a couple times before, is we really learned that Trailhead is fantastic and it’s a great way to learn some technical skills, but on top of that, there’s a lot of, I like to call it, admin magic that isn’t necessarily encapsulated in the Salesforce product itself. It’s stuff like business analysis and communication and designers mindset.
So we spent basically the last year and a half doing a lot of research, and doing a lot of surveys and focus groups, and talking to a lot of different workplace placement organizations, to try and understand what are those business skills that you layer on top of the technical skills to make you a really successful Salesforce Admin. Now, we released the kit at TrailblazerDX, just a couple months ago. David, I would love to know, from your perspective, you’ve seen the skills kit, can you give me a little … like what you think of it, how you envision it helping, or placing it within the context of some of the work that you do to help mentor others as a transition into the Salesforce ecosystem.
David Nava: Yeah, absolutely. I remember it coming out and I was excited for it. I think, from a career development perspective, it is a new best practice for how to communicate the skills required to be successful in a role. Which ultimately, as you go down that path, will help you pick the role that you’re most interested in. So I thought the kit was extremely well organized. I loved the explanatory video, going over the details for how to leverage this new tool from the perspective of both a job seeker and a job provider. It was kind of a digital user manual, if you will. Really super helpful.
I think it’s also helpful because, as we all know, bridging that work experience gap for someone transitioning to the Salesforce ecosystem is one of those difficult challenges. So this provides an easy-to-use tool for communicating your value in a context that employers could understand and will respond to. I mean, as you mentioned in the description, when I was watching the video, it’s also valuable for skills translation. So if you’re coming from a completely different industry, you can apply your previous work experience in the context of these skills to demonstrate its relevancy to the Salesforce Admin role. As I was thinking about it, I was like, “I would love to see this concept extended to the other Salesforce career categories, like developer, consultant, business analyst,” and on and on.
Gillian Bruce: Well, great. I’ll put it on the list. We’ll just get that done. No problem. The transferable skills piece is something I really would like to dive deep on with you, because you have found … I mean, you found a way to transfer your military skills into the Salesforce ecosystem. You talk to people all the time about trying to transfer their skills. It is something that comes up every single time I talk to somebody, who’s like, “So I worked in retail for the last 12 years. Do I just start from ground zero when I want to build a career in the Salesforce ecosystem?” I’m like, “No, no, no. No, you don’t have to start from zero. Let’s talk about all of the things you have.” So can you talk to me a little bit about maybe an example of someone or maybe some common themes that come, especially when you’re talking to people coming from the military or military spouse community?
David Nava: Yeah. I mentor a lot of folks. They’re both transitioning service members, they are veterans and they military spouses. So transferable skills is one of those incredibly important concepts that they all have to master as military community members, because oftentimes, what they’re coming from looks dramatically different than what they’re interested in going to. So for me specifically, coming from a Naval flight officer job description, where I was in charge of weapons systems and overseeing jamming of enemy electronic communications, doesn’t really have much to do with being a consultant, or being a solution architect. And so-
Gillian Bruce: Or does it?
David Nava: Well, at the very lowest level skills? No. But to your point, at that meta skill level, absolutely. So these life experiences, though, I didn’t realize it at the time, would absolutely help me with my transition. So if I can put it all kind of in context, let me walk you through transferable skills in the context of a military spouse. Because I feel like oftentimes they don’t get the attention they deserve in the job market.
To talk to their challenges, military spouses often find it difficult to find stable work because they’re constantly moving based on the needs of their spouse’s military career. So if you look at a resume for a military spouse, it is not uncommon to see they’ve worked in a variety of different roles, in different locations, for relatively short periods of time. So employers look at these resumes and some of them will shy away, to their detriment. But what they need to realize is that military spouses have unique skills and abilities because of this lifestyle. Sometimes they need help in recognizing this themselves.
I’ve mentored numerous military spouses who have gone on to assume a variety of different roles in the ecosystem. And all of these people have a unique set of skills. Like we talked about just a moment ago with the Admin Skills Kit, problem solving, flexibility, project management and others, beginner’s mindset developed as a result of their military lifestyle that has helped them to succeed. They’ve proven this time and again by simultaneously managing the household, the various jobs they’ve held, frequent moves, and the typical challenges and emergencies that you’d expect arise in the normal course of being a military spouse all at the same time. So what I tell them is, “Your challenge is framing your transferable skills, and they’re absolutely transferable, as well as your varied experiences in a context that communicates value when you’re writing a resume or when you’re interviewing for a position.” To come full circle, it’s awesome to see this transformation happen when employers actually recognize the valuable contributions that military spouses can make to their organization, and they hire them, instead of overlooking them for a candidate with a more traditional background.
Gillian Bruce: Yeah. I mean, one of the skills I think just screams at me is adaptability, right? I mean, that is something that you have no choice but to be that way, if you’re a military spouse. Not only do you have a choice, but you’re probably the most adaptable person ever. You’ve got that down. That is something super important, no matter what direction, what career that you go into. Especially in Salesforce ecosystem, when we have so many product changes, and system requirements change, and companies change, and all of that. I think that’s something that just was screaming out at me as you were talking.
David Nava: Absolutely.
Gillian Bruce: So, David, looking at some of the specific skills, we got 14 skills listed in the Admin Skills Kit, what are some of the ones that jump out to you, as some of the ones that have been the most helpful to either you in your career journey or what you’ve seen really scream … You also work with a lot of admins right now in your role at Salesforce who are customers. So from that perspective, too, what are some of those … of these 14, what are the top ones that scream out to you as the most important for you?
David Nava: Yeah. I think my absolute favorite, and this is both in the context of the one that I leveraged during my transition, as well as what I see in the customer ecosystem with both new, as well as well-established admins, is having a learner’s mindset, because continuous improvement is so important. In fact, I’ve literally tattooed it on my arm. You can’t see, but I’ve got two tattoos on my forearms. One of them is Kaizen, continuous improvement. I did that because it’s a reminder of the huge role that it played in my Trailblazer journey. And the fact that, as regards my journey or the journey of any other admin, it’s a cornerstone meta skill for being successful in our industry. If you have a learner’s mindset and you apply that in your interactions every day on the platform, there’s nothing you can’t accomplish. It’s the skill of skills.
Gillian Bruce: The skill of skills, there we go. Getting real meta on everyone now. That’s great. Dave, before we wrap up here, you have done so much in terms of mentoring others and learning from your own experience. If you could boil it down to some top tips that you have to help other people who are transitioning careers, what are your top three things, top few things that you would share to kind of sum up the things that you’ve learned to help people transition?
David Nava: Yeah. Let’s do a top five because, I mean, who doesn’t love a top five list? Nobody, that’s the correct answer. Everyone loves a top five list.
I think, number one … Some of this will be a little bit of a review because I really want to foot stomp it. Number one is schedule lots of conversations. This is going to help you figure out what you want to do. I referred to these earlier as informational interviews, but they’re an excellent method for taking risk-free test drives of careers before you commit to them, so that you don’t have that buyer’s remorse when you’re in a career path that just doesn’t resonate. Step … or, I guess, number two, network and brand early. It’s going to build the relationships and the reputation that will help open doors for you. As we all know, you cannot rush the growth of relationships or your professional network. It’s not just like you add water and it grows, right? So if you want those resources when you need them, you’ve got to start early. Number three-
Gillian Bruce: You got to put the fertilizer down, sew the seeds.
David Nava: Yeah, for sure. I mean, it takes a while. You have to cultivate those things over time, with numerous conversations. And then at some point they’re ripe and you can gently kind of ask if those connections will be willing to help you, but you can’t introduce yourself on LinkedIn and go, “Hey, great to connect with you. Can I have a job?” That doesn’t go over so well.
Gillian Bruce: Not a successful strategy. All right. What’s number three?
David Nava: Number three, make time for learning. Which shouldn’t be a surprise if you’ve listened to any of my content today, or previously. One of my successes has been to create a daily schedule to upskill and enhance my knowledge of the platform. I think if you do this as well, it will help you avoid procrastination. The pace of innovation is incredibly fast in our ecosystem. We got the three annual releases. There’s stuff coming out all the time. So if you’re not continuously learning, you’re eventually going to get left behind.
Gillian Bruce: I love it. Okay. What’s number four?
David Nava: Find ways to get hands on. So when applying for roles, it helps you demonstrate you can apply the knowledge you’ve learned to solve business challenges. And as we talked about, it’s also essential for exam prep. As I proved, if you pull out that Dev Org during a job interview, it might just actually get you the role.
Gillian Bruce: That’s my favorite tip. If you’re only going to remember one, build something in your Dev Org so you can pull it out in an interview.
David Nava: Yes. Yes, it works.
Gillian Bruce: All right. So take us home, number five.
David Nava: Number five. This is the meta tip. This ties them all together. It’s the one tip to rule them all. Practice gratitude. All right. This is going to help you nurture and maintain your existing relationships. And then when you’re able, as I’ve found, the best way to practice your gratitude is to pay it forward by giving back to your professional community.
Gillian Bruce: I love that. That is the best tip and the way to kind of encapsulate, not only everything we talked about today, but especially you and everything that you do in the ecosystem. So David, thank you so much for chatting with me today. Thank you for sharing everything that you were doing. And thank you for all the incredible work you do to pay it forward and practice gratitude within the community.
David Nava: Yeah, my pleasure. Thanks so much for having me on again. This has been a lot of fun.
Gillian Bruce: Well, we’ll have you back in a couple years. Who knows what you’re going to be doing then?
David Nava: Sounds good.
Gillian Bruce: All right. Thank you so much, David.
David Nava: Thanks.
Gillian Bruce: Huge thanks to David for taking the time to chat with me today. Always a great excuse to talk about skills and Salesforce Military, and all of the amazing things that David is working on. Now, if you want to learn more about some of the things that we chatted about today, first go to the Admin Skills Kit, it’s admin.salesforce.com/skillskit. You’ll see the 14 core skills that we put on there, as well as language around how to represent those skills on your resume or in a job description, as you’re looking to either hire that great next admin, or if you’re trying to get that next great admin job.
Now, to quickly recap, I want to make sure we hit on David’s five tips to help make you successful in the Salesforce ecosystem. Number one, do informational interviews. Take the time to learn about all the different roles and talk to people. Everyone will talk to you. I guarantee you. This community’s very generous. Number two, network and brand. Do it early. Don’t wait until you’ve got a certification. Don’t wait until you’ve already become a ranger. Get out there. Start meeting people. Start telling people who you are and what you’re about, what you want to do. Number three, time for learning. Make dedicated learning time. Put it on your calendar. I always like to say, “If it’s not on my calendar, it doesn’t exist.” Put on half an hour on your calendar every day. Or maybe it’s an hour once a week. Whatever it is, make dedicated time to continue learning about Salesforce.
Number four, get hands on. Tinker, build things, get that Dev Org spun up and build an app for anything that you could think about. Number five, practice gratitude. This is the most important one, and it is why our community is so vibrant and so amazing. So many awesome admins are great at practicing gratitude every day. The way that David shows that is by giving back and helping others in the community. I know that’s the same for many admins in the community. It’s just really, really important to be appreciative of all the work that you have done, all that your community has done, and find a way to tap into that. It’s so powerful. I love practicing gratitude. If any of you know Leah McGowen-Hare, she and I used to sit next to each other every day. She is the queen of reminding everyone to practice gratitude.
Okay, with that, if you want to learn anything else about how you can be an awesome admin, make sure you check out admin.salesforce.com for all the great content. We got blogs. We got videos. We got more podcasts. And as always, you can check out what’s going on in the awesome admin community on Twitter, we’re @SalesforceAdmns. No I in that handle. And #AwesomeAdmins. Also, get on the Trailblazer community. We’re also very active on there. Now, if you want to follow our guest today, David on Twitter, you can find him @NavaForce. You can find me @gilliankbruce, and you can find my co-host, Mike Gerholdt, @MikeGerholdt. With that, I hope you have a great day. Thank you for tuning in. We’ll catch you next time in the cloud.