Welcome back to another S-Docs Salesforce MVP Spotlight, where we highlight some of the most inspiring and influential individuals in the Salesforce community. As a native Salesforce app, we’ve had the advantage of working with hundreds of incredible admins, developers, architects, and other extraordinary people who make the community great. We’ll provide you with an exclusive look into their Salesforce journeys, featuring best practices, career advice, and favorite ways they give back to the community.
Last time, we spoke with Joy Shutters-Helbing about her passion helping small businesses optimize their Salesforce instances and being a mentor to others in the community. Featured this week is Salesforce MVP Gemma Blezard.
Salesforce MVP Spotlight: Gemma Blezard
Gemma Blezard is a 17x certified, 2x Salesforce MVP who embodies the definition of the word “Trailblazer.” She’s worked on award-winning Salesforce implementations throughout her career, spoken at Dreamforce and other large Salesforce events, and currently has over 500 Trailhead badges. She’s also a recipient of the coveted golden hoodie award, a breast cancer survivor, a mom, and an entrepreneur.
Gemma isn’t just a Salesforce expert herself -- she’s also well-versed in helping others skill up and get inspired about working with her favorite platform. In 2017, she founded Ladies Be Architects, a group focused on making the career path to Salesforce architect more accessible and empowering under-represented groups in the community.
Gemma is also the CEO of The Architech Club, a Salesforce consultancy that she founded in 2019. We sat down to hear about her entrepreneurship, how she became a Salesforce MVP, and her favorite ways to give back to the community.
"Ladies Be Architects was about creating a community that supported and gave a voice to people in under-represented groups who wanted to pursue the Technical Architect certification"
Tell us about your current role.
I’m currently CEO at The Architech Club, which is a Salesforce consultancy powered by experienced Salesforce architects. I founded the company last year with the idea of creating an independent, experienced, certified guide for customers who need to get ready to implement Salesforce properly and effectively.
Tell us about your journey to MVP status.
I started working with Salesforce in 2008. I found the platform really interesting and became certified after six months. Within a year, I started doing Salesforce consultancy work, and soon progressed from mid-market to enterprise level projects.
It was a bit of a rollercoaster ride, because I was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 29. I had just signed the paperwork for a new job, handed in my notice at my previous job, and gotten married -- and I received the diagnosis right smack in the middle of everything.
Since I’m a highly driven person, I decided that I wasn’t going to let it stall me. I worked from my hospital bed while I was having chemo; it helped me retain a sense of normality.
After a year or so I bounced back and started working on some very career-defining projects that made me realize that I wasn’t just implementing Salesforce anymore, but looking at the bigger picture.
I joined a new company and had a really inspiring mentor who was a Certified Salesforce Technical Architect. He told me that I could probably get the certification myself, to which I replied “No, that’s something other people do!” He said “You’ve got 10 years of experience in Salesforce. I’m pretty sure you can do it!”
So, I decided to go for it. I logged into the Architect Trailblazer Success group, and saw highly technical people from all kinds of backgrounds having very huge discussions. It was intimidating, and I was struck by the minority of women that were speaking to each other in the group.
I decided to start an off-shoot group called Ladies Be Architects that would embrace active learning and empower women to set out on the path towards Certified Technical Architect. It was about creating a community that supported and gave a voice to people in under-represented groups who wanted to pursue the Technical Architect certification.
Salesforce saw that I’d done that and offered to help promote the group. We were able to encourage quite a few people to take on the architect path, and the numbers just shot up over the years. I've been recognized as a Salesforce MVP for that impact.
"The community is filled with people who give their time to help each other. There’s this unconditional care and regard for one another that extends beyond business relationships."
When you were going through the difficult experience of fighting breast cancer, did the Salesforce community help you in any way?
Absolutely. In 2018, I was diagnosed with a recurrence. Salesforce was so supportive and the people in the community were so kind. I came home from the hospital to flowers being delivered every day for about a week. I just couldn't believe it.
Charly Prinsloo, who runs Ladies Be Architects with me, put together a crowd-funder and raised a whole bunch of money for me, which I spent on hospital treatments. The community is filled with people who give their time to help each other. There’s this unconditional care and regard for one another that extends beyond business relationships. It’s magical to be a part of that.
Giving back is a core focus for a lot of Salesforce MVPs. What’s your favorite way to give back?
When the coronavirus first hit, everyone was using social media more and I was hovering around my local town’s Facebook page. I noticed there were lots of people suffering - people had lost their jobs, were furloughed, and new businesses couldn’t get help.
I was wondering how I could make things easier for people, so I thought, “Why don’t I just offer to teach everyone Salesforce? At the end of it, they can come out with the new set of skills and maybe a career change.”
I made a post in the group to see how many people would respond to it, and quite a few were interested. When I decided to post about it on Linkedin and Twitter, thousands of people signed up. I had to turn off the notifications because I couldn’t keep up! Eventually I kept it to a small group and posted the recorded sessions online for people to follow along at their own pace.
Every Monday and Wednesday night, we did two-hour sessions covering different topics. I really enjoyed it because the sessions reignited that old spark of interest in Salesforce.
The coronavirus crisis took everyone back to basics, and made us question how we could be kind and help each other. This was my way of giving back.
The recorded sessions will be available for free until 2021.
"Design against what is going to make your users really enjoy working with Salesforce and want to learn more."
How do you find time to do it all?
It’s not necessarily about devoting time or setting time aside to do these things, in my opinion. You do these things because you want to do them — not because you want to be an MVP or because you want some client recognition — it’s a genuine desire to be helpful and useful.
Who in the community inspires you most?
Melissa Hill Dees does a lot of work in the non-profit space. She inspires me because she's so accepting and giving to people of all personalities. She's also a lot of fun!
Blanca Leon Carter inspires me. She's a recent MVP who is learning Salesforce as a developer, completely from scratch, and she's brought so many people along with her for the ride.
Susannah St-Germain, Charly Prinsloo, Vickie Jeffery, Emily McCowan and Adrienne Cutcliffe, the Ladies Be Architects team, are also great inspirations to me. They are extremely kind and highly intelligent people. Charly has helped me through some really tough times over the last few years. Susannah works hard to reach out to not only other women architects, but people of color as well. She inspires me for her passion in that sense. And we couldn’t continue without our ambassadors in Australia, who work so hard to continue our study groups every month.
"Use empathy. Humanity affects what we do at work, so we have to recognize that in our technology and approach."
In addition to the people who inspire you, what else do you do to keep up to date on all things Salesforce? What resources are most helpful to you?
Number one: I go to Trailhead. But if I’m not able to find something on Trailhead, I tap into my network of architects that I work with because they are such smart people. I find that just running things past other people and getting a second pair of eyes on something that I’m stuck on is really helpful, using the experience that they have. It’s the impact of their help that inspired me to pay it forward as a service to Salesforce customers through The Architech Club.
Are there any must-have apps or Salesforce best practices that you recommend?
One of my best practices is to design against what is going to make your users really enjoy working with Salesforce and really want to learn more. Make it fun to use, whether that means having a scoring system or turning it into a game in some way. I’ve seen too often when customers have implemented Salesforce and it’s aimless because people are not engaged with it.
When you put requirements together, try to resist the urge to say “the ability to do this, the ability to do that.” Spend time with users, understand what their thoughts are, what their feelings are, what their wants and their needs are. Use empathy. Humanity affects what we do at work, so we have to recognize that in our technology and approach.
"Accept mistakes; everyone makes them. What matters is what you learned from them and what you take from them into the future."
What are you most excited about for the future of Salesforce and the community?
I would like Salesforce to continue to see the importance of the community and to celebrate its achievements.
I also want to see more competitor organizations popping up in my space, because that will help create a career path for Salesforce practitioners; historically this has not been well defined. If we can create a sector full of firms that employ experienced people, then that gives the 4 million new people entering the Salesforce economy something to aspire to for the future.
I’d also like to see the architect mindset and role be more clearly defined. I know that's coming, so I think we'll soon start to see what that vision looks like.
What’s the biggest piece of advice you have for your fellow Trailblazers?
First of all, be kind to yourself. Additionally, accept mistakes; everyone makes them. What matters is what you learned from them and what you take from them into the future.
The Salesforce Community Advantage
As Gemma Blezard’s inspiring story shows, the Trailblazer community shines because of the many people within that are willing to dedicate their time to help others. Throughout her career, Gemma has leveraged Salesforce to build award-winning solutions, start her own businesses, and empower others to follow in her footsteps. We hope that her unique insights have inspired you to learn something new, share your knowledge, and get more connected with the Salesforce community.
To stay in the know on all things Salesforce and the community, follow Gemma on Twitter and subscribe to the S-Docs blog, where we’ll be posting more Salesforce MVP spotlights, along with the latest and greatest in the Salesforce world.