Why a Career Development Program Might Be Right for You

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So, remember when Back to the Future Part II was, like, really futuristic?

Well, Nike is actually coming out with the self-tying shoes that graced Michael J. Fox’s feet as he hopped on his hoverboard.

That’s right. We live in the future.

Awesome, right? But have you thought about what this means for the job search?

It means that we all have to be tech savvy. Gone are the days of “computer geeks.” These days, in order to be qualified for almost any job, we all have to be computer geeks who are familiar with software that would have had Marty McFly scratching his head.

Anyone else hitting the panic button? I mean, half the time I can’t even figure out how to work the DVR…

Well, don’t give up hope just yet. You might want to consider following in the footsteps of this Humanities major who chose to throw herself into the tech world and came out prepared for the future.

Bryanna Smykowski graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in Social Welfare. She planned on being a women’s healthcare counselor and her major allowed her to take practical classes that gave her hands-on experience in this field.

So how did she end up as a Salesforce software consultant with Bluewolf?

During her time at Berkeley, she volunteered for a local healthcare clinic. One of the other volunteers was someone that Bry really looked up to. This woman had completed the Agile Business Executive (ABE) program at Bluewolf and recommended it. The program is designed to train Project Managers for software (mostly Salesforce) consulting projects.

She pointed out to Bry that Salesforce was a rapidly growing relationship management tool that was sure to keep expanding. Having a strong background and knowledge of this software would open up a ton of opportunities.

The thought of having a skill set that would allow her to work for a variety of different business types, from nonprofits to Fortune 500s, appealed to Bry. She had also never worked in an office setting before and was curious to see what it was like.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, she wanted to challenge herself to step outside of her comfort zone. She knew that the tech side of her skill set was significantly weaker than the others and she saw that the ABE program was the perfect way to counteract that. They didn’t care if her background wasn’t technical. They only cared that she was easy to teach.

So she applied and was accepted into the program.

What is Bluewolf’s ABE program exactly?

The ABE program has been around for four years. It’s a paid program that consists of three rotations that last anywhere from three to eight months each.

The first rotation gives participants an inside look at sales and marketing. During this time, you work with account executives on finding leads and cold calling.

The second rotation is more of a development rotation. During this time you learn how to be a business analyst. You take notes, configure Salesforce, and learn the art of client facing (interacting directly with a client). Members of ABE classes work on internal Bluewolf projects and practice these business analyst skills.

The third rotation is when ABE classes cover what it’s like to live the life of a consultant. They’re put on consulting projects and introduced to the off hours and frequent travel requirements.

Each of these rotations is working to prepare you to become a full-blown consultant within Bluewolf.

ABE 5.0 Class

What is a software consultant?

Bry uses a metaphor when she describes what she does as a Bluewolf software consultant.

“We’re doctors for businesses,” she says.

A business can be broken or injured. What this usually means is that there is a lack of visibility amongst certain departments within the company. That’s what Salesforce really provides: a way for everyone at one company to stay connected.

As a consultant, it’s Bry’s job to assess a business’s needs. She looks for where they are losing money or clients and then shows how Salesforce can streamline that part of the company to raise customer retention and improve ROI.

The original goal of the program was to have all graduates go on to become project managers with Bluewolf but now, based on your skill set, you may also graduate to become a solution architect.

What is a solution architect?

A solution architect is someone who comes up with innovative ways to use Salesforce, or another software, as a solution to a specific client’s problems. They need to know the system backwards and forwards.

This position is for those in the program who definitely have a mind geared toward technology and who enjoy solving puzzles. Solution architects must be certified in everything Salesforce. They have to have the ability to look at an issue and find a way that Salesforce can fix it, even if Salesforce has never been used that way before.

What is a project manager at Bluewolf?

Both solution architects and project managers need to be able to keep up a good rapport with clients, but project managers are required to take this a step further. They are basically the client’s trusted advisors and have to be able to communicate messages without offending anyone. A lot of the time they’ll have to tell a client that something within the company is not working well and have to have enough emotional intelligence to do this in a positive way. They’re constantly walking the line between “good cop” and “bad cop.”

Project managers and solution architects are always in communication with one another. Oftentimes a solution architect will come up with a new way to solve a problem and then hand it off to the project manager. The project manager will then build the project and see if there are any issues that come up. If there are, they send it back to the solution architect and this continues until all the bugs are fixed.

What is a typical day like for a project manager?

Every day is different depending on what part of the project you’re working on: getting to know the client and their objective, building the solution, or wrapping up with a client.

But, on the whole, Bry’s main responsibilities are to gather business requirements, work with clients to understand what needs to be fixed, and then communicate that message to the solution architect. After the solution architect gets back to her with his/her plan, Bry begins to build it within the client’s company and reports any blips until it all runs smoothly.

On a daily basis, the project manager is constantly in communication with the client, showing what they’ve built so far and getting the clients to sign off on certain aspects. Or going back to the drawing board and figuring out what needs to change if something doesn’t look right.

Where does the traveling come into play?

Different projects require different amounts of travel. Some clients want to see the project team every week because they like to be walked through each step in the project. Other clients only need their team to come in for certain milestones like large team meetings where decisions have to be made. Working on site means that you’re constantly having meetings with the clients and getting sign-offs on software ideas.

Whether a client wants you on site weekly or just for big decisions, traveling is a significant part of the job.

What was Bry’s favorite part about the ABE program?

This may come as a surprise, but Bry’s favorite part of the program was the part that “every normal human being would hate the most.”

She enjoyed the first rotation. Although she has never seen herself as a “salesperson,” the challenges that she and her fellow ABE classmates faced during this phase of the program really shaped them. Day in and day out, they pushed each other to make it through the endless cold calls and rejections.

“At the end of those seven months, we felt that we had lived in the trenches,” she says laughing, “we went through it together and we felt kind of proud.”

In spite of the numerous rejections she received daily, her self-confidence was raised immensely after that first rotation.

What was the most challenging part of the program for Bry?

The most difficult part of the program was learning the technical side of things. It wasn’t that Bry was incapable of learning how the software worked and how to build it, it was the fact that she wasn’t as immediately comfortable with this part of the program as others in her ABE class were. This wasn’t her strong suit and though she went into the program knowing that about herself, it was difficult to keep a good perspective when the material came so easily to others.

During the first rotation, while working for sales and marketing, they had all been on the same playing field making cold calls. Now, those who had more of a STEM brain were pulling ahead and it was scary for Bry.

How did she deal with this challenge?

Although she was not as quick to pick up the technical side of things, Bry saw that she excelled when it came to project management skills. She realized that her strength lay in organizing and communicating with people.

She saw that the class evened itself out. Some people were better at figuring out the intricate details of the software and others (like herself) were better at client facing.

Understanding that it was okay to be better at some things than others allowed her to stay positive and work to pick up the technical side of things bit by bit.

What advice does Bry have for students who would like to participate in a similar career development program to this one?

She suggests that you keep an open mind. Even if the job itself is not exactly what you want to do, the skills that you learn can be applied to so many other positions out there.

Also, no job is perfect. Before you apply, try to meet the people you will be working with. Make sure there are people you enjoy there.

“There’s no way I would have survived without the eight people in my program,” Bry says honestly.

Homework time! Step outside of your comfort zone. Research some programs like Bluewolf’s ABE program. What skills can you gain through these programs? Consider if this is something you’d like to participate in.

P.S. Bry wasn’t kidding when she said that the people in the program are what make it special. Check out this hilarious video that they all made together (Bry filmed most of it):


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