You may have heard of Doina Popa. As the first woman outside of the US to achieve the “Salesforce Black Belt”, otherwise known as the Certified Technical Architect achievement, she was actually the 3rd woman globally to have achieved this elite title.
She is ambitious, inspiring and driven. Passionate about being bold and how to be a succeeding woman in technology, Doina has previously been recognised through peer nominations as Salesforce Woman of the Month, holds 18 Salesforce certifications, and an EMBA in “Innovation and Business Creation” due to a keen interest in entrepreneurship. She considers that the concepts here can be applied in organisations of any size to enable competitiveness in the market.
Originally from Romania, with global experience having worked in Germany, and studied in Massachusetts where she secured an MSc I Computer Science, Doina currently resides in London. Here she holds the position of CTO of the Salesforce practice in Capgemini UK, where she works together with the team in shaping the strategy of the practice in terms of business and technology propositions and ensuring excellence of delivery across their customer portfolio.
She has 18 years of experience in technology, having advised several of the strategic global customers of Salesforce through their digital transformation programs. Before joining Capgemini, Doina worked for 5 years as Senior Principal Program Architect in the Customer Success and Growth group of Salesforce.com.
We were lucky enough to catch up with this exceptional talent, to find out how she first discovered Salesforce, what advice she’d give to up and coming women in tech, and how she’s achieved the admirable achievements that she has to date.
Can you recount for us the turning point for you, when you first discovered Salesforce?
About 10 years ago, I started reading and learning about cloud technologies. I thought the concept was brilliant, it seemed to me like the future of IT business. As Salesforce invented“The Cloud” and is leading the space, I decided to start understanding the platform and its business use cases better.
It turns out my intuition was right, and the massive shift in technology that Salesforce triggered had a significant impact in how companies approach their technology landscape.
Was the CTA certification an end goal for you when you first moved down the Salesforce career path?
I actually did not think of taking any of the certifications initially, my goal was to learn and understand the platform. It was only after working with Salesforce for about 1 year that I started being curious about validating my acquired knowledge through the certifications, so I started with the Administrator and Developer ones.
I then grew over time to achieve all available Salesforce certifications. It was a great pride at that time to be the first woman globally and one of the extremely few “7 Star Generals” worldwide, as we used to joke at Salesforce.
Even after achieving the Certified Technical Architect, I still continued taking certifications as new ones became available, depending on the subjects I wanted to build deeper expertise in (e.g. Marketing Cloud), or the more recent Designer and Architect ones, as I was coaching colleagues who aimed to take the CTA and I wanted to understand exactly what they experience so I can support them best.
Doina, you’re the first female Salesforce CTA outside of the US, and one of only eight worldwide, which is an extremely admirable achievement. Why do you think the elite Salesforce Certified Technical Architect club is so heavily dominated by men?
It could be a combination of women being less daring to go to the board examination until they are 200% sure of their knowledge in all areas (and that is really A LOT to cover and in extreme detail), plus a natural shyness that potentially makes them uncomfortable to be facing such a tough panel.
The reality is that the board examination is extremely tough for anyone, regardless if men or women, and every professional who aims to face it should just prepare to the best of their abilities, stand on their feet very confidently and trust their abilities.
And everyone will be judged equally. The panel members are CTAs themselves, with such a strong ethic and understanding of what the certification stands for, that they will do all they can to evaluate correctly and to support the candidates.
All of the CTA judges have been in that situation through the panel and they understand the commitment that it takes to be there as a candidate, so they have a deep appreciation for the individual’s efforts and will meet the absolute fairness and professionalism expectations on their side.
After really strong preparation, both from a technical as well as consulting perspective, backed up by real life experience of enterprise architecture on the Salesforce technologies, my advice to candidates is to present and to defend their best possible solution, keeping in mind the best interest of the customer and the security considerations throughout the entire solution.
Have you come across any barriers as a woman in a male dominated environment? And if so, how did you overcome them?
I believe it has become more difficult to qualify gender imposed barriers. Nowadays, everyone is aware of the negative connotation of inequality, so the barriers are subtle and in many situations due to unconscious bias.
Throughout my entire life, I was always interested in sciences, especially maths, physics and computer programming. So, to me, being one of the few girls in these groups was the norm. I used to do the homework for myself as well as some of my female as well as male friends .
When I was in university studying Computer Science, I was one of the 5 female colleagues of a group of more than 150 students. However, I never felt discriminated against, it felt like a homogeneous group. The women in my class were consistently some of the top students.
As a professional in IT though, I did sometimes face subtle discrimination. For example, sometimes, at the beginning of meetings, some of the men in the room had the tendency not to take me seriously. Until I started actually discussing with them on at least the same level and I was able to prove my knowledge and capabilities, at which point the impact of value realization and therefore change of attitude was very strong and noticeable.
I never allow anyone, man or woman, regardless of role or position, to not seriously consider my point of view in my profession and I am willing to take a stand and to defend my ideas. And if sometimes I am convinced differently to my initial belief by my conversation partners, that is great and I believe it is part of the natural process. This is what makes us stronger in teams, working collaboratively and generating the best combined ideas.
Positive challenging always creates the best outcomes.
What advice would you give to women wanting to get into the industry and eventually become a CTA? Is there a structured approach that they should follow?
I think the structure anyone should follow is to have an open and inquisitive attitude, to always keep in mind what they are interested in and to find ways to drive their energy and their experiences in those directions, aligned also to the company’s goals.
Challenge the “as is”rules in a very constructive, value generating and impactful way, and be enthusiastic about it.
Choose a path (and it is ok to adapt it as you go!), pursue it to excellence and share the knowledge and excitement with others. Sharing helps everyone grow.
And to be daring. I have not yet seen a Salesforce professional who felt 100% comfortable going to the CTA panel. And I have worked and coached some of the most brilliant professionals who have eventually passed the examination, not all of them from the first attempt.
My advice is to just prepare intensely, go with your best abilities and energy, and there is a good chance you’ll make it through. And it’s an amazing feeling to achieve this extremely tough milestone and to be part of this exclusive global group of top Salesforce professionals and thus befriend some of the most brilliant minds in the ecosystem.
Salesforce is well known for equality and philanthropy. Have you found that stepping outside Salesforce itself, that this is mirrored within the partner/end user landscape?
Salesforce is a very special company indeed, its energy and culture are unique. And this really permeates throughout the entire organisation, which I think is amazing and I feel very grateful to have experienced it.
It is an enthusiasm I definitely keep beyond the boundaries of the company and I aim to take with me wherever I go.
I do believe this mind set ripples through the Salesforce eco-system and even beyond in the business environment.
I was very happy to find a strong and truly honest focus on equality initiatives also at Capgemini. Everyone understands the benefits of equality and I am happy that companies of such size and potential of making a real impact invest in social initiatives that improve people’s lives.
As an organisation, Capgemini is very humble with regard to its approach and achievements, however it has a set of 7 core values that are placed at the foundation of how it conducts business: Honesty, Boldness, Trust, Freedom, Solidarity/Team Spirit, Modesty and Fun.
Can you tell us about some go to tips you use to balance your demanding role with your home life?
I honestly am not a person who shuts off from the business life after 6:00 PM. I truly enjoy my work and being passionate about it makes it possible to blend the personal and professional life, it does not feel stressful in a negative way.
However, it is important that I also take some time off and reflect, as some detachment gives me fresh perspectives, ideas and strength.
Exercising also helps me a lot to clear my mind, it brings focus to the most impactful and important aspects, and it helps me plan the next steps.
Having a rather fluid work and personal life is key to me, this way I can meet expectations on all sides. So working for a company which is happy to support me as an individual and to provide this kind of flexibility is absolutely crucial, and this way I can bring the best of my commitment and abilities to the benefit of everyone.
The utmost important aspect to me is that my family receives the attention that they need. My son has and will always have the highest priority over anything I do, so my life and work experiences will always blend and revolve around this.
You once said “Always be true to yourself and trust your choices.” Can you tell us about a time when that’s rung particularly true for you in your own life?
I have examples from both my personal life as well as my professional one.
One example was when my son was in critical condition in hospital and I was told he would not make it within the following 1-2 weeks. I trusted myself and arranged to transfer him to a hospital in Germany and this saved his life.
Another example from my professional life was when, at the very beginning of my career, I requested to be transferred to a department within the company I was working for that was starting as a Web applications custom development unit.
It proved to be one of the best decisions I made, as I found there my first mentor, Florin Ilia, a truly amazing individual, professional and mentor. Having the experience of working with him set me up for being a perfectionist throughout my entire career, while keeping a human touch.
What advice would you give your younger Graduating self, regarding first embarking in the world of work?
Keep making your own decisions regardless of the pressure around, it will work out well. Whatever you decide to focus on, be enthusiastic about it and aim to execute flawlessly.
If you were to present a TED talk, what subject would you be motivated to talk passionately about?
“From closed up Communism to being a woman CTO and a global citizen”. I would share my story through high ups and deep downs, and try to give others hope that, even in situations where all might seem at odds with one’s aspirations and dreams, there is a way forward.
Which Dreamforce 2017 announcement will be the biggest game changer for Salesforce this year in your opinion?
Personalizing the Salesforce experience and the focus on one making all components work as one.
Both of these aspects, together with the artificial intelligence capabilities of Einstein announced in 2016 being gradually built deep into the platform capabilities bring huge value for the customers and generate also emotional engagement which drives adoption and retention.
Name one notable woman within the Salesforce Tech industry that you think deserves a mention and what would you like us to know about her?
I will name two: Mary Fratto-Rowe, SVP Customer Success in the US @ Salesforce and Lucie Maillet St-Pierre, Senior Director and Portfolio Lead in Switzerland @ Salesforce.
About Mary Fratto-Rowe, SVP Customer Success in the US @ Salesforce:
Mary is an amazing professional and human being. Her ability to manage extremely difficult situations, her sharpness and commitment are truly impressive. Mary is able to cover the entire spectrum of business at the highest levels of engagement all the way to discussing details of Salesforce orgs and deployment landscapes, if needed.
I was incredibly fortunate to have Mary as my mentor at Salesforce. I was so impressed by how personal and approachable she was, while at the same time she could be so sharply focused on business.
When I went into my regular 1:1 calls with Mary, I would prepare well in advance in my mind, so I can drive the most value both for her as well as for myself. I would prepare a summary of the status of my work so I could be efficient in communicating exactly the most relevant information, answers and follow-up to open items from previous discussions, and items that I wanted to either get her advice or help on.
Each single time, I received immediate and extremely valuable support, it never happened to me that I asked for help and Mary did not make things happen and put all of her strength behind it.
Mary also shared openly with me very personal and emotional aspects of her life, like a letter she wrote to her younger self – which was truly inspiring, she invited me to her children’s birthday parties and gave me some of the most valuable customer and business advice.
Given that she is managing at the same time to be truly one of the pillars of Salesforce and also a great mother to 3 boys is truly impressive.
Mary proves that it is possible to be a great and supporting woman and a very tough business person “in one”. I take this with me forward, I am happy to share with others to inspire them and I consider myself extremely fortunate to have experienced this first hand.
About Lucie Maillet St-Pierre, Senior Director and Portfolio Lead in Switzerland @ Salesforce:
Lucie is one of the most capable and bright individuals I have worked with, I truly enjoyed the experience to a great extent. She has an incredible ability to think both very deeply and at the same time very broadly. She is also able to focus on particular subjects and to drive towards achieving very specific goals.
Lucie is extremely thoughtful and has a natural human centeredness that make her an inspiration and an absolute pleasure to work with, and also a leader, which is quite rare.
Doina is very much looking forward to attending London’s Calling on the 16th of February 2018, which Capgemini are proudly sponsoring as a Platinum partner and as well as the MVP Dinner on the evening before the event. This is Europe’s largest community-led event for Salesforce professionals.
Doina will also be attending the Salesforce World Tour in London on the 17th of May 2017 which Capgemini is also sponsoring regularly and she is happy to connect with like-minded individuals.
You can connect with Doina on her social pages, follow her on LinkedIn, and see what she’s up to on Twitter at @yodane.
Thank you, Doina, for taking the time to share your insights with Talent Hub. You can follow Talent Hub the Salesforce Recruitment Experts on LinkedIn, and browse our live roles in the ANZ region, here. We’d love to hear from you!