A non I.T background to Salesforce CTA and a Master of I.T with Jannis Bott

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Talent Hub is proud to introduce the nineteenth episode of the Talent Hub TV series in podcast format. Here, Talent Hub Director, Ben Duncombe sits down for ‘on the sofa’ chats with inspirational Salesforce professionals to learn more about their fascinating stories and market insight.

This month’s guest, Salesforce Certified Technical Architect, Jannis Bott, joins Ben on the sofa to share his own Salesforce journey. He explains how he relocated to Australia from Germany 9 years ago, and achieved not only a Master of I.T, but also the elusive pinnacle of the Certified Technical Architect title to join some of the world’s most elite Salesforce professionals.

Jannis shares his experience of the Review Board, how he prepared with a study buddy, and what it has meant for his Salesforce career since passing. Jannis is an active member of the Salesforce Community, generous with his time and inspiring to so many others.

Listen here, or if you prefer to read, the entire transcript is below:

Ben: Welcome to Talent Hub TV Episode 19, we are finally here with the Jannis Bott. I’ve had to beg, steal and borrow to get you here today, so I appreciate that, but I’ve got a lot I want to discuss with you, I’ve been building up to this point for a while so thank you very much first and foremost, but a lot of people will know who you are, especially locally, but also a lot of the global audience will know, but for anyone that doesn’t, who is Jannis Bott?

Jannis: That’s a hard question to start with. Who am I? Well, I’m probably an immigrant, is probably the best way to describe me. I came out here, pretty much nine years ago now.

Ben: Okay.

Jannis: I became a resident, became a citizen.

Ben: Sure.

Jannis: But obviously my Salesforce journey was in line with my Australia journey, this is where I got introduced to Salesforce and sort of worked my way through the ranks, and I’m sure we’ll talk about this later.

Ben: Yes, and obviously to catch people’s attention, if they’re just tuning in, so you are a CTA you’ve been a CTA for?

Jannis: Almost two years now.

Ben: Okay cool, so we’ll discuss how you went through that journey, but I’m guessing you didn’t want to be a CTA when you were growing up, you probably didn’t even know what that was, it probably wasn’t even a thing. So what did you want to be, what was the aspiration as you were growing up?

Jannis: I think as a kid you go through those stages, right? Like where first you want to be a firefighter, and then you want to be a policeman, then you want to be a jet pilot. I was none of those. I think as a kid I really didn’t know, but what became quite apparent was sort of like when I was in my 16th/17th year of age I started my own business, and it was, funnily enough, a software business, with a couple of mates and we built software for schools, so already I sort of like, found out, I think I’m quite good in consulting, and talking to people and to either sell a product, or to, at least develop it, position it, etc., so that’s sort of like how it started and then it took a bit of an unexpected change where at that time it was compulsory to go to the Army back in Germany, so I declined the Army service because it’s not something I wanted to support, and had to do social work instead, so I worked for the Red Cross for almost a year, driving blood donations, organs, and even driving the ambulance car.

Ben: Was this full-time?

Jannis: That was full-time, you have do it, the government pays you, pays you barely anything but yes.

Ben: Yes, because I’ve heard that story about the ambulance driving, I didn’t understand the context, but that’s pretty incredible.

Jannis: Yes, so you have to do it, right? And through that, I got introduced more to obviously the whole topic of medicine and started to develop an interest, I spent a lot of time in hospitals and then I happened to have a good friend who was a neurosurgeon and after that one year, I was a hundred percent convinced I’ll be a neurosurgeon. I took, I was literally just planning to take eight months to go to Australia, take a gap year, travel, and then I’d go back to study, and I had everything secured, right, like as Germans are, I had all the ducks lined up. I had a spot at University, I knew where it would be, I knew what I wanted to do, and then obviously coming to Australia changed everything.

Ben: Yes.

Jannis: And falling into the Salesforce ecosystem was certainly not the chosen path.

Ben: So, came here nine years ago, and then that’s kind of when your Salesforce journey started, how did that take shape?

Jannis: So, when you come as a backpacker you obviously take any job, so I worked for one of the fundraising agencies, who eventually sponsored me, and that was at the time that they decided to implement Salesforce.

Ben: Sure.

Jannis: So, I was the guy that was basically tasked with implementing Salesforce.

Ben: Without any prior Salesforce experience.

Jannis: Correct. So, we used an implementation partner, so I was literally the classic end user who, the company decided to buy a product and then one person in-house has to do it and has to figure out how everything works, right, and that includes project management, and at that time I didn’t know how to run a professional project. What agile means, what testing means, and all those things. So, it was good to have an implementation partner to really get the guidance and the hand-holding, that was definitely needed for me.

Ben: Sure. So, just going back to the software company that you started, were you at that point developing, or were you more sales?

Jannis: Yes, good question. So, I was primarily product development. And it was sort of like, you know, how you wear many hats when you run a start-up, there was the product development, but also trying to position it and sell it.

Ben: Okay cool, so then you’re at this fundraiser implementing Salesforce, did you instantly kind of fall in love with the technology?

Jannis: Yes, I think that it was sort of like a growing interest, more than falling in love with it, you know, I don’t know how much I ‘love’ Salesforce. It’s definitely been a good career choice for me, right, also as you grow, you start to develop your skills, you start to understand data structures and sort of like all the core, declarative features, but then, I think that where I really started to ‘fall in love’ to use your terms, was when I started to learn how to develop, so, for me, I learned how to code on the Salesforce platform, and that was really born out of a frustration of not understanding what the implementation partner was doing, or how they were achieving the things that I wanted them to achieve. I really wanted to understand it at the technical level, and so I started to teach myself, I then got lucky to find a mentor and I think that’s one of the most important things, to have, a mentor to actually coach you through the journey, and tell you where you’re wrong, because if you don’t know what you don’t know, how can you ever improve, right? So I think, that was crucial and that’s sort of like how I really started to dive into the more technical topics.

Ben: So, would you, at that point have classed yourself as a Developer or more of an all-rounder, what was your role at that point?

Jannis: So, I suppose I was tasked with looking after the wider I.T infrastructure, not just Salesforce and that included on premise software, we had a whole bunch of challenges around PCI compliance because there was credit card data involved and all of that. We built mobile apps on the Salesforce platform and that was really sort of like, when I started to get really involved. I would have considered myself as the platform owner but also, the Developer, and it became pretty apparent that quite quickly I grew out of this company. There was simply not enough opportunity to keep me interested, but it was clear that I stay with Salesforce.

Ben: So what happened from there, where next?

Jannis: So after I left that company, I actually went contracting, and I contracted for probably six months or so until I realised that I was really lacking enterprise experience and sort of like as a contractor, you probably know it better than I do, but it’s quite hard to get into larger projects if you’re not experienced, and I really wanted to just get a bit more experience, especially on the project side of things, and hence joined Cloud Sherpas. And Cloud Sherpas, I stayed for quite a while, to really, yes, upskill in a lot of areas, and I think that was a really good choice because it really sort of like increased a) my knowledge of Salesforce and also I got a lot of coaching, in terms of how to do things better, and yes, I grew a lot in this company, that’s probably fair to say.

Ben: Sure, and at what point did this CTA goal start becoming a thing, and did you know pretty much immediately that you were a legitimate candidate, or was it something that you always felt was going to be a stretch?

Jannis: Oh no, I definitely didn’t know that I was a suitable candidate, especially before I joined Cloud Sherpas, and even throughout the first couple of years at Sherpas, I questioned myself a lot, in terms of like, am I actually doing this correctly, am I doing this wrong? Because I hadn’t studied I.T and all that kind of stuff, right? And the CTA certainly was not the obvious path and I think I’ve come about it, by working with a bunch of CTA’s at Sherpas. That then started to spark the interest, there were a couple of peers obviously at Sherpas that also went on the same sort of journey, but it was pretty clear to me that I wasn’t ready. I was getting my Developer certifications and all that kind of stuff, so I  was quite far away from it. I guess to your question, when did I know? After I left Sherpas, or Accenture it was then at some point, I went back contracting, and I think that was sort of like, when I started to get more clear on the program, on what’s involved, what the challenges are and also sort of like, where the gaps are. I had done a pretty, comprehensive gap analysis, I would say just to assess, “hey am I ready or not?” And I think the gaps at that time seemed possible to be closed, and that’s when I kicked it off. Sure, so what was the plan from there, like to go from “I think I’m going to do this” to actually getting to passing the Board, what was your plan and preparation like? So I think I decided in January or February, to go for it, and knew that the Board would be in June or July, so I gave myself roughly six months and I think the first three months were sort of like, closing knowledge gaps, so it’s muscle memory essentially.

Ben: Yes.

Jannis: My method was, I opened the setup menu in Salesforce and looked at every single setup menu item, and if I didn’t know immediately the answer of what’s behind that menu item, then that came onto my study list, and that was essentially my catalogue of questions or things that I needed to learn more about, and at that time I also had Chris who I have obviously studied with quite a bit, and we jumped on calls every week, and basically asked each other questions, like “how does two-way SSL work?”

Ben: I don’t know.

Jannis: Yes! Exactly. So maybe put it on the study list. So, because I’ve seen Chris present about approaching the CTA Review Board, and doing it alongside a buddy.

Ben: How important do you think that was for you and Chris?

Jannis: To have a study buddy? I think I would not have passed without a study buddy.

Ben: Really?

Jannis: I’m sure it’s possible, but it makes it just so much easier, because, a) you start to build trust with that person, so you’re not afraid of showing a weakness, and I think, quite often when you’re already a Technical Architect, showing a weakness, for some people that’s a bad thing, where I think it’s actually a good thing, to be able to do that. But by having trust with the person that you study with, that element’s just completely gone, you can just openly say, “look, I have no idea, what do you think about that?” I think that’s one aspect, the other one is, just to get an unbiased and honest view on where you’re at. So like Chris and I have done mock exams with each other, and by the way, none of us had a CTA, so we didn’t know what the expectation was, but I think, the fact that we both sort of did enough reading and studying on what’s expected helped to sort of then, give feedback to say, “look, I think this was not clear or that element is not clear”. Yes and I guess two eyes are better than one as well, so if there were any things you missed, he might have picked up on them and vice versa.

Ben: Yes. So you’ve also got a Masters of I.T, which you did relatively late, you did it alongside your studies for your CTA, and when you were pretty far advanced in your Salesforce career.

Jannis: That’s right.

Ben: Why did you think that was important to go back and do that?

Jannis: I don’t know. Look, for me, it was always sort of like this rule, I’ll have a degree before I’m 30, and that was sort of like my own commitment to myself, that I needed to do that, so I think that was the key driver. But also, let’s not forget, I fell into Salesforce from knowing nothing into knowing quite a bit. Obviously there are knowledge gaps, if you haven’t studied I.T from the ground up, there’s certainly gaps, where you think, I guess that’s how it works, but it’s such a foundational thing that you’ve never thought about. And I think I was hoping with my degree, to close some of those knowledge gaps, and that’s actually true, that happened. So, there were elements of project management, elements of management, but also really technical areas, where really a lot of the gaps were closed.

Ben: Yes, so no regrets? Well obviously, a Masters of I.T is also a great achievement, not just the CTA, so.

Jannis: Yes, I’m glad that I did it, but it was a very painful journey, that’s for sure.

Ben: Yes, I know it was, speaking to you through that period, I know it was a big commitment, so. Exactly. So, what’s your view on the current market now in terms of the talent landscape? And that’s a big question, but I want a big answer. What do you make of the kind of skillsets that are out there in the Salesforce ecosystem?

Jannis: Growing, is probably an open answer to that. So like, there are more and more people that have obviously joined the ecosystem, which is fantastic, right? There is still a skill-shortage etc. I think there’s still plenty of opportunity, but you also see that Salesforce starts to diversify, they go into Mulesoft, they get into Tableau, and I do have the feeling that the standard Sales Cloud, Service Cloud implementation become less, and it’s more like, people start to specialise more, is probably the right way of saying it so, somebody that is highly experienced and highly skilled in Health Cloud, for example, might have better career opportunities now than just being a generic Service Cloud implementation consultant. They will always be built on top of each other, so it’s just important basically, that the people that are in the industry, that they continuously keep upskilling in the new industry solutions that are out there, in order to stay, I guess competitive with the rest, right? And I don’t see that enough, and I think the other thing that I’d like to see more, it just to, especially at a technical level, to look a bit more at how do other technologies solve the same problem? I would love for our Developers in the ecosystem to think more about “how can I build more reusable things? How can I make sure that whatever I’m implementing right now, is not just going to solve the problem right now, it also solves the problem in five years or can be extended?” And I think that element of thinking, doesn’t always happen, and I think one of the reasons is because a lot of people fall into the Salesforce ecosystem as a first job, or they haven’t studied. Like me, right? I’m a perfect example.

Ben: Yes, and I get that, I think we’ve heard clients commenting that now people have grown up in the Salesforce ecosystem and that’s it, and then the hardest roles we have to fill are Salesforce Developers with a really experienced CTO or Engineering Manager, because they look at the candidates and they think “these aren’t Software Developers or Engineers” and I think that’s where you’re kind of coming from. So you mentioned there’s a talent shortage and I agree, but I do think there are a lot more candidates in the market than there were, but there’s a lot of kind of entry level candidates. So have you seen people pick up Salesforce relatively quickly, and if so, where are they coming from?

Jannis: Yes. I think, let’s differentiate between functional and technical. So I think there are a lot of people that have even cross-skilled, right? They’ve done completely different jobs in the past and they’ve just cross-skilled into a Functional Consultant or a CRM Manager role, and they’re doing extremely well because it’s so straightforward to pick up. Obviously you need to respect a couple of ground rules, but it is quite easy to pick up. At the technical level, exactly to your point, I think it’s easy to get something to work, but to get something to work well, that takes experience and sort of like, also you need to be curious and challenge yourself and ask yourself “is that the right way? Could I do this better?” etc., and that’s where I don’t think it’s easy to pick up, and you need to really have experience, and I think if you’re coming from, let’s say, a traditional Java development background, or now with Lightning web components, from a front-end development background, I think it’s actually transitioning really easily, because you bring that skill set from software development already with you, but if you start from scratch, then it’s like learning any other development language, right?

Ben: Yes, I think, people say this, and they say, like a Java Developer can pick things up quickly, but still do see companies hesitant and resistant to give them a chance, even if they’re struggling to find, you know, an experienced Salesforce Developer, and I don’t know the answer to that, I don’t know what the answer is, you know, but it’s definitely a challenge.

Jannis: I suppose if you’re hiring a Salesforce person, and you want them to be able to be effective in their role immediately, obviously if you hire a Java Developer, even though the ramp up time might be quick, but it might be still a month to 3 months, right, so there’s still a timeframe that you need to bridge somehow, and sometimes the need for a solution right now, is greater than the time that you have available.

Ben: Yes, that makes sense. So, one observation I’ve had, is that there are, I’m not saying that people can’t make the transition from technical to management, but there is definitely a lack of people that are willing to, or keen to make that transition, into a people management role. So, you know, we’ve had roles recently where, we’re presenting the role to a really senior, well, I’d say Technical Architect, and their focus is “I want to be a CTA, therefore why do I want to manage people?” Do you think, is that an observation you’ve seen, and do you think there’s anything we can do to make that role more appealing, in terms of team management?

Jannis: I don’t know if it’s a challenge of willingness or ability. You know? I think on the functional side again, that a lot, or what I see, is a lot of the people that use, let’s call it the declarative features of the Salesforce platform, they’re naturally coming more from a business background and a consulting background so they’re naturally great in communication and great in team-building and they sort of, make quite good managers, in general, I’m sure there are exceptions that don’t, etc. On a technical level, I think it’s a lot harder. And I don’t want to have the cliche of Developers only develop because I think they are fantastic Developers that make great people managers, I think they’re just rare. Especially technical people that can speak “human” or can translate complex things into simple things are rare to find. But those are the ones that normally tend to be quite good people managers, from what I’ve found.  So yes, again, back to the point, I think it’s more an ability rather than a willingness.

Ben: Sure, because I think in other markets it’s often the progression, Developer, Senior Developer, Development Manager, whereas actually, in the Salesforce ecosystem it goes, Developer, Senior Developer, Technical Architect, CTA, so it’s that whole piece that it goes down that route, and I’ve made some comments on LinkedIn before, as to, I wonder if that’s because the CTA is such a draw, that that’s why people don’t want to manage, that could be it.

Jannis: Also, I think there’s a difference between when it comes to consultancies versus end users.

Ben: Sure.

Jannis: So I think at an end user, your career path is different to a consultancy. At a consultancy, certs are an important factor in the way how we measure success with our partner, Salesforce.

Ben: Yes.

Jannis: Where at an end-user, that’s not the measure, right, it’s probably outcomes and delivering projects on time is a lot more important than being a CTA.

Ben: Sure.

Jannis: So I think there could be even the difference as well.

Ben: Certainly, you’re right, what we see a lot is that career path from Developer, Senior Dev, Architect and then ideally, CTA, which I don’t know if I necessarily agree with as a perfect career path.

Ben: Yes, sure. So if you could change one thing about the Salesforce ecosystem, what would it be?

Jannis: The CTA shouldn’t be the ultimate goal, because, and obviously I’ve gone through the journey, so it’s easy to say, but a) not all things get easier when you’re a CTA, because suddenly you are the one that apparently knows everything, and I don’t. I’m going to be brutally honest, I don’t know everything. There are certain things where I feel like a lot of our Developers or Consultants know significantly more in a particular topic than I do, right, and I think it’s this “you know everything” is hard to hold up, and it puts to a certain extent, even pressure on you, to live up to that expectation.

Ben: Sure.

Jannis: The other reason is, it’s obviously extremely hard to get, and I don’t know if it’s a long-term career choice to become a CTA if that’s going to give you the satisfaction that you’re after and so I think, my sort of like words to every aspiring CTA is, be really clear why you want to be a CTA, and what the benefits are that you want to get out of it. And if you’re really clear then perfect, go for it, and I’m sure that person will succeed, but if you’re not clear and you just do it sort of like, for fun.

Ben: Because it’s the thing to do.

Jannis: Exactly. Then I would reassess, that’s probably my advice.

Ben: Sure. What did it change for you? Did you feel more confident having the CTA than before or did it change the way that people kind of acknowledge your solutions?

Jannis: I think credibility is probably the first thing that comes to mind, if you enter a room and people know that you’re a CTA, again to that point, there’s the expectation that, “oh, that guy knows everything”. Certainly, you’re a lot more credible straight away, where before, I think, I had to prove myself more in order to get that trust, I think that’s the biggest change.

Ben: Sure okay. So, you’re a young guy, you got the CTA when you were young, and you’ve achieved a lot, you know, you’ve achieved what a lot of people are planning to at the end of their Salesforce career, that’s their goal, and so what’s left for you, and what’s next for you, in terms of where you want to take your career?

Jannis: Yes, look, I don’t know is the answer. It’s good the way how it goes at the moment. I think for me, sort of like the next step is to look at how can we align technology industries a bit better, that’s probably for us within the organisation, a key goal.

Ben: And personally, do you now still set goals around like, because CTA was the big goal, right, so?

Jannis: Of course, like I mean I’m the type of person that keeps going anyway, but a hundred percent, I think if I would just now start to procrastinate and do nothing, I’d be getting bored pretty quickly, so I like to set myself a next goal, a next challenge and that always has an element of self-development in there, there’s an element of contributing to the Community as you know, and obviously driving customer success, I guess is the right term.

Ben: Yes, okay well thank you very much for that. Like I said, it was something I’d wanted to do for a long time, so I really do appreciate you coming in, and there’s a huge amount of value in there for anyone listening, so thank you very much.

Jannis: No worries, pleasure. Thank you.

Thank you for listening, and stay tuned for Episode 20, featuring the creator of the SFDC99 certification guide David Liu, coming soon. Make sure you’re following Jannis on LinkedIn and feel free to reach out to him with any questions regarding the topics covered in the podcast episode.

Talent Hub is a hive of activity at the moment and so visit our Salesforce jobs page for up to date opportunities. If you’d like to become involved in Talent Hub TV as a guest, we’d love to hear from you.

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