When you were 17, what did you want to be?
At that time, I felt pretty certain that I was going to do something like financial advising. The reason I was interested in that, I think, stems from when my dad passed away, and my mom had a lot to handle at that time in terms of our household finances. So she started working with a financial advisor, and she would bring home these documents. It always caught my eye when I'd see these charts saying, "If you'd invested $10,000 in 1990, this is what it would look like now," and it was always this exponential amount. I thought that was so fascinating that you could just put your money somewhere and do nothing with it and it would become more money. So I had this idea in my head of wanting to help people do that.
At that time, I was also in a marketing competition organization called DECA. I was very competitive in DECA and was kind of evangelizing it at my school. I was one of seven or eight people leading DECA for the state of Arizona my senior year, planning and speaking at all the competitions. It was a blast. I traveled so much during my senior year within Arizona, and also to Atlanta, Washington, DC, LA, as well as Lake Tahoe. I was exposed to a whole bunch of experiences I never would have been able to do.
How did you decide to attend Arizona State University?
I actually only applied to one school, which is kind of silly in retrospect. I had the plan to stay local, because I have three younger sisters and I wanted to stay close to them while they were growing up. Looking back, I wonder what kind of schools I could have gotten into, even if I wasn’t going to go. But I got into Arizona State, and they offered me a full scholarship, so it was a no-brainer for me to go there.
How did you choose your major?
I applied to the finance program and I got into the W.P. Carey School of Business outright. I stuck with finance for all four years, but I ended up adding a second major of marketing, particularly because I had been exposed to a lot of marketing stuff through DECA. So I ended up with a BS in finance and a BS in marketing.
I actually worked at Bank of America all through university. I started off as a teller inside of a grocery store banking center. It was the perfect job actually, because I could get a lot of hours in, and depending on the semester, I could do classes in the morning and work in the afternoon, or vice versa. Then I went into a role working the chat bot. But it wasn't a bot - it was me. It was a fun job. I didn't have to really do much selling, and I could have my homework on the screen too when it wasn't busy.
But I was realizing in college that the world of finance wasn't exactly what I thought it was. When you study finance, there are two major paths you can take, which is to go to New York and slave away working 80 hours a week. But I'm all about living a balanced lifestyle and feeling like I'm worth something. Or, of course, you can go into financial advising. But I was realizing that it's much more sales than anything else. I graduated early, so I was 21, and I was thinking, "What person on the edge of retirement is going to want to give 21 year-old me everything they have saved in their life?" Not that that's an impossible stretch, but I felt as if that was going to be a lot of work, to build up a book of clients.
How did you get from college to where you are now?
I had always been interested in tech stuff, but I didn't have the skills to go and be an engineer yet. So one thing I looked into was analyst tech positions. Since I had the finance background and I could do Excel things and sales ops, I applied at SAP when I was getting ready to graduate. I happened to know somebody that was a sales manager. Her husband used to lead DECA for the state of Arizona, so that connection very much came full-circle, which was awesome. She was my referral and gave me glowing recommendations.
I applied for what’s called the Inside Sales Academy, but I had zero interest in being a salesperson. This woman that I knew there, Alison, insisted, "Don't worry about it. It's a very flexible role. We're just trying to bring in younger talent, and we'll adapt the position to whatever you need." I was a little skeptical, but I went in for the interview anyway, and I more or less came out and said, "Hi, I'm right out of college and I don't want to do sales, but you should still hire me." Of course, I framed it much better than that. But I found out that they had a role that was helping with the operational side of this inside sales team.
It was a smaller team at SAP at the time, and they didn't have somebody to help their salespeople keep everything in order. And what would happen is that, as they got close to the end of the quarter, there would be something wrong with the contract, or the right products wouldn’t be on it. So I basically pitched to them that I could fill that role and it worked. That was my first job out of college.
I did that role for about a year and a half. Then I was in Pennsylvania at our corporate headquarters. I dived deep and ended up learning a lot, so I was giving a presentation on these really small bits of minutiae that don't seem to matter but they were really important for what we were doing. There was this VP, Robert, in the room doing internal consulting, and apparently he was really impressed. He took me aside and said, "Hey, we're looking for somebody on our team. I know you're young and you're new to a lot of this, but I'm really impressed with how you think." It was mostly centered on, it sounds like such jargon now, but business process engineering. What they basically do is talk to different executives within the company across different functions and help them analyze problems, come up with solutions, and implement them.
I was really excited about this conversation. The team seemed great. He said there were certifications they wanted people to have before they joined the team. I immediately started looking at it when I got home that week. Luckily, all of the content I needed to know was available online or through internal channels, so I went ham and crammed for five days, signed up, and ended up passing the test.
I sent Robert a screenshot and said, "Hey, here are the test results." And he replied, "Lexis, this test is supposed to take two months of studying before you take it." I’m not saying that to brag. But if I look back at my experiences, that was the biggest moment I’ve had when I realized, if you don't have preconceived notions that something is hard or something is supposed to take X amount of time, you might just blow your mind.
It took about six more months because of internal politics and such, but I eventually got onto that team. I was on this team, and they asked me, "Do you want to go to Philly or Palo Alto?" And I chose Palo Alto because there's sunshine, and I think I've scraped ice off my car all of once in my life, and I never need to do it again. Arizona kind of breeds that into you.
It was a blast. The project that I consider my baby that I worked on the most was with our sales team in Mexico. It was such a weird experience because I was 23 at the time and there were directors and managers that were very seasoned, they had been working at SAP or in the industry for a long time, and I was up there presenting my PowerPoint slides like, "Here is everything that is wrong with what you're doing."
It wasn't just me, which was good. The other guy I had co-leading with me was one of our colleagues in Germany, and he was an amazing human being, very nice, very patient, and he had a German accent that was really lovely to listen to. It was super international, which was also a really good learning experience.
Around the time I was closing out that project, I was starting to look at other things in the Bay Area, not because I was running away from SAP - I actually had a really good experience there - but it was my first job out of school, and I was looking for some income growth and just to experience something different.
So I was looking at startups, and I ended up going to a company called Chameleon.
I was the first hire, so it was a super small startup. I worked there for about six months. Basically, it wasn't what I had signed up for. I had this expectation that I was going to be doing product management and customer success and some marketing as well. I ended up doing a lot of social media blog posts and stuff. It was not my jam.
So I thought, "I'm not happy. I'm learning a lot, but I don't feel excited to go to work every day. This isn't for me." And I wasn't doing much of the things that I really wanted to be doing. I was in a position where I didn't need to be anxious about going to work, so I made the decision to quit without having a backup. In January, I started applying, and I applied online cold to Salesforce IQ, and they responded to me. I interviewed for a customer success manager role, which is a fancy way of saying account manager, and I got it.
When I joined, it was a company called Relayed IQ that had been acquired by Salesforce. The company was still operating independently, so there were 200 or so employees. And we still had our own CEO. That was the part that excited me, because it was still a small-ish team environment, which I still feel like I hadn't had the experience of at the time. And the product was changing really fast, which was exciting.
They had already been acquired, so I knew that I was going to be integrated eventually, and I was evaluating, "Would I still be happy working at Salesforce?" And the answer was absolutely yes. The culture is amazing here, the work-life balance is really nice. And the customers that I was working with were really special too.
When I joined Salesforce IQ, because it was this small-ish environment, we had lunch together every day. We would sit at these really long communal tables, and I befriended a lot of engineers really quickly. Again, I had always been interested in technology, but switching to engineering never felt attainable. One of my friends pointed me to some resources online, and there was a really good website, TeamTreeHouse.com, that was the catalyst for everything. After going on the website every night for two months, I decided, "All right, I'm going to do everything I can to make the switch and make this happen with engineering."
I didn't have much of a plan, but I committed to spending 15-20 hours on it every week outside of work. I thought about doing a coding bootcamp, but I would have had to quit my job, and I didn't want that uncertainty of not working for six months. And I took some pride in trying to figure it out myself.
I split my time between reading, watching videos, coding my own projects, and then eventually working on an open-source project. That project I worked on was instrumental in my success. It allowed hiring managers to see the code I’d written, and it helped me prove that I was capable of making this transition.
Networking was also a key part of me making this transition. I put myself out there in uncomfortable ways, and set up informational interviews to better understand what hiring managers were looking for when they brought on new engineers. These connections came full circle by the time I began my job search for software engineering roles. Roughly 80% of my conversations were with managers and recruiters that I already had a previous connection with. And in May of this year, I switched to software engineering at Salesforce.
In spring of 2016, I attended Google I/O tech conference, and they gave all the attendees a Google Home that year. When I set it up at my apartment, I tried to ask it for the price of Ethereum (a cryptocurrency), but it replied with, “Sorry, I’m not sure how to help with that.” Given that I was making progress in my coding at the time, I thought, “I’m going to build an app for that!”
It took longer than I expected and involved many nights trying to solve for bugs I could barely wrap my head around, but in August of 2016 I launched CryptoPrices, an app for Google Assistant that lets users ask for the prices of various cryptocurrencies. It turned out to be a hit! It was published in the Google Assistant store and I was eventually given an award from Google for the traction it gained.
Looking back, what seems clear to you now?
It partially frustrates me that I made a career transition in my late 20’s and I don’t feel like I have as many “technical chops” as others my age that studied computer science. At the same time, I have a lot of experience that’s unique on my team, and I get to bring my other skill sets to the table.
Some people are lucky enough to know exactly what they want to do for the rest of their lives. I envy them. I’ve felt for the last 10 years that I’ve been trying to “figure out my major.” But I think it’s important to know that there are way more jobs out there than you’d ever realize. Jobs with titles like “Customer Success Manager,” “Chief Equality Officer,” or “Supply Chain Analyst” are careers I never thought existed when I was 17.
Unless you know that you passionately want to be a lawyer, nurse, teacher, etc., my advice would be to pick a major, courses, or internships that give you a variety of options and learning experiences. The more color you have in your story, the easier it will be to sell yourself in those jobs you’re eventually really excited about.
It also never hurts to pick up some technical skills, whether you navigate toward courses in mathematics, coding, finance, or something else involving formulas and logic. These might not always be the easiest skills to add to your resume, but they’re really helpful to have when you’re looking for a job. Employers love when candidates have skills that can be objectively measured.