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How Trailblazer Lorna O’callaghan Overcame Impostor Syndrome

Far from home, with no network and filled with doubt, Lorna turned to Trailhead to find her way. 

Far from home, with no network and filled with doubt, Lorna turned to Trailhead to find her way. 

If you’d said to me 15 years ago that I’d end up in Australia working in the tech industry and leading a Women in Tech group, I would have laughed. And yet here I am! It’s nice to know I can still surprise myself.

At university I was interested in humanities and the arts, and had originally thought I might be a teacher. But some work experience in a classroom put paid to that idea — it definitely wasn’t for me. I ended up doing a Masters in Medieval History which, I was to discover, was a very competitive niche when it came to finding a job. 

By that stage, however, I’d already had my first foray into tech. To my surprise, I found it suited me pretty well. A friend at university had roped a bunch of us into working with her on the student IT helpdesk, dealing with all the usual troubleshooting enquiries. And something just clicked for me. It was a diverse group with all kinds of interests and lots to connect us. A camaraderie developed and, before I knew it, I felt that I belonged.

“Who do I think I am — a medieval history major in IT?”

While a career in academia seemed like the obvious choice after completing my postgraduate studies, I found myself taking up an offer to work as a trainer in the university’s IT department. 

Sure, medieval history to IT might seem an unlikely change, but my studies would come in handy in all kinds of unexpected ways. As a historian you must be very methodical, structured and inquisitive. You have to be prepared to be challenged on your conclusions and be very sure about the steps you made to arrive at them. It turns out, the same skills apply to working in IT — the training stood me in good stead. 

This didn’t stop me from experiencing impostor syndrome which, until I found ways to manage it, would plague me across my early career in IT: are my qualifications good enough? I don’t have the same background as others — can I really do this? Am I cut out for IT? Who do I think I am — a medieval history major in IT?

But I kept moving forward, and a cold call from Ireland’s biggest IT recruiter was my first introduction to Salesforce. The call was made by the IT Director as an internal demonstration of the power of their Salesforce CRM, so you might say that Salesforce found me.

In the deep end

Up until then — my first role as a Salesforce admin — I’d been managing an Access database and hadn’t heard of Salesforce. I was thrown completely in the deep end in my new role. It was multifaceted and multi-hatted in a way that I would later realise was typical of a Salesforce Admin role. Salesforce administrator is, I’ve come to see, an essential position: part investigator, part challenger, part process owner with a bit of dev and BA thrown in too. And it gave me a whole new set of resources with which to combat that impostor syndrome by validating the skills I had and giving definition to them, while providing opportunities for learning and the means for developing a network.

“I don’t have the same background as others — can I really do this? Am I cut out for IT?”

With Salesforce in my pocket, so to speak, I felt much more confident about travelling to Australia. The original plan was to stay for one year but, four years on, Sydney is rapidly becoming home.

But I’m not going to lie. I can appreciate the challenges of those early months now, but at the time it was incredibly tough. I had no existing network or community, and the difference in time zones meant making a phone call home was tricky. I was even out of whack with all my old connections from home on Twitter! It felt very isolating, especially for a natural introvert like me.

Finding a place

Fortunately I was able to get a few short-term Salesforce jobs and the connections I made in those have remained my strongest. And Trailhead came to my rescue by providing access to groups and events. I was always welcomed with real warmth at the user group events I ventured to but I gravitated to the Women in IT breakfasts, with their more intimate settings. I just had to get over my own nerves and shyness, and those lingering doubts about whether I belonged in the tech world.

“There are still significant barriers to women in tech and the perception that tech is a male industry remains one of them.”

While experience has shown me that impostor syndrome can affect anyone in any industry, the perception that tech is a male industry certainly doesn’t help when it comes to women finding their confidence in the IT sector. There are still significant barriers to women in tech and that perception remains one of them. It’s certainly one that our Women in Tech group will be fighting to correct and it’s wonderful to see the many changes that are happening. 

I’m excited to now be leading a group which, for example, consistently uses an inclusive range of pronouns to discuss scenarios or examples. It might seem like a small thing but it can make a big difference, and I’ve sometimes wondered how differently I might have felt in my journey if I’d heard people talking more about women and technology.

“I’m excited to be in a position to contribute positively to change in the industry and to build a team of people who live those changes.”

Trailhead continues to be a wonderful resource for me — fun, practical, informative and empowering. I’m reminded every day there is someone out there in the same position I was in, reaching out, looking for direction. And because there is a real sense of ‘paying it forward’ within the Trailhead community, there is always someone there to help.

That sense of contributing to the community was also the reason I took on the role of co-leader of the Women in Tech group with Maddison Deans, which is relaunching on 31 July after a hiatus of almost a year. When Simon Gascoigne asked me to step up I immediately said yes, because I had missed the events running — they left a huge gap for me and, no doubt, for others. 

I’m delighted to be taking the group over with Maddi to help provide that safe space for other women to be active members of the community. Co-leading the Women in Tech group and also in my new role leading a Salesforce team, I’m excited to be in a position to contribute positively to change in the industry and to build a team of people who live those changes and are passionate about the Salesforce ecosystem. 

To anyone who finds themselves a long way from home, without a network and feeling doubtful about their own abilities, I encourage you to reach out to the Trailhead community. Baby steps are fine — not all of us are up to diving straight in — but if you can put in the effort then trust me, the benefits are huge. 

There are regular Trailblazer Community Group meet-ups — all are welcome! Have a look at our calendar to find a group near you.

And of course, the next big event is Dreamforce which is in the calendar for September. See you there!

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Salesforce Staff

The 360 Blog from Salesforce teaches readers how to improve work outcomes and professional relationships. Our content explores the mindset shifts, organizational hurdles, and people behind business evolution. We also cover the tactics, ethics, products, and thought leadership that make growth a meaningful and positive experience.

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