The oldest of 12 children, Selina Suarez grew up in a low-income, urban environment in NYC. She never dreamed she’d have a career in tech, but after she built her first database and got involved with Salesforce, the trajectory of her life and ultimately that of her family, was changed forever. She was the first person in her family to go to college but not the last. Now four of her sisters have done the same and Selina also earned her MBA. Now she’s influencing more than her sisters. Read her story to learn about her unique path to making a difference for others.
My first couple of jobs taught me crucial lessons about managing data. First I was at Bank of America, where I worked on the Branch Operations team. I learned how to be data-driven from tracking the flow of money. My eyes opened to the benefits of migrating from multiple spreadsheets to an object-oriented database. When I moved on to graduate school for my MBA, I pursued MIS classes because I knew tech skills would be an advantage.
One of my first jobs was at a nonprofit dedicated to helping disadvantaged students go to college and it was a great fit. When they hired me, they had thousands of rows of data across multiple spreadsheets and needed a new solution. We had considered Salesforce, but chose another option when we learned the consultant we were working with specialized on a different platform. After three months of use, requests for changes started rolling in. The solution wasn’t working for us and it was a struggle to even do simple things like add fields or build custom reports and dashboards. My mind returned to Salesforce. I googled how-to videos and studied the Force.com Fundamentals book. I signed up for a trial version and rebuilt everything in Salesforce. It was after this success that I made a career out of Salesforce consulting. And, that same nonprofit remains a happy client of Salesforce to this day!
My true passion is education equality and I am most proud of my work in support of education access. First I brought my Salesforce skills to New York City to help an organization support 10,000 disadvantaged students on their quest for educational attainment. The organization was running successful programs that enabled almost 100% of their students to apply and be accepted to college upon graduating high school. It was unreal! But when fall arrived 20% of those students didn’t enroll in college. Fortunately, we’d been tracking tons of data points for each student, and were able to pull Salesforce reports to investigate what was going on with the kids that didn’t enroll. It turned out that most of the problems were as simple as a student not being able to afford books or a metrocard. That simple report in Salesforce gave us a clear view of our data and allowed us to focus our attention on teaching those students the important lesson of self-advocacy. Ask for what you need! Based on what we learned, we started a summer program to make sure these students didn’t fall through the cracks.
Today I am employed by Salesforce.org as the Product Manager for K12 Education. At Salesforce.org we are committed to helping K12 institutions better support students and their families. I feel fortunate that I am able be a part of this important work.
I always had a vision that one day when I “made it,” I would go back to my community and help others figure out how to do the same. Back in 2016, I partnered with my undergraduate college and started a Salesforce bootcamp using Trailhead. We educated seventy students in that first cohort with a total of two hundred so far and I make it a point to help mentor students post bootcamp.
After that first bootcamp one of the students approached me about wanting to work with Meals on Wheels in New Rochelle to help them roll out Salesforce to better engage and manage donors. I agreed to volunteer with him and mentor him throughout the process. He spent the next four months building out their Salesforce instance with my guidance and support. He completed the rollout in December 2016. Since that time he has earned two Salesforce Certifications and is now employed full-time as a Salesforce Consultant. He also leads the NYC Salesforce Saturday Group. You can read his Trailblazer story on the Salesforce blog. Although he’s only one person, he has made an incredible impact on his community in a very short period of time.
Now multiply that by hundreds of students.
This was the inspiration for PepUp Tech. PepUp Tech is a nonprofit organization that was started in January 2017 by myself, and three Salesforce MVP’s; Stephanie Herrera, Rebe DeLa Paz and, Shonnah Hughes. Our goal is to help underrepresented students gain access to our network and ultimately land viable careers throughout the Salesforce ecosystem. We partner with Colleges and Universities that specifically serve high numbers of underrepresented students. We run a four day Salesforce bootcamp followed by certification study resources, exam vouchers, mentorship, apprenticeship and job placements. We rely on the entire Salesforce ecosystem to help us execute our programs. It has been an incredible journey thus far.
My goal is to make the Salesforce bootcamp program available to other Trailblazers who want to affect change in their own community. I care most about educating disadvantaged populations, but maybe for you it’s something different. You could have a passion for educating mothers who are out of the workforce, or, veterans returning to the workplace. Maybe you want to help retirees retool themselves. Give some thought to what’s happening in your community and consider starting a bootcamp of your own. We can use the power of Trailhead to improve our careers, yes, but we can also use the power of Trailhead to give back to our communities!
To be successful in this industry, you need to be committed to continually improving your skillset– constantly learning to keep up with the changing platform. But that’s why I love Trailhead. It’s set up to tackle in bite-sized pieces. I can do 20 minutes today, 20 minutes tomorrow, and so on, to get it done. It helps you get through advanced content more quickly, too. I tend to get super focused on my goals so I use my goal, to be a better admin and consultant, to motivate me to take Trails and earn badges for what I’ve learned. Earning badges has become a ‘thing’. When recruiters contact me about Salesforce positions, they always ask me about my Trailhead badges. With Trailhead, you get a free, easily accessible, hands-on on tool that lets you stand out in the job market with in-demand skills. I can’t help but wonder, how many doors are getting opened for people because of this access to constant learning.
I’m one of the few people that made it out of my community. A lot of folks never do, but maybe with the right kind of encouragement they could do it. I am always on the lookout for potential. Maybe I can be the person to help someone find their way. Me, I’m ready to plow through whatever is put in front of me but I realize not everyone is the same. I truly believe it’s my destiny to help others kick down the doors that sit in their way. As a Trailblazer, I’m creating my path through trial and error and Trailhead means the world to me. We use the power of the platform to elevate ourselves. We need to share this with other people who are coming up behind us. We all get caught up in our day to day, but as a Trailblazer, we need to remember to take a step back, give back and be of service to others. That’s what truly defines success for me. And, when someone calls me a Trailblazer, it’s a reminder to be just that.
Selina is making a difference in her community by finding new ways to make equal access to education a reality. She’s also creating tangible learning opportunities to change the lives of many who might not otherwise benefit from the knowledge at our fingertips. Her optimistic approach and bold moves are what makes Selina a true Trailblazer...and she’s just getting started.
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Are you inspired to be bold and make something great happen in your world? No matter where you are on your path to success, share your experience with the hashtag #MyTrailblazerStory on social. The Trailblazer community is waiting for you!