This edition of Trailblazer Voices focuses on a Trailblazer in the making: Tom Flanagan, a Futureforce MBA intern from the Summer 2017 class. Futureforce is core to Salesforce’s commitment to workforce development, helping to train and hire for the jobs of tomorrow. This post originally appeared on Tom’s LinkedIn page, here.

Salesforce uses the word “Trailblazer” to capture the spirit and drive of its most successful customers, partners, and employees. It’s become a common term across the Salesforce ecosystem to describe someone who demonstrates courage, creativity, achievement, and progress, among other qualities.

But the word Trailblazer also leaves some room for interpretation. To some, Trailblazer may evoke images of pioneers — think the Oregon Trail or an Apollo spacewalk. Others see Trailblazers as software engineers, creative visionaries, or sales rainmakers — people who are successful in their field. Still, many more will hear Trailblazer and think of civil rights leaders and activists who seek equality for all.

To me, the variety of ways the word Trailblazer can be interpreted is part of what makes it such a strong fit with Salesforce’s Ohana culture. Indeed, it’s because of these values that Salesforce embraces individuals who follow unique paths into and within the company. This diversity creates strong teams with depth, agility, and fewer blind spots.


Blazing My Own Trail

My own path to becoming an MBA Product Marketing intern at Salesforce was also a bit unique. As a liberal arts undergrad at Bates College, I studied creative writing and anthropology. I thought I would end up writing sports columns or maybe Super Bowl ads. Instead, I joined a social commerce startup and found myself working on everything from customer acquisition to product development. Then, I later moved to an ad tech startup and spent time in account management, strategy, and business development. I’ve never written a line of code, but I got hooked on the business of software: the pace, the growth, the teams, the culture.

While non-traditional, I feel that my unusual path into technology has added value to my career. My education prepared me for my early jobs and for business school at Northwestern University, and the combination of those experiences put me in a position to become an intern at one of the world’s best software companies.

My creative writing background taught me how to analyze and control the way messages are received by an audience. My anthropology studies taught me how to use frameworks to structure my thinking when confronted with a totally new problem. My time working in cross-functional teams in startups taught me how to empathize with my colleagues and think both broadly and long-term when approaching business or technical problems.

If backgrounds like mine are sometimes overlooked, it is likely because many companies find it easier to scan for degrees or job titles than drill down into non-technical skills and competencies. Fortunately for me, Salesforce is an exception.


Finding My Place in Product Marketing

In my case, the combination of a liberal arts education and a rotation-like job path across two software startups helped me stand out in the internship application process. Likewise, during my internship with Salesforce’s Product Marketing team, I was able to develop some of the key skills that top-tier companies look for in Product Marketers:

  • Storytelling - Clear, succinct communication is critical in any business function, but Product Marketers also need the ability to develop narratives that simplify complex ideas and inspire customers to act.   

  • Creative Problem Solving - Enterprise software is a fiercely competitive industry, and Product Marketers must constantly seek fresh ways to overcome obstacles and position products as the winning solution.

  • Critical Analysis - Product Marketers must be able to structure and analyze their recommendations with both quantitative and qualitative data.

  • Intellectual Curiosity - Product Marketers need to be “learning machines,” developing expertise not only in the company’s products but also in customers’ businesses.

Throughout my internship at Salesforce, I felt inspired and challenged by the strong, diverse team around me, and I am energized by the opportunities that lie ahead. Like most people at Salesforce, I’ve reached this point in my journey because of the encouragement and support I have received from my Ohana — great teachers, coaches, and mentors.

Futureforce interns in San Francisco get to experience all the sights that make the Bay Area so unique.

To that end, if there are young liberal arts-types in your life who see no place for themselves in business or tech, give them a nudge — I know of at least one company where they could be a great fit.

Like many of our Futureforce interns, Tom will continue blazing new trails as a full-time Salesforce employee this Summer, returning to the Product Marketing team.

If you’re thinking about a future with Salesforce, click here to find the right internship opportunity for you. Also, be sure to follow Futureforce on Twitter and Instagram to see what it’s like to work at Salesforce.

This article is part of an ongoing series highlighting the many voices and stories that make up Salesforce’s diverse community of Trailblazers.