Salesforce technology is used around the world by companies, nonprofits, and educational institutions. But at some colleges and universities, students are taking the initiative to learn Salesforce and get some hands-on experience with it — on their own time.
Salesforce clubs have sprung up at various institutions around the country, each unique in its approach, but all focused on helping participants gain an edge that can help them when it’s time to enter the job market. And they’ll have their pick: In September 2021, a study from IDC found that Salesforce and its ecosystem of partners will create 9.3 million new jobs and $1.6 trillion in new business revenues worldwide by 2026. The University of Kentucky (UK) and the University of Massachusetts Lowell (UML) shared how they have successfully created and maintained a Salesforce club on their campus.
How They Got Started
In the fall of 2017, a group of students in the Manning School of Business at the University of Massachusetts Lowell formed the Salesforce Leaders Group, with the stated goal of introducing “all students of any background at UMass Lowell to the different ways that Salesforce, as both a CRM software and as a company, can add value to [their] future.”
The group, which grew to include students from other colleges at UML, held weekly leadership meetings, supported by faculty members Tony Gao and Steve Powell, who both teach Salesforce as part of their course offerings. That same year, 10 UML students were designated as the first-ever cohort of Salesforce Ambassadors in the country and took part in Manning’s first Salesforce Day. The club is strongly supported by the Dean of the Manning School and UML’s IT leadership team.
In 2020, four students at the University of Kentucky decided they wanted to start a club where they and others could learn to use Salesforce. They connected with adjunct professor Christine Wildes, a certified Salesforce admin who was willing to serve as faculty advisor, mentor, and advocate for the club. She also helped them acquire a sponsor: The Von Allmen Center for Entrepreneurship at UK’s Gatton College of Business and Economics, where Wildes teaches. Together, they designed a leadership team whose members each oversee a career field associated with Salesforce: admin, marketing, sales, business analysis, and developer. These leaders act as mentors to other members, who select their preferred career field when they join the club.
“I found Salesforce and this club, really — to be a perfect opportunity for me to start something to differentiate myself from my peers,” said Matt McCarthy, one of the founders of the UK Salesforce club.
Hands-on Learning, Together and Apart
At both universities, club members undertake learning activities through Trailhead, Salesforce’s online CRM learning system. Students can earn badges for specific tasks, complete longer learning modules on topics of interest, and work towards taking the Salesforce certification exam, if they choose. Prior to the pandemic, UML’s club held Salesforce Saturday and Salesforce Tuesday events where students would meet to work on Trailhead badges together. Since 2020, the group has been holding remote events. The club currently has about 100 members, many of whom have worked on Salesforce CRM training through Trailhead and earned numerous badges to help them build their skills and resumes.
“My goal is to ultimately become Salesforce certified by the time I graduate,” McCarthy said.
UK’s club meets on Sunday evenings, with the first hour devoted to leadership team mentoring with Wildes, followed by a full club meeting. In the club’s first year, 137 students took part in meetings and training work. By August 2021, members had completed 3,000 individual badges in Trailhead. The club at UK has also completed close to 200 Trailmixes, or customized learning tracks in Trailhead.
Networking and Career Planning
Both clubs frequently host networking events and guest speakers from the Salesforce ecosystem, including representatives of local and national companies looking to hire recent graduates, as well as senior leaders within Salesforce itself. UK’s club even received a talk from Salesforce’s chief digital evangelist, Vala Afshar.
Members of the UML Salesforce club have participated in five external Salesforce events since the club’s inception, including two Salesforce Boston World Tours and two TrailheaDX developer conferences. At the 2018 TrailheaDX conference, which drew over 10,000 attendees, more than 100 Manning School students participated by webcam. These activities introduced students to the many learning and career opportunities within the Salesforce ecosystem and increased their chances of finding good job opportunities requiring CRM skills.
“If you have it on your resume, it will guarantee you at least an interview,” said Eliza Bulger, one of the founders of the UML Salesforce club, in an interview with the UMass Lowell Connector student newspaper.
Several members of UK’s Salesforce club have participated in on-campus internships with the Enterprise team, giving them hands-on work experience using Salesforce prior to graduation.
“Our interns from the Salesforce Club have been a major asset for our team. With their existing Salesforce knowledge, each intern has been able to jump in with both feet and immediately begin working on initiatives that have impact across our campus user base,” said Emily Brenzel, Marketing Cloud director for UK’s Enterprise Salesforce Team.
Jodie Canada, former CTO of UK’s club, who graduated in 2021 with a degree in Computer Science, ended up changing her postgraduate plans completely based on her experience with the club. “I had the chance to learn a really valuable and competitive skill set through my time with the Salesforce club,” she said.
A Positive Future Outlook
In addition to the internships mentioned above, two of the leadership team members at UK’s club have already gone on to accept positions with companies using Salesforce. At UML, participation in the club can be a helpful add-on to courses taught in the Manning School of Business that include Salesforce training modules, and two former club presidents have also gone on to obtain Salesforce-specific jobs after graduation. Clearly, all that self-motivated learning in their spare time has paid off and continues to benefit students who have gone on to work with the CRM software in their early careers.
“Having just gone through Salesforce training with my company in an intense week-long learning collective, I can say without a doubt that I was massively more prepared than my colleagues,” said one former UML student.