Boomerang Spotlight - Mark Nelson


June 30, 2021

Theresa Ludvigson
& T.J. Vilardi


“Our Leadership is Unmatched”

This month’s #SalesforceBoomerang features Mark Nelson (DEV). Why does (DEV) follow Mark’s name internally at Salesforce? You will have to read his story to find out.

Getting his Start with Salesforce

Mark Nelson was in the customer relationship management space well before he crossed paths with Salesforce. After spending time with a few different companies in the industry gaining valuable experience, he found himself at Siebel as a Senior Software Engineer. Mark told us, “I worked for Siebel for five years in the late 90’s/early 2000’s. That’s where I became familiar with Salesforce because I knew of many people who left Siebel to go work there. However, my first real experience with Salesforce was the protest that Marc Benioff staged outside the Siebel conference that annoyed our CEO to no end. It was actually very entertaining to Siebel employees at the time as we couldn’t believe what was happening.”

Mark would end up moving over to Salesforce in 2006. “Salesforce had around 800 employees at the time and they were looking to grow their quality engineering organization. My team’s mission was to ensure the success of our customers and scale the products with the growth of the company,” said Mark. As the company grew, so did Mark’s scope of work. He was slated to start in the core side of the business helping with Salesforce’s goal of scaling its multi-tenancy but before joining was asked to help lead the Financial Services engineering organization with Alex Hu. “At the time when I joined, Financial Services needed help to build trust with our customers to ensure our technology did what we said it would do. We needed to prove to customers in the space that we could be trusted with their business,” said Mark. After proving his success in this space and others in R&D, Mark and his colleague, Greg Salmon, were chartered to go build out the engineering teams that would produce Apex and Visualforce. Mark told us, “As we continued to grow and hire more leaders, I was able to offload some of the work to them. My background is in distributed systems and data so it let me focus more on the infrastructure space, ultimately building out what has become Salesforce Monitoring and one of the largest known Apache Kafka pipelines in the world.”

Leaving Salesforce with a Round Trip Ticket

“I never imagined I would be at Salesforce as long as I was the first time around. However, it was all the opportunities I was given to learn and be pushed outside of my comfort zone that kept me here. I had a lot of wins but I also had a lot of hard learnings, which were equally important. I highly credit and have to thank several leaders for these opportunities including Rajani Ramanathan, Courtney Broadus, Steve Fisher, Randy Kern, and Vijay Gill. I continued to see successes in my role and always loved the succession planning aspect of the business, but am also driven by making differential impact for customers and the business. I was wondering what would be next for me in my career,” said Mark.

While figuring out what was next, Mark took a sabbatical from Salesforce to get away for a bit and clear his mind. During the sabbatical, Mark had conversations with other companies in the industry and ultimately felt intrigued by what Twilio had to offer him. “Twilio peaked my interest initially because of their mission to fuel the future of communications through API’s. Also, a number of Salesforce Alumni were there and it reminded me of Salesforce in the early days,” he said. In 2018, after twelve years with Salesforce, Mark joined Twilio as Vice President & GM of Data and Billing Platforms. However, as he told us, “I knew I would not be surprised if I one day returned to work for Salesforce in some capacity.”

Although Mark was no longer employed by Salesforce, he still kept in touch and stayed in the know about things that were happening at the company. “I definitely kept my ties. My sister, Laura Nelson, worked at Salesforce at the time so obviously I had the family connection there, but I still kept in touch with many of my former colleagues and teammates,” said Mark. One of those people that Mark kept in touch with was Randy Kern, a colleague from the engineering organization. Mark told us, “I was speaking with Randy and he told me he had to introduce me to the other Mark Nelson (current CEO and President of Tableau) because we were both good people and had the same name. Mark is brilliant and we hit it off.”

When leaving Salesforce, Mark told us there were things that he knew he would miss about the company no matter what new company he was a part of. “There were several things that I missed. I missed the structure around our focus on planning and execution. Using the V2MOM as a mechanism for that is key and there isn’t anything like that elsewhere. I always knew what the north star was while employed at Salesforce. Marc Benioff does an amazing job of communicating, selling, and getting the organization excited. I also really missed the people — there is a lot of amazing talent at Salesforce. From the leadership team down to individual contributors — they are all unmatched.” said Mark.

Being a #SalesforceBoomerang

After two and a half years at Twilio, Mark decided to make his way back to Salesforce via Tableau as the VP of Software Engineering. “I am now responsible for the Product and Engineering teams that are currently developing the Tableau Platform & Ecosystem as part of Tableau Analytics under Kate Wright. Our mission is to power the trusted Tableau ecosystem for Customers, Developers, and Partners to deliver integrated products, solutions, and services to accelerate data-driven insights,” said Mark.

Today, Mark has added a few letters to the end of his name. Given that he shares the same name as aforementioned CEO and President of Tableau, Mark Nelson, people needed a way to distinguish the two internally when communicating via email or Slack. Internally, Mark Nelson is now Mark Nelson (DEV). This helps employees know that they have Mark Nelson in the Tableau Development organization.

We asked Mark, besides a few extra letters after his name, what excites him about being back at Salesforce and joining Tableau. He told us, “I love Tableau’s mission of democratizing the ability for more people to answer questions with data. When you consider the rapid growth of misinformation in the world today, the mission of Tableau really shines through.” Mark added, “It definitely helps being a boomerang. There is tribal knowledge I still have from my first time at Salesforce and the relationships I have with people from my first go-around still remain. At the same time, coming into Tableau, which has its own culture with many people who’ve also been with Tableau for a long time, it’s a non-trivial adjustment to be thoughtful and integrate with the team. I’m definitely still learning!” Mark continued, “Being a boomerang, I realized not to take for granted the investments we continue to make in our own people. The talent development here at Salesforce is incredible and unmatched.”

Wellbeing and Giving Back

“We have all been living at work for the past 18 months. There is no separation of space which makes it really hard to disconnect,” said Mark. So how does Mark prioritize wellbeing with himself and his team? He told us, “Get exercise, go outside and go for walks. Take time off; take time for vacations. It is okay to take a day here and there, but you really need to take sizable time off with some regularity. Try and disconnect from your home environment.” He continued, “Take advantage of the PTO you are afforded for your mental wellbeing. We need to be cognizant of the mental wellbeing of everyone. Take mental health days and encourage your team to as well. Give them the psychological safety to do so. Be human and be transparent.” 
Mark and family on vacation at Disney World in Florida in June 2021.
First vacation post-pandemic.
Mark and his family are very passionate about giving back. Prior to the pandemic, Mark and his wife spent time volunteering at their two daughters' schools as well as getting more involved in causes related to Apraxia of Speech and Autism. However, as everyone has experienced, this has been more difficult today. “My wife and I are very passionate about helping kids in child development areas, notably as our oldest daughter was diagnosed with Apraxia of Speech (neurological speech delay) at an early age. Additionally, our youngest daughter has an Autism diagnosis and has needed Behavioral Intervention and therapy. This has been a humbling experience as we’ve not only been trying to get our daughters the right help, but also learning more in how to interact with them. One of the reasons we moved to Utah in the fall of 2020 was to get our daughters the help they needed; the resources for children are extensive because of the younger population base. We’re incredibly fortunate in watching both of our daughters thrive after active intervention over the last few years. However, through this experience, there was an awareness that it sparked for us in how families work through these same challenges who don’t have the resources. We’ve been passionate about helping organizations that directly help families and children that have special needs and aren’t afforded the same privileges as our children,” said Mark.
Mark and his oldest daughter Anna at an Apraxia for Kids
fundraiser walk in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco,

Advice for Current #SalesforceAlumni

For the current #SalesforceAlumni that might be interested in having their own boomerang journey at Salesforce, Mark had some really great insights and advice. He told us, “I am really the type of person where the mission and vision have to speak to me and having the opportunity to make differential impact. Take the time to understand what the mission is not only for that role you may be interested in, but also for that organization. Make sure it is something that is compelling to you. There is a ton of opportunity out there and the best thing you can do is to make sure the north star is aligning for you in the role. Don’t jump at an opportunity that looks easy; find something that is hard and going to push you beyond your current capabilities.”

Want to hear more about Mark’s amazing #SalesforceBoomerang story? Connect with him on LinkedIn! Or, if you’re inspired to find your next role at Salesforce, explore our openings today.

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