This summer over 700 interns from all over the world logged on their laptops for the first-ever Salesforce virtual internship. With the current economic downturn and global pandemic forcing 70% of companies to cancel their internship programs, Salesforce remained committed to their 2020 cohort by quickly adapting to an online program. In the migration from Salesforce Towers to the home office, what silver linings were discovered? Read on for the perspective of Global Communications Intern, Makenna Millham.
Just before COVID-19 gripped the world, I had accepted an offer to spend the summer with Salesforce as a global communications intern. The internship is part of Futureforce, Salesforce’s university recruiting program, that cultivates a group of diverse interns and talents, helping them build professional skills and relationships. My future was seemingly set and I couldn’t be more excited. Having interviewed for the position while studying abroad in Spain, I would be moving home in April and shortly thereafter begin BARTing into San Francisco to learn from the Salesforce communications team and bond with other interns.
On the morning of March 12, I, like many other expats in Europe, woke to the announcement of an international travel ban and within the next 24 hours was on a plane home. In my naivete, I anticipated that my early departure from Spain would be the only part of my life transformed by the novel coronavirus. It quickly became clear how far from true that was. The first day of my internship I didn’t find myself swiping into the Salesforce Tower, but walking down the hall to my parents’ home office.
The Decision to Go Virtual
Futureforce traditionally gives undergraduates and new graduates a glimpse into the business world while hosting networking sporting events and city tours, with interns spending 12 weeks honing their skills and learning what it means to be a part of the Salesforce Ohana. Futureforce roles are offered over five global regions and 80% of eligible interns have the opportunity to be hired back full time. But like many things this year, it looked a little different.
Just days before the Futureforce live program was finalized, COVID-19 moved everyone into their homes. For those spearheading the summer, this meant scrapping the traditional roadmap and going off trail. Alex Murray, Director of Programs & Marketing for Futureforce and Workforce Development, leads the team responsible for the program.
“Leave it better than you found it,” Murray explains the theme of the summer.
It’s something that’s resonated with me as an intern, and inspired me to find the silver linings in an unconventional internship experience.
“It ties in so much of our key values as a company. Be it the planet, our technology, or just our people … we wanted our interns to finish their time with us feeling they left Salesforce better,” says Murray. We created that theme way before COVID happened and yet it feels more important. It feels like it resonates more this summer.”
For me and the other interns, the prospect of a virtual internship had a few obvious obstacles, but the overall sentiment was gratitude for the opportunity to join the Salesforce Ohana. Our cohort gained exposure to a values-led company during uniquely turbulent times and gained firsthand insight to how Salesforce can have impact on our stakeholders and improve the state of the world. I spoke with a few interns to reflect on their experience and found a few silver linings from the summer.
What We Learned
We could connect with those with similar job functions
Though the virtual barriers prevented interns from having the traditional rapport of the workplace, a new virtual community provided fodder for relationships to develop despite geographical differences. To that end, Murray and the Futureforce team developed communities that reflected departments.
“This year we removed the boundaries of location, because everybody is in one location, which is remote. We really had a chance to create a more targeted program by function.” Each department was divided into communication and training groups under the various Salesforce mascots such as the more tech-focused team Astro, the corporate team Codey and more. There was an increase in communication lines based on the teams, rather than location.
We created geographically-diverse networks
Communities were also formed through randomly selected virtual coffee dates. Software Intern Kenya Plenty noted how she had the opportunity to connect and build a relationship with someone in a different city. “I think that’s one silver lining — because everything has to be done virtually, the coffee chats allowed me to connect with someone that I never would have met in person if I was in San Francisco. During one of my coffee chats with an intern in Boston, we really hit it off and decided to continue meeting up once a week for the remainder of our internships. After Futureforce, we made sure to connect on social media to stay in contact.”
We took big risks
Interns continued to combat virtual roadblocks, achieving goals and flexing new muscles within their community with help from Futureforce and their team members. Kenya Plenty, for example, collaborated with coworkers to build out an intern-led equality event.
“In the beginning I thought, this is a great idea, but how do I actually make it come to fruition? It was really meaningful to me that Salesforce and other members of BOLDforce took such an active role in helping me and making sure I had everything that I needed,” said Plenty. It never felt as if I was swimming in the ocean all by myself. I think that support for individual endeavors and really championing equality meant a lot to me, because it furthered into my mind how Salesforce doesn’t just talk-the-talk. They also walk the walk.”
We could still connect with Executive leadership
In the migration to a virtual program, Futureforce made it their mission to incorporate as many similarities to the in-person experience as possible, while capitalizing on the new virtual opportunities at the same time. Over the course of the summer they found ways to replicate these elements and create new avenues for learning. Technical writing intern, Rae Rae Luo, highlighted some of the Futureforce perks. “They organized meetings for us to chat with higher exec members like Bret Taylor and Sarah Franklin, and for every single event we get UberEats credit, which blows my mind because it’s maybe once or twice a week.”
We learned how to better communicate
Apart from great opportunities like meeting with executives, exposure to exciting projects and free food, the life of an intern can be one filled with unknowns. In the time before 2020, interns had the agility to ask mundane questions to whoever was seated beside them. Luo found that in the virtual landscape asking questions requires a little more outreach, but generates more concentrated time for finding answers.
“My main project is Einstein Prediction Builder, which is very technical and involves AI and machine learning. I don’t have a data scientist background whatsoever. So I’m constantly asking my mentor and my scrum team questions even when I think it’s a dumb question. I was forced to step back and ask hard questions because I needed to really understand the product space.”
Though I, like many others, originally saw COVID-19 as a fleeting blip in my life plan, it’s evident that this pandemic has catalyzed rapid change and disruption to the status quo that will have lasting impact. Salesforce’s commitment to the Futureforce program exemplifies their investment in the beginner’s mind and the emerging future of work.
When asked about the decision to continue the program, Murray highlighted what aspiring professions mean to the company. “We recognize the importance of having this next generation. From working on products to talking to our customers and really bringing in their fresh ideas — we believe our Futureforce is the future of who we are as a company.”
To learn more about Futureforce, check out their website.