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Advocate, Refugee, Salesforce Developer: One Trailblazer’s Incredible Journey

Sima Samara

After fleeing her home country for safety reasons, Sima Samara had to restart her career because her university degree wasn’t recognized in her new country

With no prior technology industry training, Samara used Salesforce’s free online learning platform Trailhead and the Trailblazer Community, plus the ‘Blue Road Academy’ program, to become a Salesforce developer in five months.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in September 2022. It was updated in March 2023 to reflect the latest details.

When Sima Samara was six-years-old, she wasn’t allowed to run outside with her brothers.

Because it wasn’t considered feminine.

“You should act like a girl and not do that,” Samara recalled hearing. “He’s a boy. He can do whatever he wants. You sit and be polite.”

That memory is seared into Samara’s psyche and became a catalyst for her trailblazing spirit. A member of Salesforce’s Trailblazer Community — a global network of millions who help each other learn new skills and thrive within the Salesforce ecosystem — Samara’s life has taken extraordinary detours. She’s gone from advocate to pharmacist to pariah to refugee, and now she’s a Salesforce Consultant and Developer at a global consultancy. And she’s just getting started. 

Samara with her father

Art was the best weapon to help women speak up

“I’ve always had a big mouth!” Samara confided.

Samara grew up in a Middle Eastern community with conservative, gender-restrictive rules. After six years at University, she became a pharmacist. Her upbringing fueled her to always speak up for various causes, particularly women’s and LGBTQ+ rights.

“If you are a woman, you’re not easily allowed to do anything or make any decisions without your brother or father,” Samara described of her upbringing. “Women never get their own voice. Your voice is your father’s, family’s, community’s — but never your own.” 

In 2015, a 21-year-old Samara channeled her frustrations and feelings into art, drawing pictures and posting them to Facebook. She started inviting other women to share their art and stories. Within three years, she had nearly 60,000 followers on social media — many united by the same feelings of gender inequalities. Samara, and her self-described “big mouth,” tasted opportunity.

Samara channeled her frustrations into art

“Art was the best weapon to help women speak up,” said Samara. She subsequently created another Facebook page focused on organizing and activating women to engage in politics and advocate for LGBTQ+ freedoms, among other equality-themed causes — and it would change the course of her life. 

My family told me, ‘You really have to shut the page down now’

The page quickly gained followers and influence. Within a week, she organized her first in-person event with nearly 90 women, eager to fight for gender equality. 

Not everyone was happy with that.

Samara was inundated with hateful rhetoric, attempts to block the page, and personal threats to her physical safety — not just online but in person. Samara contacted friends she met through her artwork, asking if they could help get her a visa. Within a week, she was on a plane to the Netherlands, but not before one of the most agonizing nights of her life.

“I left in the middle of the night,” she recalled. “All I took was my passport, the clothes on my back, and my laptop. I was so freaked out someone would notice I was leaving that I just used the light from my phone to sneak out. I couldn’t say bye to anyone because I knew I might not leave.”

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When Samara landed in the Netherlands, instead of tremendous joy, she felt torn.

“The first thing I did was take off my hijab and it felt like freedom to have my hair blowing in the wind. I was extremely happy,” Samara described. “But you know when you break up with someone and in the beginning it feels amazing and then a week later you’re crying and asking, ‘Why did I do that to myself?’ I was depressed and homesick. Everything I built did not exist in this country. I was starting from scratch.”

But you know when you break up with someone and in the beginning it feels amazing and then a week later you’re crying and asking, ‘Why did I do that to myself?’

sima samara, Salesforce Developer, valtech

For the next year, Samara bounced around seven different refugee camps, many of which were former prisons. She tried to find a job, but couldn’t speak Dutch and her pharmaceutical degree wasn’t recognized. Stripped of opportunities, she found herself cleaning homes.

“I told people I studied six years to become a pharmacist, but my certifications meant nothing in the Netherlands. So what job could I do? Every other job preferred someone who spoke Dutch, so I ended up cleaning homes. On my knees cleaning toilets.”

You feel more than trust. You feel safe.

Samara was getting depressed and losing her trademark will to fight. That’s when she came across an advertisement asking if she was interested in a “digital skills learning course.” No language or background requirements. Geared specifically for refugees. It was called RefugeeForce (now Blue Road Academy) and was focused on teaching Salesforce skills.

“The mission of our organization is to create more opportunities and access for refugees,” said Gaspar Rodriguez, the co-founder and director of Blue Road Academy. “Many refugees are struggling to integrate into society on their own terms. They don’t have the right degree or can’t translate the degree they do have into the job description — if the degree from their home country is even accepted in the host country. We saw an opportunity to solve that problem through helping them develop the skills to find roles in the Salesforce ecosystem.”

The nice thing about Salesforce is that you really don’t need to study four or five years at university. You just need a Trailhead account. It tells you what you need to learn.

Sima samara, Salesforce Developer, valtech

“Talk about targeted advertisement, right?” joked Samara, who immediately fell in love with the program, especially Trailhead — Salesforce’s free online learning platform where one can earn in-demand Salesforce skills.

“The nice thing about Salesforce is that you really don’t need to study four or five years at university,” said Samara. “You just need a Trailhead account. It tells you what you need to learn. Then you follow some steps, read the database, and then you understand. You can get a lot of knowledge out of trails.”

Samara pictured at Netherlands-based company, Eurofiber, her first job as a Salesforce Developer

Samara’s love for Trailhead is only matched by her feelings towards the Trailblazer Community as a whole.

“Being around the Trailblazer Community was the first time in the Netherlands that I felt I was home,” she reflected. “You see all these refugees who gave up everything, fought so hard for their rights, searching for that special something. Through that process, you’re so used to no one believing in you. When finally someone comes and tells you they believe in you — you feel more than trust. You feel safe.”

Samara’s story, shown during the Dreamforce 2022 keynote

“There are millions of talented people around the world whose potential remains untapped because they don’t have access to opportunities,” said Leah McGowen-Hare, Salesforce SVP of the Trailblazer Community. “Salesforce is committed to building a more inclusive workforce by giving anyone access to learning, community, and career opportunities – because representation matters.”

After five months in the program and earning 150 Trailhead badges — which represent Salesforce skills and expertise — Samara landed a job at Eurofiber as a Salesforce developer, and now she’s a senior Salesforce consultant and developer at Valtech. It was a harrowing journey that led her to a new type of advocacy — more inclusive hiring. Samara hopes to encourage employers to look beyond standard job requirements in finding the best talent.

“Most refugees left everything behind and they really just want one opportunity,” said Samara. “Other people may get many chances and they take them for granted because they think there will be more. Not refugees. They think it could be the only chance they get. 

“It took me a year-and-a-half to get one opportunity. When I got it, I held on to it with my hands and my teeth. I was never letting go because I wanted to prove that I deserved it and I could do it.”

For a girl who was never allowed to run, it turns out, Sima Samara was born to soar.

Trailblazer Sima Samara is awarded the coveted Golden Hoodie at Dreamforce 2022.

More information:

  • Learn about Trailhead’s new ‘Hire Me’ button and Salesforce’s latest investments in workforce development here.

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