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Artificial Intelligence

‘Growing up’ with Trailhead: An Early Trailblazer’s Journey

  • Born in San Francisco and a first-generation Chinese American, Gordon Lee took a chance on a job as a Salesforce Admin — and has never looked back 
  • Since joining the Salesforce ecosystem in 2007, Lee has tapped Trailhead to sharpen both his technical and soft skills
  • Today, Lee helps nonprofit organizations thrive in the age of AI and digitization 

Gordon Lee has spent the last two decades transforming his life and career in the Salesforce ecosystem. 

But that almost didn’t happen. 

Unfulfilled in his role as a financial underwriter, in 2007, Lee saw an internal job post seeking a Salesforce Administrator. Despite his interest, self-doubt made Lee think the position was too technical for his skills.

But when the post was still there six months later, he made the leap.

A leap of faith 

Lee, a first-generation Chinese American who was born in San Francisco, graduated from the University of California, Davis, just after the early 2000s dot-com boom.

At the time, his peers were landing technology jobs at exciting, high-tech companies. Lee, however, didn’t even apply, since he had struggled with most of his programming classes in college, and felt his lack of coding and technical skills would disqualify him. 

Instead, he landed his first gig at a Bay Area financial services company. Lee’s innate curiosity and resourcefulness guided him in those early years, and he progressed in roles ranging from sales to underwriting. Despite landing on a solid career, Lee missed being creative and solving puzzles — the things he most enjoyed while building LEGO blocks as a child. So when he stumbled upon the Salesforce Admin job, he was intrigued.

So when he stumbled upon the Salesforce Admin job, he was intrigued.

Learning that the job was a combination of data operations and project management, Lee realized that with the right training and resources, he could make the leap into tech and change the trajectory of his career.

The launch of Trailhead… “a game changer”

He got the job, and dove right into his new role. Early on, though, Lee encountered challenges as he grappled with complex concepts and technical intricacies. 

“At first, I was pretty overwhelmed. It felt like learning a new language, especially after nearly failing my programming courses in college,” he said. 

With no mentor to guide him and finding it difficult to find online communities of Salesforce professionals, Lee had to find a way to skill up on his own.

While he was able to make it work, Lee always wondered if he could have saved himself time and trouble with the right training.

In 2014, Salesforce launched Trailhead, its free online learning platform. This was seven years after he had become an Admin – but Trailhead was exactly what Lee wished he had had when he began his Salesforce career.

“There was nothing like it that existed when I started out,” said Lee. When he joined Trailhead, he realized, “It was like having a personal tutor guiding me through a wide range of modules. A playground of free, hands-on learning and skills that you could just keep practicing until you figured it out.” 

Ten years later, Lee is now a Triple Star Ranger and Community Group Leader with 300+ badges. “Trailhead is a place I keep going back to learn – whether I need a refresher or a deeper dive into new concepts, like AI, or products.”

Trailhead is a place I keep going back to learn – whether I need a refresher or a deeper dive into new concepts, like AI, or products.

Gordon Lee, Salesforce Admin

Lee said what sets Trailhead apart from other online training platforms is the wide array of topics it offers — beyond just technical acumen, it champions the soft skills necessary for well-rounded professionals.

For example, as Lee grew in his career and made the transition from an individual contributor to a manager, he turned to Trailhead — honing in on soft skills like public speaking, interpersonal communication, and managing others. 

Salesforce and Trailhead have been invaluable to his career journey, he said. “I’ve been growing with Salesforce and it has been growing with me.”

A community-driven impact 

While Lee was forced to navigate his career largely on his own in those early days, he now has the Trailblazer Community — a global network of millions of Trailblazers who help each other learn new skills and thrive within the Salesforce ecosystem — to guide him.

“I can’t overstate the impact of the Trailblazer community on my career journey,” he said. “I remember going to meetings and immediately finding a huge sense of community and camaraderie. All of us here are having shared experiences, learning together, and looking out for one another.” 

Among Lee’s proudest moments was the recognition he received from the Salesforce ecosystem — the Salesforce MVP award for his work co-leading the San Francisco Nonprofit User Group. Salesforce MVPs are community-nominated individuals recognized for their expertise, leadership, and generosity within the Trailblazer Community. 

“It was validation of the hard work and dedication I’ve put into the community over the years,” he shared. “Salesforce User Groups are run by non-employees and made up of a community of volunteers. It’s really a group of people who care about the product and want to gather to help others learn it.” 

And in the age of AI, opportunities within the Salesforce ecosystem are only growing. The technology is reshaping how Salesforce professionals — across industries — approach tasks and data management. 

“AI opens up new possibilities, new frontiers to explore,” said Lee. “It will help remove the mundane, repetitive tasks and low cognitive activities within my team, allowing them to dedicate their energy to high-level strategic projects they find fulfilling.”

AI opens up new possibilities, new frontiers to explore. It will help remove the mundane, repetitive tasks and low cognitive activities within my team, allowing them to dedicate their energy to high-level strategic projects they find fulfilling.

Gordon Lee, salesforce admin

The people behind the tech

As Lee reflects on his journey with Trailhead over the last 10 years, one piece of advice resonates above the rest — prioritize people over technology. 

“To succeed, focus 90% on the people and 10% on the tech. At the end of the day, technology is just a tool, and tools are used by people – if you don’t know how to deal with people, then you won’t be able to use the tool effectively,” he said. 

“It’s the relationships we build that matter most.” 

Learn more:

  • Access Trailhead’s AI learning content here
  • View the 2023 IDC Salesforce Economy white paper to learn about the 11.6 million net new jobs the Salesforce ecosystem will create by 2028
  • Tune in to TrailblazerDX on Salesforce+ on March 6-7, 2024
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