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Aug 13, 2019

Music by Robert Reid

Hosted by Barbara Alberts


Katherine Cass: I remember day one was full of smiles. There's pictures of me and my friends I met on that first day, and we're all still really close friends now, years later. It was like jumping, almost, into a sort of utopia. I know this is ... It sounds like I've drunk the Kool-Aid, but honestly, my previous internship before that had been pretty ... I don't want to say depressing, but a bit drab. The people weren't super happy all the time. Walking into Salesforce, before I was even talking about what work I was going to do, it was like this ... Walking into an utopia of bright light. I don't have to worry about running to get a snack, and everyone around me was smiling. I think that's pretty true, not just for your first day as an intern, but your first day full-time.

Barbara Alberts: Curious about what it's like to be an intern at Salesforce? Welcome to the Salesforce Spotlight, the podcast series that highlights the extraordinary stories of Salesforce employees and Futureforce interns. I'm Barbara Alberts, and on this episode of the Salesforce Spotlight, I chat with Release Manager Katherine Cass about how a chance encounter at Grace Hopper led to her Futureforce internship. Tune in for more, and happy listening.

Barbara Alberts: On the podcast with me today is Release Manager Katherine Cass. She was a former Futureforce intern, and now has kind of found her way into Salesforce as a full time employee. Katherine, thank you so much for joining.

Katherine Cass: Yeah, of course.

Barbara Alberts: I just want to start off first by asking: How did you find Salesforce?

Katherine Cass: Salesforce was kind of an interesting journey, I found, mostly through Grace Hopper. I wasn't exactly looking for Salesforce. I found it because a recruiter had reached out to me. My resume had gone into the pool of resumes at Grace Hopper, and someone found it, and then that recruiter that found it got it to a team that happened to be the Release Management team at Salesforce, and hat's kinda how I ended up here.

Barbara Alberts: Right.

Katherine Cass: Yeah.

Barbara Alberts: Salesforce really deals heavily in the B2B space, so sometimes it's a little bit unknown to people who aren't necessarily in that realm. What did you know about Salesforce when you applied?

Katherine Cass: When I applied, I had done a bit of research once the ... The way it worked out was a recruiter had reached out to me, and then when I was interested in moving forward with application, I did a bit of research on my own, and then did a more formal application process. All of that, I've got to say, I had to look for online. I went to school in the middle of Cleveland, and I grew up in a very rural area in New York. The idea of tech wasn't really big on my mind. So, it was a lot of personal research. What I did find out about Salesforce was that it was a kind of nebulous B2B software company, and I didn't know what that meant. Honestly, I didn't know what that meant until I had been working here for a couple of weeks. But yeah, that's it.

Barbara Alberts: Yeah. Can you walk me through a little bit about your Grace Hopper experience?

Katherine Cass: Yeah, I've been ... My first time attending Grace Hopper was, I think, back in 2015. I had seen a stray post Facebook calling all girls interested in tech to come and attend this conference. It was going to be all-expenses-paid. This was organized by a fantastic woman named Stephanie [Hippo 00:00:03:10]. She was a year above me in college, she organized this trip. I had clicked on that Facebook link in a group. I was a freshman in college at the time. I had no idea what coding was, and by the time I attended, I had a couple months of coding under my belt. I was more interested, but that was my path to Grace Hopper the first time. Once I got there I immediately fell in love, and I've been going every year since.

Barbara Alberts: Yeah, and at that Grace Hopper ... Or at that particular Grace Hopper conference, one of the speakers was from Salesforce. Can you just tell me about that interaction that you had with her after? Not to spoil it, but ... And just how that played into your eventual internship?

Katherine Cass: Yeah. I attended attended a talk. The Salesforce employee, her name is Kate Gentry. I believe she's a director now on the release management team. She had given a fabulous talk about release management, and drones were involved. There were a bunch of really great metaphors, that was good for me as an undergrad student, not understanding, first, what Salesforce was, second, what tech was, and third, what release management was. So, having her ... Going to her talk at Grace Hopper gave me a lot of insight into what the role was, what Salesforce was, and then what kind of people worked at Salesforce.

Katherine Cass: She was super kind, and then when I met her at the booth later for an informal interview, again, I was just like super kind. I knew that not only was it going to be a place I would be interning, it's a place where I would be mentored.

Barbara Alberts: Yeah, absolutely. A recruiter reached out to you, and you applied to the position. Can you just tell me a little bit about that recruitment experience?

Katherine Cass: Honestly, it was kind of a blur. I had applied to a lot of companies at that stage, and a lot got back to me. Even in my mind at all kind of blurs together.

Barbara Alberts: Right.

Katherine Cass: A couple of things that stood out about my application to Salesforce, and especially the recruitment process, was interviewing with my team before we got to the accepted offer stage. Something that was top of my mind was: I wanted a better internship experience than my previous one that was at a telecom company, and so I wanted to be sure that I was going to a good team with good people. The way Salesforce did that is they set up repeat calls with my future team members, my future manager, a previous intern, and I was able to talk to them as a person on the phone. That was like a cool, interesting thing I did outside of the recruitment process.

Barbara Alberts: Yeah, absolutely. You're able to kind of get ... You were able to build that rapport and build that familiarity before you hop in day one and have to start feeling your way around, right?

Katherine Cass: Yeah.

Barbara Alberts: You go through the interview process, you accepted the offer. Would you tell me a little about what day one was like for you, in terms of just orienting yourself and really getting familiar with the space that you were in?

Katherine Cass: Well, it was ... I remember day one was full of smiles. There's pictures of me and my friends I met on that first day, and we're all still really close friends now, years later. It was like jumping, almost, into a sort of utopia, and I know that this sounds like I've drunk the Kool-Aid, but honestly, my previous internship before that had been pretty ... I don't want to say depressing, but a bit drab. The clothes we had to wear were uncomfortable. The people weren't super happy all the time, and the offices we worked in weren't that great of an experience.

Barbara Alberts: Right.

Katherine Cass: So, walking into Salesforce before I was even talking about what work I was going to do, it was like this ... Walking into an utopia of bright lights. I don't have to worry about running to get a snack, and everyone around me was smiling, and I think that's pretty true, not just for your first day as an intern, but your first day full-time.

Barbara Alberts: Yeah. You definitely noticed the culture and just ... Completely different from what you had previously experienced. Yeah. Can you walk me through the projects that you were working on as an intern, and what you were doing with your team?

Katherine Cass: Yeah, my role was a release manager intern. I actually did kind of the same duties that a full-time release manager does at Salesforce, which made it really easy to transition into a full-time release manager role.

Barbara Alberts: Right.

Katherine Cass: Half of my time was spent on doing that. Release management, that's making sure that code is in a good state to be released to production, and then after you release it to production, it remains healthy. If things hit the fan, then you're the one that gets called, and you need to be able to lead people out of that mess. That's what I was being trained on, my entire internship by a phenomenal team. I was running a weekly patch release of the entire Salesforce application that goes out to hundreds of thousands of customers and I was able to stamp my name on that.

Katherine Cass: That was a really cool big part of my internship that I'm proud of. Another side project I was doing on the internship, when I wasn't doing release management, was working on a software engineering project. I am a computer science major, even though that's not what I do now, that is something that I wanted to keep my feet wet with as an intern. That project, it started by picking something off of the backlog of the tools team, but after I'd been there a couple of weeks, I did not want to work on that. I'm super stubborn, and I think all my managers up to this point are familiar with it, but if I don't want to work on something, I'm going to find something that I can add value by working on it.

Barbara Alberts: Right.

Katherine Cass: Instead of working on the project originally assigned to me, I proposed a new project, which at the time, it was a console to manage emergency releases for the release manager. I made a proof of concept, and eventually, the tools team, which was already on the track to create a release console, picked it up as a bigger project. By the time I had returned, I saw that it was already rolling as a real project. That was another high-impact thing I did as a intern.

Barbara Alberts: Oh yeah, absolutely. I mean, that's so cool to be able to come back after your internship, and see that what you've been working on in the project that you proposed is being used by people, and it's helping people do their jobs better. Yeah, that sounds really cool. You mentioned a little bit earlier, mentorship and that you had wanted to go and work at a place where you'd be able to be mentored. What kind of guidance did you receive from your team while you were an intern at Salesforce?

Katherine Cass: A big thing was project management and that, I think, is true across the board. You don't ... You're not taught that at school. That's why people go and get internships. As you learn about scope, you learn about time constraints. You learn about resources, and, "How do you push all of those together in the right ratios to have an end result?" That was a lot of the mentorship I got by my team. Another big thing was just ... I almost want to call it, "How to be an adult." How do you operate in a large company where you're talking to a bunch of different people with many different personalities, and you want to make sure they're understood and they're respected?

Barbara Alberts: Right.

Katherine Cass: Especially in times when there is a bug in production, and you need things wrapped up quickly. You might not be able to be super nice. As a college student, I was always ... I sugarcoated everything.

Barbara Alberts: Yeah.

Katherine Cass: I didn't want to make anyone upset, but sometimes you have to be direct, and that was another skill I learned from my internship.

Barbara Alberts: Yeah. When you were interning, did you feel like you were not just an intern? I knew you had projects, you had people who you were working with, things like that. I know sometimes with internships it might just be, "Oh, here's the work that somebody else doesn't really want to do," or, "Here's something that will keep you busy, and maybe out of our hair." Here at Salesforce, did you feel like that was the case, or did you feel like you were really a part of the team that you were working with, and really having the ability to impact people?

Katherine Cass: Yeah, I think a good way to answer that is just by pointing out the contrast between my previous internship experience and Salesforce. In my previous internship, I'd walked into kind of this drab company, gray walls, uncomfortable clothes, and I sat down every day for five days a week, for the entire summer. I was working on a project that I had felt was just, "Oh, here's something for the intern to work on.".

Barbara Alberts: Right.

Katherine Cass: I was given someone to talk to when I had issues, but beyond that I didn't see the impact of my project. I didn't get to talk to other people at the company through that project. On the complete other side of the spectrum, was Salesforce. When I walked in, I saw ... My manager sat me down. He told me, "By the end of your internship, you're going to be running releases, you're going to be doing the work of a full time engineer or program manager," and that was true. Again, that's why I had so many conversations during the recruitment process with the team. I didn't want to have my same experience at my previous internship, and Salesforce far exceeded my expectations on that.

Barbara Alberts: I mean, you had mentioned that you were applying to other places to intern too, besides Salesforce, but why did you decide that you wanted to stay with Salesforce? Maybe, instead of exploring another opportunity or another big tech company here; why was Salesforce the one that you decided to start your career in?

Katherine Cass: Yeah, there's several reasons. One thing I was wrestling with, especially as a college students, do I try a start-up or do I try a big company? The biggest thing for me, was, I wanted mentorship. I wanted training, and Salesforce provided that to me. It provided that to me as I was an intern, so I didn't even have to wait until I was full-time to go to these classes, and I knew that that was going to be there for the first five or 10 years of your career. Super important, and I wanted to be at a company that I know cared about me, and cared about my career success. That was made evident by my team and my manager, so that's why I chose Salesforce.

Barbara Alberts: Yeah, absolutely. How did interning with Salesforce grow your skills both career-wise and also just technically?

Katherine Cass: Career-wise? It was almost evident immediately when I returned to school, because I was a ... I did leadership in a lot of clubs at school. Before the internship, it was kind of crazy and chaotic. After the internship, I knew how to run the meetings. I knew how to keep everyone on time. I knew how to manage expectations and emotions. That was kind of the biggest plus to my career was giving me that basic tool-set to lead meetings and lead people in projects. From a technical standpoint, understanding how all of these things fit together that you're taught as an undergrad, and how that blends with the technology out. For example, we've got our AWS public cloud transition, and that's something that I wouldn't be able to put into words as an undergrad, but through my experience at Salesforce, I know how SAAS companies run now.

Barbara Alberts: Can you kind of walk me through what your day to day looks like? If you have a set day-to-day, or things are kind of all over the place now that you're a full time employee here at Salesforce?

Katherine Cass: I want to say things are all over the place, but I remember that answer drove me insane when I was an intern. I was like, "What do you do?" I want to point out there are days that you're firefighting, and there's days that you're not firefighting. Firefighting, that's when you're on-call. If something comes up, you need to deal with it. That, I can talk for an hour on how that goes. I want to mostly concentrate on what happens when I'm not firefighting. A lot of that is, again, working on leadership of projects and defining path and vision. I work at Einstein Platform, a big thing we're working on right now is to get more of a CI/CD pipeline. So, making sure that you can check something in and know that there's going to be a robust framework that's gonna take it from your laptop to production. Working on a project like that, you need to talk with a lot of people, you need to figure out what the obstacles are, and you need to put together a lot of presentations, and basically drive alignment through an organization of 200 people. That's what my day usually is, when I'm not doing firefighting, I'm doing more longterm vision work.

Barbara Alberts: Do you have an intern on your team right now?

Katherine Cass: Yeah. Yes, his name is Josh.

Barbara Alberts: Just in terms of building those connections within Salesforce, how did being an intern help you grow your network, and in the same space, how do you think you're helping your intern or any other interns progressing throughout their career as well?

Katherine Cass: The things you get when you're an intern, you get the intern card, and that goes away when you're full-time. But when you're an intern you can pretty much cold call or cold email anyone at any level in the company, and there's a high likelihood they're going to answer you because they see you as ... As their child that they can grow and mentor. That goes away when you're full-time, a little bit. Taking advantage of that during your internship is super important, because those relationships you build as an intern are going to be very important when you're full-time or when you're trying to negotiate your final offer, that those are good people to know and to feel comfortable talking to.

Barbara Alberts: Absolutely.

Katherine Cass: And then as far as helping our current intern and our past interns, I see this family of interns who have become Futureforce full-time employees, and we all are helping ... It's kind of like, you know, you've got your grandparents and your grandchildren.

Barbara Alberts: Right, right.

Katherine Cass: My internship grandparents did so much for me, and we ... I'm not the only one who's always trying to mentor new interns too. You don't have to worry about, "I can't find anyone else who's been through this internship." There's plenty of people and they know what advice to give.

Barbara Alberts: Do you have a personal experience yourself of reaching out to someone during your internship and them being very receptive?

Katherine Cass: Yeah. My SVP at the time, Craig Jennings, he ... I walked up to him with my co-intern at the time, Brian Powell. We were like, "Hi, we're the interns. Nice to meet you." It was just like a couple of weeks in. I remember him saying, "Oh, I meant to talk to you guys weeks ago. I just ..." They get so busy, their schedules are packed. We were just talking and he was like, "Well, I've always wanted to restart this Mission Burrito Hop with the interns." He ended up funding, just because we had gone and talked to him ... At the end of the meeting, he would take us and a couple other interns out every Friday to the Mission to try a new burrito place.

Barbara Alberts: Wow.

Katherine Cass: And that was just like, that's my favorite example. Reach out to someone. You never know what the answer is going to be, and you might learn something really cool. In this case I learned about the best taquerias in the mission.

Barbara Alberts: Yeah, and that's kind of a contentious topic too. Everyone has their opinions, but yeah. Oh my goodness. You never know, you might get some free food?

Katherine Cass: Yeah, yeah. It's at, very least, what we look for.

Barbara Alberts: Yeah. Just looking at your experience in having gone through the internship program, and also making that transition into a full-time employee, what are some tips and tricks, pieces of advice, things like that, that you would give to both perspective interns; people who are looking to try to get into Salesforce, and also people who are looking to kind of make that transition or hoping to make that transition?

Katherine Cass: I think the biggest thing is showing that you can lead your own project, that you can take initiative. Like I mentioned with the SVP, he was just so busy. His schedule is packed. You're spending a lot of times in meetings if you can show you can take an almost ambiguous group of requirements, like: We need this feature, and you can break that down into actionable items and goals, that makes you the ideal candidate. Every manager wants a self-sufficient report and that's also how you grow into a leadership position as well. It's showing the way you get promoted here is by showing you can lead your own projects, and you can do so with your own sense of guidance.

Barbara Alberts: Your Salesforce experience started a little bit around Grace Hopper. Do you still find yourself involved with Grace Hopper at all?

Katherine Cass: Absolutely. I just met with my college a couple of weeks ago about funding for the current ... We grew our Grace Hopper trip from seven women to now 30, and we have some regular big funders that do that now. I've been helping along with some of the other grads to get us there.

Barbara Alberts: How would you suggest someone does day one at Grace Hopper? What's the best way to kind of get your foot in the door, your feet wet, and get as much out of that experience as possible?

Katherine Cass: Yeah, there's so many things. I'll try and keep it short. I think, first, the career fair. Interview slots generally fill up by day one, so make sure either you go and talk to the companies you want to talk to immediately, or you have done it before Grace Hopper. The second thing is figuring out a schedule. You can pick the talks you want to go to, but two things to be wary of is location. Where ... Are you going to be running across the convention center and be late to talks and not get seats? Then the second one is: Are there going to be seats open? A lot of times, especially as Grace Hopper grows, the more popular talks will be at capacity even before the talk starts. So having a backup plan of two or three other talks you want to go to is really gonna help maximize your trip.

Katherine Cass: Then finally, networking. It's really tempting, especially if you go with a friend to grab lunch with them. But I challenge everyone to: Don't go get lunch with your friends. Sit down at a random table, introduce yourself. I ended up sitting next to, I think, a VP at Yahoo when I was a sophomore, and ended up getting her business card and an opportunity there. You never know who you're going to meet. The question I always asked, how did you get where you are today? Where I was at Grace Hopper, I had no tech background. I wasn't sure if I was going to declare a CS major, but I would hear so many stories from women who hadn't been coding since they were 12. They made a career change after they had kids or something crazy, and that's really what gave me the motivation to pursue tech, those tiny conversations.

Barbara Alberts: Yeah, absolutely, and just kind of knowing that it's not too late or it's never too late, I guess, to kind of jump into this space. Yeah, definitely. Katherine, this conversation has been really great. I'm so happy that we could sit down and talk about your experience in Futureforce and what you're doing now at Salesforce. So thank you so much for joining.

Katherine Cass: Yeah, good luck to everyone listening.

Barbara Alberts: Yeah.

Barbara Alberts: Still want to know more about interning at Salesforce? Check out the rest of the Futureforce website, or follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Thanks for listening.