Solo in San Francisco and Dazed at Dreamforce

Having only worked with Salesforce for approx 18 months I was chuffed and excited to be given the green light to attend my first Dreamforce way back in April. I quickly booked my ticket, flight, and hotel, filed my expenses and then the nerves promptly set in.

Fast forward 5 months during which time I had read every blog post, watched every episode of Road to Dreamforce, and anxiously quizzed my London Admin User Group leaders as to whether there would be any kind of Brits Abroad meet up (there wasn't).

I did what would best offset my nerves, I got organised. Agenda Builder went live on August 5th but when on the 5th? As a San Francisco based company and event chances are it would be PST but I refreshed the page regularly throughout London's working day regardless, no doubt while those with the power to activate the tool slept soundly....

Just as I was thinking about giving up and heading home it was live. I pounced and enrolled on 33 sessions including 4 HOTs. I was smug, I knew exactly what I would be doing come September 15th. I gave NO thought to location, or to my feet, or sanity. I was sorted.

Over the next month I favorited another 30+ sessions, cursed the inability to double book myself, and was thrown by schedule change emails and new sessions appearing. Suddenly it was time, I dropped the 'conference I was attending in San Francisco' into conversation one last time, turned on my out of office and was out of there.

I packed my newly purchased 'comfy' shoes, business casual attire and business cards, and then burst into tears! I was nervous, I was tired (work was crazy busy and stressful), and it just so happened that my husband and I would be celebrating our 10 year wedding anniversary on the Wednesday of Dreamforce (with me in SF and him visiting his family in Spain). There was some overlapping of our trips but we wouldn't be seeing each other for 10 days, possibly the longest we had been apart for the last 16 years of our 18 year relationship.

Luggage at Finchley Central Tube Station

I (wo)maned up and headed uphill to the tube station, the first stop of my 16 hour journey. The highlights of which were:
  • My first time on the top deck of a plane
  • Three films which made me both laugh and cry
    (Inside Out/Man Up/Pitch Perfect 2)
  • Four mini bottles of wine
  • 90 minutes to get through US immigration
  • Checking into a massive room at the Westin St Francis which provided me with one bed for myself and one for the swag I would collect each day
  • Managing to stay awake until 10.30pm on the first day in a futile attempt to avoid jetlag
Sunday and Monday were now mine to explore the city and acclimatise. I wasn't a SF newbie, I had 'done' the West coast from LA to SF 8 years previously as a treat following my 30th birthday but that was a while ago and so I set off to reacquaint myself with the city. This meant walking up hill a lot.

I think this screen shot says it better than I could.... (the fact that I switched time zones also played a part in these incredible stats).

Via Twitter, which was keeping me company over a late lunch, I managed to connect with Jodi and Kerry who I had previously met in London and one thing naturally lead to another....

And then another (after our group had expanded somewhat) - 

Thankfully I had no obligations on Monday other than queuing for my badge and backpack and the Salesforce Women's Network & Girly Geeks Panel & Networking Session which perked me up no end. Such an inspiring event and so refreshing to walk into a tech event and not find myself in the minority. I put myself to bed early that night as my first Dreamforce was going to kick off the next morning.

Day one of Dreamforce dawned and I was up with the larks and at Moscone West before it opened, this gave me enough time to grab a breakfast coffee and banana and then head straight for the now open Admin Lodge. A whole zone dedicated to Admins and the @salesforceadmns team had done an amazing job. I attended my first session Chatter 101 for the Salesforce Admin with Becky Webster and immediately got some great tips.

Due to my crazy jam-packed agenda I also had a 9am but quickly learnt a lesson which would stay with me for the rest of DF. I shrugged, realised I wouldn't make it in time and instead wandered around the Admin and Developer zones, got my bearings and then headed off to my 3rd (2nd) session which was at the Hilton.

The rest of my Dreamforce followed a similar pattern, I attended about half of the sessions I was enrolled on and then attended others I had either favourited or stumbled upon. I found the HOTs very useful, I took one in Apex, one in Visualforce, neither of which I have any experience in, and two in Process Builder into which I am keen to sink my teeth.

No Dreamforce story is complete without mentioning Trailhead. While being no stranger to this great new training tool (I have 8 badges so far), I used the time to try the Trailhead projects. I managed to complete two of these in the Developer Zone and came away with my Trailhead t-shirt, mug, and mini Astro. Salesforce obviously (and correctly) see Trailhead as the way ahead for Salesforce devotees and newbies alike and it was great to see it centre stage.

I recognised so many familiar faces, Salesforce staff, MVPs, and community members, whose faces I saw online every day, but they were now right here in the same place as me. However, having been English for all of my 38 years, I found it incredibly hard to approach them. I spotted other people tweeting selfies with people throughout the conference, but it just isn't in my DNA to do so. With hindsight I should have tried to introduce myself to more people, it was after all what every Women in Tech talk encouraged us to do, to promote ourselves. Alas, this will have to be something I focus on for 2016. Thank you to those who did receive my clumsy approaches. Chris Duarte was super friendly and recognised me from Francis Pindar's periscope! Brent Downey was also really nice and welcoming and I appreciated both of their greetings. The truth of it is that Dreamforce can be a lonely place for a solo traveller who isn't comfortable pushing herself forward and every smile helped.

In summary, I found Dreamforce mentally and physically exhausting but I learnt a lot, and more than anything else it renewed my passion for Salesforce and refocussed me on the possibilities it offers. I came back with a whole bunch of ideas as to how I can improve my org, how I can use Process Builder to automate manual processes, and that I was investing so much of my time in a platform which is in great shape and is heading in the right direction, one that is right for my company, but also right for me as a professional.

I can see that the Dreamforce experience can be completely different depending on how you spend your time there. You can attend HOTs and sessions, you can hang out and soak up the atmosphere, you can network, you can speak, you can wander the expo and pick up swag, you can attend the industry verticals and keynotes. I focussed on the HOTs and sessions and barely scraped the surface.

I made a pledge to myself that I WILL attend in 2016. I will be more prepared for its scale, I will be more relaxed, yet more focussed, I will talk to more people and I will be confident that they will want to talk to me. I probably won't speak as I don't want to add nerves to the mix. Maybe in 2017.....


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