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A conversation with Eugene Carr & Marques Hollie

Eugene Carr and Marques Hollie discuss Marques's experience as a professional singer, rabbinic student, and Salesforce consultant. 

Eugene Carr: Hi everybody. I'm delighted today to welcome Marques Hollie as our guest. Marcus has, I would say, one of the most remarkable combinations of skills and interests and background. So he describes himself as an operatically trained artist, a ritual facilitator, a rabbinic student, and an independent Salesforce consultant living in Philadelphia. Marcus why don't you expound on that and tell us a little bit more about like, how did that all happen?

Marques Hollie: Yeah, sure. It's kind of a funny story, the way these things happened. So I studied at Boston Conservatory. I studied voice and opera there. And after graduation, you know, it's, you moved to New York.

That's what you do. I moved to New York and I was singing but wasn't being paid a whole lot and so I was temping and one of my temp assignments ended up working at a consulting firm with a very basic implementation of Salesforce. And so my job was essentially like take business cards that people gave me, put them into Salesforce, match emails.

That was really it. Nothing major. And I was good enough at that, I suppose, that they offered me a full-time position managing the implementation of Salesforce for a specific line of business as I was the person who had the most experience. But as I said, my experience was pretty nominal. So we had, I worked with a third party consultant that they hired and we sort of figured it all out together and I was like, okay, this is actually, you know, kind of interesting, kind of fun.

I never really thought of myself as a tech person, but there was a really interesting opportunity to be creative in ways that I hadn't thought of. And a year or two into that sort of permanent role, I actually met Ellen Hindson, I was doing the Scottish Opera, Verdi's Macbeth, in New York. And she was playing in the pit and we got to talking and she was like, oh, you sing opera and do Salesforce?

I was like, yeah, she's like, you should work at this company that I, that I work at. I'm like, wait, what? There's, there's a company that thinks about the arts and technology together. And so then I started working at Patron Technology and I kind of, my trajectory in the space of Salesforce sort of took off from there.

Yeah, being a client administrator, sales engineer, product. Then I moved into consulting and then eventually product sort of ownership for enterprise- type organizations. And it's been kind of a wild ride. I expected at some point to be like, okay, well this is just like my day job, but like really like I'm an opera singer or like, whatever.

But what I've come to realize is that this skillset and actually the enjoyment that I get out of it is like fundamental. To how I see my life and my career. So whether I'm singing exclusively or like being a rabbi or like doing Salesforce or other technology projects, it all has to come together in some way for me.

Eugene Carr: Wow, that is amazing. Now I want to dive in and I would love for you to explain the skills, and the creativity part of tech, because a lot of people think that tech is sort of an engineering role and it's very rigid and it's sort of like math, but, but you've used the word creativity a couple of times and I wonder if you can describe the role of a Salesforce admin and the work that you do, and how does that intersect?

How exactly is it creative?

Marques Hollie: Absolutely. So I think the first thing. I think of when it comes to working in a tech space, especially as an artist, is when you're working in the arts, whether that's as like a performer or sort of like back of house or whatever you're doing, there is this need to be able to relate to people, to be able to communicate to people, to understand what it is they're telling you or what it is they need from you.

And so that sort of innate kind of empathy that I think that we get from being in the arts really plays well into sort of the role of a Salesforce admin because what are you doing, right? You are the person who owns and controls this platform, and as the person who owns that platform, it is your job, your duty, your responsibility to make sure that it works for people the way they need it to work.

Now, part of that empathy piece is understanding that something someone might be asking of you is not actually what they want, or even what they need. But there, there's some sort of underlying feeling attached to it. It's like, okay, so why, why is this request all of a sudden very, very urgent? What's happening?

Was there a meeting where this was brought up? Sort of what's kind of the, what's happening under the hood? And so that's sort of the artistic empathy piece of it. And then when it comes to being creative, . Salesforce is one of those platforms where there are multiple ways to solve a problem.

Multiple automations. You can download an app, you can build a funky report. There are all sorts of things that you can do to solve a problem. And what the create, where the creativity comes in is you get to ask yourself, okay, what are my skills and capabilities? What can I meaningfully maintain and manageand support? And if there is a gap between where those, where those skills are and what you can maintain and support, then it gives you the option to say, okay, like what can I bring into my sort of Salesforce universe to actually manage this process, manage this feature, manage this workflow for me? And so it gives you the chance to sort of take stock of where you are and what it would take to to, to maintain sort of certain aspects of the system.

Eugene Carr: So let me ask you to think about, now, speaking specifically of the role of the admin, because you've had lots and lots of roles. But speaking as an admin, I wonder if you can drill down and give me an example or two or three of the kind of conversation you might have with the user who says, oh, I don't like this report, or I don't like this X or Y. The folks that are watching this, I think are still a little vague. Like what is this empathy all about? What do people actually want you to do? And I wonder if you can give some very specific examples of things that you've done or typical problems that you see.

Marques Hollie: Absolutely. So I've got a, I've got a couple at the ready. One of them is in fact a, a reporting problem. A lot of what a Salesforce admin deals with is reporting. Either creating reports, troubleshooting reports, fixing the data that's making the reports bad. There's a lot that sort of goes on there, but even very recently, I had a client say, you know, I want a report that shows all of these accounts, organizations and households as well as all of their contacts and all of their sort of giving information.

And off the top of my head, I already know. I'm like, okay, first of all, there's not gonna be a clean way to give you one report for this because of some of the parameters of the system. So it becomes a question like, okay, what are you using this for? Are we doing a mailing? Is this a dashboard? Do you wanna do some analysis on year over year giving?

What is sort of the driving thesis of this report that you need? And once we have that, we can sort of figure out what the way forward is. I'm still actually waiting on an answer to that email, but that is, that's sort of one reporting example that I, that I have from a recent experience. And another one that I, that I have is:

I had a client who wanted to be able to, I'm trying to think of how they phrased this. They wanted all of their constituents, they were New York based, in addition to their zip code also have the borough and the neighborhood populated based on what the zip code was and if the zip code changed, update those things accordingly. Again, it becomes a question of what are you using this for? How can I make sure that I build this in the way that's gonna most support your actual needs for it? And it turned out, you know, it was about sort of grants and sort of donation reporting. You know, it's like, oh, if we can prove our impact in very specific areas with our constituents, that makes our reporting that much easier.

So it's like, okay, cool. I know now sort of what I need to do to start to build the solution for this.

Eugene Carr: Excellent, excellent.

As you are thinking about this role and your, your qualities as an artist, you touched a little bit about being able to communicate and empathy, but I would say, what are the things that make artists in particular particularly good at learning this stuff?

Most people, I think are a little afraid. Oh my goodness. I, tech, it scares me, so I wonder if you could give some examples of, or some feeling about how you learned the system, how easy or difficult it was, something to help people who've never touched tech feel like it's something they can approach.

Marques Hollie: Yeah, absolutely. I sort of think of it as, so here's an example. So I've been singing like most of my life not professionally the whole time, professionally, the last 10 to 12 years, but I've been singing most of my life. In the last few years, I started getting into aerial, sort of pole, aerial hoops, stuff like that.

And I, mention that because I think the, the mindset one, as an artist needs to have when sort of expanding their artistic skills is very similar to what someone would need to then sort of branch out into tech. The first thing is like curiosity. So what's this all about? Like, I'm drawn to this.

People keep talking about it. Like, what, what does this actually mean for me? So there's the curiosity and then there's the, there's this idea of having a beginner's mind, knowing that you're going into something that you've not ever done or that maybe you've only ever done sort of in sort of bits and pieces and being okay with that.

You are starting at the beginning of something that other people have been doing for years and years, and years. And I think learning Salesforce now is a lot easier. Rather, I should say there are more options than when I started. So when I started using Salesforce, it was 2013. There was no Trailhead. It was Help Docs and like hope is all you had.

So it's like, okay, like according to the help documentation, this should work this way. And then you, you put it in your system and you hope that it works the way the help documentation says. So now you've got all kinds of options for learning. There's the gamified platform Trailhead, which is a lot of fun. You've got programs such as this one.

There are all sorts of avenues into learning how this platform works, and I think part of that is because as it's become more and more ubiquitous, the ecosystem as a whole I, I feel, is trying to lower the barrier to entry. And so it's a really great time I think for artists types to start looking at how this works, because what's great about Salesforce having that as a skill set is that it can support you between gigs.

I have quick jobs that weren't the right fit, knowing that I could just freelance for a while and go sing for a few months. It, it opens up a lot of doors once you have sort of the basic administrative skillset down.

Eugene Carr: You've already asked, the, answered the question that I was just about to ask, which is, I wonder, you know, I've been expounding this concept of a hybrid lifestyle of the idea that you actually can do multiple things. That being an artist doesn't just mean being an artist. It means being an artist that does this and this, and you fit things together. But the beautiful thing about tech, at least in my experience, is that because it pays relatively well, you can support an artistic career that has gives you more options.

And I wonder if you could a little bit, sort of talk about your hybrid life. Not only what you're doing today, but you're in rabbinic school. So how do you see yourself integrating this in three or five years?

Marques Hollie: Yeah, absolutely. So with where I sort of am, sorry, let me, where I have been historically it has always been, I had a crisis, I'm not gonna lie about this.

I did have a bit of a crisis for a while. I was like, am I like a tech person or am I an artist? And at some point I realized I don't have to choose. I can be both of these things. And I think having that realization has been just fundamental to my career as a whole. I, I call it being an "and person."

Some LinkedIn thought, people call this having a portfolio career, like whatever you wanna call it. But it's, it's just like you said, it's like I do this and I do this, and I do this and I do this, and that makes my life in some way. So as of now, right, I'm in school now. I was working a full-time job up through October while also being in rabbinical school, which I do not recommend if one can avoid it and you know, after sort of it was part, I was part of the great sort of wave of layoffs and I was like, you know what, okay, I'm gonna take this as a queue. I'm gonna finish up the semester and think about this come January, what do I want him to do? And one of the things that I think happens to folks, when they start learning Salesforce, that they land a job or they start just getting little gigs, side hustles, if you will, for like different sort of Salesforce things.

And so that had been a, a big piece of my career this whole time. I was like, okay, well what if I, what if I just leaned into that? What if I said like, okay, I wanna work 10, maybe 15 hours a week, that'll give me enough room to sort of support myself financially, be in school, travel when I need to, and sort of have all of my needs met.

And so that's how it's functioning now. And in three to five years, you know, when I'm on the other side of rabbinical school, I think that's a really interesting question. I don't see a life really for a while that does not in some way meaningfully include working in technology. Whether that is Salesforce or one of the many no-code platforms that are coming up.

I think that sort of technology and my sort of spiritual education are gonna be fused together in some way. And I have a couple of ideas as to what that looks like, but at this point it's a surprise.

Eugene Carr: Well, and I think what's coming out in the answer you just gave me, which I think is really fundamental, is that you express a level of comfort and, and I say confidence in your ability to earn money, to support yourself, to allow you to do things and, and I'm guessing that having the Salesforce skill allows you to do that and say, okay, if I'm not gonna do this, I have this option and this option and this option. And that's very different than sort of getting a job here or getting a job there.

As a, as a freelancer, you've got this skill base that's transferrable in whatever way you want it to be. Would you agree with that?

Marques Hollie: Absolutely. And, and what's been great about that is there might be folks I've worked with who know me for a particular skillset who are like, oh, we actually have another project that's not like in your wheelhouse necessarily, but would you wanna upskill on this and we'll pay you to do this thing?

So it really has come in handy and it's, I think empowering is a really good way to sort of describe it when you realize like, oh, okay, like I, I can actually just take care of myself and find the work that I need. Because the ecosystem itself is so, is so big that there are always gigs to be found and had and, and worked. 

Eugene Carr: Excellent, excellent. So my, my last, this has really been fantastic and my last question really is: what advice would you give to an artist that that might be like you were, you know, 10 or 12 years ago when you just encountered this? What advice would you give people as they're thinking about this?

Marques Hollie: I would say there are a couple things.

So I think the first one, and I don't think I'm thinking of my own, only my conservatory experience at this moment, I don't think conservatories and sort of arts programs do enough to just sort of deal with the reality of what it means to be an artist, especially in the United States. So to that end, what I would say is that if you're thinking about this and you're an artistic person, don't think that you've failed because you are now trying to learn an tech skill to, to stabilize your income.

Don't, this is the literal opposite of failure. So, so if that's a thought, like banish it, get rid of it. The other one I would say is to stay curious. Keep an open mind. Keep asking yourself, oh, why does this work this way? And if this works this way, what if I did this? Let those questions live with those questions as, as Arukah might say, because when you, when you live those questions, you'll start to unlock capabilities within yourself that maybe you didn't know were there.

And also it's, it's a useful vantage point for working inside the platform and inside the ecosystem itself.

Eugene Carr: Well, that is an excellent answer and I'm glad you touched on all of those points. And listen, I just want to say we're just about at time so I want to thank you for sharing your wisdom and your knowledge, and I'm sure that we'll catch up again.

And I think anyone that's been listening to this has had their mind expanded about what does a career in the arts as an artist and as a tech person really mean, and, and you just seem like a perfect example of that. So thank you for sharing today. Really appreciate it.

Marques Hollie: Thank you, Gene. Pleasure to be here.

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