I recently had the pleasure of sitting down for a wide-ranging conversation with LavaBox’s newly-appointed Principal Salesforce Architect, Aparna Gopalakrishnan. We discussed everything from her childhood passion for solving math problems, to her aspiration of becoming one of New Zealand’s few Certified Technical Architects. Here’s what she had to say:
What made you want to be an Architect? I just love solving problems. From the first moments with my Mum I was solving math puzzles. She threw me a problem, then I solved it. Then she threw me another one. I never set out to be an Architect, but that love of solving complicated problems took me here.
For those that are unfamiliar, what exactly is a Salesforce Architect? A Salesforce Architect is a bridge between what the business wants, what the system is capable of and the development team who build the solution. In a consulting environment, the architect is also the client’s most trusted technology advisor. They understand their business, provide the right advice at the right time, and ultimately ensure they get the right solution to achieve their objectives.
Why did you decide to join the team as LavaBox’s Principal Salesforce Architect? Three main reasons. Firstly, some of my ex-colleagues work at LavaBox, and they all said they felt at home here. Having a place that felt like that was really important to me. LavaBox’s Nonprofit Squad was another reason. I don’t believe in charity where you simply give money. I believe giving is most effective when you contribute your unique strengths for the good of the community, and that’s what LavaBox is doing. Finally, I’ve always liked working with innovative small and medium businesses. It’s exciting to bring best-in-class Salesforce solutions to these organisations.
What makes a best-in-class Salesforce solution? Easy to use for a user. Easy to understand for people working on it. And easy to continue building on it. To achieve this you need a few things. Firstly, you need a strong foundation, which is a well-thought-through data architecture. The solution also needs to keep up-to-date by incorporating new features and technology. Otherwise it’ll get stuck in the past. This means upgrading a tool when Salesforce provides a better one, and then having the discipline to clear the technical debt. This keeps the people working on the platform motivated as they will always be learning something new. It also means users are getting a great experience as they’re using a continuously evolving system.
What are you most excited about in your new role? Diving into multiple new client projects. Already I’m being thrown at different kinds of problems every single day. It’s keeping me on my toes all the time and I’m loving it.
How do you contribute to the ultimate success of your projects? I don’t mind wearing different hats. I do what the project needs. If the project needs an architect, I’m an architect. But if it needs a developer, or an admin, or even a project coordinator, I do what’s needed for the success of the team and the project.
What’s the most interesting solution you’ve ever worked on? I treat all my Salesforce instances as my kids. That’s coming from a Mum. We put lots of effort into our kids. We make sure they are well-behaved, that they get everything they need. So you can’t say which kid you love the most! I learn from each and every project. I’ve worked on 20+ year old instances, and new green fields projects, but they all have something to teach you.
Part of your role involves guiding consultants as they design solutions, solve complex problems, and ultimately, do their best work. How would you describe your approach to mentoring? I’m always learning from them, and they’re learning from me. It’s an equal opportunity to learn. I always push consultants and developers I’m working with to come up with more than one solution. Then I help them explore alternatives and arrive at what will get the best result.
What advice would you give to other aspiring architects? Keep reading. Keep listening. Keep your eyes and your ears open so you can join the dots. You never know where you’ll get the right answer.
One of your goals is to achieve your Certified Technical Architect (CTA). What’s your approach to preparing yourself to attain this? The CTA is a journey of self improvement. It’s about getting better at everything you do on a daily basis. The variety of upcoming projects I’ll be working on at LavaBox and the support they’re offering me to prepare for the final exam will help big time. Aside from day-to-day project experience, the first step I took was to get all the prerequisite certifications. I also attended the CTA 601 course from Salesforce. That was an eye opener for me, and helped me to gain working experience in areas I was less confident. A CTA I know once told me, you think passing that exam is the end of that goal, but it is just the beginning of a wonderful journey.
Have you got any advice for women who are looking to make their mark in the IT industry? Women tend to be great multi-taskers and born problem solvers. If that’s not IT, I don’t know what is. Just believe in yourself and go for it!
If you had a day to yourself without any obligations or commitments, how would you spend it? Literally I would do nothing. To stop thinking is a luxury.
What are you looking forward to learning next? LavaBox has put so many fresh challenges in front of me. I need to be confident on Education Cloud, Nonprofit Cloud, Financial Services Cloud, Mulesoft, Onmistudio - there are so many exciting opportunities. It will be awesome.
*Interview conducted by LavaBox Managing Director, Justin Lanigan. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
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