Episode 40: Developer Careers with David Liu
David Liu is a Salesforce technical architect at Google. He began his career as a Salesforce developer and ended up at Google in his dream job. Throughout his career, he’s learned a lot about success and what it actually looks like. He’s also helped many others through the interview process.
In this episode, David shares his story with us. He reveals his failures and how they brought him to where he is today. He also gives a peek behind the curtain into Salesforce careers. Listen in to hear his unique insights.
- How to frame questions to discover how people are thinking about their job.
- The things he looks for in the people he interviews.
- What his website, Salesforce for the 99%, means.
- The importance of targeting a really small niche in marketing.
- How to frame technical content for non-technical people.
- His encounters with imposter syndrome.
- The role of failure in coming through a career.
And we’re sitting the meeting, okay, we got to hire a consultant to do this, it’s gonna cost you know, it’s gonna be like a $20,000, minimum, yada, yada, yada. I’m like, I just remember sitting in this meeting as this like passive listener. And my heart was just like pounding. I was like, Oh my gosh, like, what if I stood up? And I was like, hey, Dave, that’s the name of our CEO, Dave. Let me try coding this myself. I’ve been learning. I can try it. I’ll do it on nights. I’ll do it on weekends. I’ll do it for free. Give me two months. If I fail, then like hire consultant. If I succeed then great.
That is David Liu, a Salesforce technical architect over at Google. I’m Josh Birk, a developer evangelist for Salesforce. And here on the Salesforce developer podcast, you’ll hear stories and insights from developers for developers. There David is describing the meeting where he first started his journey of being a Salesforce developer. which ends up with his dream job over Google. Today we sit down with David to talk about his career, what he’s learned along the way. And the people he’s helped to start. We talked about interviewing from the other side of the fence.
David Speaker 1:12
Well, actually, like on the other side of things now, now that, you know, I interview people like, yeah, usually when I see people fail interviews, it’s mostly because of the non technical stuff. Interesting. I mean, I generally believe like, anyone can learn, you know, any amount of technical things, if they put their head down and do it. Yeah. But like most people just maybe aren’t, aren’t willing to do that. And so something I like to look for when I’m interviewing people just like, how curious are they? how interested? Are they in learning stuff? Because they might not know the answer to my, you know, technical question. Yeah. But I’m sure they would put in the hours to learn it. Whereas someone else who might be very technical, like when they come across a challenge, they just might like fold, you know..
huh. So what are what are some of the things you’ve done in an interview to kind of process out that non technical angle?
That’s a good one. The first one that comes to mind is actually one of the first interviews I ever did. Was that a company called NetApp? Also in Silicon Valley. Yeah. And I remember the interviewing, asking me like, he asked me, what’s my greatest weakness? I remember. Maybe this isn’t exactly answering your question, but I feel like it’s interesting story anyway. So he asked me, what’s my greatest weakness? And like, if you ask like a job interview consultant, or you Google it, like, will often tell you to come up with some bs answer kind of like, like, I’m a perfectionist,
You know, something that’s not really a weakness, like
my great my greatest weakness is I try too hard. Yeah, exactly.
You know, like, and so sadly, that’s actually the answer I gave him. I remember. Yeah. And like I remember like, after I gave him that question, the dude just look like he just looked disappointed in like, Like, in his mind, I was like imagining he’s just calling me like a sellout or something. Yeah. And so like, that’s when I was like, like, this is like the part of an interview where you know, you really, really screwed up, but you don’t really know what to do. Right. And I figured at this point, I would just come clean. And like, even though I was going to get rejected, at least I could sleep well at night. So I was like, David, no, that’s actually his name. I still remember this interview to this day. Like, David, I gotta apologize. You actually, that answer wasn’t really genuine. And, you know, I feel kind of bad saying it. Yeah. And then I gave him my real weaknesses. Yeah, like I and, you know, I didn’t go too deep into my insecurities, but like, it was like, you know, painful saying it. And like, the guy just immediately lit up. And I didn’t expect that, you know, I was early in my career. Yeah. And you never know if like telling the truth and being honest to yourself is really the right way to go. Yeah, but it worked out and I got the job and I was really big. From a creative
Yeah, no, I have to say I’ve been in David’s shoes in the past. And it’s it’s authenticity and honesty is was really important to me when I was sussing out a potential candidate because it’s kind of going back to what you’re saying, if I felt like you were technically smart, but I’m not sure I can trust you. That I don’t know if I want to put you on my team.
Exactly. Yeah, exactly. And like, your interviewers are just like you and me, like just, you know, like regular people. Like we’re not like, I know some like corporate shills or something I work with people who we can trust and right enjoy and you know, learn from and I don’t know. So…
my, my personal least favorite question to get during an interview was Where do you see yourself in five years? Because back then, is probably about the same era that you’re talking about. Being in a tech job for longer than two years wasn’t common. Yeah. So I’m like, dude, I know what I’m gonna In 18 months, like how do you expect me to know what I’m going to be doing in five years?
Yeah, I feel Yeah. So let’s flip that script a little bit as an interviewer, like, what are some ways that you frame questions and kind of kind of get to that how people are thinking about their job and about tech skills and things like that?
That’s a good one. So um, I’ll say I learned, I learned this interview method the hard way. Because when I first started interviewing people, I would kind of like do the traditional Salesforce type of interviews where you just like, you fire off basically like certification, like questions like, you know, what’s the difference between a lookup and a master detail relationship? Like, like, how many days is something stay in the recycle bin, just like useless stuff, right? And like, I had made a series of questionable hires. Like, like, we’re I was just like, wow, I’m gonna get fired if I keep doing this. But on the flip side, once these people join the team, and once I started working with people, yeah, I found out that like, just like within like a short amount of time, just like one meeting, I could get a sense of how how good they were, and how good they would be long term. Yeah. And that’s because during these meetings, it usually be like white board meetings, where we have these like, like open ended generic questions that we don’t know how to solve. And we just sit there and try to solve it together. Yeah. And so I just started interviewing like that, just these open ended interviews. Like, for example, I might ask, like, okay, let’s start integrating Google Play with Salesforce. Gotcha. And then, like, we want to attract everyone who downloads an app and all the ratings they give to everyone. Yeah. And so like, you know, what data model would we make, you know, how would we integrate all these sort of things like, literally, oftentimes, problems that I had on the job recently I didn’t know how to solve. At least maybe someone could give me a better angle on it. Right? And then oftentimes these problems, you know, would be really, really difficult if not impossible. And you just kind of like see, like, where people start to struggle and what they do when they struggle. Yeah. And that then revealing to me more about someone’s maybe personality than then other type of questions.
Yeah, no, I think that’s a that’s an excellent point. And it actually I think it’s interesting. You brought up whiteboard, my good friend, and several times boss Reid Carlberg. One of the things he kind of believed that if a interview didn’t involve a whiteboard, it was simply not a very good interview.
yeah, he’s a smart guy.
So in these interviews, it will segue this a little bit because one of the things I have found doing the podcast is that developers come from a lot of different walks of life. There’s people like you who didn’t come from a tech background, but got into a tech background. There’s people Who have like a computer science background? And they were kind of like always that that kind of computer geek from the beginning? Are there any specific backgrounds that that you to look for? Or is it always just been kind of a diverse array?
You know, um, first of all, maybe the most surprising thing I have encountered is like everyone, everyone I’ve worked with, like, just across in the industry, like the best developers I’ve worked with. Half of them have no computer science degree. Half of them are people who just like woke up one day in their adult life and just be like, Oh, you know what, I’m going to start coding. And so that that has been like a data point that taught me that like, okay, don’t look for the computer science degree, right. I don’t have a computer science degree. And like, I think I would hire myself.
Sometimes, in certain circumstances, I would but so I don’t really look for that. What maybe what I do look for is ownership over big problems. Because if I oftentimes like especially when you work at really, really big Salesforce implementations, yeah, you’re just like one out of you know, possibly 100 people on it. Yeah. Like you sometimes you don’t really have to think and make enter like tough questions to do your job because a lot of it’s like spoon fed to, like there’s a there’s a design that someone else makes, and you absolutely have to follow that design. There’s no time to question it, for example, right, right. Or like, then the company might move so slowly, you might never really like learn lessons from mistakes just because like the cycles are just too long. But when I see people who work in small companies who like own Salesforce orgs like they go through the cycles of making a ton of mistakes, especially the long term mistakes Yeah. And just like figuring out how to fix them, and I’d rather they learn those mistakes at another company then then add ours.
Nice. Okay, let’s get back a little bit and talk about something that you’re rather known for. And I think delves back into that promise that you made. Marc Benioff, you’re really known for SF99 or Salesforce for the 99%. First of all, what do you mean by for the 99%?
Yeah, my, my beloved, my beloved website. So I’ve always seen myself. And I still do as this pretty mediocre guy who got thrown into extraordinary circumstances and got really lucky, but also works really hard to get a job, you know, developer job at Google, by the way, right? And like when oftentimes when I think of people who work at Google, I’m like, Alright, these people are just born geniuses. Right? Just really smart. Yeah. And they don’t have to work as hard. Because they can come up with even better answers in a shorter amount of time. And I was never like that. I always have to prepare 10 X of the next person. And I thought like, wow, if if if just like an average guy like me, can end up working hard and get a job at Google, then I feel like anyone can if they follow a similar formula, right? Any of the 99% of you know, mediocre people who aren’t born geniuses. And so that ended up being the name. My wife really did not like the name but she’s like, you should be Salesforce ninja. I’m glad I stuck to Salesforce99.
When did you start sf99?
that was I mentioned my first developer job was at a company at box right? It was very shortly after and and and what I find really interesting about That at that time. So Salesforce, SF dc 99. I teach people how to code now at that time, but I had just gotten my first developer job, but I really lucked into it. Right? I mentioned I got the job, you know, maybe less on my technical skills more on my non non technical answers. Mm hmm. And so I was not a good quarter. Like, I still think about that code. I wrote back then sometimes and like it, I cringe. In fact, people who work at Box who joined after I left, they’re like, Oh, I saw some of your code that you wrote, and you know, 2011 or 2012. And I’m like, let’s not talk about taking it to the grave. Right. Where was I going with this? Oh, yeah. So I made this site teaching people how to code. But honestly, like, I was not qualified to teach people how to code. Right? I was just, I was still learning at the job. So this is, you know, 2012 2013 or something around there. Yeah. And it didn’t matter. Right, like the site still ended up Doing well, and I think what that taught me is like, there’s no right time to really like pursue something forever. You’re never ready. Like if there’s someone else who wants to make like a blog on being an architect, like, don’t wait until you get your CTA to make that blog, right? Because then you’re just never gonna make it. So yeah, just just start writing things down. And the process of actually like, building your website is going to teach you and force you to accelerate faster.
Well, so yeah, that was gonna be kind of my next point, because you’re saying you’re not qualified. But I feel like in some ways, you’re kind of uniquely qualified because this is an interesting communication loop that you’ve got going on. You, you were non technical. You were an admin. No, you’re a developer, just quote unquote, mediocre. But you’re but you’re learning to be better. And then you’re putting that learning out there for other people to kind of take a lot.
Yes, yes. And that that was something. I didn’t really plan it out to be this way. Yeah, but that happened to be like kind of the secret sauce If my website that it wasn’t a website to teach people how to code, it was a website to teach people who had never written a line of code in their life, how to code it was like an even smaller niche than like, you know, General programming websites. Right? And that kind of taught me that. Like, surprisingly, if you want to like market yourself or a blog or something that it’s important to target like a really really small niche, even though it kills your your target market.
It’s like counterintuitive. Yeah. Did you have any like lessons learned along the way for framing technical content for non technical people?
A few of them yeah, for like, so I actually don’t look at any analytics, which I think for some of you need to me, like, like I look at like how many visitors I get maybe once every, like, three years. Gotcha. And so I didn’t really get this feedback loop. But what I did get was I’d see the kind of the comments that people write on my posts. And so I found, like, if I wrote really, really long posts, that you know, people would not comment on it. Yeah. So I started breaking those down into solids. And then I found that actually, like, the less technical the content, the more comments I got. Made, like, one thing they taught me was like, so so I was experimenting with different types of content. Like Yeah, usually it’s like, here’s how to write a trigger. Yeah. And then one day, I was like, here’s a here’s like, an inspirational story of how someone how coding kind of like changed someone’s life. Yeah. And like those, those ones just exploded. And so I started like, pivoting my website towards like, also including those inspirational and completely non technical stories and, and maybe the most even to this day, like The majority of feedback I get is like, it’s not thank you for your technical content. It is Thank you for helping me believe I can do it.
Nice. Well, let’s let’s change gears there actually quite a bit in talk to me about imposter syndrome in your encounters with.
This imposter syndrome, a weird thing to talk about. Because first of all, I do realize that no, I got a job at Google a very, very nice job. And somehow they haven’t fired me in seven years. I must be doing something right. Right. At the same time, like deep down in my heart. Like, I sincerely believe I’m, I’m just this average guy. Like, I had never really succeeded in anything in my life. I didn’t get good grades. I didn’t go to a good college. I struggled to find a good job like, I have, like, I have all these insecurities that I feel like really bring me down. But maybe Maybe something I’ve learned is like, maybe in the world, there’s only like 1% of geniuses. And like 99% is just like, average people like me.
But like at a company like, like Google, for example, like, Google can’t possibly have all 1% of geniuses like, right? You can’t just have it in 100,000 person company. And everyone there is just like a genius, like, right? They’re gonna hire some scrubs. And so fortunately, I could be one of those scrubs that they think I think basically what I’m trying to say is like, you don’t have to be genius to be successful. Like, you can just work hard consistently throughout your life and do better stuff than than geniuses.
Yeah, no, I think that’s I think that’s really good advice. And I think that people who, you know, imposter syndrome is, you know, pretty common in the tech industry for in particular, and I do feel like it’s always a good idea to be able to just kind of like You know, check yourself and it’s like, you’ve been at Google for seven years. So clearly you’re doing something bright. And whether you’re a genius or not, right, so
yeah, yeah. You know, maybe I mean, another thing that strikes me is like, you might be truly average. Mm hmm. Like To be honest, like, you truly might not be smart.
but like, that’s just your state now. Yeah. You know, like, if you work hard for like, a year or two years, then like, you will become smart. Like, yeah, I don’t I don’t believe that. Like, you’re just like, your whole life. You’re just destined to be one way. I think I’ve mentioned this before. It’s like saving money. Like, like, if you just save like $1 a day every day for your life.
Yeah, like you’re gonna be filthy rich.
Just like the power of compounding and like, just ike exponential functions. Yeah. And so like, at the same time in your life, if you just like work 1% harder than everyone else every day. That’s just going to compound and you’re just gonna be like, you’re gonna be super.
So, you know, my training back in college I was an English major, I thought I would write the great American novel realized that probably wasn’t going to happen picked up a psychology degree, because I thought that would pay the bills, but then it seemed like it was going to be a really depressing lifestyle. So instead, I got into building websites for companies. And so you know, the imposter syndrome is definitely something I’ve run into in the past because it’s like, like, you know, I’m the I’m the guy who just happened to be in the room sometimes that’s why I got that contract. That’s why, you know, I got that job in but going back to my psych days, we as a culture, think of genius as like, an intelligence is like a single thing. It’s like a DMT attribute, right? Like you’re, you’re at 18 and I’m a 16, and therefore, you’re smarter than I am. And that theory doesn’t hold up. Well, like there’s a lot of theories about intelligence. It says that it’s it’s multi dimensional the world One of the one of the favorite examples they give, it’s like, would you consider about a ballet dancer to not be a genius, even though they had this level of control from their brain to their body for what they do day in and day out?
Gosh, Josh, you need to make a podcast just on this. I would like memorize that. This is like so interesting. I know. We can’t go into it. But I love your Well, I think there is an angle.
I believe on your blog. You mentioned Amy Opling. Am I saying her last name correctly? Yeah, yeah. Okay. That’s the second time I’ve actually seen a reference to her imposter syndrome presentation. So Amy, if you’re listening to this, it’s highly possible that I’ve got a prep call for you. But okay, so let’s let’s kind of and again, I want to move to something more positive a little bit, but this is another thing that has come up on the podcast and I think kind of related to this and in what is the role of failure in coming through a career that’s that’s lasted this long for you?
I feel like maybe failure defines me More than my successes.
Yeah, I’ll list out a few of them. Like, I have failed 20 certifications
in the Salesforce world. Google has rejected me 10 times. Even though I call myself a technical architect at Google, I have failed. The certified technical architect Review Board. Yeah, I failed nine out of nine categories. It’s like, literally like, I could not have failed more on that. The only nine categories to fail. I got bad grades like, like growing up. I was like, consistently a failure at school. Like,
it’s just like, maybe the interesting thing about me is, I feel so much that I’m somewhat numb to it doesn’t even really bring it down.
The idea of not trying, again, is not just not even an option. Exactly, exactly. Exactly.
In fact, when I was learning to code, one thing that I remember thinking was, so I was like, Can I really learn to code like, is this really it? I’m spending all these times on nice and we can Learning to do it and like it might attribute to nothing. But I specifically remember thinking like, what if one day, I’m on my deathbed. I’m just looking back at career. I don’t think I’ll be looking back at career focused stuff at that time. But for this scenario, let’s say I would I have regretted if I had just given up learning to code, rather than just stuck in marketing, right? Let’s say, let’s say I just learned to code and I just failed and I just kept learning, learning code failing, failing, failing. And I amounted to like nothing in my life. Like, would I still be proud of myself? Yeah, I remember thinking like, yes, like, I have to go for it. Yeah, I feel Yeah. And that, like, I still think about that in every context. Like CTA, for example, like, and it brings me some peace as I’m studying. Like, even though I know I’m probably going to fail many, many times. Yeah. That like that’s just a step in the journey.
Yeah, it brings to mind Two things actually, for me when I was talking to Rachel Watson, she does, you know, like the Salesforce Saturdays and they’re helping people train and all this kind of stuff. Like one of her quotes was like, we need to reframe failure, like, like something that’s not a negative. And it’s something that is just part of the process. It’s not even optional part of the process, like you will fail, and it will be part of the process. And you will learn from it. And then and then we’re going to move on. Yeah,
yeah, I feel like like social media needs to change their algorithms to like, yeah, index higher. Like, you’re just like, you log into LinkedIn or Twitter, like you just don’t see that stuff.
Right? Well, we live in the crazy Instagram general generation of social media where everybody is famous. Everybody’s rich, everybody’s popular, you know, it’s like, but not everybody actually is so fine. And then just in actually to kind of put a pin right in that one. I just and it will probably possibly have aired by the time we actually put this episode out in a conversation with Joe Castro, who does a lot of training for people who are becoming Technical architects, same exact thing, right? Like, like failure is something that you are going to use to learn. And he’s like, we don’t we don’t even really like to give somebody like a grade because we just want people to go through the exercise. And some sometimes failing that test is going to be part of the exercise. Hmm. Yeah. Okay, let’s let’s move on to something a little bit more fun. I believe at Box if I did my research correctly, that you were involved in a few hackathons. Oh, that’s right. Yeah. Were there any crazy projects that you’re proud of? So yeah, man, though. That was a good time in my life. You know, like, yeah,
like, year after year, I would consistently win the hackathon at box. Nice, which is just absolutely crazy. Because I’m like, I was not this technical engineer. Yeah, I was just this like pseudo engineer, just trying to make it like, I would consistently win the hackathon. Yeah. And the reason why one was like, the thing about hackathons is no one looks at your code. You can write crappy code, but you could even write no code. Because your presentation is just the output. You could fake it. Yeah. And like, you would generally win on the quality of your ideas. Yeah. Which is a completely non technical thing. And no one I’ve never said this my life until now. I actually won because of Salesforce. Oh, really? Because, yeah, because in kiso box, if you don’t know box, it’s like a file storage company. It’s like Google Drive or Dropbox. It’s just like that for the enterprise. Yeah. And when I was a Salesforce admin and developer, like there’s like all this automation in Salesforce at the time, workflow rules was really big.
Or it’s just like, if this happens in Salesforce, do that. Yeah, I just thought that was the coolest thing. And then when I’d be using box there was like no such thing as a workflow rule. Like what if like, If I upload a file with a specific name, then automatically like tag it is sensitive, you know, just stuff like that, right? I was like, Dude, why don’t we just like, bring workflow rules into box? That was one of them, guys, so I just completely plagiarize Salesforce.
In some ways, I feel like everything I do in my life is plagiarized, actually. That’s.
Josh aker 26:29
Well, I mean, it is another good developer topic because like I have joked on the pod before that, like stackexchange has been my ID, right? Like, I don’t I don’t come up with all my code myself. Like, I’m constantly trying to see how somebody else solve this problem. And maybe I’ll ask myself, can I solve it better? But I’m not going to necessarily start from scratch if I don’t have to. That’s it. Yeah, that’s it. That’s like, expose yourself to a lot of different things to plagiarize and then
write it like 1% or better and just keep doing that in your life and right that’s like the magic formula.
But give credit where credit’s due
Of course, yeah, amen.
That’s our show. Now before we go, I did ask David about his favorite non technical hobby and it cludes something we’ve talked about on the pod before.
A lot of hobbies, I play a lot of video games, but maybe first that comes to mind is snowboarding. Oh, nice. Yeah. If one day you know I make it and everything’s done then I would just snowboard every day. So there’s actually Salesforce events around snowboarding. SnowForce for example.
SnowForce, right. Yeah, I think Daniel Hoechst is on the record of saying that it SnowForce is one part about you know, talking about Salesforce and two parts being having an excuse to go snowboarding.
My thanks to him
My thanks to David for the great stories and information on Salesforce careers. I thanks to you for listening. Now if you want to learn more about this podcast, head on over to developer.salesforce.com/podcast where you can hear old episodes, see the show notes and links to your favorite podcast service. Thanks again and talk to you next week.